Getting to grips with Google Photos

It really is rather surprising that given the widespread adoption and use of Google Photos, that I can not find a sensible, easy to read, introductory guide on how to use it. Perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to use? Well, it is – up to a point. That point being how it works alongside Google’s other cloud-based software, ie Google Drive and Backup and Sync, and the now defunct and disconnected Picasaweb – where your photos are still accessible in your Google Archive.

So this note is an attempt to set out what you can do with Google Photos using images obtained on your phone or tablet, or uploaded from your camera’s SD card. It will principally work from the principle that you’ve taken the photos, you want to upload them to your laptop or desktop (PC or Mac) and then want to work on them there using a web browser. That is not an essential workflow, you can do everything on your mobile device – if that’s where the photos are, even down to editing the photos using Google’s Snapseed application for iOS, or Android devices, it’s just the approach I’ve taken here. So if you want to do everything on your iPhone/iPad or Android device you can learn how to use Snapseed on iOS here, I believe the application is nearly the same on Android.

To avoid duplication of effort however, here is an article that you should read first. It covers nearly all the features of the device apps, and the web browser version, and in particular handles some of the editing functions available, but it doesn’t cover the intricacies and peculiarities of the Backup and Sync tool which replaced the Google Photos Desktop Uploader and Google Drive Client tools last year; it doesn’t cleanly explain the relationship between Google Photos and Google Drive, especially if you’ve chosen to create a Google Photos folder inside My Drive on Google Drive; and most significantly, it doesn’t cover the recent decision by Google to remove the Google Photos tab/icon from the Google Drive browser-window interface.

So … how do you get photos into Google Photos? This Google article tries to explain how you can use Backup and Sync to do that. How does Google Photos work with Google Drive? This Google article attempts to explain how. Confused, I thought you would be! This is what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and perhaps most importantly how I do it!

Sometimes, it’s best to work backwards from Google’s most recent announcement because in doing that you can be reasonably sure you’ll be moving in the right direction … forwards! So, their announcement that the Tab for Google Photos in Google Drive is about to disappear takes on a certain importance. Google is attempting to separate Photos from Drive and encourage users to deal with them separately. It’s a continuation of the separation which started when Photos was spun out of Google+. To continue to see your Google Photos in Google Drive, you need to create a Google Photos folder in My Drive.

This you do from the Gear wheel > Settings in your browser. After doing this you will get a notification that your photos will appear in due course in a Google Photos folder in Google Drive. You can tell they’re not the same when you look at the document I’ve already mentioned (above) – How Google Photos works with Google Drive.

So to me, it’s a no brainer. I won’t use the Google Drive interface as a means of working with my Google Photos. It’s just one level of complexity, and a level of potential duplication, removed. On my system therefore, the box (above) remains unchecked and I don’t have a Google Photos folder in My Drive, on Google Drive.

So how do I get my photos into Google Photos? From the iPhone/iPad (or any other smartphone that has the Google Photos app) it’s quite straightforward.
From the menu iconchoose Settings, enable Backup & sync and then make decisions as to the quality of the images, and when they’ll be backed up (uploaded). I have opted to use the free storage option, and for them only to be uploaded when connected to a WiFi network. The reasons for this are that my main photo software is K=Lightroom and I have a different method of working with that. What I want to use Google Photos for is essentially sharing albums with family and friends.

From my desktop/laptop it’s almost as straightforward. I connect the camera by USB cable to the computer, or insert the SD card from the camera into the SD card reader in the computer and I will be prompted with this message …

They should then get uploaded to Google Photos and (as I’ve chosen NOT to have a Google Photos folder in my Google Drive), the images can be found in my Google Drive as an entry under USB Devices & SD cards, which remains even after I’ve disconnected the SD card from the computer.

So there you have it. I’ve disentangled Google Photos from Google Drive; I’ve used Backup and sync to upload photos to Google Photos and I’m now ready to edit photos, create albums and share images through Google Photos.
[By the way in deleting (after copying to another location, just to be on the safe side) my Google Photos folders from my Google Drive, I not only reclaimed a heck of a lot of space, but I also removed a lot of duplicated photos.]

Finally … if you were a user of Picasa and Picasaweb, your photos are still accessible. What you can, and cannot do with them is recorded in this Google Help document. You can still download and use the PC or Mac Picasa desktop client for editing your pictures and if you want a simple photo-editing tool to get started with as long as you’re using a 32-bit operating system (ie not Apple’s Catalina or later), it’s a good place to start, but, it is no longer linked to Google Photos (or Picasaweb).  However, there is a workaround! When you save an image that you’ve edited in Picasa, you can save it to a folder that will then be automatically scanned by Backup and Sync and thus uploaded to Google Photos.

iCloud, Google Drive, Amazon Drive, Dropbox – what do you do for sharing photos?

If you’re interested in storing and sharing photos in and from “the cloud”, your world has become a little bit more confusing just recently, and will continue to do so whilst the big players position themselves to provide you with services. This post is not about using flickr, 500px, SmugMug or behance, or whatever – that’s another subject altogether. This is about principally cloud storage and sharing with an emphasis upon photographs.

Let’s start with Dropbox, the first really successful store and share service, and apart from a few privacy/security glitches a little while ago probably the most respected of the solely cloud storage services. If you use Dropbox, and only Dropbox, and you like using Dropbox – perhaps with auto-upload from your smartphone switched on – you can stop reading this post. Nothing has changed. Whew! Yet! Of course you might wish to consider the alternatives …

An alternative might be to use Amazon Cloud Drive which with its offer for Unlimited Free Photo and Video storage for Amazon Prime subscribers would appear rather attractive. However it’s functionality is very basic and (it would appear from my testing) the only sharing you can do from it is individual photos and that by email only … no thanks! It fails for me. [Another similar option you could use might be Copy, and there are others.]

Google Drive has become a huge success for photographers due to it allowing up to 2048×2048 pixel images to be stored without counting towards your free storage allowance. Plus, if you want to store full-size images you can do so up to the free limit of 15Gb and beyond that there’s a charge which is reasonable. [See Table below for comparison of costs]. Google Photos and Picasaweb have been integrated, but still retain for old-skool Picasaweb users like me, their separate identities – that’s cool and long may it continue (but I suspect it won’t for long). On the desktop you can use Picasa to edit and upload your images to Google Photos (Picasaweb). On your smartphone you can set your camera to automatically upload your photos, and just recently Google Photos has become fully integrated with Google Drive, meaning you can see your photos uploaded from your device in a Folder on your Google Drive. Also because your Google Drive is a Physical Folder in your desktop file system you can drag and drop using normal file system utilities. Marks out of 10, say 8, because you can do almost everything you might want to with photos, it’s just too complicated to get a 10; too many options or pathways. But if you’re IT-savvy or are able to invest a little time in getting the workflow right for you – this route will not let you down.

However Google and Apple are NOT friends! Hence this post.

So today I upgraded to Yosemite 10.3.3 on my #MBP and of course (as Apple is want to do) the iPhoto icon is taken off my Taskbar and replaced by the Photos one – what a cheek! If I still want it there, it is available in my applications folder so a quick drag back to the Taskbar makes it readily available again, but the old Library has been migrated to a new one capable of being read by Photos too); but should I consider the iCloud Photo Library service which comes with the new Photos??? As an Apple user – iMac, Mac Book Pro, iPad and iPhone – it might appear that I’d be mad not to consider using iCloud Photo Library, but what does it actually give me? What might be the sharing opportunities for photos (and videos) stored on iCloud using social media services such as Google+ which I use a lot? How about integrating iCloud Photos with a blogging service such as WordPress (or Blogger). I think you can see where I’m heading.

Just a little searching this afternoon finds no posts on the subject of iCloud-Google integration, or anything about sharing from iCloud Photos. I guess I need to enable iCloud Photo Storage to find out if it’s possible, but FIRST, perhaps I need to clear out my iPhoto Library so that loads of rubbish isn’t uploaded because immediately I enable iCloud Photos, all my Photo Stream moves out of free storage and becomes part of my 5Gb free entitlement. So you can see 15Gb (Google), 5Gb (Apple) doesn’t match up! Not a great move Apple! Google 1: Apple 0.

[UPDATE: Since writing the above paragraphs I’ve found out that Apple is confusing things more than I thought possible by distinguishing their iCloud Photo Library from iCloud Photo Sharing. The first counts against your 5GB, the second is free. It’s not clear to me if you can effectively reduce your storage costs by sharing them, but I suspect not as the former is a multi-format full-resolution facility, the latter is for web-sharing and commenting – another social network indeed – shall we call it Apple+ ?]

Then … how does the integration between iMovie and Photos work … “iCloud Photo Library stores every photo and video you take, making them accessible from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac and on”. Presumably you can upload stuff from the desktop to by installing iCloud on your Mac or PC, but this isn’t being pushed as a feature. Hopefully it is usable, because like Google Drive, your iCloud Drive is a Physical Drive in your file system. It’s just not really intended for anyone who has a requirement that extends beyond Apple. Love them as I do, this is not at first glance, a great move. Google 2: Apple 0 [I will update this paragraph if I’ve maligned them 😉 ]

So how much would a chargeable monthly service cost from Google and Apple

Google                                                               Apple

15 GB Free 5 GB Free
100 GB  $1.99 20 GB £0.79
1 TB $9.99 200 GB £2.99
10 TB $99.99 500 GB £6.99
20 TB $199.99 1 TB £14.99

You can see the Google offering is much more attractive. Google 3: Apple 0. Meanwhile, Google has attempted to pre-empt any competition that iCloud Photos could create by providing a route for iOS users to cut-out Photostream (which in itself is on borrowed time given iCloud Photos) altogether and share photos and videos direct to Google+ from your iPhone. Google 4 : Apple 0.

I can see a few confusing months ahead as the future of Google+ develops with the emergence of the new-branded Google Photos and Streams. I will take-on as I have before the job of Family-Techno-Meister guiding and advising all on the best path to take. Watch this space!

Why can’t Google and Apple just get along and make it easier for all of us. Of course if Google goes one stage further and just buys twitter – which it might …. where will that leave Apple?

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