Here are the differences between Apple's iCloud Photo Sharing vs. Shared Albums.

iCloud Shared Photo Library Vs. Shared Albums Reveals Major Differences

You’ll want to share your library wisely!

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The worst part of a girls trip is the end — not because it’s over, but because you and your besties have to go through all the pictures you took and send them to the group chat. The Shared Album function in Photos is a great way to minimize the group chat chaos, but now that Apple rolled out a new iCloud Shared Photo Library feature with iOS 16.1, it’s time to figure out what each tool has to offer. Here’s what you need to know about the iCloud Shared Photo Library versus the Shared Album, and which feature is best for sharing pics with your besties.

The Shared Album feature, which lets you create and share photo albums with specific people, has probably been your go-to photo sharing tool since the feature launched in 2013. The collaborative function allows your friends to add their own photos, videos, and even comments, and pops up in your Photos app alongside other albums like Recents and Favorites. But on Oct. 24, Apple debuted another convenient photo sharing option, the iCloud Shared Photo Library, with the launch of the iOS 16.1 update. The new feature works a bit differently than Shared Albums — along with creating a collaborative library with up to five people, you can also send photos from your Camera straight to your Shared Library, customize what kinds of photos to include based on the people in the photos, and more.

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Before you can pick a photo sharing feature for your next bestie trip, you should probably have an understanding of how the features work first.

iCloud Shared Photo Library & Shared Album Features

Both functions have a lot to offer, and there are benefits to using one tool over the other based on the occasion. Here’s the rundown of the features’ key differences.

Shared Albums Features

Shared Albums let you share photos, videos, and comments with your besties, and allows participants to add their own content, too. You can easily add or remove participants from accessing the album, and unlike the iCloud Shared Photo Library, you can also make multiple Shared Albums for any occasion. Because of this, Shared Albums make for a great photo sharing solution for smaller, specific events, like a Halloween party or a road trip.

iCloud Shared Photo Library Features

Similar to Shared Albums, the iCloud Shared Photo Library lets six people (including yourself) collaborate and contribute to private shared photos, but instead of an album, the function creates a completely separate library. You can choose to share everything in your Photos to the iCloud Library, or you can customize your picture selections based on date or people in the photos. But keep in mind: you can only have one Shared Photo Library, so it’s probably best to save this option for your family or framily (aka your closest friends) instead of a weekend baecation. Also, it’s important to note that the person who creates the iCloud Library is responsible for provide iCloud storage for all items.


That being said, there are some perks to using the iCloud Shared Photo Library. For starters, iCloud Libraries allow for more seamless sharing, because you can elect to send photos straight from your Camera to the iCloud Library via a toggle in the Camera app. If you don’t want to leave the function on all the time, there’s also a setting that automatically turns on the photo sharing Camera tool when you’re hanging out with your other collaborators.

How To Turn On Photo Sharing For Both Features

No matter which feature you choose, you’ll need to turn it on in Settings before you and your group can start adding pics.

How To Turn On Shared Albums

If Shared Albums seem like the right fit for your friend group, here’s what you need to do to turn them on:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Select your name at the top.
  3. Navigate to the iCloud tab.
  4. Select the Photos option.
  5. Scroll down to “Shared Albums” and turn the toggle on.

How To Turn On iCloud Shared Photo Library

If the iCloud Shared Photo Library is more your speed, here’s what you’ll need to do to turn it on once you’ve installed iOS 16.1:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Navigate to the Photos section.
  3. Turn on the “Shared Library” option.
  4. Choose up to five participants to join or make your selections later.
  5. Choose past photos and videos to include in the library.
  6. Follow the onscreen steps to preview your Shared Library and confirm the content that you want to share.

How To Use Both Features

OK, now that you’ve gotten the features up and running, it’s time to start sharing your pics.

How To Create A Shared Album

It’s time to create your first Shared Album to really see the differences at play. You can do that by:

  1. Open the Photos app.
  2. Tap the “+” above the “Albums” section.
  3. Tap “New Shared Album.”
  4. Give the album a name.
  5. Choose the people you’d like to invite by entering their contact names, iMessage phone numbers, or email addresses.
  6. Tap “Create.”

To add more people later, select the album you want to share in Albums, then navigate to the People tab. Tap “Invite People,” enter their contact information, then tap “Add.” To remove a collaborator, select a name in the People tab and tap “Remove Subscriber” at the bottom of the screen. Only the creator of the album has control over who can access the folder, so if you’d like to share your bestie’s album with someone else, you’ll need to ask them to share it for you.


How To Turn On iCloud Photo Library Sharing From Camera

If you want to share your photos with the Library automatically, select the Photos option in Settings, then tap “Shared Library.” Turn on the toggle next to Sharing From Camera, then select the “Share Automatically” option. This option will inform the Camera app to add photos to your Shared Library when you're near participants. If you’d prefer to turn the sharing tool on and off, select “Share Manually,” and if you’d like photos taken at home to be shared automatically, select “Share When At Home.”

You can also send photos to your iCloud Library via the Camera app. To do so, you’ll need to make sure the Shared Library button, aka the round button with two people located in the center, is turned on. If you turn it off, your photos and videos will be sent to your Personal Library.

How Many Shared Albums Can You Make?

You can create and join up to 200 Shared Albums, and each album can be shared with up to 100 people. That adds up to a lot of vacays, and even more pics.

How Many iCloud Shared Photo Libraries Can You Make?

You can only participate in one Shared Library, so even if you don’t create one yourself but share a library with your fam, you won’t be able to join any others.

How To Access Both Features

There’s no point in using these tools if you’re not sure where to find them in your phone, so here’s what you need to know.

How To Access Shared Albums In Photos

Shared Albums are located in the “Shared Albums” section in the Albums tab on the Photos app.

How To Access iCloud Shared Photo Library

The iCloud Shared Photo Library can also be found in the Photos app, but it’s not as easy to find as Shared Albums. To access yours, tap the button next to Select in the upper right corner at the top of the Albums or Library tabs. From there, you’ll be able to choose to view your Personal Library, Shared Library, or Both Libraries.

With so many people contributing to a single Shared Library, you’ll probably want easy access to pics of certain people or events. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to create folders within the iCloud Library, but you can organize photos by marking them as Favorites or by using the captions and keywords as a labeling tool.


Clearly there’s a lot to consider when making your choice, so to make the decision process easier, here’s a simple way to look at it. If you’re sharing pics from a party or vacation, you’ll likely want to opt for the Shared Album, but if you want to stay connected to your friends or family from afar, the iCloud Library might be the option for you. But of course, the choice is up to you — and your besties.

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