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”

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

  1. Hello! New to google photos. I take a lot of screen shots of projects, recipes, etc. I don’t want these to sync on my google photos but when I go to delete it removes from my phone. Any helpful tips?
    Is there a way to select what photos I want on my google photos?

  2. Hello, I was just wondering about the free up space option. I see you suggest you can download the photos back to your camera roll multiple at a time from the app. When I select multiple photos at a time and tap the three dots, the only option there is add to archive. Is this no longer possible? Can you only download multiple at a time from the Google photos site? Also, I have seen people reporting that downloading the photos back to your device leaves them with messed up meta data and there were suggestions about clearing the cache and data of Google photos and then syncing the photos to drive and then downloading them to a computer and then to your phone. That all seems unnecessary and also, I know clearing the Google photos app data doesn’t delete photos but doesn’t it lead to other issues or is that me being paranoid? Thank you for your input.

  3. Thanks for the detailed break down, have used some, others were new. I’m trying to find a solution to “undo” clicking on the ‘cloud with a down arrow’ (download?) icon.. on a shared folder! I am seeing years worth of pics taken by others in my photos folder because I clicked on it any ideas how to go back in time? Please..

  4. Thanks so much for all the great info! One more thing, I’d like to add captions to select photos so that they show on the photos while scrolling thru. Anyway to do that? On either the phone or the computer?

  5. Thank you for this detailed and informative article. You mentioned freeing up space on phone and computer in the graphic at the beginning, but then only talked about freeing up phone space. I have a ton of synced photos on my W10 hard drive & Google Photos to delete. How do I do that from both without having to do it twice?

  6. I’m reestablishing photo links on my blog away from where I’ve uploaded them to my website (I’m going to let my site go dark when it expires) and to Google Photos instead. The links work fine on my laptop but I’m unable to see my photos on my android phone. Any idea why that may be?




  7. How do i create a folder to put photos in from G photos so that when each photo is selected it takes it is moved from the photo data base into a folder so i dont have to go through 5000 more photos to create the next folder
    I had folders on my android device in Gallery and it went and lost 70% but the individual photos were backed up in G P ..now i need to recreate the folders again but i have to go through ALL the photos in GP each time to create another folder/Album

  8. Hello, this is the best article I’ve found on the topic.

    Question – it is my understanding that if you take a picture with your phone, then the picture gets copied to Google Photos in the cloud, and you go into your phone and delete that photo, it also gets deleted from Google Photos. So, in order to not have that happen, you have to use (on your phone) a kind of deletion that only removes the photo from your device. Is this true?

    1. Click on the photo or photos you wish to delete then click on the 3 dots in the upper right rather than the trash can icon. The 3 dots will open an option to “delete from device” only and not your cloud storage.

    2. it’s a little scary that “remove just from this device” is hidden behind the three dots. It sure seems easy to delete a photo from everywhere at once. I wonder how many images I have lost when I thought I was deleting just from the phone.

  9. Real great article !!. Can I transfer a photo to an album in GP then delete it from the main section of GP but still keep it in the Album ??. Hope that makes sense – I want it in the album only – not in the main display of random photos in uploaded order. Thanks.

  10. Embedding a video on google photo via its identical counterpart in google drive, as explained in this great blog, no longer works as from july 2019, since Google abandonded the syncing of video’s and photo’s between google photo and google drive. Also your example turns black when clicked upon.
    How can we do that now? The code-generator for this on publicalbums.org (https://www.publicalbum.org/blog/embed-google-photos-video) claims to give a solution, but this does not always work.
    And added to that, I would also like to embed such a video, to let it start on a specified time in the video.
    For a youtube video this is straightforward, but I have no clue how to manage that for a google photo video.
    I hope you can shed some light on this.

  11. I am unable to upload the latest batch of photos from my canon camera into google photos from my desktop, they are sitting in picasa 3 which won’t allow me access to upload to G P ? I have a google account set up and 1000s of photos in G P

  12. My wife and share multiple mobile devices. 1- Must I set up and SYNC each device? 2- Is Google Photos able to Sync and Delete photos from each device without losing photos? 2- When setup and Sync is complete on all our mobile devices wil we see simikar photos on each device?

    1. Hi,

      If you are logged into the same gmail account on multiple devices when you open up Google photos on the device it will show any new photos you’ve taken on that device and start backing up the photos to Google photos. Any photos that were taken on another device, that were already backed up to Google Photos, will appear in the photos list on all devices.

      If you and your wife are logged into different gmail accounts you can share your Google photo library with a partner – https://support.google.com/photos/answer/7378858?co=GENIE.Platform%3DAndroid&hl=en


  13. Hello,
    Thank you so much. This is such great information! I am also wondering if I can manually delete photos from my phone? Will they still be on the Google Photo App? I would like to delete most but not all of the photos from my phone without using the apps delete feature that requires you to delete all of your photos. Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Lucinana

      I use a Samsung phone. If I want to delete the photos from my phone I delete directly from the Gallery app on my phone. Before deleting any photos I make sure all my photos have been backed up to Google Photos.


  14. I was wondering about a view only option when looking at my photos in Google. My grandkids love to look at our pics on my phone, but I often worry that they could accidentally delete our whole library. Is there a way they can look without option of deleting? Thank you.

    1. Hi Diana

      The safer option is to place the photos into a Google Album, create a link to share the album and then get them to view on a computer or another device using the share link. The other option I use is to project the photos to my TV using Chromecast.


  15. Response to questions from Muffin & Lisa C – The photo in Google photos stays where it is – in the cloud server. When you select a group of photos to create an album, they are not moved to an Album, they are just tagged to that album – so that you can share that album using its link with whom you wish to share. So there is no duplication, and it is good to organise into album and then share with titles, description etc. I hope I am correct and clear.

  16. Can i organize my photos by month and year? This is what my software currently does by its saved in my hard drive and i have to transfer pics from my phone the old school way (via USB). I like the way it automatically categorizes the photos by month and year though.

  17. Could someone respond to this question that I posted earlier:
    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?

    1. Hi- This is the EXACT question i was gonna ask! Did anyone ever reply to you? Th is drives me crazy. I feel like if you organize the photo into a specific folder it should jsut move not duplicate?!

    2. I had the same probleem. Now, after I have transfered photo’s to an album, I transfer the original photo to the Archive.

  18. I asked this question, but no one replied. Could someone help me?
    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?

    1. I’m no expert but I think you are just copying a photo to an album – not actually “moving it”. Upload a photo from your phone to GP then move it to albums then delete the photo from the general photos area and see what happens.

  19. I have an Android phone that’s running low on space. I want to have all of my photos backed up to Google photos (which I believe is already the case), but I also want to leave some of them on my phone, so I can show them to people when I don’t have a wifi connection (I don’t use data). When I’m in the Google Photos app at home, how can I tell which photos are on my device and which are just in the cloud, and, how can I specify which ones I want to stay on my device? If I use the “clean up” option, I’m afraid it will move still of my photos off of my device. (I realize I could do that and then just redownload the ones I want on my phone, but that seems an inefficient way to do it….)

    TL;DR: How can I tell which photos on my phone are on my device and which are just in the cloud?

  20. How do I stylize a photo or do a color pop on a photo in the assistant? It occasionally does one automatically. Is there a way I can do it myself?

  21. My photos are all grouped by date taken. Some dates have a location next to the date, but some don’t. I know where I was on a certain date and want to add the location if Google can’t figure it out.

    How do I add a location next to the date at the top of a group of photos all taken on the same date?

  22. When you say to go to Google Photos Settings & “the first option is Backup & Sync”…
    The first option for me is which size photos I’d like to save.
    I choose “High Quality (unlimited free storage)” but I can’t find “Backup & Sync”.
    Any ideas? I’ve used it on my past few phones but it’s a new phone & the option has gone!

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