tech talk: using google photos
I almost lost 30,000 photos last year. We had them all on our trusty iMac, haphazardly dumped into a folder labeled “Photos.” Points for creativity, right? Then one day, completely out of nowhere, the computer died. Our friends at the Apple store said that we had likely lost everything on the computer. It made my wife and I physically ill to think about the amount of time that went into taking the pictures, editing them, and looking at them. But anyone who has lost photos knows that it’s really not about the photos – it’s about the memories they represent.
While we waited for our computer to get repaired, we agonized for weeks over our lost memories. Suddenly the way I held my baby girl was the most valuable information in the world. And did she have a cone head? We might never have remembered. Eventually we recovered those photos, and yes – she definitely had a cone head. To make sure we remembered that fact for years to come, we switched all our photo storage to Google Photos. Why would I trust some ambiguous “cloud” with my precious memories? Well, let’s talk about that.
With 30,000 freshly rescued photos dangling in the balance, I approached Google Photos less like a person storing images and more like a passenger on the Titanic cramming my family into a life raft. But then the life raft is full, so I push Rose onto a piece of driftwood while I slowly sink beneath the frigid water and she whispers, “Jack, I’ll never let go!” Oh, sorry. Where was I?
I began by logging into my usual Gmail account on my desktop computer. Everyone with a Google account already has Google Photos ready to go. Just log in and tap on the “apps” icon in the top right corner of your browser.
Proceed to the Photos icon and you’re in! From here, I clicked “Upload photos,” selected my aptly named “Photos” folder, and saved all 30,000 precious memories.
Once my computer photos were saved, I moved onto photos stored on my phone. I’ve heard Becky say that the best camera is the one you’ve got on you, but that’s only true if your camera isn’t completely out of storage all the time. I love how Google Photos can save photos from your phone and then delete them off of your device to keep storage space open.
To make this happen, I downloaded the Google Photos app on my iPhone and logged into my account. Then I tapped the three lines in the top left corner to see my options and selected “Settings.” Under “Manage device storage” I just tap on “Free up space,” and remove any photos or videos from my phone that have already been saved to Google Photos. That way I’m confident there is room for the next impromptu squishy baby photo.
Under “Back up & sync,” you can ensure you’re using the free option. Google Photos is free.* Yes, there’s an asterisk. There is no limit to how many photos you can upload, as long as you’re okay with their “high quality” option. Google Photos claims that this option offers great visual quality, and as someone who refuses to compromise on the clarity of my little girls’ baby smiles, I agree with them. The images are compressed, but they look exceptional and I honestly can’t tell the difference.
Google Photos isn’t the only free online photo storage solution, but there are a few features that I think make it the best. First, the search feature is fantastic. From my desktop, my phone, or any other device on which I’m logged into my Google account, I can click or tap on the search bar, which is featured prominently at the top.
See the prompt in the search bar there? Weddings. How Google knows that a photo was taken specifically at a wedding, I have no idea. Google simply instructs you to type something you remember about a photo and it will pull up all the possible matches. I wanted to find a picture of my sister’s enormous wolf-dog dressed as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma for Halloween. Sifting through shoeboxes I might never have found that particular photo, but Google whipped it out in a fraction of a second. I searched “dog,” but I could find the same photo by searching “wolf” or “Halloween.” I couldn’t find it when I searched “grandma” though, so I don’t know how Red Riding Hood fell for that disguise.
Google Photos also has an uncanny ability to recognize faces. Here’s how I use this feature. I click in the search bar and see an advanced search page. By clicking on the arrow next to the pictures of faces there, I can ask Google to pull up all my photos of any specific person. Because somehow Google knows. I even take it a step further by clicking on a face and then clicking on the pencil icon to label each person with his or her name. Now if I want to find pictures of myself, I just open Google Photos and type “Race” to see all the pictures Google thinks are of me. This is really useful for sorting photos and finding specific images.
Organization is important no matter how you store your photos. My 30,000 images in a “Photos” folder on my iMac was just as useless as the next person’s shoebox full of unsorted 4×6 pictures. I solve this by clicking on the Google Photos Assistant. Here, I can create albums, shared albums, collages, and animations.
Albums are a great solution for organizing photos however makes sense to you. Personally, I recommend sorting photos into albums based on projects. If I begin with the end in mind and my ultimate goal is to have completed scrapbook albums, then I’ll want to sort photos into albums that I know belong in specific scrapbooks I’m working on. You can also collaborate using the “Shared album” feature, which allows other invitees to view albums and add their own photos.
Our own photography expert Kara recently shared the photo tip to never underestimate the power of a good edit. We’ve recommended a few photo-editing tools recently, including Becky’s personal favorite: the iPhone app PicTapGo. For Android, desktop users, and pretty much everyone else, Google Photos offers photo-editing software tools you might find useful. They offer an “auto” setting for quick edits, some basic custom editing settings, and a preset palette of color filters. For this, I just recommend you click or tap around and get to know the effects produced by photo editing. To get started, select a photo you want to edit and click the icon that looks kind of like a pencil.
Finally, we touched on “Shared albums” to collaborate with others, but when you’re ready to post an image to social media, Google Photos has some really easy integrated sharing functions. By tapping on any photo and selecting Google’s “share” button, your options to post to social media or get a shareable link will pop right up.
If you’re using an Android device, you get the added bonus of Google Photos working with our Project Life® App, allowing you to pull in photos directly from your cloud storage. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t yet made it possible for iPhone users to pull photos directly from Google Photos into the Project Life App, but don’t worry – there’s an easy workaround! From your iPhone just hop into Google Photos and find the pictures or albums you want to scrapbook. Tap the 3 dots in the top right corner of your device. The option to “download” puts that photo into your camera roll, where it will be accessible from the Project Life App! The important thing is that you’re able to use technology to simplify the memory-keeping process, so even though you’re busy, you can still scrapbook.
Okay, your turn! Have you tried Google Photos? Have you been wowed by the search features? Have you tested their “unlimited” claim by saving more than my 30,000 photos? How do you think its photo editing stacks up against other apps you’ve tried? Are there other cloud storage solutions you’ve been impressed with? We love recommending new memory-keeping solutions, so share your thoughts in the comments below!