While mobile phones have almost completely displaced cameras for non-professionals, the details of using your iPhone or Android phone to manage your pic collection aren't as cut-and-dry. In particular, if you want to store your photos in the cloud (or otherwise risk losing them all if something happens to your device), you have a variety of options that each have their quirks.
Since Google Photos is one of the most popular ways for both Android and iPhone users to back up, share, and retrieve their pics, let's show you five features you may not be aware of that should let you spend more time shooting and less time fiddling with files and folders.
Default settings that you may want to change
Not everyone likes digging into an app's settings, but it's kind of a hobby around here, and there are a few toggles that you should probably check before you start uploading images from your phone to the cloud. To go to Google Photos' settings, tap the hamburger icon in the upper left and tap on Settings.
First of all, let's review your notification settings. By default, most apps seem to favor a lot of notifications, and Google Photos is no different. The app even has two different layers: notifications that apply to your whole Google Photos account, and notifications that are specific to your device. (Be aware that many phones don't have an indicator light on the front, so the toggle for a notification dot won't do anything.)
How many notifications you want depends on how often you shoot and how many other people you like to share your pics with. If you shoot and share a lot, then you'll want more notifications to keep you on top of things, like the Suggested Sharing toggle, and the device-specific toggle to show you upload and download progress meters.
Another important setting is the one that lets you sync media between your Google Photos account and your Google Drive account. By default, this is disabled, because the process can take hours if you have a lot of images and videos on Google Drive (download for iOS or Android).
Be aware that enabling this sync will mix your phone camera's photos with all the images you have on Google Drive, which could include background wallpaper, memes or random pics that you found on the internet and decided to put in your cloud. So if you want to keep your camera roll separate from your broader image library, you may want to avoid syncing to Drive.
Uploading to Google Photos and managing free space on your device
Taking photos on your phone won't automatically put them in your Google Photos cloud. Instead, you'll need to open your settings in the Google Photos app, tap on "Back up & Sync" and follow the on-screen instructions. Once you have your phone's camera roll coordinated with Google's cloud storage, your photos will upload from your device to the cloud every time you open the app.
Keep in mind that opening the app is necessary to trigger the upload process. And if you're looking at your Google Photos library in a web browser but you don't see your most recent pics, that's probably because you haven't open the Photos app recently.
You can let this upload happen in the background while you use a different app in the foreground, or while the screen is locked. If this process occurs while you have Google Photos open in a web browser, you'll need to reload the page to see your newly synced images.
Once you've uploaded to the cloud, you'll now have a copy both there and on your device. If you're hurting for storage capacity on your phone, the app can identify the duplicates on your phone and move them into an archive. Just go into the app's settings again, and tap "Free up device storage."
Navigating and managing your images with a mobile device's touch screen
While moving your pics around is easier with a mouse and keyboard, you won't always have that option. Thankfully, the Google Photos app is smart about letting you quickly select multiple images.
You may be aware that long-pressing on a photo opens up a selection system where tapping others will include them in a batch, but you may not know that you can also select multiple images with a gesture: Long-tap, then -- without lifting your finger -- swipe across to the other photos that you want to include.
To de-select, swipe in the reverse direction. If you perform this swipe action vertically, it will also automatically select all images in the horizontal row. So if you want to select a particularly large number of images, vertical swiping will be faster.
Once you've lifted your finger off the screen, performing this swipe in reverse won't let you un-select pictures individually. However, you can tap each image to un-select, and tapping the "X" that pops up in the top left can undo the whole selection at once.
Using Google's artificial intelligence to search for people and places in your pictures
Google's worked a lot on making its Assistant AI able to detect different types of things within your images. This allows you to find people and places and things even when they are not mentioned in the image's description or file name. It may not find every possible match, but it can work in a pinch.
Looking for pets? Search for dog or cat, for example, and the Google Assistant will attempt to locate all Photos uploads that contain one of your furry friends.
If you want to find pictures of yourself (which is kind of a thing these days), you can help the Assistant in one way. Go back into your settings, tap on "Group similar faces," and tap Choose to select an upload image that contains a clear depiction of your face, preferably looking directly at the camera. The app will offer a set of images where it believes you may be found, and you can tap on "None of These," to find another shot.
Note that enabling this feature will communicate your facial identification to the people listed in your Contacts app, to help them find you in their own Google Photos collections.
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How to get more cloud storage space
By default, Google gives you 15 gigabytes of storage, but this is shared across your Gmail and Google Drive storage as well, so it can fill up quickly. Curiously, the Google Photos app does not provide any direct path to acquiring more storage space, even though Photos is basically an extension of Google Drive.
To get more space, you can upgrade from within the Google Drive app or by logging into Google Drive via a desktop web browser and clicking on Storage in the left-hand menu.
If you upgrade to a paid subscription, you can also share your Drive space with up to five other family members, and you'll get access to premium tech support and the occasional promotional deal. Space sharing and tech support can be managed within the Google One app (download for iOS or Android).
- How to use Google Drive cloud storage in a desktop web browser
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- Google Lens arrives on iOS inside the Google search app
- 5 Google Home Hub features you should be using (CNET)
- How to download your photos from Flickr before it deletes them (ZDNet)
- How to re-enable quick access to Google Photos in Google Drive (TechRepublic)