How to use Apple’s new iCloud Shared Photo Library (and why you should)

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Image: apple

I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I have had to say, “Hey, can you send me that picture you took of the kids earlier?” to each other. It’s not an everyday event, but it happens often. We used to use Google Photos and the album sharing feature until we switched to iCloud Photos a few years ago. Google curated the shared album based on facial recognition and placed photos and videos containing me, my wife or our children in a place we could both access. It worked great. And now Apple’s iCloud Photos has a feature similar to iCloud Shared Photo Library.

Apple first announced iCloud Shared Photo Library in June as part of iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura. A few beta updates later, the feature was removed from the update while Apple ironed out some bugs.

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Fast forward to the end of October, and the release of iOS 16.1, iPadOS 16.1, and macOS Ventura all include the new feature. It only takes a few minutes to set up, after which you can automatically share photos and videos with the people of your choice with a friend or loved one.

Below, I’ll walk you through setting up iCloud Shared Photo Library and everything else you need to know about a feature that’s sure to save you some time.

Requirements for iCloud Shared Photo Library

To use the new shared photo library feature, you and the person(s) you invite to the album need the following:

  • An Apple device running iOS 16.1, iPadOS 16.1, or macOS Ventura.
  • iCloud photos are enabled on their Apple ID/iCloud account

If someone you want to share the library with is under the age of 13, they can only share a library with someone who is part of their Family Sharing group.

One last thing – the iCloud Shared Photo Library counts against the creator’s iCloud storage limit and not the other members. Keep this in mind when deciding who should create the shared album.

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Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

1. Begin the iCloud Shared Photo Library setup process

The process of enabling the shared libraries feature doesn’t take long, but you have to make some important decisions along the way.

If you are setting up the shared library on a Mac, open the Photos app then click Photos > Settings in the menu bar. press the Shared Library tab and then Getting started….

On an iPhone or iPad, you need to open the Settings app then go to photos and select Shared Library.

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Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

2. When setting up iCloud Shared Photo Library, you need to make some decisions

After you start the setup process, the Photos app will ask you a few questions before it starts sharing photos and videos on your behalf. Don’t stress too much about any of the options you choose (or don’t choose). You can change all settings later.

Here’s a quick overview of what you need to decide:

You’ll see a list of all devices linked to your iCloud account that don’t have access to the shared library until you update the software. If there are devices you to need To have access to all your photos, you should either update the software on them or wait to activate your shared library.

You will be prompted to add participants you want to invite to the album. You can only be a member of one shared album, which can have a total of 5 other people as members. Remember that anyone who is part of the shared album can add, edit or delete photos and videos. Beat +Add participants to select a contact to add to the album.

You’ll have to decide whether to go all out and put all your photos and videos in the shared library, add only specific people or content after a specific date, or manually select content to add.

If you choose the middle option – People and Date – you’ll be prompted to choose one of the faces you’ve already identified in your iCloud Photo Library. So in my use case I would select my children, my in-laws, my wife and myself as people to add to the album. You’ll then be asked if there’s a specific start date you want iCloud Photos to start adding.

Finally, send the invitation.

Personal and shared libraries

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

3. Navigate through your personal and shared albums

After sending the invitation(s), your iCloud Photo Library will be split into two parts. You have a personal library that is completely private and only you can access it, as was the case in the past. You also now have a shared library of all content that you and other members have either shared manually or that has been curated by iCloud Photos.

Any changes you or someone else make are automatically synced to the shared album. The same goes for all deletions – anything you delete from the shared album will delete it for everyone.

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To switch between albums, tap the three-dot icon in the top-right corner of the Photos app and select Both libraries, personal library or Shared Library.

You will also find that there is an option to have one Shared library badge appear in the Photos app. I recommend enabling this (indicated by a tick next to it) so that when viewing both libraries you know which photos are private and which are shared. The icon appears in the upper right corner of each photo and is the silhouette of two people.

4. Move photos to your shared library or vice versa

You can move a photo between libraries at any time. The easiest way to do this is to open the photo and then tap on the library icon in the top right corner of the screen. For example, the photo above was stored in my personal library, so there was a silhouette of a single person with a down arrow. When I selected it, the option to Move to shared library was presented. Tapping it immediately started the syncing process to move it between libraries.

There’s one important caveat here: you can only move your open photos and videos between libraries. That is, if I move a photo from my personal library to the shared library, my wife cannot then move that photo to her personal library. The option just doesn’t exist.

The Photos app also makes suggestions from time to time in the For You tab, which you can quickly approve and add to the shared album.

Shared Library Button in Camera App 1

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

5. Add content to your shared library directly from the camera app

But wait, there’s more. If you don’t have an automatic sharing setup, you can have a photo or video posted to the shared album on your behalf right from the Camera app.

When you open the Camera app, you should see the Shared Library button. If it is crossed out, the feature is disabled. Tap the icon to turn it on or off. If the icon is yellow, it means all the photos you take will be saved to your shared library.

Shared Library Settings-1

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

6. Finally, where to find iCloud Shared Photo Library settings

One last thing. You can fine-tune your iCloud Shared Photo Library settings by opening the Settings app on an iPhone or iPad, then go to Photos > Shared Library.

There you’ll see a list of everyone who’s currently a member of the library, along with a few other options. When you type Suggestions for shared libraries You can turn “For You” suggestions on or off, and add or remove people you want suggestions for.

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Choose Share from camera to add or remove the share button to the camera app, and to toggle the setting to have the camera app automatically share photos and videos you take when it detects that a member of the shared library is nearby . A feature that will surely come in handy when you’re on vacation and taking photos. Finally, you can enable sharing of any photos you take when you are at home and other members of the shared album are not.

There’s a lot more to iCloud Shared Photo Library than you think, but that’s a good thing. You have complete control over what gets shared and when, and once you have a good system in place, all the back and forth about sharing precious memories with a friend or loved one should be something you never have to think about again.

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