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Google Photos: The best tips and tricks

Ever since it launched back in 2015, Google Photos has been among the most popular cloud-based photo backup and storage apps for both iOS and Android. Combining cloud storage, image hosting, and image sharing, it competes with iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, and a host of other specialty apps.

Not only does it provide a historical repository and immediate backup for every shot you take, but it also allows you to immediately free up precious storage space on your phone. It’s free of charge for everyone with a Google account, unless your images top resolutions of 16MP and you choose to save them on the service in full resolution. It also stores HD videos up to 1080p and supports Apple’s Live Photos. You do have the option of paying extra for high-resolution photo storage beyond 16MP — after you hit Google Drive’s 15GB storage limit — but most smartphone camera photos weigh in at less than that.

Google Photos also lets you edit and crop your shots, share them with whoever you want, and archive screenshots and informational shots out of the main feed, if you prefer. Its built-in assistant uses artificial intelligence to enhance certain shots with filters, slideshows, and animations — subject to your approval. Even if you already have an elaborate backup plan for your photo collection, storing your photos in Google Photos as an extra precaution can’t hurt. Google Photos comes with most stock Android phones and the interface on both platforms is similar. Here are some tips on how to get the most from the service.

Save storage space on your phone

One of Google Photos’ primary features is its ability to immediately back up photos to the cloud, allowing you to free up space on your phone. As soon as you download the Google Photos app and sign in to your Google account, you will get a prompt to enable the Back up and Sync function. This automatically saves every photo and video recorded to your phone to your Google Photos library, when you have internet access.

To initiate a backup, just launch the Google Photos app and swipe down to start the upload to your Google cloud. Once images are backed up in the cloud, the app can delete the local version from your phone or tablet. If you opt to do that, Google may now hold your only copy of the image.

If you are not comfortable with that, you do not have to delete photos off your phone or tablet immediately. You can first download them to your hard drive and save them locally on your computer or in a separate storage disk or even a thumb drive. Or you can use other utilities for backing up and storing your images, such as Dropbox or iCloud. You can never have too many photo backups.

Message individual or group photos

One of Google Photos’ recently launched features specifically lets you message individual photos to your Google contacts. It’s a great help for folks who just want to share a single image with one person. This allows users to build a threaded response to one or a series of images without leaving the app.

Before the new messaging feature, the only way to share a photo within the app was to create and share an album containing a single photo. There’s a small catch in that the recipient must also have a Google account, but creating one is a free, easy process. For those who eschew a Google account, Google Photos users can still share images via text, iMessage, or email — all available options are presented as choices when you select a photo to share. There’s an option to share with a group of people if you tap the New Group icon, which will let you access all your contacts.

  • Launch Google Photos.
  • Scroll down to choose a photo to share.
  • Choose the Share icon.
  • Under Share in Google Photos, tap the contact you want to send the photo to.
  • Type a short note.
  • Hit the Send button.

Filter your searches

Google Photos arranges uploaded images by date and location, and with its advanced image recognition capabilities, it easily classifies the subject of your photos. Search photos for items you shot — leaves, trees, birds, your cat — and enter them as search terms. Sometimes, the app will prompt you with geographical hints, or if you already tagged your cat’s name, it will display all the images you have of her. You can enter multiple search parameters and tap the search button at the bottom of the window, and the app will present all images that include both search terms.

Google Lens now features optical character recognition (OCR) that can recognize text inside an image, so you can now search for text in a document as well as objects, people, and locations. Then, once you find the targeted image, you can tap on the Lens button to easily copy and paste the text you find.

Tag people and pet faces

You can easily find photos of anyone by tagging the faces of people and pets and then locate them using the app’s Albums sheet. Click on Albums and at the top of the screen, you’ll see preset options like People & Pets, Places, Things, Videos, Collages, Animations, and Movies.

Tap on People & Pets, and you’ll see headshots derived from all your photos. Click a person and enter their name. If you already have that person in your contacts, their name might pop up for you to tap, and if you don’t, you can enter that name in the album. That immediately brings up a reference to all the other photos of that person or pet within your Google Photos library.

Google’s face recognition can span decades, so if you have a photo from high school and then one taken 20 years later, there’s a good chance that Google’s A.I. face matching engine will recognize it and make the photo easier to find in a future search. If you tend to shoot in public places, faces will likely include many people you don’t know.

Google Memories

Google Photos Memories pulls old content taken on a specific date in previous years. But unlike social media outlets like Facebook, Google Memories shows you unshared pictures and videos. The feature displays images from previous years in a familiar full-screen format where users tap to advance to the next image. The app’s machine learning engine removes duplicate shots, showing only the highest quality images with sharp content or smiling subjects. But you don’t always have to see everything. Google lets you hide certain people and time periods, or you can disable Memories altogether. Just tap a Memory module, then tap the three-dot button on the top right, tap Settings, and either choose to show or hide Memories or tap People and Pets, and tap anyone you never want to see.

Edit photos

Google Photos is an excellent app for editing smartphone photos. You can rotate and crop a photo, adjust light levels and color, or use built-in filters to enhance your photos for sharing with friends and family or posting on social media.

  • Tap on the image you want to edit.
  • Tap the Edit tool and choose from Auto, a series of Instagram-style filters, or a series of tools for cropping, rotating, changing the aspect ratio, drawing and lettering, and adding text.
  • Use sliders and other controls to enhance your image.
  • Tap the Done button.

Create a shared album

You can share an album of photos with groups of people, who can also add to a common photo collection for ongoing updates of events and memories. You can share directly to anyone with a Google account. For everyone else, you can create a sharable link.

When you share photos or albums, a link will be sent to the people you share with, but anyone who has the shared link can view the shared album or photos. If you share an album that automatically adds photos, anyone with the album link can view added photos in real time.

  • Launch the Google Photos app and sign in.
  • In the menu on the left, tap Photos.
  • Tap the three-dot icon and tap Shared Album from the menu.
  • Name your new album.
  • Tap Add Photos and select the photos you want to share.
  • Tap the Add button at the top right.
  • Tap the Share button at the top right.
  • Tap the Send icon at the bottom of the window.
  • Tap all the contacts you want to share the album with, and if your recipients do not have a Google account, they can still view the album and add new photos to it via a link.
  • To share that album to an app, tap Share at the bottom of the screen, and there you will see some third-party apps you can also share those images with, including Twitter, Notes, AirDrop, Messages, and Mail.
  • Alternately, you can create a link to share with other people or apps.

Archive images

Smartphone camera apps are used for many purposes in addition to photographing friends, family, pets, and outings. It’s likely that you also have street signs, storefronts, parking locations, merchandise tags, and other informational images stored in your Gallery or Camera Roll. Do you want to constantly view these kinds of images in your photo stream? Not likely.

Google Photos is smart enough to know what to do with those photos. The Google Photos Assistant may suggest that you archive this nonpictorial material so that you can have it on hand when you need it and find the image you need via a search later on. Alternately, you can choose the photos you want to archive, tap the three-dot icon in the top right corner, and select Archive. If you need to see that document again, you can go directly to the Archive folder.

Same-day photo printing

Another recent feature for Google Photos is same-day printing of photo favorites from 11,000 Walmart and CVS locations around the United States. This gives customers immediate options to print 4 x 6, 5 x 7, or 8 x 10 photos as an alternative to ordering Photo Books.

You can order prints directly from the Google Photos app with prints sent to the nearby Walmart or CVS of your choice. Prices start at 25¢ for a single print. You can also order canvas prints of any photo in your library. These start at $19.99 for sizes of 8×8, 12×14, and 16×20. These prints are shipped directly to your home, and Google even recommends which photos are best suited for canvas printing in the app.