I don't know about you, but I can't tell you the number of times my wife and I have had to say "hey, can you send me that photo you took of the kids earlier?" to each other. It's not a daily occurrence, but it happens often. We used to use Google Photos and its shared albums feature until we moved over to iCloud Photos a few years ago. Google would curate the shared album based on facial recognition, placing photos and videos that contained me, my wife or our kids into one place we could both access. It worked great. And now, Apple's iCloud Photos has a similar feature with iCloud Shared Photo Library.
Apple first announced iCloud Shared Photo Library back 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.
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. Setting it up takes only a couple minutes of time, after which you can have photos and videos that contain people of your choosing automatically shared with a friend or loved one.
Below I'll walk you through how to set up iCloud Shared Photo Library, and anything else you need to know about a feature that's sure to save you some time.
iCloud Shared Photo Library requirements
In order to use the new shared photo library feature, you and the person(s) you invite to the album will need the following:
An Apple device running iOS 16.1, iPadOS 16.1 or MacOS Ventura.
iCloud Photos enabled on their Apple ID/iCloud account
If anyone you want to share the library with is under 13, they'll only be able to share a library with someone who is part of their Family Sharing group.
One last thing -- iCloud Shared Photo Library counts against the creator's iCloud storage limit, and not the other members. Keep that in mind when you decide who is going to create the shared album.
1. Begin the setup process for iCloud Shared Photo Library
The process for turning on the shared library feature doesn't take long, but it does require you to make a few important decisions along the way.
If you're setting up the shared library on a Mac, open the Photos app then click Photos > Settings in the menu bar. Click the Shared Library tab and then Get Started….
On an iPhone or iPad, you'll need to open the Settings app then go to Photos and select Shared Library.
2. You have a few decisions to make while setting up iCloud Shared Photo Library
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 pick (or don't pick). You can change any of the settings after the fact.
Here's a brief rundown of what you'll need to decide:
You'll see a list of all the devices linked to your iCloud account that won't have access to the shared library until you update the software. If there are devices you need to have access to all of your photos on, then you should either upgrade the software on them, or hold off on activating your shared library.
You'll be asked to add participants that 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, everyone that's part of the shared album can add, edit or delete photos and videos. Tap +Add Participants to pick a contact to add to the album.
You'll need to decide if you want to go all out and put all of your photos and videos into the shared library, only have specific people or content captured after a certain date added, or manually select content to be added.
If you select the middle option -- People and Date -- then you'll be asked to select any of the faces you already have identified in your iCloud Photo Library. So, in my use case, I'd select my kids, in-laws, my wife and myself as a person that should be added to the album. You'll then be asked if there's a specific start date you want iCloud Photos to begin looking at adding.
Finally, send the invite.
3. Navigating your personal and shared albums
After sending the invite(s), your iCloud Photos library will be split into two. You'll have a Personal Library that's completely private and only you can access, just as has been the case in the past. You now also have a Shared Library that has all of the content that you and other members have either manually shared, or that's been curated by iCloud Photos.
Any edits made by you or someone else automatically sync to the shared album. The same goes for any deletions -- anything you delete from the shared album will delete it for everyone.
To change 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'll also notice there's an option to have a Shared Library Badge show up in the Photos app. I recommend turning that on (indicated by a checkmark next to it) so when you're viewing both libraries, you know which photos are private and which are shared. The icon shows up in the top-right corner of each photo and is the silhouette of two people.
4. Move photos to your Shared Library or vice versa
At any time you can move a photo between the libraries. The easiest way to do that is to open the photo and then tap the library icon on the top right corner of the screen. For instance, the above photo 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 on it instantly began the syncing process of moving it between libraries.
There's an important caveat here -- you can only move your open photos and videos between libraries. So that means if I move a photo from my personal library to the shared library, my wife can't then move that photo to her personal library. The option simply doesn't exist.
The Photos app will also make suggestions in the For You tab from time to time that you can quickly approve and add to the shared album.
5. Add content directly from the Camera app to your shared library
But wait, there's more. If you don't have automatic sharing setup, you can opt to have a photo or video put in the shared album on your behalf from directly within the Camera app.
When you open the Camera app you should see the Shared Library button. If it has a line through it, the feature is disabled. Tap on the icon to toggle it on or off. When the icon is yellow, that means any photos you take will be saved to your shared library.
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 going to Photos > Shared Library.
There you'll see a list of everyone who is currently a member of the library along with a few other options. If you tap Shared Library Suggestions you can turn the For You suggestions on or off, as well as add or remove people you'd like to have suggestions for.
Select Sharing from Camera to add or remove the sharing button from the Camera app, as well as 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 near you. A feature that's sure to be handy when you're on vacation and taking photos. Finally, you can turn on sharing all photos you take when you're home and other shared album members aren't.
There's a lot more to iCloud Shared Photo Library than you'd think, but that's a good thing. You're in complete control over what's shared and when, and once you have a good system down, all of the back and forth about sharing precious memories with a friend of loved one should be something you never really have to think about again.