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 Google 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 Backup and 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 Google Photos 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.

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 place. 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.

While it certainly isn’t a full-featured editing app, 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 is going to 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.

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.

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