Don’t Look Too Closely at iCloud’s Shared Photo Streams

by Barrett

It’s always nice to get an invitation to look at family pictures online.  The only problem with Apple’s Shared Photo Streams is the pictures don’t show up in full resolution.  And that could be a problem if you’re planning to use them to create a photo book.

It’s always nice to get an invitation to look at family pictures online. The only problem with Apple’s Shared Photo Streams is the pictures don’t show up in full resolution. And that could be a problem if you’re planning to use them to create a photo book.

I never really got excited when Apple introduced iCloud Photo Streams.
The concept of storing your most recent 1,000 photos in the cloud for 30 days and having them sync across all your Apple devices didn’t do that much for me.

That’s because the functionality in ‘My Photo Stream’ is designed mostly for pictures taken by your Apple devices. The admittedly slick idea is to enable those photos to ‘phone home’ and seamlessly beam themselves back to your mothership.
(But you’ve got to use your computer at least once a month to download the photos to your hard drive before they go ‘poof’ in iCloud.)

Locate Photo #872
Plus the entire mass of pictures you snap end up in your photo stream.
(the good, the bad… and the ugly)

The pictures duplicate themselves to your other devices so you can easily show them off to family and friends.
But the reality that you’ve got to sift through a thousand images to find the one you’re looking for seems a bit half-baked.

I had lunch with a friend recently, and when we pulled out our iPhones to proudly display a few images of our three-year-old boys, I navigated to the picture I wanted in five gestures via my iTunes’ synced folder.
He needed at least fifteen gestures to quickly finger down his long photo stream.

Getting Canon to Play in the Photo-Stream Sandbox
My other problem with Photo Streams is while I do snap the occasional iPhone picture, when I’m really serious, I use one of my Canon cameras.

Then, I download the Canon photos to my iMac and sift through them to separate the wheat from the chaff in Aperture.
(Apple’s more powerful iPhoto cousin)

Only then am I interested in sharing the chosen few across my Apple devices and with others.

And I’ve traditionally loaded up my iPhone by syncing my photo folders via iTunes.
And yes, that takes an extra step….

While this workflow keeps my best photos close to me, nobody else gets to benefit.

Your Favorite Unseen Photo in Your Computer is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Sharing my best pictures in a timely manner has continued to prove itself an elusive tech challenge.
I’ve tried lots of solutions:

  • Recently, I bought the nixplay Wi-Fi Cloud Frame to stream my favorite photos for my wife and son to enjoy at home.
  • A year ago, I did the same for my father with a Pix-Star Wi-Fi frame.
  • Of course, I’ve got a few family Flickr albums, but I often forget to update and remind people about them.

Time for the Wife to Pick Up Your Slack
The current nut I’m trying to crack is simply finding a workflow to move my ‘best’ photos over to my wife’s Macbook Pro laptop, so she can have some fun working with them as well.

Her goal is to quickly create small event-driven family photo books.
(as opposed to my more globally-focused yearly photo book collections, which have unfortunately proven to take years to create)

I totally welcome this divide-and-conquer strategy.

But getting the photos over to her laptop and into iPhoto has been at an imperfect process at best.

I’ve traditionally exported the photos to a thumb drive and then transferred them via sneakernet.

I’ve also used Air Drop and Dropbox, but there’s got to be a better way to get those photos over…

Shared Photo Streams
(Cue up the angelic harps.)
Apple introduced iCloud Photo Sharing over a year ago.
These newer, ‘shared’ Photo Streams were designed for viewers beyond your eyes only.
They’re kind of like the MobileMe photo galleries of the good old days.

With Shared Photo Streams, you can easily create online photo albums to share with your family and friends.
(Though only up to 100. Larger families and friendship groups require another solution.)

But for me, the more enticing factor is that Shared Photo Streams allow your invited guests to view your photos directly in iPhoto, and then easily download whatever they want!

So I decided to designate my wife as the singular special guest for my new Shared Photo Stream. While this is certainly not a cutting-edge plan, and I’m admittedly quite late to the party,
I’m not embarrassed to report I finally gave this photo-stream ecosystem a whirl…

If You Want to Catch Up, You’d Better Run
In no time at all, I created my shared family photo stream, and the invitation went out to my wife’s iCloud email address.

I ran over to her laptop.

Nothing happened.

Click again.

Then I read the fine print:

To view a shared photo stream in iPhoto, your computer needs to be operating on at least the Mountain Lion OS.


I’d been running Lion on my wife’s laptop since we bought it a few years back.
So I decided this was as good a time as any to finally upgrade to the Mavericks OS…
(I’d really been meaning to get around to it.)


Two hours later…
(after the Pre-OS upgrade prep and a smooth Mavericks install)
I again attempted to connect my wife’s computer to my Shared Photo Stream.


Now, the possibilities seemed endless!
(Though there are inevitable limits.)

Here’s what Apple gives you:

  • Maximum photo (or video) uploads per hour: 1,000
  • Maximum shared streams you can share: 100
  • Maximum subscribers per shared stream: 100
  • Maximum photos and videos in a shared stream: 5,000

And all of these uploads do not count against your 5GB iCloud storage limit.

I can live with that.

But there was still one problem…

Why Optimize What is Already Perfect?
When I dragged the photos from my Shared Photo Stream over to iPhoto, I realized they had been…
(Cue the organ.)


(This means the file sizes had been chopped down from their original pixel resolution to something more ‘manageable’.)

I scoured the web for confirmation of this unwelcome development.
And indeed, I found that Apple does reduce the file sizes for iCloud-shared photos.


Look, I simply want to easily move full-resolution photos over to another computer.
(This shouldn’t be so hard!)

I couldn’t locate Apple’s official position on their photo-slimming practices.
But I discovered some intelligent speculation that Apple’s resizing logic has to do with the native screen resolution on Apple devices. It’s simply unnecessary to view a photo containing a higher resolution than what the screen can display.
The image won’t look any better…

And the typical 2048 x 1536 optimized pixel resolution should also be adequate if you want to print a photo up to 5” x 7” in size.

Plus, it’s a ‘helpful’ storage-saving strategy for iOS devices with limited storage capacity.

So what’s there to complain about?!
(The humble Home IT Guy raises his hand in the back of the room…)

The Purity of My Photo Stream
And do all photos get stunted in the Apple’s photo-stream universe?
Not if you’re working in the non-sharable ‘My Photo Stream.’
Those pictures still get clipped on your iOS devices, but ‘My Photo Stream’ shows up in full resolution when viewing it on your own computer.
(Even Apple acknowledges the importance of these photos finding their way home in their original condition.)

The Wife Must Now Save History
So where does all of this leave the future of my wife’s photo-book projects?
Well, I’m not exactly sure…

The Shared Photo Stream integration with iPhoto on my wife’s laptop can’t be beat.

Plus my own copy of this Shared Photo Stream automatically shows up on my iPhone, negating the need to sync these photos via iTunes.

No, I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of having watered-down duplicates of my best photos on her laptop, but I’ve got back ups of the originals elsewhere…

As long as my wife doesn’t aspire to create huge photo books,
my little plan could still work.

I’d call all this progress…
And At Home with Tech, sometimes that’s just enough to declare victory!