iCloud Photo Sharing: Family photos without Facebook

Need to share photos with a group?

You could use Facebook or Google Photos or even Instagram — so long as the folks you want to share with use the same one of those services. But what if you want to share privately with your family? All of these services are looking increasingly creepy. They tag you or your friends and alert them, or even analyze your photos so they can target advertising to you.

Isn’t anything private anymore? Well if you use an iPhone, Shared Albums in iCloud is a more private alternative. It lets you share photos and videos privately with a group. The service isn’t well known, but it’s built into iOS, so everybody with an Apple ID has it. And it turns out to be faster and easier than using Facebook or Instagram to share photos. Shared photos stay private to your group, and you decide who’s invited and how photos are shared.

Depending on how you set up a shared album, friends can share their own photos, or they can only view what you post. You can invite more friends or delete photos or even the entire album whenever you like.

Shared Albums in iCloud is available on any iOS device or Mac — or even PCs with iCloud installed. Here’s how to use it.

  1. First enable Shared Albums in iCloud on your device (if it isn’t already turned on).

  2. Then launch the Photos app and find a photo you want to share. Tap the share icon (the square with upward-pointing arrow coming out of it, bottom left). Then look for the Add to Shared Album action in this list.

  3. Once you tap Add to Shared Album you’ll see a share sheet with a thumbnail of the image you’d like to share, a place for you to type a comment or caption.

    At the bottom is the name of the shared album the image will be shared to (Family in the example below left). This is particularly important, as the album determines who will be able to see the photo.

  4. Tap the Shared Album name to see a list of your shared albums (above right). You can choose a different shared album, or create a new one.

  5. Once you’ve picked the shared album, type a comment if you like and tap Post. Everyone in the group will be notified of the new photo, and they have the opportunity to like it or comment on it. Inside the Photos app, the Shared tab lists all of the shared albums you belong to, any recent photos posted, as well as any likes or comments on those photos.

Apple’s Shared Albums in iCloud support document has the details of how photo sharing works, and how to make a shared album read-only. You can even make an album available as a web page if you like, so anybody with the link can view it. By default shared albums are private and allow members to add photos.

Altogether, Shared Albums is a terrific, if hidden, feature. It’s like having your own photo network — no Facebook required.

Updated 8 Jan 2020 for iOS 13, which renamed iCloud Photo Sharing and changed the share sheet.