A Beginner’s Guide To Google Photos

If you’re anything like us, you’re taking more photos than ever but there’s an important next step which is often overlooked — organizing and archiving.

Google Photos is our favorite solution for storing, organizing, and sharing photos and videos.

It’s easy to use and it’s free, yet many people still don’t know about this useful service. We’re here to help!

This complete guide explains how Google Photos works, how to get started, and lots of tips and tricks for getting the most out of it.

Google Photos boasts many excellent features.

Use the menu below to navigate our guide and learn all about Google Photos.

Don’t have time to read the guide? Here is a two page cheat sheet you’re welcome to download and share.

📌 Download the PDF summary.

The Basics – What Is Google Photos?

Google Photos logo

Google Photos is a photo sharing and storage service developed by Google. It was released in 2015 and is now hugely popular worldwide.

Google Photos stores your photos and videos in “the cloud” — this is just tech-talk for online storage.

In the past, you might have plugged your phone or camera into your computer and laboriously transferred all your photos and videos. From there, you might have backed up your computer on an external hard drive.

While extra backups can still be a good idea, especially for important files, storing your photos and videos in the cloud does have many advantages, such as:

  • It’s quick and easy — you can set up backups to occur automatically when you’re connected to wifi.
  • You can access your photos or videos from any device (phone, tablet, computer) as long as you have internet access.
  • Sharing albums, photos, or videos with others is simple.
  • Running out of storage on your phone is a thing of the past! Once your photos or videos have been uploaded, you can free up space on your phone.

There are a number of services available where you can store your photos in the cloud but Google Photos is particularly popular. Let’s take a look at why.

The Benefits of Google Photos

These are the main reasons why we consider Google Photos the best cloud storage service going around:

  • You get unlimited storage for free. You can pay if you want your photos stored with the original resolution but you’ll probably find the standard high quality free version is fine. (Images over 16MP are compressed to size, and videos are capped at 1080p resolution). We explain storage more later on.
  • It’s packed with numerous features to organize, use, share, and manage photos and videos.
  • It works on all devices seamlessly.
  • You don’t need to be overly tech-savvy to use Google Photos. It’s fairly intuitive and straightforward to navigate.
  • Other people don’t need to have Google Photos to be able to view the content you share with them (sharing is optional; your content is private by default).
  • You can archive photos that you want to keep, but don’t necessarily want to revisit like screenshots or receipts (find out more about archiving).
  • It’s easy to find a specific photo. You don’t need to remember the date the photo was taken. You can search by someone’s name, an event, objects, places, text in a photo, or even a map.
  • You can make movies, animations, collages, and albums to save, share, or embed.
  • You can access Google Lens to identify objects in photos, copy-paste text from textbooks and documents, translate text in textbooks and on signs, scan QR codes, and more. 
  • You can relive your favorite memories within the app (a very popular feature).

Google Photos has become more than just an app to manage your photos, it’s become the home for your life’s memories.

Here’s a summary of why we recommend Google Photos. Feel free to share this summary graphic with others!

Benefits of Google Photos Summary

How to get Started with Google Photos

Getting started with Google Photos is simple:

  1. Download the free app from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store.
  2. Open the app and sign in to your Google account. Chances are, you’ll already have a Google account (such as Gmail). If not, it’s quick and easy to sign up.
  3. Once you’re signed in, you simply follow the prompts to start uploading your photos and videos. Be prepared: this can take a while if you have a lot of images and videos. Make sure you’re connected to wifi if you don’t want to waste your mobile data.

👉 There’s also a web version of Google Photos for uploading pictures and videos that are stored on your computer. You can view and share images and videos via the web version but the app is better for exploring memories or creating movies.

How to View Your Photos and Videos

To view your uploaded photos and videos, you simply open the app or visit the Google Photos website from any device.

Go to https://photos.google.com on the web, or tap on the Photos tab in your app to view all your photos sorted in order of date uploaded.

The great thing about Google Photos is it doesn’t matter if you use multiple devices; as long as you’re signed in to your Google account you’ll be able to access your photos and videos.

Navigating the Google Photos App

The Google Photos app has three main tabs at the bottom: Photos, Search, and Library.

You’ll notice the app looks ever so slightly different depending on whether you’re using an iPhone/iPad or Android device.

Let’s take a closer look.

The first tab is Photos. This is where you see your past Memories and most recent photos.

Google Photos photo tab screenshot

The next tab is Search. This is where you can look for your photos by person, category, map, or things. You can also view your creations: animations, collages, and movies.

Google photos search screen

The third tab is Library. Here you’ll find your Albums, Favorites, Archives, and Trash. You can also make animations, collages, and movies through the Utilities option.

Google Photos Library

You view an individual photo by tapping on it. This is also how you access the options for editing and sharing a photo.

The image below explains what all the icons on a photo mean.

Photo options

This is what the icons surrounding an individual photo mean:

  • Cast to: Allows you to stream your photos from your phone to your TV using Chromecast. If you don’t have a Chromecast, you won’t see this icon.
  • Favorite: Adds the photo to your favorites folder.
  • More Options: Lets you add to album, archive, delete, and edit photo information. You can also open the image in Snapseed which is a photo editing app.
  • Share: Used to easily share a photo with others. The icon looks a little different on iPhone/iPad but is in the same position as the image above.
  • Edit: Used to apply filters to your photos; adjust light, color, or pop; rotate or crop the photo. If you want more complex photo editing tools you’d go to More Options (…) and then Open in Snapseed.
  • Google Lens: Image recognition software designed to bring up relevant information using visual analysis. We explain this tool more further on.

Backup And Sync in the Google Photos App

If you take photos on your phone, the easiest way to get them to your Google Photos account is via backup and sync.

My phone is set to automatically upload my photos to Google Photos when I’m connected to wifi. It’s a good idea to make sure this setting is turned on if you have a limited data plan on your phone (so you don’t waste all your mobile data).

To turn on the wifi backup setting:

  • Open your Google Photos app and tap on your profile image (or initial) in the upper right corner of the app.
  • Tap Photos settings (the gear icon).
  • The first option is Backup & sync. Toggle to activate backup & sync.
  • Make sure the two options at the bottom of the screen, “Use cellular/mobile data to back up photos” and “Use cellular/mobile data to back up videos” are turned off.
How to turn on backup & sync Google Photos The Edublogger

Google Photos Search

Google Photos uses complex techniques to analyze and group photos which make its search very accurate and powerful!

You can search for people, pets, places, things, text, and more. You can type in search terms like “tennis”, “Sydney”, “Mike birthday”, “carrot cake recipe”, “Charlotte wedding” or anything else that springs to mind. You can have multiple search terms too like “2016 summer Steven picnic”.

What makes all these search options great is you don’t need to remember the specific date or even any specific details of the photo you’re looking for.

To find a specific image in Google Photos:

1. Click or tap on the Search tab at the bottom of the Google Photos app (or use the search bar on the web).

Screenshot Google Photos app search

2.  When you start typing in your search, suggestions will pop up like recent searches, people you’ve named, location and so on.

Google photo search

3.  When you enter your search term you’ll see all the options which you can then scroll through and select.

Searching Google photos
All my kangaroo photos

Naming People and Pets

If you use Google Photos a lot, it can be very helpful to name your friends and family. You can also give pets a name!

When you click on a photo of a person or pet at the top of the Search tab, it pulls up any photo you’ve uploaded to Google Photos with them in.

👉 Want pets included? Go to Photo settings > Group similar faces in your app and turn on Show pets with people.

You can name the faces of people for easy future searching too. This is how you do it:

1. In the Search tab of your app, you’ll see faces of people (or pets) who show up in a lot of your photos.

Tap on More

2. Tap on the photo of the person or pet you want to name.

Tap on photo

3.  Tap on Add a Name.

Tap on Add Name

4.  Type their name and tap Done if it’s a new name.

Type name

Or select from an existing list of names if it matches an existing name you’ve already created. Then tap Yes for merge.

Tap Yes

Google Photos Memories

Memories is a feature that was added to Google Photos in 2019 and due to its popularity, it became a main feature of the app in mid-2020.

Memories are collections of some of your best photos and videos from the past. Memories are available on Android devices, iPhones, and iPad (not on the web version).

Only you can see your Memories unless you choose to share them.

To access your Memories, simply go to your Photos tab in your app. Memories are displayed in a carousel above the grid of your most recent photos.

Tapping on a preview for a year opens up your memories of photos and videos.

Memories on the Google Photos app.

You can select the types of Memories you want to see in Settings:

  • At the top right of the app, tap your account profile photo or initial and then Photo settings > Memories.
  • From here you can hide particular people, pets, and dates if you don’t want to revisit these memories.

This is section 1 of 3 in the series “A Beginner’s Guide To Google Photos”

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168 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide To Google Photos

  1. I find your step by step approach so helpful.
    I have just returned from a trip and would love to be able to upload the photos (in albums) forwarded to me by others on the trip to my Google photos account.
    Can this be done? If so, can you direct me to a site with step by step directions?
    Thanks for your help.

  2. I want to move my Google photos into albums, but they are not moving, they are added. So I end up with 2 copies of the same photo-one in its album and the other in general photos. If I delete the photo from general photos it is deleted from its album. Is the only option to archive the general photo?

  3. Hi! I uploaded my pics from my computer to GP and shared the album with other people. They on the other handed added more pictures to my album. I can see the additional pictures in the activity, however is there any way that I can download only the additional pictures to my computer without selecting the pictures individually and saving, as that is quite time consuming.

  4. Hi, I am editing my photos on Google Photos and then uploading the photos to use.com so that a school audience can view them. However, the photos uploaded are the originals, not the edited version. Can you please help me figure out how to upload the edited version??

  5. Why when I delete a photo in my album on my
    Phone is it deleting the
    Photo in my google gallery too

    1. Hi Kali,
      Your device and Google Photos are in sync. If you want to only delete the device copy photo open the Google Photos app on your mobile device .
      1.Select one or more photos that are on the device.
      2.At the top right, tap on the “3 dots” menu icon.
      3.Select Delete Device Copy.
      The photos selected will be deleted from your phone, but the GP photo will stay.

      Hope this helps,
      Sylvie

  6. Thank you for the article, but I’m still trying to figure out how to sort photos into albums from the photos instead of opening the album and then adding photos. I have a LOT of photos to organize. Doing it the album-first way, so to speak, I have to open Album A, then scroll through allllllllll my photos and add all the ones I want in Album A. Then I open Album B, scroll through alllllllll my photos to add the ones I want to Album B and so on. That takes an awful lot of time. Isn’t there I way I can scroll through my photos and add each of them to albums as I go? That would mean having to go through them once rather than repeatedly.

    1. Hi Amy,
      It depends on the device you are on, a solid tip for Desktop – Windows is to select the first image you want to add, then go to the last image you want to add and hold Ctrl+shift and click; this will select everything in between. Google Photos also automatically organizes pictures by location (Places) and I never found I have to do any sorting.

      Hope that helps!
      Sylvie

  7. Hi Kathleen and thanks for this. You say in the “How to get started” section that there is the phone App and also a Web version for laptops etc. If I download the Web one can I also put the App on my phone and will both sources (laptop & phone pics) end up in one account?? I am a UK user.

    1. Hi Peter,

      That’s right — you can access your account from both the web and your phone app at the same time. The web version doesn’t require you to download anything. You just go to https://www.google.com/photos in your browser on any computer and sign in. To use the app, you have to download it to your phone (or tablet etc).

      Photos that you upload on your phone via the app will show up when you use the web version and vice versa.

      Hope that helps!
      Kathleen

  8. Thanks for your very complete tutorial! But couldn’t find an answer to the main question I have: how to display photo captions (I know how to create them) in a slide show or movie.

  9. Hi – many thanks for this great article, I have one question – if you are still answering:

    I have photos in the folder “google photos” in my drive however I want to move them over to the stand alone “google photos”. do you know of a way to do that as i can’t see any way!

    Thanks

    Luke

  10. Hi,
    I’m new to using Google Photos. How can I send out a group of photos (an album I’ve created) in an email to a group of 80 people all at once? I’ve already created this group, but can’t seem to enter into the “To” box.
    Thanks

    1. Hi Rick,

      I could be wrong but I believe the easiest way is to:
      1. Open your album in Google Photos
      2. Click on the share icon in the top right corner
      3. Click on ‘create link’
      4. Copy this link and paste it into your email to your 80 recipients

      Hope this helps,
      Kathleen

  11. Hello Sue,

    Thank you for the information. I’m still looking for a solution to what I think is a simple problem.

    I would like Gmail to automatically save the photo attachments to Google Photo. This would be done as soon as the email arrives at my inbox. There will be no need for me to open the email or download the attachment or inline photo. There is no need for complicated organization. Just copy or move the photo to Google Photo. Done!

    I would also like this to happen quickly, meaning not waiting 30 minutes for something to sync.

    An even better solution would be if I could simply email directly to Google Photo (Like I used to be able to do with Flickr) and have the photo show up in a Photostream like Flickr.

    I have tried to get Gmail to automatically backup to Google DRIVE but this only seems to happen if I open the email and download the photo.

    If there is an app that will do this great, I’ll buy it. All of my experimentation has been done using Gmail and Drive and Photos online via a Windows Desktop. I have not tried any this using a Google Photos app on a phone or tablet.

    Hope you can help!
    Thanks!
    Rod

    1. Hi Rod,

      The only way I’ve found to do this is to open the email and click on the button that says ‘Download to Drive’. I know that’s not what you’re after.

      I thought there might be a Chrome Extension that lets you do this but the only one I can see is this one which lets you save any photo on the web. Not really what you’re after either!

      Sorry I can’t help more but if you do come across anything, please let me know. I’d love to add it to the post. Maybe it’s worth posting in the forums?

      Thanks,

      Kathleen Morris
      Edublogs Community Manager
      @kathleen_morris

  12. Hi I granted a photo printing website access to my google photos. Is it a one time thing or does it mean that website can access to my gg photos anytime they want in the future?

    1. Hi Ted, maybe check with the photo printing service on the technicalities of that. I’d be interested to know what they say!

  13. Your article says Google has unlimited free storage, but on my phone Google tells me that I have 15 GB free and after that I have to pay. I’m unclear why this apparent difference.

    1. Hi there,

      You’re right — your Google account includes 15 GB of free storage to use across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos.

      Google Photos has two storage settings — original quality and high quality.

      If you upload your photos to Google Photos in original quality then this doesn’t count towards your 15GB of storage. If you upload photos in high quality it does count.

      Hope that makes sense?

      Kathleen

  14. 4/14/19 Hi, I just wasted about 6 hours (very slow old phone, NO computer) attempting to finally organize/group photos AND memes (huge collector) in the actual Gallery+ app (area?) … & to my horror, when I went to check on the 300, or so, pix/memes I had put in the many albums … 98% are chopped-off/cropped-off AND blurry! Can anyone tell me WTH is going on? Is it my phone or just a VERY BAD FEATURE in Gallery+ that needs to be axed/86’d? Im very computer illiterate, so Im just assuming that the pre-installed Google Photos & the pre-installed Gallery+ are somehow connected.

  15. Hey guys,
    Thanks for a great and informative blog post about Google Photos.
    I’ve just recently started using this service and I now uploaded my raw files too (CR2). These files are typically +20 MB.

    You mention files above 16 MB will be compressed to (as I understand it) 16 MB max. Is this correct? When I upload the raw files they are compressed to < 1 MB.

    Thanks in advance,
    Lars

    1. Hi Lars,

      The information that Google provides says they are compressed to a maximum of 16MB. Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about the exact algorithm Google uses to determine the compression size. If you come across any more useful information please let us know so we can update the post!

      Thanks!
      Kathleen

    1. Hi Lyn,

      You’ll see the date range for the photos at the top of the album. To find out the date of an individual photo, click on the photo, click on the i (info icon) and you’ll find the details there.

      Hope that helps!
      Kathleen

  16. Excellent – well written & compiled with pics and screenshots. Great many thanks. It helped me a lot. Now trying to save a pdf of this article so it comes in handy anytime on the go. Appreciate the hard work

  17. Can you tell me why the length of text is limited when I e-mail a photo from Google Photos using my gmail? Also, why doesn’t the sent e-mail show up in my Sent of gmail?

    Lots of good info, thank you.

  18. You rock. This is an amazing tutorial! I think there’s only one question not answered… it’s the one that brought me here. I am going to buy a new phone and I’m afraid it will start with photo file naming with file #0001 which my old phone started with and that photo is stored in my Google Photos account. Will a new file #0001 overwrite the other one? Do i need to figure out how to start my new phone at the end of the old phone’s file names (like file #999,999,002 cause I take A LOT of photos)? Am I making sense? Thanks!

    1. Hi MJ,

      I’m pretty sure if you have different images with the same file name they are treated as unique. I believe Google can recognise the photos as being different. So you shouldn’t have any trouble but you could always try testing it out to be sure and if you do please let us know!

      Good luck!
      Kathleen

  19. Hi
    Can you tell me how I can stop the face tiles being added to google photos. Thousands of them appear when I have tried to save photos from my Mac at home.

  20. I moved some photos into a separate album, but I do not want those photos to appear in my general photos as they are private (for a surprise book). If I delete them from the general photos (the page that opens when you go into Google Photo), will they also be deleted from the album?

  21. Your blog is very helpful. Thx. I seem to have two google photo accounts..One with Gmail and one with Hotmail. Am in process of tr all to hotmail one. On my tablet I cannot seem to add hotmail google photo account to my Gmail photo account on the app..do u understand my problem and plse can u help sue

  22. Hello sue.
    Your article is very informative and interesting! Thank you.
    I wonder if my photos on google photos will remain after I download them to my pc
    (Just as a backup). Or is there an option to copy them?

    1. Hi Eli,

      The photos in your Google Photos account will stay there even when you download them. I often just download a handful of photos every now and then when I need them for a certain project.

      Thanks!
      Kathleen Morris
      Edublogs Community Manager
      @kathleen_morris

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