• Shared iCloud Photo Library is a new feature in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura, coming this fall.
  • Photos are automatically shared to the album, depending on the rules you set.
  • Any family member can add, see, edit, and delete photos.

Shared iCloud Photo Library

Apple has finally added shared family photo albums to the Mac, iPhone, and iPad in the iOS 16 and macOS Ventura betas, and it looks like it might be worth the wait.

How do you share photos with your family members right now? Maybe you all get together after an event and AirDrop your images to each other. Perhaps you share the best pictures via iMessage? Or, if you're really on the ball, maybe you created a shared album. But whichever method you pick, it's a lot of manual effort every time, and other family members might not want to bother. The new Shared iCloud Photo Library aims to fix all that, and it seems to be almost perfect.

“It didn’t matter who took [the picture], it would go into the family photo album. It didn’t make sense to have shelves of dad’s photo albums, mom’s photo albums, and each individual kid’s photo albums. The idea that you would want to have some kind of sharing photos within a family was well established before computers,” says family album proponent and Apple pundit John Siracusa on episode 486 of his Accidental Tech Podcast podcast.

Family Snaps

Shared iCloud Photo Library is what it sounds like—a shared library. Not an album, but an entire photo library. It's just like the one you already use on your Apple devices, only shared equally. That is, every family member has equal permission to add, remove, and edit any images therein. 

The family part is based on iCloud Family Sharing, which lets you share app purchases, subscriptions, and locations with other family members, and also administer your kids’ devices.

Shared iCloud Photo Library sharing moments

When you first enable your Family Library, you have to choose which of your existing photos will be added. You can pick by date or choose to only include photos of family members. You can even choose to only add photos where certain people appear in photos together. 

Once everyone has joined and chosen which images to share, those pictures will be available to the whole family. Favorites, captions, and keywords all sync, too. It’s exactly like an old paper family album full of printed photos.

Then, once you get set up, things get interesting.

Easy Sharing

None of this would be worth the trouble if you couldn’t keep adding pictures easily. To this end, Apple has made adding pictures automatic, while still preserving privacy.

For instance, you know when you enable Live Photos in the Camera app, and it stays on until you disable it again? Family Sharing works the same way. There’s a button at the top of the camera screen that lets you toggle between private and shared. Any photos or videos snapped while in shared mode will go directly to the family library; anything shot in private mode stays private.

Every member of the family has equal permission to add, remove, and edit any images therein.

Another neat feature detects when you and your family members are together at an event—a birthday party or a camping trip, for example—and any photos taken when you're together are automatically shared. Be careful taking selfies if you are getting frisky in the tent, though.

Anyone can then edit or caption these images, and in the Photos app, you can switch between your shared or private library, or view both simultaneously.

This looks like an example of Apple at its best. It combines many aspects of hardware, software, and the cloud to make something easy, (presumably) seamless, and powerful. And while there may be third-party apps that do this kind of thing, the fact that this is integrated, and can be totally automatic, means it's something you'll actually use.

“People have been waiting for Apple’s solution to this problem for a long time,” Apple user and Photo Library fan Macative says in a MacRumors forum thread participated in by Lifewire. “Looks [like] they finally got this exactly right.”

Shared iCloud Photo Library example

Photos are probably the most valuable data most people have on their phones and computers, and being able to easily access the shared photos from our loved ones makes them even more valuable. 

I bet that when this feature debuts in the fall, and we all add our pictures and videos to the new shared library, a lot of people are going to be very happy seeing things they’d forgotten about over the years or some they’ve never even seen before.