How to delete and recover photos from your iPhone

The best camera you have is the one you carry with you all the time, but the iPhone qualifies in more ways than one. Not only do you always have it in your pocket but over the last few years, all iPhones have been built with superlative cameras. As iPhone cameras gain more features with higher image quality, file sizes also increase to the point that storing an abundance of photos and videos on your phone is the fastest way to eat through precious storage space. Prolific shooters need to know how to delete photos from the iPhone, and save and back up the ones they want to keep and share. You can’t be too careful: While you’re backing up photos and perhaps trashing some image clunkers, an erroneous tap can accidentally delete a one-of-a-kind gem or a series of images that you would rather have saved. If that happens, don’t panic. There are plenty of ways to safely delete and recover deleted iPhone photos. We walk you through it.

Delete photos on your iPhone using a Mac

Image Capture is a low-profile app that comes with your Mac and performs all kinds of convenient tasks, including downloading your photos off your iPhone or iPad.

You can plug in your iPhone to your Mac, to view, download or delete your photos using Image Capture. Here’s how to do it.

  • Launch Image Capture from your Mac’s Applications folder.
  • Connect your iPhone to the computer via USB.
  • Select your device from the list.
  • View the photos in thumbnail or list format.
  • Decide which ones you want to save to your hard drive. Drag the slider to change the thumbnail size for optimal viewing.
  • Click the Import To pop-up menu, then choose where to save the images or which app to use to open them.
  • To import only some of the images, select them, then click Import. To import all the images, click Import All.
  • You can automatically transfer images from your phone to your computer whenever they’re connected by clicking the Show/Hide button in the lower-left corner of the window or by clicking the Connecting this camera opens pop-up menu and choosing AutoImporter.

Delete photos directly from your iPhone

It’s easy to delete one or more photos from your iPhone. Just review all the photos on your Camera Roll and individually or collectively select single or multiple photos by tapping or tapping and dragging your finger across the screen.

Delete one or multiple photos from the Photos pane

  • Launch the Photos app and select Photos in the lower-left corner.
  • Tap All Photos. Alternately you can tap Years, Months, or Days to isolate a subset of photos on your Camera Roll.
  • Tap Select at the top right and tap or tap and swipe to select individual or groups of pictures.
  • Add, subtract, or cancel removing photos by tapping the +/- icon at the upper right.
  • Tap the Trash icon in the lower-right corner to remove the images.
  • To delete a single photo, you can also use 3D Touch on an iPhone 6s or later. Tap and hold on a photo to preview it, then tap Delete at the bottom of the menu.

Even if you mistakenly delete an image you want to keep, there is plenty of time to change your mind. When you delete a photo from the Camera Roll it is moved to a Deleted album, like a trash can, except it gets emptied only after 30 days. That means you can remove photos from the Photos app and still have access to them for a 30-day countdown, which is recorded directly on the photo’s thumbnail.

Delete photos from the Recently Deleted album

This delete method is helpful if you’re running low on storage space and you’ve already backed up your photos. When you get rid of deleted photos from the Recently Deleted Photos album, it’s forever.

  • Go to Recently Deleted in your Photos app.
  • Tap Select in the upper-right corner.
  • Select Delete All in the lower-left corner, or tap the images you want to get rid of and then tap Delete.
  • A warning will appear that specifies that this action cannot be undone, and when you’re ready, select Delete Photos.

Recover deleted photos

If you deleted the wrong photo or group of photos by accident, or you’ve changed your mind about a photo you deleted and want to recover it, it’s easy to get it back. Below are three options for recovering deleted photos on your iPhone.

Recover photos from Recently Deleted album

If you haven’t deleted your photos from the Recently Deleted folder, then iOS will keep these photos for 30 days. Here’s how to restore them.

  • Go to the Photos app.
  • Go to the Recently Deleted folder.
  • Tap Select in the upper-right corner.
  • Tap Recover, or select individual photos you want to recover and select Recover.
  • If you have the iCloud Photo Library enabled, you can use it to navigate to your iCloud account and follow the same steps.

Use your Mac to restore from a backup (iOS 13 and macOS Catalina)

If you habitually perform iPhone backups on your computer, your photos should already be backed up, which means you can restore lost images. Because you are restoring your entire iPhone from a backup, the photos that re-appear on your iPhone are the same ones that were on your iPhone on the day that you backed up. So first make sure to back up your new photos somewhere else first, if you want to save them, before restoring from a previous backup.

  • Connect your iPhone to the computer, and choose your iPhone.
  • In the Summary tab, choose Restore from this Backup and choose the backup you want if there’s more than one.

Back up using a third-party app

Using a third-party app multiplies the protection for your photos. You can never have too many backups of something as irreplaceable as your photos, as backup systems can fail at any time. You never want to be in a position where there are no further options for recovering lost pictures. Always have both a hard drive backup and an online backup — or more than one.

If you have a Google account and Gmail, backup is free and unlimited as long as your images are 16GB or under — which most smartphone images are. For iPhone, using iCloud is always an option, as is using Apple’s Airdrop to download photos to your computer. You can also store photos in Dropbox, though the capacity for free storage is limited, as it is in iCloud.

Google Photos

Google Photos is one of the best ways to automatically back up your entire Camera Roll while removing the clutter of old snaps on your iPhone. Also, download Google’s Backup & Sync app for your Mac or Windows computer and program the app to automatically sync images from your computer to the online Photos app. Once launched, the app lives in the top menu bar on your desktop and you control it via Preferences. From your phone, tap to launch Google Photos then swipe down. The app immediately begins to back up the photos in your Camera Roll and notifies you when it is complete. It then offers the option of removing the photos from your phone. You can do that, or you can first back up the photos to your hard drive by importing them into Apple Photos on your Mac. Choose the High Quality setting, which will compress photos larger than 16 MP and videos with a resolution higher than 1080p. These files do not count against Google Drive’s data cap, which means you get unlimited photo storage for free.

Dropbox

Dropbox offers a handy way to back up your photos, and a way to recover photos you accidentally deleted from your Camera Roll. With the Camera Uploads feature, your phone or tablet will automatically add camera roll photos to Dropbox and photos are copied from cameras, memory cards, or mobile devices whenever you connect them to your computer. Dropbox starts with 2GB of free storage, and when you need more, paid plans offer more space for your photos, videos, and other files. Individual plans are 2TB and 3TB, costing $10 and $17 per month including 30-day and 180-day backup and recovery respectively.

iCloud

With iCloud Photos, you can make more space available on your device and have access to your entire collection, everywhere you go. With the Optimize Storage feature enabled, smaller, space-saving photos and videos can stay on your device while all original, full-resolution photos get stored in iCloud. As long as you have enough space in iCloud, you can store as many photos and videos as you want. Apple gives you 5GB for free, and you can purchase more space if needed. Here’s how to get started.

  • Tap Settings > Your Apple ID > iCloud > Photos.
  • Switch on iCloud Photos.
  • Select Optimize iPhone Storage to make more space on your device.

AirDrop

AirDrop, part of the Mac OS and iOS, is one of the most convenient and immediate ways to download photos from your iPhone to your hard drive. First, make sure you’re in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi range, and turn off your personal hotspot if it is on. Then, open the Photos app, tap the Share button, swipe left or right to select one or multiple photos, and tap the AirDrop user that you want to share with or use AirDrop between your own Apple devices. Storing to your hard drive or a connected drive is completely free.