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Why you should use Google Photos to backup your precious photographs

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A week ago, thieves broke into my car and stole my hard drive. My first concern upon discovering the theft was for my photos. Fortunately, I had all my photos on my laptop. Then a couple of days later, Microsoft pushed some Windows 10 update that conflicted with the Nvidia graphics driver on my computer and I had to reset the system.

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Over the last couple of months I have probably taken on average a thousand photos per month. On one particularly busy weekend I took about a thousand photos each day from Friday to Sunday. Imagine watching your computer crashing and wondering if you are going to lose all those pictures.

Except I wasn’t really worried. Having lost all my stuff when my hard-drive crashed several years ago, I have learnt my lesson. I follow the advice any IT pro will tell you of keeping at least 2 backups, one of them offsite or in the cloud. My offsite backup is Google Photos.

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I really cannot think of a reason why anyone would not use Google Photos. It offers free unlimited storage for your photos. Yes, unlimited. And yes, free. I have a friend who relies on Instagram to back up her photos, which I find to be a terrible security strategy. Other than the fact that you can’t really post hundreds of pictures every other day, sites like Instagram and Facebook compress your photos to save on storage and loading times. You want your photo back-ups to have the best possible resolution, even if you can’t tell the difference your phone screen.

It wouldn’t be Google if they stopped at just backing up your stuff. Google’s machine learning artificial intelligence identifies pictures that belong together (taken at the same time and location) and arranges them in albums. What you end up is an album with a title like ‘Trip to Bikita 25/06/2015’ or something like that. You can edit the description if it’s not to your liking.

Photos also makes it easy to share your photos. Having gone through the experience of sending hundreds of pictures over Whatsapp one at a time, I find it a much better experience to just share a link to the pictures (only people with the link can see the pictures and you get a notification for every person who views them). Not to mention again Whatsapp’s aggressive image compression.

The party trick for me is Google’s specialty, search. I can type in ‘dog’ and get all pictures of dogs I may have taken. I can also specify an object and a location. All very neat, but I rarely take pictures of dogs, or cats, or houses. Most of the time when I need to find a photo, it’s of a human. Google solves that elegantly, by giving me a list of faces. Once I click on a specific face, they locate all the pictures with that face. It’s magic.


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12 thoughts on “Why you should use Google Photos to backup your precious photographs

  1. No, Google photos does not offer unlimited FREE storage. You have to pay after a certain limit

    1. Actually Google does offer unlimited storage for your photos if you agree to image compression to what they call high quality. It’d not as aggressive as WhatsApp and the resultant photos are quite good.
      However if you decide that you don’t want your photos to be compressed then what you upload goes towards your storage allocation which if it surpasses the limit for your Google Account starts requiring you to pay.

    2. Well, sort of. Its free and ‘limitless’ in that if your photos are below a certain size, they wont subtract from your free space allocation. They also let you compress ‘original’ quality images you already uploaded down to ‘high’ quality, about the equivalent of 16 megapixels IIRC. That makes it effectively free for a lot of people for whom retaining quality is critical like pro photographers and hobbyists.

      1. oops. Should be ‘whom retaining quality is NOT critical’. And great answer Beaton, I think we started replying at almost the same time, but I type slow….

        1. you are both right of course. You can’t back up your RAW files and there is some compression going on. That said, I have made an A1 print from a photo I stored on Google Photos and the quality was impressive so I am sure most people wouldn’t notice. I personally keep 2 copies of all my RAW files and use Google Photos as a backup of last resort, and for all the convenience of sharing and organizing.

  2. The genius part of it is this is a part of what google is using to teach it’s AI face recognition (FOR FREEEE!) by letting us name people in photos. Google can now recognise me and my family members in any photo it can access on the net! Bee nice to your android phones for when Skynet comes!

    1. Whats even scarier is they can recognize you from other people’s photos. Think of all those times someone is taking a selfie in a public place and you are in the background.

  3. Folks, there’s nothing called “unlimited space”. Every hardware has specifications including a storage limit even when they are arranged in redundancy array. It’s just “lots of space”. It’s like a restaurant saying you can “eat as much as you like” – but your stomach size cannot increase. Most service providers know that you’re likely to have less than 1 or 2 TB of personal data hence the cliche “unlimited space”.
    No matter what your preferred cloud backup solution is, security is always a risk because by storing your data on a hard drive “elsewhere” you basically don’t know who accesses it (besides yourself) , when and if they’re not making any extra copies of it (without your knowledge or say-so). Because going online onto the cloud invariably introduces some cost (time, throughput, money), I’m averse to keeping my personal data anywhere else except on hardware I can, see touch and fee i.e. offline.

    1. You raise some interesting points. When Google says ‘unlimited storage’, they probably have enough capacity to store any number of pictures you and I can reasonably expect to take in a lifetime. They also increase the capacity when the need arises. For my purposes, it might as well be truly unlimited as there is very little chance we will ever reach a limit as long as they continue to expand. About privacy, I am willing to trust that no one in Google is snooping into my pics and making copies. They have a reputation to maintain. The number of Google workers is also a tiny fraction of the number of people who use the service every day, so even if their entire workforce for some reason did nothing other than look at people’s photos, chances are insignificant that they would get to mine.

      The important point for me is security. I have in the past lost important family photos when my computer crashed. Music, movies etc can easily be replaced, but your photos once gone are beyond replacement.

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