How Does Google Photos Work?


Powered by AI goodness, Google Photos is arguably the most easy-to-use photo/video sharing and storage service on the planet. Since being introduced as a standalone service in 2015, Google Photos has acquired over a billion users and it continues to grow steadily. 

Google Photos recently discontinued its “unlimited photo storage for all,” making it exclusive to Pixel devices only. However, even this major change has not turned people away, as they simply cannot imagine life without the simplicity of Google Photos.

Today, we will take a closer look at the service and tell you how all of it works. Now without further ado, let us get to it!

Related: How to Download a photo from Google Photos as JPEG [Workaround]

How does photo backup work in Google Photos in 2021?

Photo backup in Google Photos has changed in the last couple of months. Before June 1st, 2021, Google Photos used to offer unlimited ‘High quality’ backups to all Google Photos app users.

Now, only Pixel users are entitled to the free service, while others would have to count on their shared Google Storage to save the files. If you do not have a Pixel device, every photo you save will count against your free 15 GB storage. 

Google Photos’ backup service is not any different from any other cloud-based backup service. Your Google Photos account is linked to Google Drive. When you open the app, the Photos goes through your mobile phone gallery or other folders and uploads the photos and videos to the cloud. This makes the photos and videos accessible from anywhere on earth.

If you run out of Google Drive space on your non-Pixel smartphone, you will either have to purchase a Google One subscription or risk not backing up your photos. 

How does search work in Google Photos?

Google Photos uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to make life easier for its users. And the search function is a direct byproduct of the two. Google Photos scan each image that is being uploaded and adds relevant tags to them. Thanks to these tags, you can easily search photos and access them whenever you need to. 

For example, if you upload a photo of a sunset with friends, Google Photos might tag it as “Sunset,” “Nature,” “Orange,” “People,” and more.

So, when you search for any of the aforementioned terms, Google Photos will bring that photo up. It is arguably the easiest way to look up old photos. You can also search for photos by entering the date they were taken. Since Google Photos keeps your newest photos at the top, it is easy to navigate through your library. 

Related: How To Remove Contacts Suggestions When Sharing in Google Photos

How does face recognition work in Google Photos?

Face recognition has been around in Google Photos for a while now. However, not many were comfortably turning it on. Now that more and more people have turned it on, photo sharing and recognizing have become easier than ever.

Google Photos has been trained to recognize faces in photos. So, if you have a group picture with little to no distortions, Google Photos should be able to distinguish all the faces your photo has. Also, you can select your image from the pile of recognized faces to make life a little easier for Google Photos. When you identify your face from the pile, Google Photos creates a private space with all your photos in it. 

Google Photos’ face recognition is called face grouping and is an opt-in feature. Once you enable it, Google starts grouping identical faces. You can, of course, name the faces in your photos, which would improve your search results. 

After you turn the ‘Face grouping’ feature on, Google Photos scans the photos, picks a thumbnail for the photo group, and finally, stacks them in ascending order. You can even also turn off Face recognition features if you feel like it. That way, Google will have no way of knowing who you really are.  

Related: How To Save Images From Gmail Directly to Google Photos

How do editing tools work in Google Photos?

For those unaware, Google Photos comes with a respectable set of editing tools. These tools can help you perform quick edits, especially when you do not want to go through the hassle of navigating a full-fledged editing suite. The ‘Edit’ button appears at the bottom of the screen and allows you to use crop function, apply filters, and more. 

The edit section in Google Photos is unmistakably powered by Snapseed. So, if you are already familiar with the Snapseed app, you will be right at home. Of course, Google Photos editing is meant for simplicity. So, do not expect to perform full-fledged detailed editing on here. 

The editing tools in Google Photos are at their best with a Google One subscription. If you do not have Google One, you will have to stay satisfied without some key filters and presets. Getting a Google One subscription will unlock these filters and effects right away. 

Related: What is Google Photos Storage Saver? Is it the same as High Quality?

How does Google Lens work in Photos?

When it first came out, Google Lens caused quite a ruckus in the tech space. It allowed users to scan their photos and extract valuable information from them. Additionally, Google Lens has the capability to work as a real-life photo scanner. This means that you can point your phone’s camera at something and Lens will compare the objects in your viewfinder with results in its database, giving you valuable suggestions and more.

In Google Photos, too, Google Lens comes as a standard feature, allowing you to extract text from images, save numbers, open websites, translate, and more. Google Lens is powered by vision-based computing, which knows what objects you are looking at — both still image and through camera viewfinder — and gives you relevant results. After it recognizes what you are looking at, Google Lens compares the object with other relevant images. Then, it ranks the images based on their similarity, giving you the most accurate results possible. 

How does sharing work in Photos?

As you may have seen already, Google Photos has extensive sharing options. Not only can you share your photos with people on the Google Photos app, but you can also share with outsiders using link sharing. If that was not enough, you can even compose emails with the sole purpose of sharing the link.

When someone clicks on the link, they are taken to the photos, videos, or album you are trying to share. If they have trouble opening the link, chances are, appropriate permissions have not been granted. Make sure you are sharing with the right audience before you hit the share button. 

How does memories work in Google Photos?

Over the last few years, almost all social networking or photosharing services have been implementing a feature called Memories. This super popular feature takes you on a trip down the memory lane, showing you images from last year, the year before that, or further back. For example, a Memory reel on the 22nd of September 2021 might show you an image from a couple of years back — 22nd September 2019 for example. After you exhaust the current reel, it might even take you further back and show you highlights from that particular week. 

Memories in Google Photos focuses on the metadata of the images you upload. If your images do not have metadata, they will not show up in memories.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do photos stay in Google Photos after you delete them from your phone?

Google Photos is excellent at keeping photos in memory after you have removed them from your device. So, once you complete your Google Photos backup, you can freely delete photos and videos from your mobile. Interestingly, Google Photos even gives you an option to delete the backed-up photos at once. 

Is it safe to use Google Photos?

Google Photos is the most popular photo backup and storage service out there. And while Google calls it completely safe, many users are not happy with the amount of data Photos collects off of your images. Through metadata of your photos, Google Photos can identify where your photo was taken, when it was taken, and even who you were with.

Google Promises that it does not use your data for advertisement and other promotional purposes. However, the fact that it collects some necessary information is not reassuring. If you are not paranoid about privacy and do not store extremely private photos on Google Photos, you can freely use Google Photos for day-to-day photo uploads. 

Do photos backed up in Google Photos stay forever? 

Once you upload your photos to the Google server, your photos become accessible from any part of the globe. So, if you do not stop logging into your Gmail account, your Google Photos account will also stay active. However, if you stop accessing your Gmail account, not logging in for 24 months or 2 years, Google will consider your account inactive.

To free up space for other users, Google will consider deleting your account but not before sending you a text telling you about it. If you still do not act, it will delete all photos, emails, and more in your Google account. 

How does Google Photos storage work?

Google Photos offered unlimited free storage to all users for five years. However, since June 1st, 2021, it has made the unlimited photo storage service to existing Pixel devices (up to Pixel 5). If you are a non-Pixel user, every photo you upload would count against your free 15GB Google storage. If you run out of storage, you can subscribe to Google One for up to 2TB of storage. Plans start at $1.99 per month and go all the way up to $9.99 per month. 

Can anyone see your Google Photos?

No, no one except you is allowed to see your private Google Photos. You can, of course, choose to share specific photos, create a partner account, and more. In that case, only people you share the link with can see your photos. However, be warned that if your link goes public for some reason, you might have a hard time containing the exposure. 

Is it worth paying for Google Photos?

Firstly, Google Photos does not charge you anything for the service alone. Until the 1st of June 2021, it even used to offer unlimited free storage. Now, it has reduced the storage to 15GB for non-Pixel phone users. However, even that is not the worst deal out there, since 15GB of storage can last up to three years if you opt for the ‘Storage saver’ option. 

If you love keeping your photos backed up for superfast access, splashing extra for additional storage is completely worth it. Paid tier starts at $1.99/month for 100GB and goes all the way up to $9.99/month for 2TB. You can get better deals if you choose to splash extra for annual packages. 

How does Google Photos work on Android or iOS?

Google Photos’ Android and iOS apps are as versatile as their web counterpart. You can store photos and videos, share them, and use Google Lens for enhanced photo scanning. To top it off, Google Photos is very straightforward to use. This means that your Google Photos journey starts as soon as you download the application and launch it on your mobile. 


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A mediocre engineer hoping to do something extraordinary with his pen (well, keyboard). Loves Pink Floyd, lives football, and is always up for a cup of Americano.