After you’ve downloaded to your Mac or uploaded to the cloud all of the photos from your iPhone that you want to keep, check out these easy tips for freeing up space on your phone.

iPhone Camera Roll
photo: Ki Mae Heussner

The end of summer is near. All the tell-tale signs are there: Apple rumors abound concerning fall product releases, and your iPhone’s Camera Roll is filling up with photos from all of your summer activities. Since you can’t just swap out an SD card on your iPhone like you can with your old point-and-shoot camera, managing how much free space you have left on your Camera Roll is a vital part of being able to continue taking photos — especially for those among us with 16 GB versions of the iPhone packed with a whole lot of home videos.

Note: Before reading further, be absolutely sure that you have either downloaded to your Mac or uploaded to the cloud all of the photos from your iPhone that you want to keep. Because without that step, once they are deleted, you may not be able to get them back.

When iCloud’s Photo Stream becomes a river

The best way to offload the photos you take on your iPhone is to turn on Photo Stream. However, this feature does potentially double or even triple the amount of storage that your photos takes up on your iPhone. Each photo you take will be stored in your Camera Roll as well as your Photo Stream albums. When you share that same photo in a Shared Photo Stream, you create yet another copy.

Photo and Camera Usage on iPhone

To see the total amount of storage that photos use, access the Usage option under the General section of the Settings app. Scroll down until you see Photos & Camera. Here you will see a breakdown of the amount of storage taken up by the Camera Roll, Photo Library and Photo Stream.  One way to keep this duplication of photos to a minimum is to delete them from your Camera Roll after downloading them to your Mac.

Accessing the Camera Roll from your Mac

You may think that connecting your iPhone to your Mac is not necessary if you are also using Photo Stream on your Mac. Having all of your photos automatically available to you when you open iPhoto or Aperture is so convenient that you may never tether your iPhone to your Mac. Unfortunately, doing this will allow your Camera Roll to grow in size well beyond the 1,000 image limit imposed on Photo Streams.

Delete Camera Roll with iPhoto

When you do connect your iPhone to your Mac, both iPhoto and Aperture (depending on which one you’re using) will ask you if you want to delete the photos in your Camera Roll after offloading them.  Additionally you can use the Image Capture app on the Mac to select the photos in the camera roll and delete them all at once.  Launch Image Capture on your Mac, click on your iPhone under devices, choose “Select All” from the File menu, and press the delete button on the bottom of the window.  (Prior to iOS 6, this was the only option available to delete photos from your iPhone’s Camera Roll.)

Delete Camera Roll with Image Capture

Removing all photos without your Mac

You may have already tried to use the Photos app on your iPhone to try to remove your photos from the Camera Roll. And you may have discovered that you can only select your photos one at a time — there is no “select all” option to be found. While this is a good way to selectively trim the size of your Camera Roll, there is now another way to delete all your photos.

Delete Camera Roll on iPhone

Again access the Usage option under the General section of the Settings app and tap on Photos & Camera.  This time swipe your finger across the Camera Roll item in the list to reveal a Delete button. By clicking on thus button you will remove all photos from your iPhone’s Camera Roll. This action is not reversible, so be sure you are willing to delete all photos before you tap on the Delete button.

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  1. Photos in photostream are saved at device resolution on iOS devices, not original size, so they are typically 10-20% the file size of originals (depends on camera res). Photostream does transport originals to any PC/Mac endpoint, though.

    1. Meaning this line from the article is overstating the storage impact of Photostream:

      “However, this feature does potentially double or even triple the amount of storage that your photos takes up on your iPhone.”

      1. I hear what you are saying about the resizing of the images, but I cannot ignore the information provided to me in the usages section of the settings. It really must depend on how much photo sharing you do. For me, it has tripled the amount of storage that all photos take up on my device, as indicated in the screen shot above.

        1. For sure, but I’d hazard a guess that you have shared or accepted a number of Shared Photostreams. Those aren’t really related to your own Camera Roll or personal Photostream’s storage. The way you’ve written the article makes it sound like all that usage is from your personal Photostream only.

          But, yeah, all those photos can add up, even at reduced resolution.

    2. so do you know who to get images off the iPhone at original size by nay chance?

  2. Ruprecht Webb Friday, August 9, 2013

    This feature does not work on my iPhone 5 running iOS 7 beta 5

    1. how to mass delete with iOS 7?

  3. The timing of this article is perfect. I have about 1000 photos on my iPhone 5 that I planned to transfer off to my PC this weekend. I do not have a Mac, so I was planning on just using Windows Explorer to access the phone and transfer all the photos off to a folder on my laptop. The question I have is, is it OK to simply delete the photos from the phone using Windows Explorer? There are about 100 that I plan to leave on the phone, so using the settings to delete all will not work. I just want to delete the 1000 or so that I will be moving to my laptop.

    1. Geoffrey Goetz Brett Friday, August 9, 2013

      Yes, on Windows the iPhone will attach as any other camera would attach to your PC. This is similar to using Image Capture on the Mac. http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4083

    2. If you go to My Computer on your PC and access the photos on your iDevice that way (My Computer lists iDevice as a drive), copy and paste them onto your PC, if you then try to delete the photos on iDevice in My Computer they will NOT delete. I tried this and it does not work to delete them. So transfer them all to PC then on iDevice go to Settings > General > Usage > Photos and Camera > Then swipe finger across Camera Roll to reveal delete button > Tap delete.

      Now all your pictures are gone off the iPhone. To put the 100 that you wanted to remain back onto the iPhone, import them back to the iPhone using iTunes with iDevice connected > Photos tab > under import you can import pics onto iDevice.

      1. When I “swipe” my finger across the PHOTOS & CAMERA in the Usage area, I don’t get a Delete option, despite numerous swipes every which way.

  4. Why was DROPBOX not mentioned??? Easy nearly automatic way to get photos to PC/Mac and then just delete from phone. You can always reach in cloud via app (provided) you have enough space, but if not it’s on the PC.

    1. Like iCloud’s Photo Stream, DropBox is defiantly one option as a location to store your photos. The focus here was more about deleting the photos after you have moved them to another location. The techniques outlined here should be applicable to those using Dropbox as a storage solution for photos as it outlines the “then just delete from phone” parts.

  5. I thought photo stream was stored in the part of i cloud that doesn’t count against your phone. Similar to how face book photos don’t take up storage?

    1. Geoffrey Goetz Kyle Friday, August 9, 2013

      You are sort of correct, while it is true that Photo Stream does not count against your allotted space for iCloud storage in the cloud (Free 5GB Limit), the photos still take up space on your iPhone.

      The Usage section located under the General Settings will show you exactly how much space Photo Stream is using on your device.

  6. You can delete multiple images in the Camera Roll by pressing “edit” and selecting the photos you wish to delete.

    1. Which could take an awful lot of time if there are a lot of images you wish to delete. The article outlines an easy way to remove all the images in the Camera Roll should you wish to do so, which was previously not generally known – and therefore frustrating to many.

      Much appreciated.


  7. Great tip on deleting all camera roll photos without use of a Mac.

  8. On a previous version of iOS there was a great feature that got removed :after pressing ‘edit’ I could swipe my finger on pictures and that would select them. Now after pressing edit I need to touch photos one by one to select them. Any ideas why the functionality was removed?

    1. It still works but you have to use TWO fingers to touch then drag across all the photos you wish to select, to then delete

  9. Usage -> Delete doesn’t work. The delete button appears but when I swipe, nothing happens.

    I’ve just spent several hours trying to move 8 GB of photos off an iPhone 4 – it’s ridiculous. iPhoto and Image Capture must be the slowest applications in the world. I am now deleting photos with Image Capture at a rate of about 2 per second. I could do this faster deleting the pix one by one on the phone myself?!

    Image management doesn’t work on iPhones.

    1. To add: Prior to deleting, I left Image Capture running and importing photos for about 6 hours. I know USB is slow but it’s not _that_ slow.

      Then I imported into iPhoto, which took about an hour for 500 “new pictures”. In the process it froze once, I had to restart iPhoto and the phone. Then it finished importing and crashed. The third time, it worked.

      Total garbage. You’d think Apple could come up with a solution on how to manage photos properly. I suppose it would be OK if they sped up iPhoto by a factor of 100. (this is on a late model MBP so nothing to do with machine speed)

  10. I tried deleting the camera roll and followed the steps you gave, but it didn’t work. It gave me the delete button, allowed me to click it, and then it simply brought me back to the usage screen. Ideas?

    1. Yes, the exact same thing happened when I tried it. Help! I need to delete thousands of photos and videos!

      1. same here-no way to delete these photos from photo library…I have same issue as Jane

    2. Same here…it doesn’t work

      1. Doesn’t work for me either. VERY frustrating. My iphone is FULL and refuses to delete these pictures!!


        1. Same here. I know I can import photos to clear camera roll, but how do I reduce the size of the library?

          1. same here. not finding a way to delete library. might stop by apple or att store today! frustrated!

            1. Same here! I was so hopeful when I swiped and the red delete button appeared, but nothing happened- HELP!

            2. OMG! iPhone 4S. Doesn’t work for me either. Someone PLEASE Help!

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