Pocket Scrapbooking with Project Life

Cultivate a good life and record it.



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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


55 Responses

  1. Michele says:

    Hilarious and what an amazing post on storing photos using Google Photos :) I have dabbled once but for some reason I didn’t go further into this. This just gives me motivation to try again! One question, are the photos you upload into Google Photos private automatically? Thanks Race!

    • Race Ashby Race Ashby says:

      Yes! Once uploaded, your photos are only visible when you are logged into your own Google account, or if you choose to share the photos in a shared album.

  2. Susan says:

    So i pay extra for extra storage on the icloud….now is that not as safe as I think it is???

    • Race Ashby Race Ashby says:

      No, I think paying extra for additional iCloud storage is perfectly safe. The benefit there is that the storage is integrated with your iCloud account, but the downside is having to pay for it! There are lots of cloud photo storage solutions out there- iCloud is one, and Google Photos is just one of many alternatives. It just happens to be my favorite!

  3. Jennie says:

    Oh bless you for this post! I had a phone scare last week where my son tried to unlock my phone using his thumbprint (which he is set up to do), but it wasn’t working and instead of asking for help, he just kept trying until it locked us out. The AT&T store said we’d have to do a factory reset and I cried the entire drive home. Luckily, a couple of hours later I remembered the back-up password I had set 2 years ago, but had never needed to use. Whew! But I came *thisclose* to losing 2 years’ worth of memories that I am just now getting around to documenting (now that Project Life is available on Android!!). I am backing up all photos right now! THANK YOU!

    • Race Ashby Race Ashby says:

      Yay! My heart hurts thinking of all those lost photos, so good for you backing them up! Extra points for doing something with them now that they’re safe, too. I’m a little biased, but using the Project Life app to get photos into albums? Your son will thank you!

  4. Sierra Heath says:

    Thanks for the tip. I will have to check this out. I have lost several years worth of photos when my external drive crashed and I had just cleaned out my computer. Luckily it was before my kids were born.

  5. Carolyn Counsell says:

    I, too, have fallen in love with Google photos! As far as protecting memories is concerned, I take it one step further…although Cloud storage *should* be foolproof…I keep an external hard drive back up of everything I’ve uploaded to Google, then I delete it off my computer. In the future, as I get more organized, I plan to also do periodic downloads of my Google photos (like perhaps an annual backup, again to an external hard drive) to store a backup that would include any edits, etc that I have made. Thanks for a great article, Race. I plan to forward to friends who have asked how to get started with Google.

  6. Kimberly O. says:

    Great article! I love Google Photos. :) I also keep a backup of photos on an external hard drive that I ONLY attach when I backup stuff. (So that if I was to get a ransomeware virus on my PC, my backups would be safe.) I also backup photos to DVDs and have these stored in our safe deposit box. Zombie apocalypse, you know!!

    • Natalie says:

      How do I back my photos to my external Hard drive? It keeps putting them in Zip files. I am not very tech savvy.

  7. Karen says:

    Will I be able to access from the project life app?

  8. Monique says:

    What an awesome post!!! I didn’t even know this was an option with Google!! Fun read & I learned a bunch too. Thanks Race!!

  9. Tonya F. says:

    In the past 4-5 months, I have presented on Google Photos to the staff at my school, the members of our Innovation Academy (think techy teachers from every building in our district), librarians from northeast Kansas, various friends and family members, and soon a softball team (both girls and parents). The search feature is amazing, the ability to share pictures and have others add to your album will be a life saver to the team documenter, and I find I don’t make folders/albums because your photos are already saved by date in photos. I love how I can access all my photos from any device, and it doesn’t take up any of your space in Google Drive.

    I love the assistant the most. When you upload pictures and videos, you come back a few days later and the assistant will make collages, add effects to a photo, make a story, or even a video that can be edited. These can be saved or deleted. You can make your own videos by selecting the videos and/or pictures you would like to use, and then let the assistant do its work. You can edit the clips to ensure you have just the right moment if the assistant didn’t find it. Then add music and effects and you have an easily shareable product.

    Example: https://goo.gl/photos/3hp7ua27sxiy1op28

  10. Ginny says:

    Thank you for your article! Becky is right- you are a good writer! I recently started using Google Photos and I love it. I do still put my pictures on an external hard drive as well. Thanks again!

  11. Melissa says:

    I have a Google account, but did not know about Google photos (and the awesome unlimited storage). My photos are not properly backed up and I’m excited to give this a try. Thank you for this excellent post!!

  12. Kassie says:

    I’ve been using Google photos since I saw a previous recommendation from Race about it in another BH blogpost. I think it’s been since Dec or Jan. I LOVE it. So easy to use. It has been a life-saver for me with my photo organization and storage :) Thanks for the detailed post.

  13. LeanneM says:

    Thank you! This is invaluable! My pictures were on an external drive and are currently backing up to Google Photos…time to free up some space on my computer! Another tip you could include: use the windows app to ‘auto find’ photos on your computer if you have them in several folders :)

  14. LeanneM says:

    P.S. Currently testing the ‘unlimited’ claim – I’m uploading 57,000…how did I ever take so many????

    • Nancy says:

      How long did it take to upload that many photos?

      Race I hope you see this! Just wondering how long does uploading that many pictures take? I worry it will just be days and kill our wifi ability for anything else at home.

    • Race Ashby Race Ashby says:

      Nancy, when I started my uploads Google hadn’t released their “Google Photos Backup” tool on iMac, so I had a couple issues with my computer going to sleep on the job, and I had to wake it to remind it to keep uploading! While that should no longer be an issue, you’re right about the time constraints. For my photos to all get saved I had to wait the better part of a week!

  15. Tina says:

    HI Race Thanks for the great information, will help my use Google photos in a much better way. I struggle with not being able to access the photos for to use with the PL app on my iPhone. If you have removed them from the Google Photos on your phone in the way you suggest how do you get them back to put on camera roll to use the app. Probably a silly question but struggling with playing catch up to get PL layouts of many old photos. Thanks T

  16. Kathryn says:

    Hello Race
    Love your tech talk guide..thank you.
    I was wondering if there is a way in the app for Android users to pull photos from an “album” created in Google photos. Or if this is something that may come to the app.
    The difficulty at the moment is that when pulling photos from your device through Google photos you need to scroll through all your photos to find the ones your looking for and if they are from a holiday last year say, it is time consuming even to complete a single layout as you can only drag one photo at a time. Where as if you can create an album of the pics from that trip you want to use it would be more efficient as you can simply go to that album when uploading.
    Thanks for your help.

  17. Alyssa Dennis says:

    Curious about the Free Up Space option… can you explain that a little more? I attempted Google Photos some time ago but kept being frustrated when I deleted an image from my gallery and it also removed it in Google Photos. Does Free Up mean as soon as I upload there will be no more images in my gallery?

  18. Debbie Viney says:

    Hi! I have an I pad. i saw there is an app for Google to use on the I pad. Do you recommend that? Does it work with Google photos? Thanks!

  19. jeanette says:

    wish I would’ve read this earlier today. I just sent Wendy a question about accessing google photos from the digital app. I’m an iPhone person and now I know how to work around it and get those picture printed!!!

    A million thanks to you Race for this great tip!

  20. Amanda McFadden says:

    I asked a question thru the Instagram post but have not heard back yet. Just wondering if when photos are uploaded if it keeps the date that the photo was originally taken? Also, once everything is uploaded is it then a good idea to sort them all into folders?

    • Race Ashby Race Ashby says:

      Yes! So glad you asked. Google Photos does retain the information about when, where, and on what device each photo was taken, which can be SO helpful finding and organizing photos. So yes, I definitely recommend sorting photos into folders, but there’s something you want to look out for. Don’t let the need for folders and your own organization overwhelm you to the point that you can’t finish the project. If organizing into folders is so time consuming that it prevents you from moving onto, for example, actually scrapbooking those photos, then rely on Google Photos’ amazing search function and don’t worry too much about personalizing the organization with folders. My main thing is that we should use this tool to avoid being overwhelmed, rather than turning it into a project that’s too big to finish. Hope that helps!

  21. Melissa Blenker says:

    This is exactly what I needed to read! This weekend I’m backing up all photos! I have them everywhere. They are on my work computer, my home computer, cd’s, usb drives, you name it! Did it take a long time to upload the photos? It’s going at a snail pace and we have pretty good internet here.

  22. Jessica Olsen says:

    OMG as a momma who takes TONS of pics I’ve been looking for a FREE way to back up my thousands and thousands of pics. THANK YOU FOR SHARING!

  23. Heather says:

    Bravo Race Bravo!! Very enjoyable read. So when can we expect your next article???? :)

  24. Ashley says:

    Race! Thank you so much! I absolutely love this! Thank you so much! This is seriously my biggest fear! I have been wanting to try good photos but had no idea how! So thank you so much for this! I have over 61,000 photos! Google photos does back up my phone pics but I want to back up all these that are on my external hardrive. When I went to upload the photos, I can’t just select my pictures folder. I’ve been working on organizing all my pics broken down into year, then month, then weeks and finally activities. When I try to upload the photos it makes me go into each individual folder and select all the photos. Is this the only way? Or is there a way to just select the whole photos folder??? Thank you so much! Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated!!!

    • Ashley says:

      Nevermind! I just found the desktop uploader! Currently uploading them!!! yaayy! thank you so much!!!

  25. Ashley Schultz says:

    Awesome post. Thanks so much for this info. I started uploading to Google Photos before I even finished reading the post.

  26. Michele says:

    I’m all set…BUT I could not figure out how to use the facial recognition feature and label the photos with names. :( I’ll keep trying. I was using my iPhone and when I click the search bar, I do not see an advanced search option. Hmmm…

    Thnak you; this was awesome!!

  27. Kristal says:

    Love the tips! Did it take you a long time for your photos to upload? I’m trying to upload 5000 and it seems to be taking a long long time. And does my computer have to be up and running for it to work? What if I close it? Will it continue once I open it again?

  28. Valerie says:

    What is the resolution of the photo quality that you use to have unlimited free storage?

  29. Deidre Donovan says:

    Is there a way for my Google photos and my husband’s to sync? I want to try the project life app and one thing i’m wondering is how I I’ll get photos that he has taken with his phone? Especially since those are the ones I am in haha. Is there a way to do that?


    • Danielle says:

      ^^^ I have the same question. I have been googling it and haven’t figured it out yet

    • Race Ashby Race Ashby says:

      So there isn’t a super simple way to do that (yet!) but the workaround I’ve researched, tested, and decided is ‘good enough’ works like this:
      1) While you’re logged into your Google account on your computer, click the “apps” button (9 grey squares) in the top left corner.
      2) Select Drive
      3) Select the Settings icon in the top right corner (looks like a gear) and hit “Settings”
      4) Check the box to Create a Google Photos folder and hit “Done”
      5) Refresh the page to see your Google Photos folder displayed under the “My Drive” folders on the left of your browser
      6) *optional* I renamed my folder to “Race’s Google Photos” for convenience in sharing
      7) Right-click your Google Photos folder and select “Share”
      8) Type in the gmail address of the person with whom you’d like to share ALL your Google Photos (then double check to make sure you’re okay with that decision)
      9) Hit “Done” and have that person accept the invitation from their Gmail account

      That should do it!

  30. Yan says:

    Google hasn’t yet made it possible for iPhone users to pull photos directly from Google Photos into the Project Life App. Will the Project Life App be updated so that we can upload completed layouts directly TO Google Photos?

  31. Lisa Torres says:

    I have been looking for an option and this sounds like google photos might work for me. Was wondering if I upload all my pics from my iPhone will they go to google pics and remain in the folders I have already made in my phone? ?I’ve spent a lot of time on my phone putting my pics in folders and would hate to lose what I’ve already sorted. I appreciate the help on this question :)

  32. Jeni Lannen says:

    I used Picasa in the past and began using Google Photos this spring. I was wondering if there is anyway to import my Picasa photos into my Google Photos so they are all stored in the same place. Thanks.

  33. Michele says:

    Hi again!!! Just had to come back here with an update!!! Last weekend my husband and I surprised our kids by taking them to SeaWorld but this time I decided not to bring my DSLR camera, just take pictures from my iphone 6+. So, I’ve been wondering if there would be a quicker way for me to upload these pictures to print for our Project Life album and sure enough, I just came onto Costco Photo website, selected Google Photos Picasa. All our photos taken at SeaWorld, is now in my costco acct ready to select and print! :)

  34. Alison Dunphy says:

    Hi Race, after your tips with Toni about getting photos all in the same place i thought right im going to try this. Problem AHH, as a family we have a few laptops different versions from vista to windows 7,8,10. and for some reason my external hard drive that has tonnes of old photos saved on cant be recognise by any of the laptops. So i bought a new up to date external hard drive that says its compatible with all systems. started saving off laptops but had to use usb stick off old laptop then put into newest laptop to put on hard drive took all day doing one laptop. Question for Race how am i going to get the old photos off the old hard drive that seems to not work anymore and put on new hard drive. i have videos too, thanks for any advice love ali d

  35. Dawn Shaikh says:

    How can I use google photos + the project life app on my ipad?

  36. Julie Spady says:

    In addition to photos that I have on my iPhone, I also have photos on an external hard drive that’s linked to my computer. Can those photos go on Google photos also?

  37. Jaime says:

    Hi. I’m wondering if maybe someone can help me. I have an iPhone and often add pictures right from the text message by tapping the camera icon; however, the only option to choose is the camera roll (iOS photo library) and not google photos. Is there a way to be able to add google photos directly from the text message screen? Kind of a pain to have to go into the app itself In order to share a photo via text. Thanks!

  38. Lisa says:

    I’m a big fan of both the android Project Life app as well as Google photos. However, I have 30,ooo+ photos and when I try to create a layout I have to sift through all of them to each time. Will we ever be able to access Google Photo albums on the PL app to make it easier to create a layout?

    • Julie Campbell says:

      I too hope this feature is available as well. I am new to PL App and about to put all my photos on Google and dont want to make my life harder to make PL pages. I hope we hear back.

  39. Pat says:

    Is there a way to “choose” what photos go to google photo and arrange them by the date they were taken? I don’t want them all to go automatically from my iPhone 6S. I often take pictures of shopping lists or notes that don’t need to be kept forever!
    Thank you

  40. Adriana says:

    The Chatbooks app on iPhone easily lets you access Google Photos (including albums created there) for really seamless photobook creation. Perhaps, since this is now possible on the iPhone, this is something that can be integrated into the Project Life app? It is really the #1 thing keeping me from easily creating and ordering Project Life photobooks. The workflow right now is too tedious and clunky, but Google Photos has my love (and my photo library).

  41. pam says:

    I have been inspired to load my holiday photos on to Google photos but it it taking forever. There are only 275 of them and so far its only halfway there in nearly an hour??? Am i doing something wrong?