How to share iPhone pictures easily with Photo Streams

The biggest problem iCloud has is communicating what it does. Spending some time with my family I realise how iPhone and iPad owners have a vague idea of what iCloud means. This thing is tied, for example, to an Apple ID with credit card information — no wonder people get a little nervous typing a password without knowing what's going to happen. For a brand that prides itself in making things easy and accessible for common people, this iCloud business takes more time explaining than what it should. Some of the stuff iCloud does with pictures is very cool and definitely worth checking out as a simple way to share photos.

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The thing with Photo Stream is that people associate it with the automatic backup photos to the cloud. The system is already quite cryptic and has led to some confusion in the past. The fact that it takes extra space on your device is also a reason that might discourage users to give it a go.

If you haven't heard about sharing Photo Streams, there's no way you are going to find about it without help. This feature uploads a selection of your photos to the cloud for other people to see it. The latest version of Shared Photo Streams allows all users to contribute adding their own pictures (which was an odd limitation to begin with), rather than just viewing and commenting. Although explaining non-geek friends and relatives how this works can take a few minutes, it's definitely worth taking the time. Used to share more than three or four pictures, this method is a superior way to share photos on iOS devices than email and instant messengers like WhatsApp and Viber.

Where do I start?

The next time you select some pictures to send over email wait and think. Is the recipient using an Apple product? Does it have iCloud support? If the answer is yes to both questions, they'll see the pictures you send directly on the Photos app without needing to use a third-party app. This is a very important point when helping people who struggle to save pictures from an email to the Camera Roll or select multiple pictures to send them on an email.

If the recipients don't have an iOS device, they can still see the stream on an app like iPhoto or even better, as a public website that can be viewed by anyone on a normal web browser.

To get started, simply go to the Cameral Roll, select the photos to share and tap on the share button. Instead of the usual Mail or Messages, go for the suspicious blue iCloud button on the share menu. Once again, the iCloud branding is all over the place. Tap on the Stream (which is short for Add to Share Stream) and create a new one with the plus sign. Give it a name following the instructions and select the recipients from the contacts with emails on your Address Book.

No it's when the cool part starts. There's no real uploading to do from your end if the pictures you have shared have been backed up already on your personal Photo Stream. Recipients will get an invitation email asking them to subscribe and enable the sharing option on their devices. Push notifications will alert subscribers of new pictures, comments and likes, which they can check directly on their device. Having tried this with my family I saw notifications arriving with some important delays, but I'm not sure if this had to do with the weak cellular network signal where we were.

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If someone is not getting the shared tab on Photos, it's probable the Photo Sharing option is not enabled. This can be done on Settings → Photos & Camera → Photo Sharing.

The main criticism of sharing photos with this method is that Shared Photo Streams don't give you the full quality of the original picture. In my testing, photos weighting 2MB were be halved in size. If you are looking to share original pictures or if you end up printing any, this can be an issue. I found it such an improvement over sending photos via email that I'd rather use the Shared Photo Stream and use the comments to ask for a high res if needed.