It’ll happen to all of us at some point: we’ll get the dreaded notification at our iPhone is full and can’t record another video or take another photo. Inevitably this will happen at the worst possible moment. With graduation season, Father’s Day and summer upon us, it’s a good time to clear out some storage space on your iPhone (and backup your data, photos and videos in the process) with the intent of photographing your summer memories with plenty of storage space to spare.

Even if you haven’t gotten the space full error message yet, this first step in the cleanup process is still good regular maintenance to keep your iPhone from filling up. To see how much space you currently have available, as well as what’s taking up the most space, launch the Settings app, tap on General, then tap on Usage. Depending on how much data you have on your phone, it could take up to a minute or so for the full usage data list to appear.

iPhone Storage Usage

As you can see, the Photos & Camera data takes up the majority of the space on my iPhone, as it does on most people’s iPhones, although if you’ve loaded up your iPhone with music or purchased/downloaded videos it’s entirely possible that content could occupy more of your storage than your photos. Either way, you can see what’s filling up your iPhone, and act accordingly.

Deleting Applications

The easiest way to reclaim storage space on your iPhone is to delete unused applications – especially the ones that are utilizing the most space. I haven’t felt compelled to read Pat The Bunny in a while, and I can free up more than half a gig of storage by deleting that one.

Deleting an iOS app.

In the event you’ve never deleted an app before (and if your iPhone is full, it’s entirely possible that you haven’t) it’s easy to do. Simply tap and hold on any app on your home screen or other screens of apps, and after a second or so, all the icons will begin to shake and little Xs will appear on the top left corner of each one. Tap the X on the app you want to delete, and you’ll be presented with deletion confirmation, advising you that if you delete the app, all its data gets deleted along with it. Since this is precisely what we want to do, tap Delete and the app will be deleted.

Deleting Photos & Videos

Once you’ve deleted all your unnecessary apps, it’s time to work on your photos and videos. This can be somewhat daunting if you have 2,000 photos and videos loading up your camera roll, but conversely, it means it’s that much more important for you to perform this cleanup. It’s always shocking to me how few people have backed up their photos and videos to their Mac or PC. Phones are lost all the time, and even the miracle Find My iPhone service can’t always assure a successful recovery, so if your photos and videos are important to you (and if they’re not, why take them in the first place?), it’s foolish not to back them up regularly – not just when you run out of storage space.

For the uninitiated, there are numerous ways to get your photos and videos off of your iPhone and onto your computer, from the automated transfer of iPhoto or Aperture, to the manual import method of Image Capture. If it’s been a long time (if ever) since you imported your photos, and you never curate them on your iPhone by deleting bad shots, pictures of stuff you sold on eBay a year ago, and duplicates, it’s well worth doing that before you import all that junk content into iPhoto or Aperture. This is where Image Capture comes in. In all likelihood, you didn’t even realize you had the Image Capture program on your Mac, but it’s there in your Applications folder. The easiest way to find it is by simply typing “image” into the Spotlight search field, by clicking on the magnifying glass icon on the top right side of the Menu bar. Once you see Image Capture in the search results, either navigate to it with the keyboard and hit return, or mouse/trackpad over it to click on it, and it’ll launch right up.

Image Capture Settings

At this point, if you haven’t already, it’s time to plug in your iPhone to your Mac. After a moment or two you should see your iPhone appear in the sidebar, and your photos and videos should start appearing in Image Capture’s main content window. Of the two available content views, image view is likely preferable to list view, so click the appropriate icon on the bottom of the window beneath the content to select your desired work mode. Additionally you can drag the sizing slider to the right to increase the size of the images you’re viewing. With everything all configured, now you can begin deleting unnecessary photos and videos. Note that this is an unrecoverable deletion process, and unless you’ve already saved the images, once you select an image and tap on the red delete icon at the bottom of the content window, it’s gone forever.

With the junk cleared our of your camera roll, it’s time to import your photos into iPhoto, Aperture, or whatever other photo management/filing system you prefer. That’s really a whole tutorial unto itself, so I’ll just assume you know how to do that. If you don’t, Apple has a solid tutorial to take you through that process.

Once your photos are synched to your Mac, it’s safe to delete them from your iPhone. This might be scary to the uninitiated, so feel free to disconnect your iPhone from your Mac and then quit and restart iPhoto. If you see all your pictures are still there, then you have nothing to worry about. For an extra layer of security, you should make sure you’re backing up your Mac.

Syncing Photos Back to Your iPhone

Now here’s the cool part – you can sync all the photos you just deleted from you iPhone back to your iPhone, and iTunes will automatically sync optimized versions that take up a fraction of the storage space of the original photos. While these aren’t as high resolution for printing and editing, they’re perfect for sharing with friends and family on your iPhone or posting to social media sites.Photo sync2

Once you’ve organized your photos in iPhoto or Aperture, launch iTunes. Click on your iPhone in the sidebar to see the syncing options, and then click on the Photos tab as shown in the above screenshot. From there you can select where you want to sync photos from; iPhoto, Aperture or from a folder (or series of folders) in the Finder. In the above example I’m syncing from Aperture, but the iPhoto sync window will look nearly identical. Check off the photo Events/Albums/Archives/Folders you want to sync back to your iPhone from your Mac. With your desired photos selected, click on Sync on the bottom right corner of the iTunes window, and your photos & videos will begin the potentially long process of synching back to your iPhone.


Now all the photos you selected to sync back to your iPhone are available for viewing in the Photos app on your phone. Just tap on the Events icon as shown above, and you’ll be presented with a list of all Events you just synced up as well as a count of how many images are in each gallery. For the icing on the cake, just go back to the Storage menu, and you’ll happily see you have plenty of available space on your iPhone to shoot more photos and videos, download more songs and try out more apps.

Have fun taking pix this summer!

If you have any questions about this guide, don’t hesitate to reach out one way or another.