If organizing photos was tossed around like a phrase, it would be titled ‘complicated as fuc%$*&.’ I am not kidding. Remember how I had that appointment at The Genius Bar. Yea, that amounted to nada. I mean, I felt like I was plopped right inside an episode of “True Detective” (season 2). He was definitely speaking English but I have no idea what the heck he was saying. And it wasn’t just me– the hub was there too and when we left Adam was all like, “huh?”

I suddenly felt like I was back to square one. Instead of going into panic mode, I texted my friend Heather who is quite good at organizing her own photos (she’s a Virgo) #Enoughsaid. So she agreed to come over the following Friday eve and show me the way to which I shouted, “THANK FREAKING GOD!” When she came over, she told me she just started using Google Photos to which I said… “I don’t know about this.” Only because a friend had used it recently and wasn’t thrilled with its organizing capabilities–as well as a couple non-plussed responses on an Instagram post about this very topic. Even though a few folks were less than thrilled with Google Photos, here are the reasons I decided to give it a go. It’s free and it seemed simple enough– not to mention Heather was vouching for it 100%.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, you must do this first before doing anything else; GO THROUGH YOUR PHOTOS AND PURGE. DELETE DUPLICATES AND ALL THE STUFF YOU DON’T NEED. If it seems like I’m yelling at you, it’s because I am. And listen, you can absolutely do this without purging first but it just won’t feel as good, okay?!

  1. So the first step is to download the Google Photos app onto your phone (technically, it’s the second step if you’re purging first).
  2. Then go under the “settings” tab inside the app.
  3. Make sure it’s set to “back up & sync.”
  4. Next, choose the Gmail account you are using to back up with (your Google photos will be found in two places; on the app on your phone and online at Google Photos).
  5. I chose not to backup using cellular data (but feel free to do as you please). Basically, my photos back up when I’m home.
  6. I also picked the “High Quality” version (free unlimited storage). They have an ‘Original’ version which backs up the really big sized pictures, but for my uses (Instagram and personal pics, the “High Quality” option works great).
  7. I also found that I have to have the app open to the “Assistant” tab for the photos to back up (not the biggest deal but you might find that it backs up without having it open).

I had about 4,000 pics on my photo stream that I had to back up (it took almost 24 hours), but again, some of that time I didn’t have the app open on my phone so that could be why it took so long.  You’ll also want to make sure that you have “Auto-lock” on your phone set to “Never” while it’s backing up. Again, I found that if it wasn’t open, it wasn’t working as fast. [On your phone, go to “SETTINGS”, then scroll down to “GENERAL,” then scroll down to “AUTO-LOCK” and highlight “NEVER.” [You’ll just want to go back in and change this once your big back-up is done].

The last three places that I still had pics that synced to my iPhone were:

  • The iPhone Photos App under the “Shared” part of my photo stream. The only way I could get them off (shout-out if you have a better way) was to go into the shared photo stream and select all (or some if I didn’t want them all) and save them to my phone. Then Google Photos would do their thing and back them up.
  • You might also have pics stored under the Photos tab on your computer.
  • The last place I found pics hiding was over at my iCloud account that you access via the world wide web.

A couple things to note here; The pics might vary slightly from each place you look; it’s because you might have deleted photos off of your iPhone but your iCloud account wasn’t set to sync up and delete that old photo.

Okay, if you’re still with me, the next to last step to this process was to organize them within Google Photos (I did this on my computer but I suppose you could do the same within the app on your phone). It’s just a lot easier to see them on the laptop and why strain my eyes if I don’t have to, riiiiiiight?! Three things to note for now;

  • As you organize your photos into collections, do not delete them from the main photo stream in Google Photos. Basically they have two ways to view them; The Collections tab (photos that you organize by category)  and The Photos tab. If you delete pics from the Photos tab, you’ll be deleting them from their collections. So NEVER delete pics from the Photo tab unless you don’t want the photo at all. Does that make sense??
  • The Assistant tab basically acts as a fun aunt who makes collages of your photos and does neat things with them. It’s kinda neat but for a straight-shooter like me, I disregarded this tab altogether. Totally a personal decision, and you can absolutely save these creations to your Photos tab and then categorize them into Collections if you wish.
  • So after I was done organizing them into fun collections like ‘Adam’s Birthday’ and ‘Brittany & Todd’s Wedding’ I went back to my iPhone and DELETED ALL OF MY PICS. MY GOODNESS I’VE NEVER FELT SO FREE IN MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE. I also did the same thing on my desktop and iCloud. I hit the delete button like it was going out of style.

And let me answer the question you’re asking yourself; Beth, why did you delete all the pics off of your iPhone??

  • We are going on our Honeymoon soon to South Africa for two weeks where I plan on taking a zillion pics. I don’t need some freaky message saying “Not enough storage.”
  • The photos weren’t organized.
  • I freed up all my photo space so my phone can run at tip-top speed.
  • I can easily access all of my backed up photos via the Google Photos app on my iPhone.
  • The apps that Apple uses to organize photos are downright confusing. There’s your Camera App on your iPhone and within that are ‘Moments,’ ‘Collections,’ ‘Albums,’ ‘Shared’ (and don’t get me started on the syncing that does, or doesn’t, happen with the Photos app on my desktop and iCloud). I was so tired of being frustrated with not knowing what was backed up where–so for me, Google Photos was the super simple solution for that.

And now I have a really easy system for dealing with pics that I take from here on out;  

  1. Take photo.
  2. Photos back up automatically to Google Photos (Again, right now, for me the Google Photo App has to be pulled up and open to back up. Not the hugest deal but looking into this and will report back.
  3. Organize photos into categories.
  4. Delete off of iPhone (I need to turn off syncing so that my photos aren’t going to my iCloud account and desktop Photos app). I will also report back with info on how to do this step.

It sounds like you have a little bit of homework and I do as well; stay tuned as we haven’t even talked about duplicates, my photos stored in Dropbox (or the other numerous places that they are located). And while there’s still work to do, the fact that my phone is free of unorganized pics is PRICELESS.

Previously… Organizing Digital Pics, Part I


  1. Carly Waters August 18, 2015 at 9:33 am

    SO I am so happy about this post- was just running into the same issue with Apple. But here’s my question- how do you get all your photos from your PHOTOS app on your desktop to the google photos?

  2. Beth Zeigler August 18, 2015 at 9:41 am

    Hi Carly! So glad it is helpful:) I found that I couldn’t get them off my desktop to google photos. I had to do that all through my phone. The pics on your phone should (I think) be the most up to date. Do the first set of steps I listed first and you should be good to go. Does that help?

  3. Carly Waters August 19, 2015 at 7:38 am

    so i had no photos saved to my phone (I would put them on my iphoto often to clear them from my phone). So sounds like I first need to save all of my photos to my cloud (or phone) and then do the transfer. Since yesterday, it’s all transferred 1000 of 17000 photos from my destktop to google photos…

  4. Beth Zeigler August 19, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Since you have quite a bit more photos than the test run I did (around 4,000) it does take a while. If it’s working by transferring from your computer directly to Google Photos, I might say that I wouldn’t add two more steps (transferring them to the cloud / phone and then to Google Photos).

  5. Alanna August 24, 2015 at 12:57 am

    Hi! Thanks for the post, and to Elise Cripe for sending me here :) Downloading the app right now, but just wondering – once they’re backed up into Google Photos, can I move them onto my computer?

  6. Beth Zeigler August 24, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Hi Alanna! I love Mrs. Elise:) Once they are backed up you can absolutely download pics to your computer. However, I would probably let Google Photos be their ‘holding ground’ and only download pics that you want to add to a photo album like Kodak Gallery or ones that you want to pull into photoshop to work on, etc.

  7. Cori Schwabe August 26, 2015 at 7:55 am

    This is amazing! Thank you SO MUCH for writing this, and thanks to Elise for linking.

    Quick question: When you print off photos through Shutterfly or some other service, can you access the Google Photos from there, or do I have to download and save each one to my computer before ordering?

  8. Jessica August 26, 2015 at 8:18 am

    OMG. It’s like you’re in my head. The Apple “Moments” “Collections” “Albums” and “Shared” blows my mind. WTH is the difference between a Collection and an Album?!?!?! I thought I was going to have to pay $ to go to the Genius Bar and have them explain it to me like I’m in kindergarten. Never have I wanted to have a Windows based computer so badly. I just want to put things in folders and name them. That is all.

    In summation, THANK YOU!!!

  9. Beth Zeigler August 26, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Thanks Cori:) Yes, it looks like that is the only way (to download to computer and then upload) until someone creates an app that can do this. Hopefully soon!

  10. Beth Zeigler August 26, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Jessica — same here:) We are simpatico on this for sure!!

  11. Judi August 26, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Great info – but I want to have my photos also on my desktop and am having trouble figuring out how to do this other than one by one. Has anyone tried to do this in groups or batches successfully? I love the idea of having them backed up on Google photos but want them in folders on my desktop when I’m ready to print and scrapbook them!!

  12. Beth Zeigler August 26, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    Hi Judi– With Google Photos, you can highlight multiple photos at once and download all at once. There’s a small circle in the top left hand corner. Click on that and the pic should get smaller in size to show that it is highlighted. To select multiple pics at once, you can hold down the shift button once one pic is highlighted and the entire batch will be selected.

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  14. Jill August 31, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Have you run into the issue when you delete a photo from your phone it also deletes it off of Google? I so far have not been able to delete any photos off of my phone because it completely negates all the work I did to get them onto Google in the first place! I can turn off “auto back-up/sync” but then when I turn it back on, is that going to sync up to the current photos on my phone? Or is that how you do it? Help!

  15. Michelle September 1, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Hm, I just clean off my phone and my photos are in iPhoto on my laptop and backed up on an external.

    This was an interesting post to me. I am a digital librarian and I love organizing my digital photos. And everyone else’s too. It’s fun and relaxing.

    I can see that this service would be helpful if you primarily take photos with your phone and want to back them up while on-the-go. It’s also another back up in case something happens to your computer too.

  16. Beth Zeigler September 1, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Hi Jill!

    I have the auto back-up/sync turned on and when I delete pics off of my iPhone, they do not delete off of my google photos account. Do you have an Android? I’m not sure why they’re deleting from your account… I’m also wondering if you didn’t have them successfully backed up; it takes a while for the first back-up so that might also be the case. Keep me posted!

  17. kimberly September 3, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Ok…this is a totally dumb question, but how do you delete the photos off of your phone in a clump? Am I missing the Select ALL button? Argh! Apple is killing me!!

  18. Beth Zeigler September 4, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Not dumb at all! I had to look it up myself when I was doing it. Go into CAMERA and then click on ALL PHOTOS. Then hit the button at the top right that says SELECT. Then, you can scroll down and hit the SELECT button for each grouping of photos (which selects the grouping all at once). So technically, there’s not a SELECT ALL button but this is better and as good as it gets:(

  19. Kim September 19, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Jill, and Beth – I had the same issue with syncing, and then after about a week I deleted them off of my phone and they deleted off of google photos as well. Luckily, it allowed me to recover the photo on my iphone from “recently deleted”. HELP! I must be missing something, but they were all downloaded and on GooglePhotos and then they were gone as soon as I deleted them on my phone and they synced again.


  20. Emma Thorne-Christy September 20, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Hi Kim. Oh no! We’ll look into this and get back to you.

  21. Beth Zeigler September 23, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Hi Kim! Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you; was out of the country on vacay and now back to work:) Okay, so when I first installed google photos, I uploaded all my pics from my iPhone and after they were backed up to Google Photos, I deleted them off my phone (and they stayed in Google Photos; and did not get deleted). However, after your comment, I went to test out a pic or two and when I deleted those couple off of my phone, they deleted off of Google Photos. WTF. It’s so crazy only because that did not happen when I did my first bulk upload and delete. I am not finding anything yet although they must have updated or done something on their end to change the way your iPhone interacts with Google Photos. The whole point is to be able to delete them off of your phone after they are safe and sound in Google Photos. I need to do more sleuthing but thank you for bringing that to our attention and I promise, I will get to the bottom of this. I now have a boatload of pics from our honeymoon that I’d like to delete off of phone now that they’re in Google Photos; but that won’t be happening until this gets figured out:)

  22. Beth Zeigler September 24, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Okay! Finally figured it out:) I was in the google photos app on my iPhone deleting photos which of course would reflect on google photos on my computer. When I am in my photos app on my iPhone and I delete photos, they stay in my Google photos account. So please, make sure you’re deleting photos off of your iPhone photos app and not the Google Photos app:) Hope that helps!!!

  23. Anita September 24, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I’m not sure how this is working for you…I went thru the process of syncing all my photos to the Google app earlier this summer and although my phone is set to back up and sync, photos on the app are deleted when I delete a photo from my iPhone. All the research I’ve done online confirms this is how it works. (Yes, I deleted pics from my phone, not the app). Is there a way around this? I, too, originally thought it was the answer to prayers but I now don’t see how it is. What frustrates me is that Apple doesn’t get how the iCloud should *really* work. iCloud should save the photos that are deleted from the device and THEN photos can be deleted from the cloud if you wish. For as brilliant as Apple can be, this stymies me. My answer to this problem…uploading my photos to SmugMug bedsore deleting from phone . SmugMug servers are hosted by Amazon, who is considered to have one of the safest systems in the industry.

  24. Anita September 24, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Oops! Above should read “before”, now “bedsore”! Well, I AM a nurse!

  25. Anita September 24, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Holy cow! Not, instead now. Throwing in the towel for today…

  26. Beth Zeigler September 24, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Hi Anita– this is copied and pasted from Google Photos website: “Clear space on your mobile device or get rid of photos and videos you don’t want using the Google Photos app. Clear space on your mobile device With back up & sync turned on, you can delete local copies from your mobile device but keep cloud copies saved in your Google Photos library.” I’m not sure why it’s not working for your iPhone / Google Photos as my pics are all still there in Google Photos when I delete them off of iPhone after they are backed up. One question; on your iPhone under system preferences and then under settings / Photos & Camera; What settings do you have checked? Not sure if that has something to do with it? For mine, I have these turned to on; iCloud Photo Sharing, Summarize Photos, Keep Normal Photo. iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream are turned off. You might want to try those settings and test a picture?

  27. Anita September 24, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Beth – The only difference in our settings is I have iCloud Photo Library on…possibly that is what is making mine behave differently. When I try to turn it off, I get the scary message that photos and videos not downloaded to my phone will be removed (I have the low res photos that fully download when you tap on them). I’ve moved 1400/2700 pics to SmugMug so far so once I complete that I will change my settings and give it a go. Thanks for sharing your settings.

  28. Beth Zeigler September 24, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks Anita and yes, do keep me posted as I’d love to know if that works:)

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  30. Kim November 19, 2015 at 5:58 am

    Any chance you have put together how to put all of our photos from Dropbox (or other places) into google photos? I love your tips in this tutorial!

  31. Emma Thorne-Christy December 9, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Kim– thank you for the question! Not yet but this blog post will help until we do:)

  32. Carrie Kelleher January 16, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Love this – thank you! A few questions…
    1. What do you mean by organize photos in Google Photos by category? I’m relatively new to Google Photos.
    2. Also, I am backing up just at high quality as well. Do you see any reason, except if I plan to do a bunch of enlargements, to do at original resolution?
    Thank you!
    Carrie Kelleher

  33. Beth Zeigler January 17, 2017 at 5:55 am

    Hi, Carrie!

    1. Google photos lets you create albums with your photos (aka categories using my wording).
    2. From Google Photo website copied and pasted below on their reasons if you would want to do Original (higher quality). The main reason is my pics are taken from my phone which is perfect for the high quality setting (High quality photos can be up to 16 megapixels (MP) in size. You can print good quality 16 MP photos in sizes up to 24 inches x 16 inches, which is larger than typical printing sizes).
    -Limited free storage: Uses storage in your Google Account, regardless of photo or video size.
    -DSLR cameras: Recommended if you take photos with a DSLR camera and want to maintain the exact original quality.
    -Uses: Recommended for printing large banners or to store original files.
    -Size: Stores your photos and videos exactly as you captured them.
    -If you use a Pixel phone, you get free unlimited storage at original quality. You won’t be able to back up your photos and videos in high quality.

    Hope that helps!

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