Syncing Photos to One Photo Library

Syncing Photos to One Photo Library

Apple's iCloud Photo Library

Apple’s iCloud Photo Library and its hooks into the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV is a very good solution to the problem of all these photos we take now in all sorts of place. So if I take photos with my iPhone, I can always be assured of having them everywhere I want them.

But it only works for my photos. Unfortunately, Apple’s Photo software and ecosystem is designed just for a single user. Yes, I can share photo albums with others and have them shared with me, but those photos aren’t really in my photo library. And they have to be explicitly shared with me. So what about all the photos Melanie takes with her iPhone?

While some couples will be fine with having two separate Photo libraries, we want just one place where all our photos live so we can enjoy them in the AppleTV screensaver, have them all backed up together, and even just seem them all. But Apple doesn’t provide a solution for that yet.

So I’ve cobbled together my own solution to bring all the photos (and movies) that Melanie takes into one primary Photo library under my iCloud account. 1

Her iPhone

First, we don’t use a Family iCloud account. Just two regular iCloud accounts. But we need one key preliminary step: A shared Dropbox folder. Second, we both need Dropbox accounts.2

I created a folder in Dropbox that I shared with Melanie’s Dropbox account (which, as you see in my most recent footnote, eventually just became a repository). Then I installed the CameraSync app on her phone. The main feature of this app is its ability to send all new photos and videos to a Dropbox folder automatically or manually. I have it set to sync whenever Melanie enters the geofence around our home, but sometimes it needs a little nudge and I start it manually.

My Mac's Photo Library

As the photos come into the Dropbox folder, they are synced down to the Mac that lives on my desk which has the canonical Photo library on it. At this point, Hazel takes over.3

Hazel is a System Preference Pane that watches folders and take action when a certain condition is met. In this case, I have a rule that looks for new photos and imports them into Photos. (Another rule looks for new videos and copies them to a folder on my network-attached storage.) After the photos are safely imported and the movies copied, the old photos and videos are deleted from Dropbox.

hazel-camerasync Photo library

By doing it this way, Melanie doesn’t have to setup a Photo library on her MacBook Air’s tiny hard drive, but all her photos are always on her phone and on the shared computer. And because of iCloud Photo Library, I can see Melanie’s new photos even when I’m still at work.

Until Apple comes up with something easier and more reliable this is the solution I’m sticking with now. But it is surprising that they still haven’t recognized the need for families to have one central repository for photos. They’re getting there with music and apps. Maybe photos will be next.

  1. I tried to solve this problem before, almost 9 years ago! ↩︎
  2. Given the size of the photos, a standard free 2GB account usually won’t work. You’ll either want two paid accounts, or—if you trust them to do this—be both signed into one paid account. This is the route I took. ↩︎
  3. I’ve written about Hazel before. An amazingly useful and powerful utility. ↩︎
  • Ive been trying to come up with a solution too. I even installed google photos but it just made me feel ill!!

    By doing it this way, that means that ‘Her’ photos are sent to your iCloud Photo Library, but not yours back the other way!.

    Today I have come across an article on the apple site:

    Would this work? You could both ‘look at’ the same library I think, I’m just too scared to try it!


    • I think that solution from Apple is for two users on the same computer using the same library file, and wouldn’t work for two different iCloud users on different computers.

      My partial solution for letting my wife have access to all my photos is to sync all my photos to Amazon Prime Photos. Since we have an Amazon Prime account, which she has the password for as well, then she can get access to any photos through there.

      Inelegant, but effective.

  • So you think this would work for two users, on the same computer, using the same library file with two different iCloud accounts? This is the set-up that I have!

    My wife’s only looks at her photos on her iPhone or ipad or on the Apple TV, never on the mac.

    I’m just nervous to switch only to find my 25k+ photo library ruined and having too start all over again!

  • I’m not sure if it can be two different iCloud accounts, but it might. If you’re worried about it mucking up your library, make sure to create not one but two backups of the file, just to be safe.