How to set up a shared library on iOS

With the launch of iOS 16.1, Apple introduced a new way to share pictures and videos with a small group of people. It’s called iCloud Shared Library and you can use it right from your iPhone, but it’s also accessible from iPads and Mac computers.

The old way of sharing photos and videos, shared albums, hasn’t gone away, but iCloud shared library is a more comprehensive option. It gives people the ability not only to view an image collection, but also to curate and edit it. It’s also great for when you want to stop bombarding group chat with an endless stream of photos of your toddler.

Launch a shared iCloud Photo Library

Before you can use iCloud Shared Photo Library on your iPhone, make sure it’s running iOS 16.1 or later. You should also have iCloud Photos enabled in your Apple account, which you can check on your phone by going to Settings, tapping your name at the top, then selecting iCloud and photos. After completing Housekeeping, tap in Settings photosSelect Shared Libraryand Getting started.

The system then moves those photos and videos from your personal library to the shared library, so they appear somewhere else in the Photos app. You can preview the shared library before proceeding, and then you can invite other participants via messages or via a link you can paste into any app.

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Finally, iOS will ask you whether photos and videos you take in the future will be moved to your shared or personal library by default. You can switch between them on a case-by-case basis in the camera app by tapping the library button: it’s the two-silhouettes icon in the top right in portrait mode. You can also change the default save location of your images at any time via photos, Shared Libraryand Share from camera in the settings.

Using a shared iCloud Photo Library

If you’ve set up an iCloud Shared Photo Library, you’ll have it and your existing personal library in the Photos app. To switch between them in the library view, tap the three dots (top right) and then select personal library, Shared Libraryor Both libraries. To make it easier to see which elements are in which library, you can activate the Shared library badge Possibility. This will show an icon (with two silhouettes) on images and videos that belong to your shared library.

Everyone in the shared library has full courier permissions and the same options in their Photos app, allowing them to add, remove, and edit items. The only privileged member of a shared library is the person who created it in the first place: you’re the only one who can kick members out or add new ones by going to photos in their phone’s settings and then to the shared library. From this screen the admin can also delete the shared library and if you are a guest you can use this menu to leave it.

Shared libraries also appear in the Photos apps on iPadOS and macOS. If you’re using a Mac, launch Photos and you’ll see a drop-down menu at the top right next to the main navigation area. Click on them to switch between them personal library, Shared Libraryand Both librariesand right-click any image or video to move it between your personal and shared libraries and vice versa.

Note that by default, the photos and videos in a shared iCloud Photo Library count against the storage quota of the person who created the library, but not those invited to share it. So if you expect to create a large collection of images, having someone pay for additional iCloud storage to host the library is probably a good idea.

How shared albums compare

Compared to the Shared Albums feature, an iCloud Shared Photo Library is designed to give fewer people more access to photos and videos. For example, think of parents sharing photos of their children, or a group of friends collecting photos and videos from a vacation together.

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You can have up to 200 shared albums at a time, each with a maximum of 100 participants who can add but not edit photos and videos. Meanwhile, you can only have one shared iCloud library at a time, which you can only share with up to six participants, with everyone having full control over the collection. Shared libraries are also more spacious: they can contain as many photos and videos as your iCloud storage allows, while shared albums can only contain up to 5,000 items.

There’s also tighter integration of shared libraries with the Camera app on iPhone – the ability to send photos and videos directly to a shared iCloud Photo Library is really handy. However, to take full advantage of this feature, your shared library should be an area you use frequently, not a bunch of photos and videos that you only check occasionally.

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