How to share iCloud Photo Libraries with family members

Last Updated: Sep 23, 2020

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Since our daughter was born over three years ago, I have thought about how to share iCloud Photo Libraries between my wife and I. Both of us have taken a lot of photos and videos of our kids and every couple of months I create a slideshow or a video trailer. I do that because the number of photos and videos is growing so rapidly that it’s unfeasible to enjoy those memories unless they are summarized in the form of a slideshow or a trailer. So the question is how to share iCloud Photo Libraries with family members aka Family Sharing.

No support from Apple

So the question is how to share iCloud Photo Libraries so I can pick the best photos and videos from both libraries. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t offer any way to get access to a family member’s iCloud Photo Library, other than using iCloud Photo Sharing (previously known as Shared Photo Stream). My goal was to have a single, consolidated album containing our kid’s photos and videos from both of our two iCloud Photo Libraries.

How to Share iCloud Photo Libraries with family members
iCloud Photo Library: Album of our daughter Isabella

The complicated way

When I started working on a solution to the above-mentioned problem, I developed a 12-step workaround. I organize all photos and videos of our kids in an album inside my iCloud Photo Library. Then I would do the same with my wife’s iCloud Photo Library and:

  • Export all images and videos to an external hard drive
  • Import them into my iCloud Photo Library
  • Scrub the duplicates
  • Manually adjust the date/time stamp of the video files (see why)

The better way

After a few months of doing it the complicated way, I found a much better solution: AirDrop. Every week, my wife would AirDrop all photos and videos she had taken that previous week to my iPhone or iPad. Once transferred, I would quickly add the new photos and videos into a “Kathy transfer” folder. That way, I could quickly identify her photos and videos to add keywords and make edits. The advantage of using AirDrop is that video files keep the correct date/time stamp that is lost when exporting them to a hard drive.

How to share iCloud Photo Libraries with family members

Despite the workaround via AirDrop, I hope that Apple makes sharing photo libraries easier in macOS 10.13. I imagine a shared photo library that does not lead to duplicate photos. In other words, sharing a photo or video merely links it to the shared library, instead of copying it. That would make my photo processing workflow much easier and less time-consuming.

4 thoughts on “How to share iCloud Photo Libraries with family members”

  1. That is the reason why I consider to use Google Photos :/ But on iOS it just an app :/ What do you think about Google Photos? Is it worth to switch?

  2. Hey Michael,

    Its gratifying to see I’m not the only dad spending so much time on work-arounds.

    Thank you for sharing all that you’re doing here.


    • This infuriates me to no end. It is ridiculous that I can sync notes, contacts and other things to a secondary iCloud account but not photos (or iCloud Drive, but don’t get me started on that). Adding the iCloud family stuff is just like poking me in the eye for all the good it does.

      What’s worse is that they have done all the hard work- the interface, the seamless sync, the ability for my phone to be aware of more than one iCloud account, even the space management works better than I would have guessed. It’s not even like they stuck it behind a paywall, YOU JUST CANT DO IT.


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