Google Photos & Google Drive

If you have a Google account — and who doesn’t? — you may have discovered that there are various ways to upload photos to that account. You also may have noticed that there seem to be two different places where your photos can be stored: Google Photos and Google Drive. This post explains the basics of how each of these work and how you might use them to backup and work with your photos.  DISCLAIMER: Google has made many changes over the years and will continue to do so. This post describes how things work as of March 2022. As time goes by, things may no longer work as described here.

How They Work

Google Photos and Google Drive both let you upload photos to your account’s cloud storage, but their purpose is different. If you think of your cloud storage as being similar to a hard drive on a computer, Google Drive is like a file manager that allows you to see all your files, including photos, and organize them into folders. You can think Google Photos, on the other hand, as an application that not only stores your photos, but also lets you edit them and organize them for viewing in various ways. Depending on your needs, you can use either or both as cloud storage for your digital photos.

Data Limits

The free storage Google provides for photos and other information is generous, but not unlimited. Prior to June 1, 2021, Google did provide unlimited storage for photos 16 megapixels or less and videos 1080p or less. Such photos and videos uploaded prior to the June 1 date are not counted towards the 15G limit, but photos and videos uploaded after that date are. So when uploading to Google Drive or Google Photos, keep in mind that anything stored in these accounts, along with your stored Gmail messages, counts towards the 15G data limit.

Which to Use?

Advantages of Google Drive

Google Drive might be the right choice, if you just want to have a backup copy of photos in cloud storage to keep them safe. This is especially true if you already have your photos organized in a set of folders that also contain files such as text notes about your photos or files created by photo-editing software such as Photoshop. You can use Google Drive to upload an entire folder structure (subject to some size limits) with subfolders and files of various types. Your folder structure will be preserved and, for backup purposes, you can upload any type of file to Google Drive. This would allow you to have a backup that keeps photos and other related files (including thumbnails and metadata). In addition, Google Drive supports previewing for a variety of file types (.e.g txt, docx, pdf, psd). If, for example, you have txt files with notes, you can use Google Drive to look at those notes as well as your photos. If you later want to download the folder structure you’ve uploaded, Google drive will package your content into an efficient zip file (or multiple zip files for large amounts of data). The files and folders you extract from this will be identical to the originals you used for uploading.

Advantages of Google Photos

Google Photos might be the right choice if, in addition to backup storage, you want some tools for basic editing and organization of your photos. These are not as sophisticated or flexible as those you might find in a computer-based application or in a cloud photo service such as Flickr, but they provide some quick and easy ways organize, search, share and improve the appearance of photos.

Google also provides keyword searching with image recognition capability. This means you can find photos based on the nature of the photo itself, even if you have not give the photo a name or description that matches the keyword. In addition to terms like “birthday” and “flower,” the Google found a nice set of matching photos for “rock,” “ocean,” “bike,” “blue,”and “plaid.” It also correctly recognized that my collection contained no photos with elephants, though a search for “hat” missed party hats, military hats, women’s hats, and many instances of traditional men’s hats.

Strategies for Uploading

Uploading via Browser

Once you are logged into your Google account in a browser, you can upload photos either from the Google Drive (drive.google.com) or from Google Photos (photos.google.com). The main difference between the two is that you can upload either files or folders (which can include subfolders as well as files) to Google Drive, but you can upload only files to Google Photos. Another difference is that you can copy photos from Google Drive to Google Photos — a process Google refers to as “uploading from Google Drive”– but the process does not work in reverse.

One Copy or Two?

If you upload photos to Google Drive and then copy them to Google Photos as described above, keep in mind that each copy will count separately against the 15G data limit. This was not always the case, so if you used the tools Google provided to sync photos in the past, you might want to read the article that appeared in Google’s blog about Changing how Google Drive and Google Photos work together.

Uploading via App

An alternative to uploading via browser is to use an app that will automatically upload photos you put in specified locations to Google Drive or Google Photos. If you are using a Windows or Mac computer, there is a single app you can use, as is explained in the Google support pages on Back up photos & videos and Use Google Drive for desktop. If you a phone or tablet running Android or iOS, there are separate apps for Google Drive and Google Photos, and these usually can be found in the relevant app store for your device, but may not be available or fully functional on some devices (e.g. Amazon Fire tablets).

the app to use is Google Drive for Desktop, which can be set up to upload to Google . You can find information about how to use both methods on the official Google support page: Upload files and folders to Google Drive.

Uploaded vs. Original Files

Sometimes people find it so convenient to use Google Photos that they delete or lose track of the original image files. There are, however, some reasons why you should hang onto your original image files.

By default, Google Photos uses compression to reduce the storage space required for uploaded photos. The compression techniques are good, so you probably won’t see any difference on the screen of your computer, tablet or phone. However, you are likely to get better results with the original uncompressed image if you want to do things like enlarge and crop. Since you can’t always predict future uses for your photos, keeping the original files preserves details that might someday be useful or important.

After uploading photos, you may make changes with Google Photos editing tools. If you later download those photos, depending on the method you use, you may be given a choice between downloading the “original” version or the “edited” version. The “original” version in this case does not mean original quality, but rather means the photo as stored in Google Photos (i.e. perhaps compressed) before you did your editing. Also keep in mind that, while you can undo and redo edits in Google Photos, you cannot do this with edited photos that have been downloaded.

Multiple Backups for Important Photos

Ideally, for photos you value, you will keep three exact copies of your original image files: two on separate media locally and a third in a separate backup location. For example, you might copy your photo files to SD cards or an external hard drive for local backup. For offsite backup, there are a variety of cloud storage service you can use, including Google Drive. You also can change the settings on Google Photos to upload with original quality — but be careful about how you deal with images you have edited with Google Photos.

Additional Information

For additional information, check out Google Photos Help and Google Drive Help.

A Farewell to Google Sites

There are different ways one can go about building a website, and the choice of methods should depend on the nature and purpose of the website. Years ago, I created a new website for CathMarshall.com using Google Sites, and it was a great choice at the time. As an early adopter of Google Apps, I was able to use Google Sites with my own domain and enjoy the synergy between Google Sites and other Google services.

In addition to providing free website hosting with ample storage, Google Sites allowed me to quickly add new content that would automatically be added to a navigation menu. I could do basic text formatting using a visual editor and then drop into an HTML editor for further tweaking. I could edit and then upload photos using (now defunct) Picasa, make a slideshow, then insert that into a page with a few clicks. I could select from a library of widgets to enhance my website — and if I needed something special, I could create a widget of my own. What I discovered over the years, however, is that Google Sites tended to require more monitoring and more unexpected maintenance than the websites I created using other methods.

People often assume that, once a website is working, it will continue to work unless you forget to pay your hosting fees or become the victim of hackers. In truth, websites depend on various technologies that continue to move forward. In some cases, those technologies are managed to provide maximum backward compatibility. In other cases, not so much. Indeed, there’s often a tradeoff between making big advances and maintaining backward compatibility.

So, for what I expect are good business reasons, Google has decided to discontinue the “classic” version of Google Sites that I enjoyed using for many years. That presented me with the choice of rebuilding my website with the “new” Google Sites vs. using some other method. For reasons I may explain some other time, I decided to rebuild this website using WordPres

Embedding a Google Doc

If you have Internet access and a Google account (and who doesn’t?), you may know that Google Docs is a handy way to create a document you can store on Google Drive, and also print or download if you wish.

A Google Doc can also be embedded into a website. The embed is dynamic and shows the current version of the Doc. That means you can change what a visitor sees on the webpage simply by editing the Google Doc. In theory, since Google Docs can be shared for collaborative work, this allows a group of people to participate in updating a website just by editing one or more Google Docs.

Unfortunately, embedding a Google Doc doesn’t work as well as one might hope for anything other than a Google Site. To the left you see a reduced size snapshot of a Google Doc that I created to experiment with embedding. As the snapshot shows, the document was formatted to center the title at the top of the page and to have the text wrap around the two included drawings.

Below I’ve added an embed of this same Doc. As you can see, the embed doesn’t preserve the formatting. Also, to get the embedded document to display in a frame large enough for viewing, I had to tweak the embed code Google provided, changing the HTML to add width and height parameters.

Google Docs also offers the option of sharing documents via a link. However, when documents are shared in this way, there are again problems with formatting in the web page that’s displayed when you follow the link Google provides. You can see this by clicking on this link for sharing the Sample Document.