The iPad is a great tool for showing off and enjoying your favourite photos, but it's less popular for taking them - your iPhone is far more convenient and a DSLR camera more capable. So how do you get the snaps off those devices and on to your tablet?

In this article we look at the best ways to transfer photos from iPhone to iPad, how to transfer photos from Mac to iPad, and how to get photos straight from your camera onto your iPad. We also look at how to AirDrop photos to your iPad, and how to sync your photos between all your devices via iCloud.

If you are trying to get your photos from your iPad to your iPhone, or to a Mac most of the advice below will work for you, alternatively, read How to transfer photos from iPhone to Mac.

iCloud Photos

This is our favourite method because it just works. We don't have to do anything other than pay our monthly fee for iCloud storage, which we don't object to as we actually have more storage available in iCloud than we do on our Mac, iPhone and iPad combined. iCloud Photos keeps all our photos on all our devices in sync. You can see all your photos on all of your devices, but the full resolution versions are actually stored in the cloud rather than on your phone or iPad so you save lots of space on the device. Perfect!

If you are prepared to pay Apple monthly for the storage then it could be a great option for you. Prices are as follows - each price is a per month subscription that you can end at any time:

  • 5GB storage: Free.
  • 50GB storage: £0.79/$0.99.
  • 200GB storage: £2.49/$2.99.
  • 2TB storage: £6.99/$9.99

On iPad or iPhone:

Here's what you need to do on your iPad (and your iPhone):

  1. On your iPad go to Settings > Photos
  2. Check the box beside iCloud Photos (so it's green) iPad iCloud Photos
  3. Choose Optimise iPad Storage if you want to save space.
  4. If your iPad is on a data plan you can turn off Mobile Data so that it doesn't use your data to sync photos. Tap on Mobile Data and deselect the Mobile Data option.

Now get your iPhone and follow the same steps as above. 

On your Mac:

You can do the same on your Mac in the Photos app.

  1. Open Photos.
  2. In Photos, click on Photos in the menu and then Preferences.
  3. In the iCloud pane, tick iCloud Photos. iCloud Photos on the Mac
  4. Again you can choose to Optimise Mac Storage if you want to save some space on your Mac.

Now that all your devices are set to sync their photo libraries you should be able to view your synced library on all of your devices. It may take a while for all your photos to sync.

Now if you take photos on your iPhone they will appear on your iPad too. And if you transferred photos to Photos on your Mac from your camera's memory card you will also see those on your iPad too.

Beware that if you delete a photo from any of your devices you will be deleting it from all of them. You need to think of it as if you have one library in the cloud, so if you delete a photo you are deleting it from there.

Using iCloud Files

There is another method that uses iCloud that we recommend.

You can transfer photos between your iPhone and iPad or Mac using the Files folder on your devices.

The Files app arrived in iOS 11 and is a shared folder in iCloud where you can store anything and access it on all your devices (obviously you will only be able to open the file on a device that has the software to support it, but it most likely will).

If you want to share a photo via the Files folder follow these steps:

From an iPhone or iPad

  1. Open Photos on your iOS device
  2. Select the photo or photos you want to share and tap the Share button (square with the arrow)
  3. Scroll through the options below until you get to Share to Files
  4. This will open the iCloud Drive and you’ll see a list of all the folders you have on your drive.
  5. Tap on the folder you wish to add the photo(s) to.
  6. Tap Save.

Share to files ios

On a Mac

Each of our Macs is set to share its Desktop (System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud > iCloud Drive > Options > Desktop & Documents folders).

This means we see the same desktop on our work Mac and the Mac we use at home. It’s a handy way to always be able to access files wherever we are. The fact that these files are also accessible on our iPhone and iPad is a bonus.

This means that if we wanted to share a photo or screenshot from our Mac we could simply save it to the Desktop and access the Desktop folder on one of our other devices.

You could just save the image file to your Desktop - screenshots tend to end up here anyway.

However, we’d suggest that you make a folder on your Desktop and drag the images into that just because it will be easier to locate later.

Now when you open the same folder on your iPhone or iPad the images will be there.

Photo Stream

What if you don't want to have to pay Apple monthly for storage? Luckily there's still an option for keeping all your photos in sync on all your devices.

Photo Stream is part of Apple's iCloud service and is a simple way of sharing photos across all your Apple devices.

Photo Stream won't sync your entire library, just the last 1,000 photos. But, assuming you don't take 1,000 photos a day, that should cover you for a few weeks at least (well up to 30 days as that's the cut off). And the best bit is that those photos are stored for free and won't encroach on your iCloud storage space (not even your free 5GB).

Note that this won't automatically save them to your devices. For example, if you want to delete a photo from your iPhone and move it to your iPad you will need to make a copy of it to your iPad first (we'll show you how to do that below).

First we'll show you how to set up Photo Stream on your devices.

On iPhone or iPad:

  1. Go to Settings > Photos and turn on 'Upload to My Photo Stream' (or just 'My Photo Stream').
  2. You may want to make sure that Upload Burst Photos is deselected so that it only uploads the best photo of the set. (You can accidentally take a lot of photos that way!) iPad photo stream

On the Mac:

  1. On Mac open the Photos app.
  2. Click on Photos > Preferences.
  3. Choose the iCloud tab.
  4. Select My Photo Stream.

Now open Photos on the iPad, and tap on Albums, then My Photo Stream. All the images you have recently captured on the linked iPhone, or added to the Photos library on your Mac, should appear in here.

If you wanted to move your photos onto your iPad and then delete them from your Mac using the Photo Stream method follow these steps:

  1. Tap on the photo you want to copy.
  2. Tap on the Share icon (the square with an arrow pointing out the top).
  3. Scroll down through the options to Duplicate.
  4. This will download the photo and you will see a second photo beside the one you copied.
  5. If you go to your camera roll album you should see the new copy.
  6. You can now delete it from your iPhone (or iPad). Make sure you delete the right one (if you make a mistake you can find 30 days worth of deleted items in the 'Other Albums' section.

AirDrop

What if you just want to copy a few photos to your iPad? As long as your iPhone and iPad (or Mac and iPad) are close together you could use AirDrop.

AirDrop is the simplest way of transferring a small number of photos. It uses WiFi and Bluetooth to transfer the photo (or any type of file) between the two devices.

iPhone to iPad (and iPad to iPad):

Here's how to AirDrop from an iPhone or iPad:

  1. Make sure your iPad is set to receive over AirDrop. It probably is because AirDrop is on by default these days, but a few years back it needed to be turned on. Open the Control Centre (swipe down from top right on a Face ID phone or any iPad, or swipe up from the bottom of the screen on a Touch ID iPhone). To check that AirDrop is on press in the middle of the four icons that include Airplane Mode and Wi-FI. This will open a pane with AirDrop included.
  2. If below AirDrop it says 'Contacts Only' and you are just transferring between your own devices, or the sender is in your contacts book, you are good to go. If they aren't in your contacts then tap on the AirDrop icon and choose 'Everyone'. AirDrop settings iPhone
  3. You'll need to do the same steps on the sending device.
  4. Now Open Photos on the sending device. If you're just sending one photo, locate and tap it, then tap the sharing icon - a square with an arrow pointing up, at the bottom left on iPhone or top right on iPad. If you want to send more than one, hit Select, tick multiple photos, then hit the sharing icon.
  5. You'll now see the photo(s) to send at the top of the screen, and various sharing options below. Tap the icon for the receiving device in the AirDrop section and, hey presto, the photo(s) will be sent.

Send by AirDrop

If AirDrop isn't working it might be because you are sharing your data via a hotspot or you might have switched off Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. We do have this article about how to fix AirDrop problems.

Mac to iPad

Here's how the process works when you're transferring from a Mac:

  1. As above, check that your iPad has AirDrop switched on that it is close to your Mac.
  2. On your Mac open a Finder window.
  3. Click on AirDrop in the left-hand column. This will open a Finder window that should show the devices that you can share with nearby. If you don't see them try turning Wi-Fi off and on again, Bluetooth off and on, or change the 'Allow me to be discovered' setting to Everyone. You'll also need to wake up the device you want to share with (if your iPad is set to switch off after 30 seconds that can be frustrating).
  4. Find the photo you want to share and drag it to the icon representing the device you want to add it to.
  5. You'll see a blue line appear around the icon and then a Sent message will appear below it.

Send photo to iPad from Mac

Tunes sync

There are even more ways to sync your photos with your iPad, if you need them.

If you need to transfer a large number of photos from your Mac (or a camera or memory card which you connect to the Mac) one good way is to syncing them using iTunes and Photos - or if you have installed Catalina the sync will be set up via the Finder.

In Catalina follow these steps:

Plug your iPad into your Mac using a cable (Lightning or USB-C depending on the age of the device. You may have an issue with this method if your Mac doesn't have the necessary USB port.)

  1. Open a Finder window.
  2. In the left-hand column look for your iPad. Click on it.
  3. If necessary click on Trust.
  4. Enter your passcode on your iPad.
  5. Now you'll see an option to Sync your iPad.

The rest of the steps will be similar to those below.

Sync iPad

If you are using Mojave or older, follow these steps:

  1. If your photos are on a camera or iPhone, plug that device into your Mac. If you're transferring direct from the Mac itself, jump to step 4.
  2. Open Photos on your Mac, and click the name of the device (under the section called, er, Devices) in the left-hand bar. We'd recommend clicking the 'Import To' dropdown menu and selecting New Album, so your new images are grouped together. Then either click Import All New Items (top right), or tick the photos you want and click Import Selected.
  3. Unplug the device that had the photos on.
  4. Plug in the iPad using the Lightning or USB-C cable, and open iTunes. Click on the iPad icon in the top bar to see the device's summary page.
  5. In the lefthand bar, select Photos, and put a tick next to Sync Photos. Next to 'Copy photos from', select Photos, then choose either all the photos on the Mac or select an album.
  6. Click Done, then Apply.

How to transfer photos from Mac to iPad: iTunes

Wired transfer

You could go old school and connect your iPad to your Mac with a cable.

The 2018 iPad Pro models have USB-C (rather than Lightning) connectors, which makes things a lot easier when transferring images from a camera.

Find an appropriate cable (the precise cable you need will depend on your camera's ports - read recommendations of USB-C adapters) and plug the camera directly into the iPad. Open Photos, and you'll see a new tab labelled Import. From here you can easily access the photos on the camera's storage, and copy across the ones you fancy.

The same process can be used to plug in an SD card (Apple sells a USB-C to SD Card Reader for £39/$39) and get photos off that.

How to transfer photos to iPad: USB-C connector

Those with Lightning-based iPads can use a camera Lightning adapter, although the transfer won't be quite as speedy.