Free Unlimited Photo and Video Cloud Storage From Google Photos

If you are like me, you take a lot of photos and videos and don’t have any idea where or how to back them up. In my house, we have two smartphones, two tablets, a Canon DSLR digital camera, a Sony digital video camera, and a GoPro, all creating thousands of digital photos and videos every year. Not to mention the years of old family photos and negatives we had scanned into digital format- gigabytes of photos and videos- that were scattered on different desktops, laptops and external hard drives. There was no easy way for us to backup and access all the photos to one place where we could access them from all our various devices. And the thought of possibly losing them someday due to a broken hard drive or a natural disaster is terrifying.

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Google has a complete photo management system that solved the problem for us. It’s easy to use and 100% free. Google Photos offers an unlimited amount of storage, although the file size and is slightly reduced (about 40% or so). The reduction in size does reduce the quality of the photos, but if this is only a backup and not your only copy of the photos it won’t matter much. Most people aren’t printing the vast majority of our digital photos anyway, and you’d have to blow them up larger than 8 x 10 to even notice a difference.

For smartphone users, the does reduce the quality of the photos app is very easy to install, and works equally well for both Android and iPhone. Install the app, and associate it with a Gmail account (or open a new one for free).  If you’re an iPhone user, Google will automatically back up all the photos in your Camera Roll, and all the new photos you take whenever you are in WiFi range. Android users will also be able to select any number or all of their other folders containing photos.

 

Google’s desktop app is now called Google Backup & Sync. Your Desktop, My Documents and My Pictures folders  (and subfolders) are selected by default. You can add as many additional folders as you’d like. The program will calculate how many files you have to back up and how much space they will take up on the server (but don’t worry, there is no size limit).

In my case, I have added two folders from an external drive that has all my photos on it. If you have a large number of photos on your computer and drives, the desktop loader may take days or even weeks to get them all uploaded the first time. 

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The Backup & Sync Desktop App will continue to run in the background until it catches up, and then it will automatically add new photos as you save them. Feel free to turn your computer off or restart it whenever you need- the app will continue where it left off whenever you turn the computer back on. 

In my case, I selected some very large folders and have over 46,000 pending uploads, so it’s bound to take a while.

By logging in to the same gmail account on the app on all your devices- Android phones, iPhones, iPads, Android tablets, Mac computers, Windows computers- the photos and videos from all those devices end up in one Google Photos account. You can access all the photos using the app on any device, anywhere in the world. Easily share individual photos or an entire album with a few clicks.

When sharing a photo or album in the mobile Google Photos App, these are my options. Yours may vary depending on which apps you have installed but clearly Google makes it easy to share your photos.

In my case, I created a new google account just for my family, installed the app on both my wife’s phone and mine and then installed the desktop app. She can now log in from work and see photos I have taken while I am home with the kids during the day. I can also see any photos she takes. And we can both access all those years of old photos that we took with our various digital cameras, as well as all the photos and documents I’ve scanned over the years. Everything backed up in one place, for free, accessible from any device, anywhere, anytime I have signal.

There is a built in photo editor that features a basic set of tools for enhancing your photos. For quick editing, there’s a one button do it all auto-fix setting for photos. Perfect for a quick correction before you post something online.

Using the auto-fix feature, I did a quick edit of this underexposed picture of my son.

In addition to the one click auto-fix, there are manual editing tools that give you more control over your editing.

Instagram style filters are included as well.

Changes you make when editing are applied to the version of the image that’s stored on Google Photos in the cloud, while the original on your device remains untouched. You can also choose to “save a copy” of photo.

Sharing the files is simple and easy.

Just select the file or files you want to share, click on the share icon, and choose how you want to share it. If you want to select a bunch in a row, you don’t have to do them one at a time. Choose the first one, then drag your finger to the last one and Google Photos selects them all.

Share your photos in dozens of ways. Copy the file link for pasting into a message, or share directly into email, app or upload to social media.

The Assistant feature in Google Photos is truly amazing. The app automatically chooses certain photos and works magic with them. The assistant gives you the option to save or delete them.

If photos are similar, the assistant may group them together into a collage.

Most phones have a panorama mode, but it can be tricky to do well and people rarely seem to use it. Google photos will automatically create Panoramas by stitching together individual shots if they line up correctly.

Google Photos created this panorama of Gillette Stadium from the individual shots I took above.

And if you have pictures taken close enough together in time, the Assistant will throw them all together into an animated GIF file. You can save any of these creations right to your account, or delete them with a swipe of your finger.

If the photos are taken a few seconds apart, the GIF may look like this-

 

If you took a series of photos in burst mode, the results are more like a mini movie.

Google Photos also gives you the option of searching by category. Here you can see it has displayed faces of some people it found in my photos. Clicking on a face shows all the other matching faces, and you can easily assign a name to any face you choose.

 

If your photos have names, or are in folders with names, those names are searchable.  But Google Photos goes further by using an algorithm to identify things in your pictures even if they aren’t named. A search for “cat” brought up hundreds of photos of both our current cat and our two previous cats.The search feature gives you several options to find your photos and videos.

The places category is based on location data in the photos themselves. If you don’t have location data turned on, Google will still try to figure out where a photo is taken and put it in your places file. Somewhere like Cinderella’s Castle at DisneyWorld or Times Square in New York would be easy for the system to identify, for example.

The “things” category is a sort of hodgepodge, and isn’t totally accurate, but can be helpful if you only want photos with the Christmas ornaments, for example, and don’t want to sort through every picture you’ve ever taken at Christmas to find them.

At the bottom you can search your videos, as well as recently added photos, your Google Drive, and any of the creations you have saved with the Assistant feature.

Search by a persons face, a pace where photos were taken, or search for “things” found in photos.

Deleted photos can be recovered for 30 days, then they are gone forever. You can also go into your trash and permanently delete them whenever you’d like.

You also have the option to hide files by archiving them, which keeps them from being seen when you scroll through the app without removing them from being backed up. You can view these files by searching ‘archive” .

Google Photos does all of that and more, and will probably continue to add more features over time.  If you only need to back up photos and videos, this may be the solution for you.

Help, My Hard Drive Failed!

Most of the time you will probably replace a computer before your hard drive stops working, but if you let them run long enough every hard drive will eventually crash, fail or die.

There are 3 types of hard drive failure you have to concerned about.

First, there’s a physical problem with the drive. The most common things that fail are the PCB board (the chips or power connector on the board), but there are dozens of moving parts in a typical IDE or SATA hard drive and they can all fail. I explain this kind of failure in more detail here. Symptoms vary. If there’s certain physical damage you may hear a loud clicking noise. Sometimes if the heads are stuck on the platter you’ll hear more of a buzzing or beeping noise. Or if the power connector is damaged, you may hear nothing- no spinning, no whirring- and the drive may not be seen by Windows at all.

The hard disk (HDD) from the computer lies on a white background

Your hard drive can also crash if it has too many bad sectors. Sectors are small clusters of storage space that hold your data. When a sector goes bad, software on the drive is supposed to try to move the data to a good sector, and mark the bad one so it never gets written to again. In some cases, sectors can become so damaged that the computer can have trouble reading the data, lock up, refuse to boot or crash.

In this example, the hard drive shows problems with the reallocated sectors count, the current pending sectors count and the uncomfortable sectors count. Each variable has exceeded the allowable threshold, so the data on this drive needs to be backed up right away.

CrystalDiskInfo has reported sector problems with this hard drive.

The second possibility is called logical failure. This is not a problem with the physical drive itself but with the file system on the drive.

Imagine your hard drive is a library, and your files are the books on the shelves. Your computer has its own version of a card catalog to find your files, called a File Allocation Table, or FAT. Saving changes to your FAT is one of the things Windows does when we shut down or restart the computer. If the FAT is corrupted, Windows can’t find the files it needs to run the Windows Operating System, and you will be unable to boot your computer.

Just like the books will still be on the shelves in a library without a card catalog, your files should remain intact on your hard drive even with a damaged FAT- your computer just doesn’t know how to find them. This can be caused from a virus infection, system driver conflicts, damaged Windows files, bad Windows updates and other software issues.

If this is the problem, in most cases I can perform a Level 1 data recovery to get your files back. The files can be backed up to a good hard drive or flash drive, then your hard drive can be wiped and reloaded with a fresh version of windows with a new FAT. Then I can transfer your files back over to your new Windows installation. I can backup any user created files (photos, documents, music, videos, etc) but not your programs – I would need the software and licensing information or serial numbers to reload your software.

One of the most common errors you may see when your hard drive has a logical error,

External hard drives are susceptible to physical and logical issues as well, but they also have a potential problem that doesn’t exist in internal hard drives.  External drives are really just an internal hard drive in a fancy enclosure so you can connect them with a cable and move them around from place to place. The enclosure has its own power supply and data connector and sometimes these connectors die or break after dropping the drive. In that case, the hard drive inside may work perfectly and the enclosure may be the issue.

Two different external drives. The one on the left has a larger desktop hard drive inside which requires a dedicated power adapter. The smaller external hard drive on the right contains a laptop drive inside and can be powered through the USB cable.

With all the different ways your hard drive can fail, this is a good time to remind you to always keep an updated backup of your files. Spending $100 on an external hard drive or a cloud backup service can save  $1000 in data recovery fees, so backup, backup and then backup again.

Whatever issue you may be having with your hard drive, or if you need to create a backup plan for your data, feel free to contact me for help.

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