How to set up family sharing in Photos

“If more than one Mac- or iOS device-using person lives under your roof — or if you share your Mac with one or more people — using Photos in a family situation can be a complicated affair,” Lesa Snider writes for Macworld. “Because you can’t share Photos libraries across a network, you quickly end up with multiple libraries (one for each Mac user account) and nobody remembers which pictures live where. It’s a nightmare; but fortunately, Apple has a solution.”

“Family Sharing enables you to create a special group that you invite family members to join,” Snider writes. “The end result is a shared album named Family that everyone in the group can access (and it can’t be shared with anyone outside the group). Family members can easily add or remove their own pictures and videos, which are viewable and downloadable by everyone in the group. This album is also accessible on the Web; just visit and sign into your iCloud account to see all the goodies it contains.”

“It’s a great long-term solution, too. For example, as family members get additional iOS devices, their own Macs, or they move away (yippee!), their unique Apple ID ensures that all their pictures, videos, emails, and so on migrate to the new devices. Plus they can continue to share digital proof of their adventures, even from far away,” Snider writes. “And that’s not all; the Family album is just one of several services that you can share among the members in your group. Other services include a shared Calendar, purchases from Apple’s App store, iBooks store, and iTunes store, and tracking the locations of Macs and iOS gadgets.”

How to set up family sharing in Photos here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we move from the, uh, less-than-optimal iPhoto era to the new and improved times where Photos rules, this is a good article to have and bookmark for review anytime you need it.


  1. The way Apple has set this up is beyond stupid. Instead of simply creating a virtual pointer in the Family Sharing album to the pictures that you already have uploaded to iCloud Photos, it re-uploads the same pictures in lower resolution and quality to the shared album, resulting in MORE storage used.

    It makes NO sense to re-upload a picture which is already in the cloud.

    1. Exactly. The age of 2-megapixel images that were 400kb each is long gone. Now, each 16-megapixel picture takes up more space than two average songs on iTunes, and with digital cameras and 32GB memory cards, people are recklessly careless with their trigger fingers.

      I have a family iMac. There are five user profiles on it, one for each member of the family (including grandpa). During the iPhoto years, I had placed my one iPhoto library package inside a ‘Shared’ user folder and gave read and write permissions to everyone in that folder. I pointed everyone’s iPhoto to the same library and all had access to all of our family pictures. Anyone who had pictures to import would do it on their own user profile and they would be visible and accessible to every other user on the Mac. When I take pictures on my iPhone, they get automatically synced, via PhotoStream, with my family iMac, as well as my office Mac Mini and MBP. This was extremely convenient, as I didn’t have to specifically ‘share’ pictures with my family before they could see them in iPhoto — the images would just automatically appear as soon as my iPhone is on WiFi after taking new pictures.

      Then along the way, Apple, in their infinite wisdom, made iPhoto automatically check and “correct” permissions on iPhoto library, messing up my settings. Now, when my wife opens iPhoto, she automatically revokes my own permissions. Worse, when iPhoto changes permissions, it doesn’t do it the right way, so even after the change, my wife would get black image with a question mark on every picture that was imported into iPhoto from my own user profile (and vice-versa). When someone else tries to open iPhoto after that, they also have to wait for the permission repair process (and with 40k photos worth several gigabytes, it takes time), and even then, they can’t see the pictures that were imported by other users.

      This became a colossal hassle, so I decided to try the Photo solution, but that’s even worse. Now every picture is duplicated FIVE TIMES on my computer, in every single iPhoto library for every single user. This is patently absurd; instead of about 8GB of space, my pictures take up 40GB, not to mention the toll on the iCloud.

      I’m not sure how common is my scenario (several users of a family iMac), but this is truly frustrating, and my family (especially my wife) has been increasingly annoyed and frustrated by the behaviour of our family photo library which previously worked easily, smoothly and transparently.

      The worst part of it all is that I had looked around for alternate solutions that would allow me to do what I used to be able to do so effortlessly, but regrettably, there are none. The whole iPhoto -> Photos evolution is profoundly disappointing…

      1. Feel your pain dude. Very cool implementation. When you set up something like that, its likely that the new setup will break it. For your duplicate issues, can you do a search for multiple copies? The old software used to be able to do that.
        It is often the case that when Apple changes a software in a major way that it can significantly impact some users.
        The new software has resolved issues for me with multiple libraries on different devices. The only caveat is that I had to buy into the iCloud sharing. That was not a biggie since I had been willing to pay $100 a year for So even with the iCloud and iTunes Match, I am paying less than I used to for more capabilities.

    1. Was just going to post this same thing. I’m not looking to manually transfer photos to a family album.

      Before, when I could use the “family” iCloud account for iPhoto and individual accounts for Messages/etc, things were good. Now that they’re inseparable, the constraints are killing Photos’ effectiveness.

  2. I don’t like the new Photo application. I don’t use the cloud either. We live a mobile lifestyle and have bandwidth cap issues (10gig per month for household). So we share an external hard drive with the Photo database on it.

  3. Would be great if Apple would separate just photos from all other options in a Family Sharing setup. I do not want to be the one paying for all the crap my kids choose to buy in the App Store; I simply want to share all photos with them.

  4. I got an Apple TV over the weekend (finally!). Is it really the case that it won’t stream pictures from Photos over my home network (as it did – and still does – with iPhoto) unless I have them in iCloud? I.e. it’s basically pushing me to pay for iCloud storage just to upload my pics or use a clunky workaround of screen-sharing from my Mac to my Apple TV?

    If so, as long as iCloud photo storage is paid for, and the free allowance is pitifully small, this is possibly THE most annoying thing Apple have done for a long while.

  5. I’ve mostly given up on curating my photos at all, especially in iPhoto/Photos. I just don’t have time to spend a lot of effort when it still leaves so much to be desired. I have my iPhone and iPhoto set to upload to PictureLife, as does my wife. Everything goes into the same account, so we actually know that all our photos are available to both of us.
    Unbelievable that Apple hasn’t gotten something like that working easily. They’ve known about families wanting to share music/photos/whatever for at least ten years. Embarrassing, especially since they do so many things well.

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