Try these Google Photos tricks 📸
Do useful and surprising things with your photo library
Google Photos is the most useful all-in-one free app for organizing, backing up, editing, sharing, and printing photos. Read on for simple ways to make the most of it, as well as some caveats and alternatives.
1. Back up your photos and videos
Whether you have 1,000 photos or 100,000, they're precious. If you've ever accidentally deleted a folder, dropped a phone, or left behind a laptop, you know how digital files can evaporate. So the first way to use Google Photos is to automatically back up all your Android or iPhone visuals — including both photos and videos.
You can also import old photos or videos stored on your computer or on a thumb drive. Having a digital backup is important because a physical hard drive can wear out or get damaged or lost. Though it no longer offers unlimited backups for free, you'll only have to pay once you're storing more than 15 GB of photos. I pay $20 for a 100GB Google One account because it also gives me extra space for GMail and Google Drive files. Most small photo collections won't cost anything to backup.
2. Find pictures quickly with magic searches
Type in birthday, Boston, camping, snow or someone’s name (once you’ve labeled one or more of their images) — and you’ll see photos just in that category. No need to file photos into albums manually — though you can if you want. It’s a fantastically easy way to find any old photo you’re looking for.
3. Edit without knowing anything about editing 🏞
Beginner: For a 1-second fix, open up any photo and use GPhotos’ auto-correct. It’ll touch up color and light balance.
Intermediate: Crop an image to focus attention on your subject by clicking the crop button and pinching and dragging the image. I like the tactile feel of using fingers to adjust an image, which is distinct from clicking a mouse.
Advanced: Select the "Edit in Snapseed" button under a photo to access free professional edit features in the excellent Snapseed photo editing app, which Google acquired. Alternatively, you can use built-in edit tools to adjust shadows and highlights without leaving GPhotos.
4. Create collages, gifs and videos 🎥
Make a gif by combining anywhere from 2 to 50 images. You can't adjust how long each picture lasts within your gif. For better gif creation, use the Giphy app or explore other specialized gif creation resources I wrote about.
Make a collage by combining anywhere between 2-9 images. Unfortunately you can't adjust how the collage is formatted, or in what orientation. For better collages, try the free Adobe Express.
Make a movie by selecting up to 50 pictures and video clips. Or select from templates like "They Grow Up So Fast," or "Mother's Day Movie," "Father's Day Movie," or "In Loving Memory." Each lets you pick a particular person in your Google Photos collection and automatically constructs a movie out of your best photos of that person.
5. Add effects so people notice your photo 🌁
A filters drawer lets you create special versions of any photo. Make a black and white copy or one that looks like an old Polaroid. Try three effects to get a unique look:
Onyx gives your picture an elegant, high-contrast black and white look
Ollie is nice for a faded look with muted colors
Color Pop puts a subject in color against a black and white background 👇
6. Print your pictures 🖨
It's nice to have physical copies of your photos. Google Photos will mail your images for $.18 each, or photo books starting at $15. Canvas prints are $25 and up. Periodic sales and free shipping promotions bring the price down. There are lots of cheaper options, and even free printing with FreePrints. Alternatively, if you’ve got a good home printer, open Google Photos online (photos.google.com), select your image, put your browser in full screen mode and print an instant paper copy.
7. Create private or shared albums 📒
A shared photo album for my nephew's Bar Mitzvah let family members contribute and view shared pictures and short videos. You can even create shared albums that are public. I've used those in teaching workshops to let people share their creations and comment on one another's work.
You can also create private albums for organizing pictures of people, places, events or anything else. That makes it easy to print, share or organize those images.
8. Pull images into other apps 🤳
Lots of other services now plug into Google Photos, from Wix and Wordpress to Magisto and Timehop, letting you easily import images into projects you're working on — whether building a site, creating a presentation or making a slideshow.
Bonus features — Google Lens
Google Lens is a service within Google Photos that relies on artificial intelligence to let you do surprising things with your images. To activate it, just click the Lens icon when looking at any of your images, as pictured below 👇
9. Translate a menu — or anything else 🍱
Take a picture of anything in another language and use Google Lens to instantly translate it. There's even a special "Dining" button you can use after taking a picture of a menu. Lens will sift through existing pictures and reviews to show you relevant content about any dish you select from the picture of that menu.
10. Identify the location of an old photo 📍
Pick a travel photo and press the Google Lens icon. Select Search or Places to see if Google can find the place or similar spots.
11. Buy something you see in a photo 🛒
Pick an image with a product in it and select Shopping to see where you can buy it.
12. Copy text from a picture
If you photograph a great quote, an important explanation or some other text you want to save, click the Lens button and then Text. You can then copy and paste the text from your image into a note, email, or anywhere else.
If you’re concerned about the growing power and data access of large tech firms, consider a more privacy-focused alternative to Google Photos. Google denied doing anything wrong but settled a $100 million class-action lawsuit last spring based on an allegation that the company used a controversial facial-recognition program to power its Google Photos Face Grouping feature. Privacy-focused alternatives include the open-source Piwigo. I may explore other alternatives in a future post, so let me know if you have one you recommend.
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