Google Photos may be one of the best online services for people who love taking lots of pictures and videos with their smartphones. It combines cloud-based storage with its AI-based organization of images and clips. With these features, it’s a must for mobile photographers.
Let’s take a quick look at how to get started using Google Photos, including a look at its major features, and some tips that should make using the service easier for you.
What is Google Photos?
Google Photos officially launched in May 2015 as a standalone spin-off of sorts from Google+ Photos, which was based in the Google+ social network (Google would later retire Google+ Photos). It retained many of the features of the older Google+ Photos, as well as some new features.
The apps and the service were immediate hits with smartphone owners, hitting 500 million users by in May 2017, two years after it launched. Those users upload 1.2 billion photos every day. In June 2017, the company announced Google Photos had reached over 1 billion app downloads.
You can download the Google Photos app on both Android and iOS, and you can also go to the photos.google.com site to view your stored images and clips on a PC or mobile web browser.
What’s the difference between High Quality, Original Quality, and Express options in Google Photos?
Google Photos has three storage settings to choose from, with some rather confusing labels. The “High Quality” setting is actually the middle pick of the two modes. It allows you to back up photos from your smartphone up to 16MP each or video clips at up to 1080p resolution to your Google Photos cloud account. Using the High Quality setting lets you upload an unlimited number of photos and videos for free, if they conform to those limits.
Google also recently updated its terms of service for videos stored on High Quality in Google Photos. The following video formats are supported: mpg, .mod, .mmv, .tod, .wmv, .asf, .avi, .divx, .mov, .m4v, .3gp, .3g2, .mp4, .m2t, .m2ts, .mts, and .mkv. If you upload videos in other formats for High Quality, including the popular RAW format, they will be counted as part of your Google One storage limits.
The “Original Quality” setting for Google Photos is the highest pick of the three modes. It will preserve the original quality, megapixels, and resolution of any photo or video you upload, which sometimes exceed the limits of the High Quality setting. However, for most smartphones with Google Photos installed, there is an upper limit of cloud storage for the Original Quality setting. They will be stored on the user’s Google One cloud account, and they will share storage space with the user’s Google Drive documents and Gmail email messages.
The good news is there are a set of smartphones can get around the storage limitations of the Original Quality setting in Google Photos. If you own the original Google Pixel or the Google Pixel XL, you can upload photos and videos at the Original Quality setting on Google Photos for free and never hit a cloud storage limit until the end of 2020. If you own the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL, you can also upload as many photos or videos you want at the Original Quality setting until the end of 2021. After that timeframe, any new photos or videos you take with those phones will be compressed down to the High Quality resolution and megapixels for Google Photos storage.
The most recent Google smartphones, the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, have a similar deal for Google Photos in terms of storage. Owners can upload as many photos and videos at the Original Quality setting on Google Photos for free until the end of 2021. After that, any more photos and videos they upload will be converted down to the High Quality settings.
For people with a limited amount of data on their smartphone plans, particularly in developing countries and markets such as India, Google Photos recently added an Express backup option for some users. This will compress any photo down to just 3MP before it is uploaded to Google Photos, and videos are also cut down to the standard 480p definition. The Google Photos app also recently added the option to cap the amount of mobile data used by the app. Users can limit it to 5MB, 10MB, or 30MB, or they can choose for Google Photos to not use any mobile data at all when uploading content.
Google Photos AI grouping of images into groups and albums
Google Photos also uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify items in your pictures. Those items can then be placed in their own groups and albums. If you take a lot of photos of your dog with your smartphone, Google Photos will see it, then group all those dog photos into one album on your app or the Google Photos website. In fact, an update in 2017 added the ability to identify the specific dog in the pictures when uploaded.
When you tap on the albums section of the Google Photos app, it shows you three categories on top to search for the image you want to find: People, Places, and Things. The People category shows images of faces, and the Places category shows locations, based on both geotagging information and also identifying specific well-known landmarks in the photo. The Things category can not only show non-human subjects but also photos and videos taken for specific events, like birthdays or vacations.
Photo books support in Google Photos
If you see a group of images in Google Photos and want to bring them into the physical world, the service also lets you order Photo Books from your collected images. In fact, using AI, Google Photos arrange the book, adding the photos it think are best. Of course, you can still manually select which images go in the photo book as well. Pricing for these books begin at $9.99 and they can be ordered on the website and in the Google Photos apps.
Editing images in Google Photos
Google Photos also lets you edit your photos, either in the apps or on its website. There’s an auto selection which allows Google Photos to create what it believes is the best looking version of that photo, and a number of other filters you can select like Vista, which turns color images into black and white photos.
You can also manually adjust the light, color, and pop options on your images with sliders, and you can also change the aspect ratio and angles of your pictures within Google Photos as well.
Sharing Google Photos content with others
Another nice thing about Google Photos is you can actually share images you upload with others, even if they don’t have the Google Photos app. All you have to do is select a photo, video, or album, tap on the Share icon in the Google Photos app and type in who you want to share an album with. You can also type in a phone number or email address. Then just type in a personal message if you want and then tap on Send. Shared albums can support up to 20,000 total items. You can also use the Share feature to upload photos and videos to your social networking accounts like Facebook and Twitter.
What is Google Photos Assistant?
Google Photos Assistant (not to be confused with the Google Assistant AI digital helper) is designed to help you keep track of your library of photos and videos. It will generate cards with suggestions on which photos can be turned into collages, animations, and movies. It will even use machine learning to show you pictures in your account that you might want to delete. Assistant will also offer notifications for alerts like if you are using up your storage space.
More Google Photos tips and tricks
Here are some more tips and tricks you can try out while using Google Photos:
- Live Albums is a recent feature addition to Google Photos. Just make an album, select the people you want to see in that album, and Google Photos will automatically put pictures of those folks in that album.
- Another recent addition lets you see information about a specific photo, such as its date, its file size, and where it was taken, by just swiping up on that photo.
- You can automatically create movies from your Google Photos pictures by tapping on Assistant, and then select Movie. You have 10 different categories to choose from, including Love Story, Selfie Movie, and Doggie Movie.
- If you share a photo or album with others in Google Photos, they can now “like” images by tapping on a heart icon.
- There’s a Color Pop feature that lets you keep the color on the subject of an image in Google Photos, but then turns the background into black and white.
- If you make motion pictures with your Pixel 2 or Pixel 3 phone, Google Photos lets you turn them into GIF images.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using Google Photos. Stay tuned, we will update this post with more information and new features as they release.