NEW: Check Out Google Photos

Category: Photography

Google Photos is a “new” photo and video storage, editing, and organizing tool introduced at the Google I/O conference held in May. Photo management used to be part of Google+, but Google has spun this service off from its languishing social network and added some interesting features. Read on for the scoop…

What Can Google Photos Do For You?

Do you have photos scattered all over your desktop, laptop, and mobile devices? Do you have trouble finding photos in your collection, because there's no organization? If you answered YES to either of those questions, Google Photos may be a big help to you.

Among the features you'll find in Google Photos are cross-device aggregation of photos, automatic grouping of related photos, and unlimited free cloud storage space. Here’s how Google Photos works:

First, download the Google Photos app for your Android, iOS, and/or Windows desktop environment. The download links are at the top-right of the Google Photos “About” page. Next, login to your Google account.

Waterfall Monster

The first time you run the app, it will walk you through configuration of which devices and folders to scan for photos. External devices such as SD cards and cameras can be included if desired. Whenever an external storage device (ie: an SD card or flash drive) is connected to a device that’s running the app, photos on the external device will be uploaded to Google Photos. On the desktop app, you can also specify whether photos uploaded from external devices should be copied to a folder on your PC or laptop. These settings can be changed later if desired.

During configuration, you can choose between unlimited free cloud storage with compression of images that are over 16 Mpixels, or uncompressed photos up to the storage limit of your Google Drive account. Everyone has at least 15 GB of free Google Drive space; 100 GB is only $2/month and a terabyte costs $10/month. All but professional photographers will do just fine with unlimited free storage; compressed images will still print sharp 8x10s on an inkjet printer.

Once the settings are saved, the app gets busy scanning for photos and uploading them to the cloud. There, Google Photos applies some pattern-recognition mojo to analyze photos for general characteristics, e. g., are there people in the image, and specific similarities between images, e. g., is the same person’s face in several images.

People, Places and Things

After installing Google Photos, I searched for "waterfalls" and found an amusing picture that I took. The small version above shows what I thought was just an interesting waterfall that I saw on a hike. Afterwards, I realized that I had captured the elusive Waterfall Troll sticking its tongue out at me. Here's a larger photo of that scene.

The algorithms produce a two-tiered organization structure. The top level includes groups for People, Places, Things, and Types (photo or video file). Within each top-level group, photos that seem to be of the same person, place, or thing are grouped together. You can refine the contents of groups or add tags and names manually to improve organization.

Like Google Translate and voicemail-to-text, this automatic organization sometimes produces amusing results. A rattlesnake’s rattle was lumped into a group named “flowers.” But it also digs up photos you may have forgotten you had, or could not remember on which device you stored it.

Naturally, there’s a search box at the top of the Google Photos page. The keywords you enter are matched against tags that Google Photos assigns to photos based on pattern recognition, metadata in an image, and contextual data such as the name of the image file or the folder in which it was found. You might (for example) find it handy to locate all of your photos with flowers, dogs, or waterfalls.

Editing tools appear when you click on an image to display it in a lightbox. You can crop, rotate, or auto-enhance images. Or, fiddle with the brightness, color filters, and "pop" settings on your own.

You can also send an image to Snapchat or Twitter with just a click or tap.

“The Assistant” is an automatic photo editor built into Google Photos. It tries (with varying success) to stitch together apparently related images in collages, animations, and panoramas. On the About page for Google Photos, there is an example showing how related photos and videos can be automatically combined into a professional-looking movie with a matching soundtrack.

The Assistant can also create Stories, albums containing related photos such as a series of vacation snapshots. Using geolocation and time data often embedded in photos taken with smartphones, the Assistant can piece together a day-by-day account of your last vacation, including a map of your travel route.

Some of the stories and animations that Google Photos created for me were very interesting, recalling fond memories. Other were simply hilarious mashups of unrelated photos.

Google Photos is more than a free cloud storage locker for your pics and videos. The more content you add to Google Photos, the more surprising and interesting tricks its Assistant will show you.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "NEW: Check Out Google Photos"

Posted by:

09 Jun 2015

What happens to Picasa? I have photos in Picasa on my desktop and in my Gmail account. Thanks much for the update.

EDITOR'S NOTE: See "What is the difference between Picasa and Google photos?"

Posted by:

Michael Meder
09 Jun 2015

Would you compare/contrast Google Photo with Google Picasa? Thanks!

Posted by:

09 Jun 2015

I use Picasa which is also Google product, is this the same program re named? Reading about Google Photos, it seems to be the same features? Would be nice if when they churn out new names the companies would address older we uninstall those? Keep in addition to?

Posted by:

Ryan James
09 Jun 2015

Very interesting and fun to play with. I have a fun photo of an elephant sitting in a huge nest on a tree top. It categorized it as a bird.One photo of a llama is also in the birds folder.

I already use Picasa web albums. Is this a separate account?
Is there a way to change tags on photos to make sure they are correct?

Posted by:

09 Jun 2015

Wow! An interesting discovery... Most of my groups were very pertinent. Few are not at the right place but, most of all the photos are beautiful and categories useful. Thanks.

Posted by:

Ron Ashby
09 Jun 2015

Who owns the photos and videos once uploaded to Google Photos. Is Google allowed to use any of the uploaded photos without getting permission first?

Posted by:

Robert Kemper
09 Jun 2015

Thanks Bob,
I've needed a place for organizing my photo's as
I've been having an overload problem when trying
to send an answer to a friend that has sent an
e-mail with a photo attachment.

Posted by:

Iver Johnson
09 Jun 2015

I think I read in an earlier column of yours, that Microsoft was also going to provide a free Windows 10 upgrade for Windows Vista users. Was I wrong or did MS change their mind? If it is still possible,could you tell me how to go about it? I read your newsletter with great interest and appreciate all the news you make available to us.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Only Windows 7 and 8 users will get the free Win10 update.

Posted by:

09 Jun 2015

Really liked the "dragon" in the waterfall. Glad you noticed it, a nice touch, Bob!!!

Posted by:

09 Jun 2015

Thanks for the article; I've been wondering about this. Unfortunately this brings up more questions than it answers.
15 GB is a joke for any serious amateur photographer. I've only had a DSLR for a little more than 2 years and I have well over 500 GB of photos on my computer. I just added a 2 TB drive in anticipation of more. I also use a 2 TB external drive for backup.
Unlimited storage is compressed? How? is it lossless compression? Are the photos de-compressed when you open them?
Another aspect. I would not want all pictures indiscriminately stored on Google, and I'd want them stored as I do - in folders set up by date, subject, location, etc., and organized according to my needs. Can Google Photos be set up to handle any of that?
I can think of a few other issues as well.

Posted by:

Bruce Butterfield
10 Jun 2015

Ah! But did you notice that the troll's (dragon's)tongue also has a face on it?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, it was such a surprise when I viewed the photo after taking it.

Posted by:

10 Jun 2015

Thank you very much for the link comparing Picasa with Google Photos; it was very helpful.
I really appreciate your keeping your readers up to date on all things new. I especially appreciated the info on the upcoming Windows 10 download.

Posted by:

10 Jun 2015

I agree with Don. This Google feature may be great for the casual photo shooter but just not adequate for the serious amateur. I have literally thousands of images, dating back to around 1941. My file system is also by date & location. In the last few years I've been taking all my photos in RAW format. When I make any modifications to them, if necessary, they are then saved in compression-free TIFF format. If I need a compressed file for one reason or another I create a JPEG of it. But ALWAYS retain the original. Once image quality is reduced via compression....unless the orginal is saved....that data information is gone forever.
Like Don....I think I'll stick with my storage & backup system....both at home and away from home. always, Bob, your info is interesting. Thank you.

Posted by:

10 Jun 2015

Would like more information on Vista upgrade to Windows 10.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2015

I've stared long at your waterfall picture and don't see the troll. Can you put an arrow on it for stupid peeeple? Thanks

EDITOR'S NOTE: Start with the large version of the photo. Look in the center at the dark grey section. You'll see a mouth with a gold/brown tongue sticking out, and two eyes above.

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