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Sharing your iCloud Photo Library

Updated on November 25, 2015

Editor's Note: The following tutorial assumes that you have iOS 9.0 or greater installed on your iPhone.

Now that the iCloud Photo Library on your iPhone syncs across all of your Apple devices, it’s simpler and easier than ever to share your photos with mom (who never stops asking you for more), other family members, friends, or any random member of the public who you desire to impress with your keen eye and photographic acumen. And the sharing is controllable, too, so that you can customize exactly who is going to see what.

But first, there are a few preliminaries that must be attended to.

Turn on your iCloud Photo Library

This step is the most important of all. Tap Settings on your phones home screen, then scroll down and tap Photos & Camera. The first option at the top of this screen gives you the option to turn on the iCloud Photo Library, which is exactly what you want to do.

If you made the mistake (like I did) of buying an anemic 16 GB iPhone rather than the quadruple capacity of the dreamier 64 GB version, your phone’s storage capacity will quickly max out, particularly if you shoot a lot of video. For this reason, it’s important to check the next line that says Optimize iPhone Storage. With this checked, your phone will store your original photos and videos in their full resolution in iCloud, but keep an optimized version on your phone to save storage space.

Once enabled, your phone will begin to upload your entire iPhone Photo Library to iCloud, but ONLY if you are tapped into a WiFi network, and ONLY if you have enough space in your iCloud account to accommodate them all. Apple graciously gives everyone to 5 GB of free iCloud storage to start, but the nightly automatic backup of your phone (you have this enabled, right?) also goes to iCloud, so it can fill quickly. It’s best to check how close you are to capacity before you start.


Check your storage

To do this, tap Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage. The top half of the screen shows you how much is Used and Available on your phone, based on whether your iPhone model is 16 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB. The bottom half refers to how much Total Storage you have in iCloud and how much is Available. If available storage is tight (with a 16 GB iPhone, this happens all too quickly), it can be increased to 50 GB for an affordable $.99/month.

The good news is that 50 GB should be plenty for just about everyone, so most average users won’t have to think about it again for a while. If you’re videoing the day-to-day antics of your one year old, or have plans to shoot a full length feature film, you may want to consider the next level of 200 GB for $2.99/month, or live in the lap of luxury with 1 TB (that’s 1000 GB) for $9.99/month.

I’ve found that it’s best not to allow either your available iPhone to get much below 500 MB of available storage because inexplicable things often start to happen. This leaves you feeling angry, frustrated, and powerless, ultimately wanting to blame everyone within a five block radius of Cupertino, California. It’s yet another reason to buy a 64 GB iPhone (rather than 16 GB). And definitely purchase at least 50 GB of iCloud storage space. Apple obviously needs the elbow room to deliver its world to you, so it’s up to you to make room for it.


Increase your storage

To increase your storage, tap Manage Storage under the iCloud heading on the Storage & iCloud Usage screen and tap Change Storage Plan. After you choose your desired storage upgrade, you’ll be asked for your Apple ID password. This will prompt Apple servers to gleefully access the credit or debit card that is associated with your Apple ID and begin to collect your monthly pittance. If you never associated a card with your account, you’re going to have to divulge those details—like it or not--before you can proceed.



iCloud Photo Library versus Backup

Now that that you have iCloud Photo Library turned on and are logged onto a WiFi network, and now that you have assured that you have adequate iCloud storage, you will have to give your iPhone enough time to upload all of your Photo Library to iCloud. This is going to take a while—like many hours, even overnight or longer, depending on how many photos and videos you have, the upload speed of your WiFi network, and how busy Apple’s servers our at the time. And yes, you heard right: all the videos that you have created with your iPhone are also uploaded to iCloud along with your photos.

A relevant factoid: If you never enabled your iCloud Photo Library until now, your photos are still in the Apple iCloud, but they got there via the nightly Backup of your iPhone. Like all of the files on your phone that are in the backup region of iCloud, they are not accessible; they’re only there to restore your iPhone in case of a disaster, or to populate a new iPhone that you purchased. With Photo Library, all of your photos are immediately available to view on your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, your Mac computer, or www.icloud.com. In other words, they are available on just about every piece of hardware in the Apple ecosystem.

Relevant factoid #2: Once you have enabled Photo Library, your photos are no longer part of the nightly backup of your phone. They’re still stored in iCloud, but in the iCloud Photo Library room.


Have your photos ascended?

But how do you know when your initial upload of photos to iCloud is completed? There are two ways to find out.

Number one, you can look at your phone to see if any photos are pending upload by going to

Settings > Photos & Camera. If you are up to date, you should see a message under iCloud Photo Library that says something like, Last updated at 9:41 PM. If photos are still uploading, a message will tell you exactly how many, such as: Uploading 53 photos.

The second way is much more definitive. From any browser, open www.iCloud.com home page. This is the warehouse and distribution center for your iPhone and all other Apple devices. Once that page is loaded, you will be prompted to enter your Apple ID and password. Click Photos. If your upload to the iCloud Photo Library is complete, all but your most recent iPhone photos should be here, sorted chronologically by date from bottom to top. The photos you took in the past few hours will show up eventually in fairly short order, usually in an hour or two after logging onto a WiFi network.

Don't become a Jennifer Lawrence

Irreverent factoid #3: Remember the Jennifer Lawrence nude photo debacle in 2014? Hackers were able to access all of her iPhone photos—not because they had access to her phone—but because they were able to determine her Apple ID password and log onto her account via www.icloud.com. Ditto with Paris Hilton and surely others. Whether you take nude selfies or not (I don’t want to know), the best way to protect your own privacy is to use a strong password and add two-step verification for extra security. It also helps to create a more cryptic Apple ID.

And whatever you do, don’t use the name of your dog as your password; that was reportedly the mistake that Paris Hilton made.

Create a shared folder

Now, finally, we come to sharing those photos, but there is yet another preliminary step: you still have to create a shared folder and put photos in it to share.

Family Sharing allows you to share not only photos, but music, movies, apps, and books with up to six family members and requires one adult person (the designated head honcho) to be the family Organizer. Family members are invited by the organizer, and each can be given permission to make purchases on the credit or debit card that the organizer is required to register with this method of sharing. This is a capital idea for a close family unit to share photos and purchases between them, but it really goes beyond the scope of simple photo sharing, so let’s delay the details of using this for a future post.

Family Sharing isn’t the only way to share with specific family members because the alternate method allows you to share your album with anybody, friend, family, or foe. You do this by creating a Shared Album in iCloud Photo Sharing.

From your phone’s home screen tap Photos. When the photos app opens, tap Shared at the bottom of the screen which opens iCloud Photo Sharing. From here, click the plus (+) sign next to New Shared Album. At the prompt, give a name to the Shared Album that you are creating. In this example, let’s say that you want to use Hell in Hawaii. Tap Next. At the following prompt, enter the email address that you want to share the album with. Important note: If you are going to share your folder as Public Website, then just enter your own email address to fill the space. This method is explained below. Tap Create, then tap on the Hell in Hawaii folder to open it.

At the bottom of the screen, tap Photos. Then, at the top left, tap the plus (+) sign. This will open your Photo Library and allow you to bore any chosen recipient silly with up to 5000 photos that can be added to your shared folder. Just tap on each photo you want to add. A white check mark on a blue back round will appear in the lower right hand corner for each photo you choose. Tap Done. A small window will pop up that prompts for any text that you might want to add to this album. Tap Post.

Finally, let's share your photos

Once you have identified yourself as the first person to ever dislike Hawaii (and you have added photos to your Hell in Hawaii folder to prove it), you have two methods of sharing your rotten experience in paradise.

Less preferable method #1. After you have added all of your photos, tap People in the lower right hand corner, then tap Invite People near the top of the screen. This is where you add the email addresses of all of the people who you want to invite to see the contents of your shared folder. Tap Add at the top right of the screen and an email invitation will be sent to each recipient asking them to subscribe. The recipient then clicks on the subscribe button, and he as access to your folder.


A better way to do it is to make your folder public—conditionally—allowing you to post a link to your Hell in Hawaii folder in your iCloud.com account that only recipients will have access to. This link gives access to this folder and this folder alone, not to any other photos in your iCloud.com account.

From your phone’s home screen, tap Photos. At the bottom of the next screen, tap Shared, then tap the folder you created to share (Hell in Hawaii, in our example). On the following screen, enable Public Website. This will automatically create a link with a URL address to access your Hell in Hawaii folder. To copy the link, tap Share Link. Now, share that URL link to whatever venue you desire—website, email, social media, billboard—and whoever clicks on this link or enters it into a web browser will be able to access the photos in your Hell in Hawaii folder. They can even click Play to view them as a slide show.

I’ve left out a lot, such as how to create folders to manage your Photo Library and how to use Air Drop, but if your mother is anything like mine, the tips contained within this tutorial should make it easy to get those promised photos to her in short order—assuming she has some electronic gadget that will access the internet. If not, get those prints in the mail pronto.

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