A Beginner’s Guide to Google Photos

By Kathleen Morris & Sue Waters

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.

Create Movies, Animations, and Collages

Another thing you’ll see in your Memories carousel is “creations”. These are animations, collages, movies, and re-colored images.

You can choose to save these automatic creations, ignore them, or delete them. To save creations from your Memories carousel, select “Save” at the bottom of the creation. They will then appear with the rest of your photos in the Photo tab.

You can also make your own creations such as an animation, collage, or movie.

Make Your Own Albums, Collages, Animations, and Movies

Making your own creations is simple:

  • At the bottom of the Google Photos app, tap Library and then Utilities.
  • At the bottom, find options to create an Animation, Collage, or Movie.
Screenshot Utilities in Google Photos

How to Make a Movie on Google Photos

A movie is just one of the creations available on Google Photos. It’s a great way to put a collection of photos together.

This is best done on a phone or tablet. You can do it on a computer but the computer version only allows you to create a movie from one of the pre-set themes shown below. These templates may not be what you’re after.

Google photos movies

To make a movie on your Google Photos app on your phone or tablet, tap Library and then Utilities.

From here, you’ll select Movie and then Create movie.

You’ll be prompted to choose your photos or video clips (up to 50). You can then customize your creation by choosing your music and a variety of filters.

When you’re done, there are lots of sharing options. You can share your completed video with friends, save it to your device, publish it on social media, add it to your Google Drive, or share it to a service like YouTube.

Check out these instructions from Google for step-by-step directions.

How to Make a Creation with Selected Images

Instead of choosing your creation and then choosing your photos, you can also choose your photos first and then make a creation out of them (album, movie, animation, or collage).

This is how you do that:

1. Search for your images, or browse through your images in the Photo tab of your app.

Enter search term

2.  Press hard on a photo you want to add to your creation. This selects the photo and opens up the select box.

3.  Select all the photos you want to add to your creation then tap on the + sign.

Tap on plus sign

4.  This launches the creation tools page. Select what you want to create from the list of Create new options. Then follow the prompts to complete your creation.

Selection Create New

Google Photos creations can be used in so many different ways! You could share memories of learning or excursions on your class blog. Or perhaps you’d like to make a special video for a friend or family member. The possibilities are endless.

Here’s an example of a movie created from photos.

Google Photos Albums

Google Photos uses its complex image processing techniques to automatically group photos together into Albums.

Tap on Library > Albums on your Google Photos app. Or, go to https://photos.google.com/albums on the web.

On the web, the automatically created albums are grouped at the top of the page and the albums you’ve created are displayed below.

Albums

How to Make Your Own Albums and Add Text

Albums are a great way to organize your photos and you can share them with others if you wish. You can also add text to your albums with a personal caption or description to remember the details of your image.

This is how you create an album with text captions in Google Photos:

1. Search for your images, or browse through your images in the Photo tab.

2. Press hard on the photos you want to add to your album. This selects the photo and opens up the select box.

3.  Tap on the + sign and then choose Album.

Tap on Create

4.  Replace Untitled with your title.

Add title

5.  Tap on the Add Text icon (Tt) to add a text box to your album.

Text icon

6.  Add your text.

Add your text

7.  You can add as many text boxes to your album as needed and change the order of text boxes and photos.

Press hard on the text box or photo you want to move to another location in your album then drag/drop to the new location.

Drag drop text box

8.  Tap on the Save icon when you’ve finished editing your album.

Tap save

You can open up an album to add more photos, delete photos, or add more text by tapping on the More link

Tap on more

and then tap on Edit album.

Edit album

How to Share Your Google Photos Albums with Others

While albums are private by default, they can be great to share with family or friends. When you share an album with someone, they won’t be able to see all the photos in your Google Photos account — just the contents of the album.

This is how you share a Google Photos album with others:

1. Tap on the Share icon inside your album.

Tap on Share

2. This launches the share options.

👉 I usually share using the Get Link option as you can easily put this in an email, a message, or on social media.

Get link

Here is one of my shared Google Photos albums with text added so you can see what it looks like.

Google Lens

Google Lens is image recognition software designed to bring up relevant information using visual analysis.

When you view a photo in your Google Photos app on your mobile device, you’ll see a Google Lens icon.

Google lens

Tapping on the Google lens icon makes the scanning dots appear on your picture and then Google will serve up suggestions.

Google Lens preview

Googles Lens suggests my photo is most likely a photo of a whippet.

Tapping on whippet launches the result in Google Chrome.

Whippet info

I’ve demonstrated how easy it is to identify objects using Google Lens but it is much more.

Google Lens is a fast free solution for reading and understanding information within images. The latest version of Google Lens has five modes:

  • Auto: Lens automatically provides relevant search results based on the image it sees.
  • Translate: Point at text and Lens provides a translation on top of the original words.
  • Text: Point Lens at the text you want to copy. You can even copy text from paper to your laptop.
  • Shopping: Point Lens at an item that you would like to find in a store or scan the barcode.
  • Dining: Scan a menu and Lens can highlight which dishes are popular, provide reviews, or tell you more about a particular dish if you tap on the text. You can also scan your receipt to get Lens to calculate the tip and split the bill.

Refer to our Beginner’s Guide to Google Lens to learn more.

Google Photos, Storage and Space

Some people wonder if Google Photos really is free. The answer is yes! There has to be some catch of course and with Google Photos you get unlimited free storage but your images will be compressed slightly.

Google will compress your images to 16MP resolution and your videos to 1080p. The compression really doesn’t make a difference for your everyday viewing and backup needs. If you want to store some images and videos in full resolution you can but this counts towards your 15GB limit of storage that you have for all your Google products (Google Photos, Gmail and Google Drive).

👉 If you’re running out of your 15GB of storage, check this help guide to find out how to clean up your Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos account.

If you end up wanting to purchase more storage you’d go to Photo settings > Backup & Sync > Buy storage in the Google Photos app. Here in Australia it is 100GB for $2.99/month. I don’t purchase additional storage for Google Photos as I find the unlimited “high quality” to be just fine.

Check to make sure your photos and videos are being stored in Google Photos as “high quality” (which is the unlimited free option):

  • In your Google Photos app tap your account profile photo or initial in the top right.
  • Select Photos settings > Settings > Back up & sync.
  • Select High quality or Original quality

How to Free Up Space On Your Phone

Many people find that one of the biggest advantages of Google Photos is freeing up space on your phone. No more frustrating “storage full” messages just as you’re about to capture a precious moment in time.

Once your photos are backed up in Google Photos, you can free up space on your phone by going into Photo settings in your Google Photos app > Manage device storage > Free up space.

You’ll then get a pop up telling you how many items can be deleted from your phone. Remember, you’ll still be able to access these photos at any time via Google Photos. They’ll just be gone from your phone’s camera roll.

How to free up space from Google Photos

Reversing The Process: Download Images To Your Device Or Computer

If you delete images from your phone but want them back again, downloading from Google Photos is straightforward.

How to Download Images from Google Photos on Your Phone or Tablet

Open your Google Photos app and follow these steps:

  • Open the Google Photos App.
  • Tap on the image (or select multiple images) that you want to download.
  • Press on the triple dots on the top right.
  • Tap on download or Save to device. If the photo is already on your device, this option won’t appear.
  • The image will be saved in your camera roll.

How to Download Images From Google Photos on Your Computer

You can do the same on your computer with the web version of Google Photos:

Digitize Old Photos

If you have albums or shoeboxes full of old photos lying around the house, it’s a good idea to digitize these and safely store them online.

It’s a quick process with older non-glossy photos:

  • Place the photos on a table outside where there is good light with minimal glare.
  • Take pictures of the photos (preferably using a digital camera).
  • Upload digital images to Google Photos using your computer.

Most of my old family photos were digitized using the above technique using a digital camera.

This technique won’t work for the newer glossy photos due to glare issues.

Here’s what happens:

Taken with digital camera

The solution is to use Google’s PhotoScan app on your phone. The PhotoScan app works the same as an image scanner but is easier and means you can do it using your smartphone.

Here’s the same photo taken with the PhotoScan app.

Taken with Photoscan

Here’s how to use the PhotoScan app:

  • After launching the app, position your photo within the frame.
  • Tap the shutter button. Four dots will appear and you hover your phone over each dot and hold in position until the dot is filled.
  • Once completed, PhotoScan stitches together a single image from several overlapped photos eliminating any glare and evening out exposure.

Here’s a video to show how easy PhotoScan is to use.

After you’ve finished taking your high-resolution, glare-free images using PhotoScan, you just back them up to Google Photos along with your more recent photos.

Just search for PhotoScan in your App Store or learn more about the app here. 

How to Add a Partner Account to Google Photos

If there are specific people you always share photos with (e.g. sharing photos of children with your partner), you can add them to your Google Photos account.

Simply tap your account profile photo or initial and then Photos settings > Partner Sharing > Get started.

You’ll then be prompted to enter your partner’s email address (they must have a Google account) and choose what you want to share. This could be items from a specific date or photos of a specific person.

You can change or turn off these settings at any time.

Learn more about sharing your Google Photos library with a partner in this help document.

👉 Note: If you want to hide the location on all shared images, tap your profile photo or initial in the top right and then Photo settings. Turn on Hide photo location data.

Safety and 2-Step Verification

Does the thought of uploading all your precious memories to Google Photos make you nervous? It’s understandable. Most people definitely do not want others seeing all their private photos and they might also be worried about losing photos that can’t be replaced.

Google Photos is a secure service (but of course nothing is foolproof). When you upload your photos and videos to Google Photos they are private by default; no one else can see them unless you specifically share with them. If you do share your photos or a particular album with someone via a link, there is of course the risk that the person with the link could pass it on. So only share your unique link with people you trust.

The other risk you face is if your phone is lost or stolen and you’re logged in to your Google Photos account. Your phone should have auto-lock and a passcode already as the first defense against this issue. Fortunately, Google will warn you about unauthorized attempts to access your account. You can log out of your account from another device if you think your phone has been stolen as well.

Your images and videos will not be available on the web for others to see through a Google Search or any other directory.

Three Ways to Make Your Google Photos Account Extra Secure

The following three tips will help add an extra layer of security to your precious memories on Google Photos.

1) Review your album sharing settings

If you create an album of photos it will be private by default but if you can’t remember if you’ve shared it with others, you can check by going into the album on your app and selecting the three dots (…) in the top right hand corner. Select Options and you’ll be able to review your sharing settings. If you have shared an album via a link you can turn it off at any time by selecting Make private as shown below.

Screenshot of album privacy options

2) Hide your geolocation

If you want to hide the location on all shared images, tap your profile photo or initial in the top right and then Photo settings. Turn on Hide photo location data. It always pays to be mindful about sharing your geolocation. You don’t want to give away personal details like your home or work address to people you don’t know well.

You can also turn off location settings in the camera settings on your phone or device. Find out how to turn off location services on an iPhone here and review the process for an Android here.

3) Enable 2-step verification

If you’re worried about your Google account being jeopardized by hackers, you might consider turning on 2-step verification. This means you’ll enter your password as normal and then be asked to enter a code that’s sent to your phone.

Just go to Google’s 2-Step Verification page to set up this extra security measure.

Google 2-step

👉 Want to learn more about passwords? Check out our guide to passwords on The Edublogger.

Embedding Tips for Bloggers

If you have a blog or website, you probably know that a picture or video tells a thousand words. It can really break up your text and bring your content to life.

Embedding photos, videos, or albums from Google Photos is possible but Google Photos does not offer embed codes. So you have to use a work around.

The process is also a little more difficult than it used to be as you have to use Google Drive. As of July 2019 Google Photos and Google Drive are no longer integrated. Therefore, to transfer some photos from Google Photos to Google Drive, you have to download them from Google Photos to a computer and then upload them from the computer to Google Drive. From there, you can embed!

Read on to learn the process.

Embed Photos or Videos From Google Photos

Want to embed a video to your blog or website but don’t want to upload to YouTube, like my video of dolphins in the Swan River?

Would you like readers to be able to zoom in easily on a photo? Like my photo of my Ockerby ancestry below compiled by Rev Thomas Ockerby Hurst (my great-grandfather) in 1939.

You can do both by embedding videos or images from Google Photos into your website.

How To Embed Google Photos Into Your Blog Or Website

1. Upload the photos you want to embed to Google Drive. This is long-winded since Google Photos and Google Drive are no longer integrated (as of July 2019). Therefore, to transfer some photos from Google Photos to Google Drive, you have to download them from Google Photos to a computer and then upload them from the computer to Google Drive.

  • If you don’t know how to download photos from Google Photos to your computer, these instructions explain the simple steps involved.
  • If you don’t know how to upload photos from your computer to Google Drive, these instructions walk you through the process.

2.  When the content you want to embed is in your Google Drive, click on the video or photo you want to embed and then click on the More (…) icon and select Share.

Click on Share

3.  Click on Advanced option in the Share window.

Click on Advanced

4.  Click on Change next to Private.

Change

5.  Click on On – Anyone with a link or On – Public on the web and then click on Save.

Click Any one with link

6.  Click on Done to close the Share window.

7.  Click on the More icon and then Open in new window link.

Click Open in new window

8. Click on the More (…) icon in the new window and select Embed item.

Embed item

9.  Copy the embed code.

Copy Embed code

10. Paste the embed code into your blog post or page using Insert Embed Code in the Add Media window and then click Insert Into Post.

The method you use will depend on the website or blog platform you use. This is how you do it on Edublogs and CampusPress networks.

Add embed code

11.  Once your post is published you’ll see your photo or video embedded.

Embed Google Photo Album

Here’s how to embed a Google Photos album into your blog or website:

1.  Log into Google Photos on your computer.

2.  Click on the Album you want to embed. Click on the Share icon.

Click on Share

3.  Click on Get Link and then Copy. 

Copy share link screenshot

4.  Go to Publicalbum.org scroll down until you reach the box as shown below.

5.  Paste your Google Albums link into the box and press Create Embed Code. 

Screenshot of Public Albums

6. Here you’ll be able to change the way your album is displayed if you wish. When you’re happy, select the embed code on the right and copy it.

Screenshot Public Album

7.  In your blog dashboard, click on Add Media > Insert Embed Code. Paste your code and then click Insert into Post.

👉 The method you use will depend on the website or blog platform you use. This is how you do it on Edublogs and CampusPress networks.

Paste embed code

8.  Once the post is published you will see the album embedded as a slideshow.

Here’s an example of an embedded Google Photos album so you can see what the embed looks like.

👉 Find out ideas for using Google Photos Albums in the classroom in this post.

We’re now well and truly living in an era of digital photography and there are many advantages:

  • You can easily view and retake photos until you get the perfect shot. You’re not limited by a roll of film where you might only be able to take 24 photos!
  • There’s no waiting around for images to be processed and printed.
  • Images can be shared with family and friends in seconds, either privately or on a more public platform.
  • There are countless ways to transform images with filters, collages, slideshows, or video.
  • Most people have a phone in their pocket when they’re out and about so capturing the moment is so easy.

With all these advantages of digital photography, we shouldn’t totally forget about having hard copy prints of our precious memories.

Having a physical print, perhaps in a frame, or in a photo book can really bring the images to life. From a family history perspective, it can also be nice to have some carefully curated memories to pass on.

Google Photos helps with this too. If you’re in the USA or Canada there is a Google Photos Book printing service. If you’ve tried it, let us know!

For other countries, you’ll find that many popular photo printing and photo gift services (like Snapfish or Shutterfly) are now integrated with Google Photos. So, if you want to make a photo book, for example, you can search through your Google Photos while you’re making the book. This can be a real time saver when looking for images from certain times, locations, and so on.

Where to Find Google Photos Help

As much as we love sharing about Google Photos, we can’t provide individual help.

Please consult the official Google Photos help site https://support.google.com/photos

Here you’ll be able to search for answers to questions or ask the community.

If you have any further tips to add we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!


Recommended Reading

You might also be interested in reading the following posts about photos and videos:

Google Photos is an excellent free solution for storing, organizing, and sharing photos and videos. Let's get you started!

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