Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with this site knows that I take a lot of pictures. It’s something I would probably do anyway, but I also find myself thinking, “Ooh, that would be a great shot for Photo Diary.” I also like trying my hand at capturing nature in all it’s glory, but for the most part, my snaps are of my kids being awesomely goofy.
As you can imagine, I have a lot of digital images. I made the switch from film to digital sometime around 2005. That’s the year I graduated from college and moved out to New York. I didn’t take nearly as many photos back then because I still had the mindset of not wanting to pay to have them developed. Now, I’ll take as many as I can and not delete anything unless they’re really, really bad. That means I’ve got thousands upon thousands of pics covering my marriage, both kids, the cat, friends, family and our homes.
That’s a lot of pics from a lot of different cameras that have been loaded onto a lot of various computers over the years. I’ve been trying to figure out a good way to organize everything. Enter: Google Photos.
Part of Google’s ever-increasing suite of incredible (and free) software, Google Photos allows you to put all of your pictures from all different sources into one, easy-to-view and search place. The app copies every picture you take on a given device and puts it in the cloud. You can also used a desktop function to do the same for every image you load onto your computer. It takes awhile to get everything going, but once I had that accomplished, I focused on uploading the even larger cache from our external hard drive.
The beauty of this program is that it allows you to browse your entire digital photographic life. Better yet, there’s a feature called Assistant that will take your images and do fun things with them like Stylized, Collages, Then & Nows and Color Pops. It also routinely reminds you of what you snapped on a previous day first in a Collage and then as a group of images you can scroll through. You can also do these things manually, but I’m not as good at is as the machine.
And the search capabilities are just incredible. Take the time to answer a few facial recognition questions (basically: are these the same person?) and you’ll have a wonderful selection of kid images that know what she or he looks like ranging from baby on up. You can also look at pics based on Place, Pets and even Things. It’s not always correct — it confuses our orange cat with my parents’ orange cat — but I was super impressed to see sections like Cooking, Boats and Forests pop up.
I don’t let the kids play with my phone very often — I actually keep it fairly clear of things they’d even be interested in — but I have really enjoyed looking at pictures on Google Photos with them. They can look back at a day four years ago or look at just pictures of their Papa (it even picked him out of the background of pictures that he was moving in!). This offers them the chance to see how much they’ve changed over the years and also gives them a better sense of their own histories, which can be difficult for kids to wrap their heads around in my experience.
Of course, no system is perfect. Even though it can pick my father-in-law out of the background of a picture in which he appears blurry, the system doesn’t seem able to avoid doubles. So, let’s say I take a picture of a dog. It copies that dog from my phone and puts it into the gallery. However, I also have Google Photo automatically upload whatever images are put on my desktop as well because I still use an actual camera every now and again. Once my phone sends the picture to the desktop, it makes another copy which shows up under the same day. It’s not the worst thing in the world — and space is free and unlimited if you use a certain setting — but it also isn’t the greatest.
I’m also certain that the robots running the ship are looking to make humans, especially the parent kind, get all misty-eyed. I mentioned the Then & Now above. With that, the program takes a recent picture, searches the archives and matches it up with an existing one from several years prior. Most recently, the old pic featured my wife with our son as a baby and our daughter around the age of 3 and the newer one has them with their arms around each others’ shoulders at a coffee shop from the other day! On another occasion, it created a movie about our son called “They Grow Up So Fast!” Quit playing games with my heart, Google Photos!
The complaints — and occasional emotional terrorism — are incredibly minor compared to the pure awesomeness of having everything in one place. I’m not sure how good the versions from Google Photo would be if you wanted to print them out, but that’s why I keep the external hard drive which has the huge files. I don’t think of it so much as a back-up (I don’t fully trust the cloud), but it remains one of the best ways I’ve found to actually have easy access to your life in pictures.