How to Use Google Photos To Rein In Your Photo Library

Google Photos is free, powerful, available on all platforms, and even comes with free cloud storage, all of which makes it the easy go-to choice for consolidating and organizing your photo library.

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The advent of the smartphone camera means we’re all taking more photos than ever before. And ff your phone is getting weighed down with hundreds of digital snapshots, there is a very easy way to streamline your entire library and make the process of sorting through it much easier: Google Photos.

Google’s flagship photo app, but if you haven’t experimented with it, it is worth considering as a solution to your photo woes: It essentially takes the hassle out of backing up, categorizing, and even tagging your photos. All you need to do is take the pictures and let Google Photos do the rest.

Of course, Google Photos is not the only option. Apple’s similar iCloud Photos service, which can also back up and sorts your pictures for you as well, with the drawback that you have to be using an iPhone right now and continue using an iPhone in the future. Google Photos, meanwhile, is faster, simpler and more intelligent at the moment, and (unlike Apple’s offering) works just as well on Android and Windows as it does on iOS and macOS, which makes it the only choice for a multi-platform home or family.

What’s more, Google Photos will back up all of your photos and videos, free of charge: The only caveat is that photos get shrunk to 16MP if they’re any bigger than that, and videos get scaled down to a maximum of 1080p. Those limits will be perfectly fine for most users, and it means you don’t have to pay anything to get all your pictures and videos in the cloud.

You can store images and videos at their original resolutions too, but once you go past the 15GB of Google cloud storage you get for free, you’ll have to buy some more. You can get  100GB of storage for $2 per month, 200GB for $3 per month, and 2TB for $10 per month.

Getting started

You can access Google Photos through the web, through the desktop clients for Windows and macOS, and through the mobile apps for Android and iOS. Get these apps set up, and you can configure automatic photo uploads from your devices, or just drag files into a browser window in Google Photos on the web.

In the Android app, for example, tap the menu button (three lines, top left), then choose Settings. Tap Backup & sync to get all the snaps you take with your phone backed up to the cloud you’ll see you can choose whether or not to keep the original resolutions and exclude certain folders on your device if necessary. This is a great way to ensure one-off screenshots and other errata doesn’t end up in your canonical photo library. You can also set whether backups happen over a cellular connection or only via Wi-Fi.

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Back up your files to Google Photos and let the app worry about sorting them.

At the most basic level, that’s most of what you need to know. Your photos and videos are automatically sent to Google’s servers from your phone or computer. On iPhones and Android phones, you can choose the Free up device storage option from the app menu to delete local copies of files that have already been uploaded, leaving more room on your handset for a fresh batch of shots.

Go to browse through your photos on the web or one of your devices, and you’ll see they’re organized by date, with the newest ones at the top: Scroll down to see older pictures. Tap or click on an image to see more details about it, such as the time and location it was taken at (if you can’t see these details, click the small information icon on the web or open up the context menu then choose Info on mobile).

Google Photos comes with some basic but effective editing tools for your pictures as well. On mobile or the web, click the sliders icon to start editing: you can apply a series of Instagram-style filters, adjust the brightness and color of your images, crop and rotate your pictures, and more besides.

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Google Photos puts some basic editing tools at your disposal.

To make specific albums for specific photos and videos, click the Create button then Album on the web, or tap the three dots in the top right-hand corner and pick Album on mobile. You can then pick existing photos or upload new ones to fill out your album. If you need sets of photos and videos to get at quickly, use the albums feature to do it.

Delve into the Settings option from the app or web menu to change various aspects of how Google Photos works: You can, for example, group similar faces together (more on this in a moment), choose how unrecognized file types are managed, and set up how sharing photos and videos with other people works.

Power Features

As you would expect, Google Photos excels at search, thanks to some smart image recognition tech built right into the service. Try searching for “selfies”, “sky”, “forests”, “cars”, “dogs”, “concerts”, “birthday”, “baking”, “wedding” or just about any other word you want to try. Click through on the Albums link and you’ll see Google Photos makes auto albums out of some of the most popular terms.

This AI-enabled magic extends to people you know too. Click inside the search box on the web or tap inside the search box on mobile and you should see a row of faces Google Photos has identified—tap on any face to put a name to it and to see all of the matching photos and videos in your collection.

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Google Photos can recognize faces and even pets in your pictures.

You can search for people in your Google Photos library, and places too, if your pictures have locations tagged on them. The app also lets you search by date, whether it’s “January 2018” or “January 11 2010”. It’s this flexible and deep searching that really defines Google Photos, and means you don’t necessarily need to create any albums manually at all.

Click or tap the Assistant button in the app and you’ll get some helpful advice from Google Photos about how to improve your photo library: It might be clearing out duplicate or unimportant pictures from your collection, for example, or rotating pictures that Google Photos has detected aren’t orientated the right way. Follow the Review suggestions links to take action.

Sharing photos with other people is a breeze as well. If you’ve got one other special person in your life, you can create a shared library that you both have access to: From the Settings option in the Google Photos menu on the web or on mobile, select Shared libraries and follow the instructions to get started. This is also great for creating vacation or party albums that can include submissions from all attendees.

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Set up a shared library with a significant other.

Otherwise you can share one or more photos or videos by clicking the Share buttons spread liberally through the Google Photos interface (the icons showing three dots joined by two lines). If Google Photos recognizes people in the images, it will even suggest that you share the pictures with those people.

Photos and videos can be shared over social media or email, and you also have the option of creating a shared album when you share something through the service. This means more files can be added at a later stage, if needed—it’s perfect for photos of the kids or a particular event, for example.

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