Google Photos: how to back up and organise your photos

Backing up and organising your photos can feel like the digital equivalent of weeding you garden – it’s the job you put off until you’re overrun with nettles or, in this case, blurry dog photos.

Luckily, there are lots of easy ways to back up your digital or analogue snaps, and one of the best is using Google Photos.

You don’t have to run your entire life on Google services to get the benefits of Photos – it works across PCs, Macs, iOS devices and Android phones.  

Like most Google apps, however, Photos has some idiosyncrasies that are worth learning to ensure your backup trundles away in the background like a friendly robot lawnmower.

If you’re looking to make a cloud-based archive of your digital or analogue snaps, here’s how to set up your Google Photos backup in minutes…

Google Photos – What is it?

Before we delve into how to get it running, here’s a short primer on what Google Photos is.

A spin-off from Google+ that arrived in 2015, it’s a cloud-based archive for photos and video that can you access either via a web browser or your smartphone via an Android or iOS app.

Sounds a bit like Google Drive or Dropbox, right? While there are similarities, Photos is less a folder-based filing cabinet and more a giant photo album with basic editing tools and clever machine learning.

It’s this machine learning that gives Photos its eerily good search abilities – and a slight edge over the likes of Amazon Prime Photos, Shoebox and Cluster. As long as you don’t mind Google combing through your holiday snaps and hunting for famous landmarks to tag, of course.

Related: Best Camera Phone 2018

Google Photos – How do I backup my camera’s photos?

There are two ways to start your Google Photos backup – from the desktop app or the smartphone app.

To automatically backup photos from any SD card or desktop folder, you need to download ‘Backup & Sync’ (Windows and Mac).

This replaces two older desktop apps (Google Photos Backup and Drive) and lets Photos make clones of your photos and videos to stash away safely in the cloud.

Are these exact copies or compressed versions? This is the big decision when you’re setting up ‘Backup & Sync’. You get two options: ‘High quality’ or ‘Original’.

Google will store an unlimited number of 16-megapixel photos and 1080p videos in ‘High quality’ for free, but this isn’t quite the whole story; they’re compressed, too, to reduce space.

In our tests, Google’s compression was impressive, crunching files down in size without any major loss in quality. If you mainly view photos on-screen, or are largely backing up smartphone snaps, you should be fine with the ‘High quality’ option.

However, if you’re a photographer who needs non-compressed RAW backups, or you’re a fan of printing out your snaps, then you’ll probably want to plump for ‘Original’.

As Google ‘only’ gives you 15GB storage for free, this will likely come at a cost, but at £8 per month for 1TB storage (or £79 per year), Google Photos compares favourably to the likes of Dropbox.

There’s one big caveat: Google Photos doesn’t support every type of RAW file, so it’s worth checking its support page to see if your camera’s version is on there before you splash out on a 20TB plan.

Decided to plump for Google Photos? Once you’ve downloaded ‘Backup and Sync’ and signed into your Google account, it’s then just a case of choosing the folder(s) you want Photos to automatically back up.

To back up SD cards, you’ll first need to insert one into your SD card slot. Then in the ‘Backup & Sync’ setup, click ‘Choose Folder’ and select the SD card as a source to continually back up.

Once you’re setup, Google Photos’ ‘Backup & Sync’ lives in the menu bar at the top of your screen, where you’ll be able to see it whirring away and saving copies of your snaps to the cloud.

Google Photos – How do I back up my smartphone snaps?

Looking for an easy way to automatically back up your smartphone’s camera roll? The Google Photos app is a good choice for this, too.

Download it for iOS or Android, make sure ‘Backup & Sync’ is turned on, and your smartphone photos will be automatically backed up to Google’s servers.

Naturally, you get slightly less control in iOS compared to Android. For example, in the Android app you can specify which folders Photos backs up, such as Instagram, downloads or screenshots. To do that, go into ‘Backup & Sync’ then select ‘Back up device folders’ to toggle certain folders on and off.

If you’re running out of internal smartphone storage due to some slightly over-enthusiastic snapping, the Photos app’s ‘Free up space’ option will also handily delete any photos on your phone that are already backed up.

Related: Best phone 2018

Google Photos – How do I backup my analogue photos?

Google Photos

Google’s cloud photo album isn’t just for digital snaps – if you have a stack of wedding Polaroids that you want to save for posterity, there’s a link to Google’s PhotoScan app in the Photos menu.

This lets you use your phone’s camera to scan physical snaps, which are then automatically sent to your Google Photos backup.

Even better, If your photos are black and white family heirlooms, Google Photos will soon be able to colorise them. This feature was announced at Google I/O 2018, although Google hasn’t said exactly when it will be coming to the Google Photos app. We’ll update this feature as soon as it arrives.

Related: Google Photos will add colour to your black-and-white photographs