Google Photos is a useful cloud-based solution for storing, organizing and sharing your photos. It is a free service to those with Gmail accounts (including Google Apps for Education/Business). When it first appeared on the scene, it wasn't nearly as useful as the product that exists today. Personally, I was using Dropbox to backup photos from my phone to the cloud and my computer. Google has continually improved Photos over the past year and a half, which has caused me to completely abandon Dropbox and use Google Photos exclusively.
So...what is Google Photos?
In a nutshell: you install the Google Photos app on your phone/tablet/computer, point it to your photo storage and it'll automatically upload all photos and videos there to the Google servers (aka 'the cloud'). You can then access these photos by signing in to your Google account and going to http://photos.google.com. For those of you with a smartphone, the Google Photos app would replace your Gallery (Android) or Photos (iOS) app as your photo viewer/editor.
What about the quality?
Using the default quality settings (High quality), you can upload unlimited photos and videos to your account. If you opt to choose for Original Quality (the quality the picture/video was originally taken with), you will be limited by the amount of storage you have in your Google Drive, which is typically 15GB for free accounts. I use the High Quality option and it works perfect for me. Per Google's help article on the Photos site, the High Quality is perfect for point and shoot cameras or phones. It can handle a photo up to 16 megapixels in size and can print a great looking print of up to 24 inches by 16 inches. Anything larger and you'll want to opt for the Original Quality option. Additional storage space can be purchased from Google if you so choose, but for most users the High Quality option should suffice.
Organizing & Searching
Google Photos does an awesome job at organizing your photos. What is Google best known for? Being a search engine! In Photos, Google wants you to use search. If you click on the search bar, it'll give you a plethora of options. You can type in a search if you want (by date, location, etc) or click on one of the faces it suggests for you. Looking for pictures of Aunt Marge? Click on her face and all pictures that GP recognizes Aunt Marge will appear in front of you. Looking for pictures of a lake or some other landmark? GP gives you that option as well. You can also choose to search by media type such as photo, album, collage, video, creation, animations and more. To me, this is one of the most powerful aspects of Google Photos: the ability to quickly find what you're looking for. If you have thousands of photos, and you probably do, this is invaluable.
Additionally, you can quickly and easily create albums by selecting all relevant photos and clicking the '+' button and choosing to Create an Album. Once inside the album, you can add text and maps, creating something similar to a scrapbook.
All of that organization brings us to the next cool feature: sharing. You can easily create an album and then generate a share link that you can then send to family, friends or any other person you want to view your photos. The best part about this is that for as long as you let the link stay active, the album is living and breathing. If you add or delete photos, the users who visit the link will see those changes reflected. I do a lot of waterfowl hunting with my dad and cousin and we tend to take a lot of pictures and videos while out in the beautiful fall weather. I created a shared album that I dump all the photos into and at any time my dad and cousin can go and view the link. They can even dump photos into the album if I give their email account access to do so.
This brings me to my next point: if you're on a field trip, family vacation or any other activity where multiple people you know are taking pictures, shared albums make it easy and convenient to share all that content.
If you're a teacher, you can send out one link to your students' parents at the beginning of the year and then continually update it with photos/video and information throughout the year. If you choose to email the link or send it home with the students, the only people with access will be the parents (provided they don't hand the link out to a bunch more people).
The Assistant is a neat little feature that will automatically create new content from your photos and videos. The Assistant will stitch photos that were shot close together into an animated photo (gif). That feature works great when used with burst shot on your camera. It will create short videos documenting a particular trip. If you're using geotagging in your photos Google will even add in maps and other cool little tidbits. Similar to Facebook, it now has a "Remember this Day" that will create a collage of pictures from today's date in years past. All of these random little creations can be saved to your library if you so desire. Some don't turn out as good as others, but I always find it fun to see what the Assistant comes up with.
Until recently, the Assistant worked randomly and on its own. Now, you can create your own videos, collages and animations with the help of the Assistant. At this point in time you have more options on the mobile apps than you do through the web interface. You could spend days creating new content from the content you've already generated. It's easy to do so it's a perfect activity for students of various ages (I'd suggest grades 2+).
GP offers some editing options for your photos from both the app and the web interface. You can crop photos and adjust color settings and apply filters. I wish they would add an option to add text directly to the photos, but for now it doesn't exist. If you've ever used Picasa (Google's first photo management software), many of the features look similar but the ability to add text is notably absent.
Are my photos safe?
For the most part, Google has a very good reputation when it comes to server security. Keep in mind that all of your photos and videos are housed on Google's servers spread across the country. If that bothers you, then you probably shouldn't use the service.
All of this sounds great! How do I start?
Google has a great step-by-step guide to starting with Google Photos. Click here to view the guide and get started. This guide will step you through the process for Android and iOS. This guide doesn't document the process for installing the app on your computer though.
To install the desktop app (Desktop Uploader) on your computer:
If you only have a few photos that you'd like to upload from your computer, you can upload them from the web interface at photos.google.com by clicking on the icon that looks like a cloud with an upward pointing arrow.
That's all for now. I will post a demonstration video soon if this post hasn't convinced you to give it a try!