How to Use Google Photos Simply When you Travel

Put your holiday photos in the cloud - a simple guide to Google Photos[toc]

Google Photos

Google Photos has many uses when you are travelling. But if I am on holiday I don’t want to spend my precious holiday time fussing about photo uploads and backups. Follow my simple formula and take the pain out of your holiday photo backups.

Don’t know anything about Google Photos? Here’s the Wikipedia Entry. You will need to open a Google account (free) if you don’t already have one.

So you are taking a holiday trip. And you are taking photos, probably lots of them. If you are anything like me you have a mobile phone camera, a compact camera and a DSLR (or two?). The challenge is backing up the photos, sharing them and then having them available to use as and when you want. Sometimes waiting until you get home to process and post them is just not something you want to do. But you are on holiday. You don’t want to be wasting time poring over a computer trying to get photos backed up and uploaded. I know. I have tried it.

For a long time I used Google Photos just as a backup for my mobile devices. Then I recognised another use. I could upload full size DSLR JPEGs to Google Photos, and that way make them available when I was away from home for editing and captioning for blog use. And then I bought a camera with WiFi, and my whole approach change. The whole point here is to use a bit of the downtime between the day’s holiday activities to easily and without much effort backup your best photos. I do this at least every three days, but I find that, like most photographers, I enjoy having a quick view of the day’s shooting on the day.

So How do I use Google Photos?

Simple Outline

  • Set it up once, before you go;
  • While you are travelling, when you have a bit of idle time, load selected photos to your phone or tablet;
  • Connect to the Internet;
  • When you feel motivated go online, organise your uploads into albums and share with family and friends.


Some Basics

When you create a Google account you get Google Photos as part of the deal. If you haven’t already done so, go and have a look. It is a cloud based photo storage and sharing system. In general the photos are private, until you give someone the gallery link. Then that person can see and interact with the gallery.

One important Tip: you can have multiple Google accounts, each with 15GB of storage. It would be silly to just keep adding accounts, but you may find it useful to register more than one account. I have four, for good business and personal reasons, though I tend to keep photos to only one of those. If you are short of space in one account use a separate one to handle your photography.

But here are the really important parts:

  • You can choose whether photos uploaded to Google are kept at full size, or reduced to 16 megapixels;
    • If you opt for full size, the space occupied by your pictures comes off the space in Google Drive allocated to your account (currently 15GB, though you can buy more);
    • If you opt to upload at “High Quality” (16 MP) size, photo storage is FREE! That means you have unlimited photo storage at 16 megapixels!
    • Best of all, Google has a function to reclaim storage. If you have uploaded at full size, click on this option to reduce the photos to High Quality, 16 MP resolution. This is important point 1– remember it;
  • Google Photos has an app for iOS and Android. The app gives the option to backup all photos on the device This is important point 2 – remember it;
    • You control whether it updates using WiFi, data, or both;
    • The app offers an option to clear from the device any photos which are already backed up to Google Photos. That means no more running out of space on your phone while you are away!

My “Formula”

To begin with simply ensure that your Google Photos settings allow upload at Full Size. This makes sure that any photos uploaded are full-sized JPEGs, providing a backup if it is needed.

Set this on the website: Menu -> Settings -> Upload size for photos and videos uploaded on the web only. Set it to Original

If you haven’t already done so, install the Google Photos app on your mobile devices, and set it to backup all photos. I carry an iPad and Android phone, and it is effective on both. Note that I don’t carry a laptop unless it is a business trip. The app instructions are in the menus, as follows:

Menu -> Settings -> Backup & Sync.  Switch on the Backup & Sync option. On iOS the Menu is the gear wheel icon.

On Android check on the Backup Device Folders option. Android stores edited versions in different folders.

Set the upload size to Original in Menu -> Settings -> Backup & Sync -> Upload Size

Now, when you take a photo on your phone, it will, as soon as you connect to the Internet, upload to Google Photos.

If your camera is WiFi enabled, selectively transfer the best of the day’s photos, or those you want to use or share, to one of your mobile devices. They will also be backed up.

For my DSLRs I have an OTG (On The Go) android hub. This allows me to insert the SD card from the camera and selectively copy photos to the Android phone. Again, these will upload when you connect the device.

Once the photos are on the phone or tablet, do any edits you like. I favour Snapseed for quick edits. Originally developed by Nik software, it is now owned by Google and is very intuitive and powerful. Available in the Android Play Store and Apple store.

Create an album in Google Photos for the trip, or for each part of the trip, if you like, and put your selections there.

By doing this, you have a neatly curated full resolution backup of the pick of each day’s shooting in one or more albums.

Share the Photos

Go the extra step and share your photos. Share the link to the family back home (I use WhatsApp). That way they can see your trip as it happens.

Share your album(s) on either the app or website: Click on the Albums Icon -> Click on the Sharing icon

Either select recipients and send the link to them, or look for the Get Link option and copy the link.


At some time well before the internet (I heard this in 1989!), someone said “the system is the network, the network is the system”. That was never more true that it is today. The network, of course, is the internet. If you aren’t connected your fantastic phone / tablet / laptop can’t do much. The beauty of cloud services like Google Photos is that you just need to have a data connection, and your photos will sync to the cloud. All you need to do is put the photos on the device, and let the app do its thing.

Typically you will either connect via 4G or WiFi. In general I have found that 4G is easily available in many places, including the Mozambique coast, South Africa and many European locations. WiFi, as many have discovered, is another story, ranging from low-grade, overloaded hotel systems to high performance internet café systems.

Uploading photos every day on holiday will use a big chunk of your 4G data allowance, so be aware of this and keep an eye if you choose this method. If you have the capacity, this is the best way to connect. Using a WiFi connection, particularly a public one, can raise some security worries, so it’s best to limit the connection as much as possible.

My method goes like this:

  • Arrange for unlimited 4G for the trip. This may cost a bit, but is worth it. If you do need to limit it, give yourself between 10 GB and 20 GB for a three week trip.
  • Set the Google Photos app to sync using mobile data
    • Menu -> Settings -> Backup & Sync -> Mobile Data Backup
  • Leave the mobile phone connected to 4G all of the time. This is useful if you use WhatsApp and the like to communicate.
  • Any photos on the mobile phone will be automatically uploaded to Google Photos. Simple!
  • If the photos to upload are on the tablet, I set up a hotspot on the phone
  • If all i have available to WiFi I will carefully choose where I connect, and leave the phone connected just long enough to complete the upload.
  • Obviously I will connect the tablet directly to WiFi if there are photos on it.

If you have no internet connection, don’t let that stop you. Just carry on offloading photos to the mobile device. Once you reconnect, it may take a bit of time, but the photos will sync. All you need to do is connect to the internet.

The Backup Option

Google Photos is often touted as a full backup method for your photos. You certainly could do worse than keep a 16 megapixel JPEG backup, and Photos is effectively an unlimited storage at this resolution. I don’t use this for a couple of good reasons.

Put simply, a couple of hundred photos uploaded while away from home is likely to take a lot of time.

More importantly, if you are not carrying a laptop, the transfer time from SD card, always assuming your mobile device is big enough to store all of your photos, to mobile device will be huge, consuming both time and battery power. Your holiday will soon become an exercise in uploading photos.

If the worst happened, and I lost my gear, SD cards or whatever, I would rather come home with a small selection of good photos, and memories of a good time away. Up to the point of disaster at least!

The RAW backup option

RAW files are big files. I’d rather have a holiday than spend my time trying to upload them, juggling bandwidth and storage capacity. In fact I have never used the RAW capability in Google Photos, though I believe it is pretty good.

That said, if I have a mind blowing fantastic photo or two, I may drop the RAW versions into DropBox or similar.

And then What?

Here’s where this comes into its own! You get home, offload your SD cards, BACKUP! If you followed my formula, you have a neatly curated album from your trip, with all of the JPEGs at full resolution. Add to it, show it off, download any edits to add to your home system, blog them or whatever.

At some point, don’t forget to reduce the storage utilisation.

Google Photos? Wouldn’t leave home without them!

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