Friday, June 23, 2017

My iPhone is full of photos, can Google Photos help?

imagePeggy asks:  I’ve been taking photos with my iPhone for quite some time and have taken several hundred photos. The other day, I connected my iPhone to my Mac and now  I have over 4,000 photos on my phone. I’m getting a message that my phone’s storage is almost full. How did that happen? I don’t want to lose these photos, but I don’t need them on my phone. If I delete the photos, I understand that they will be deleted from my computer and iPad  also. Can Google Photos help?

What happened?

It sounds like your setting for Apple’s iCloud Photo Library got turned on. That means that Apple will keep all of your devices in Sync. Every photo will be on your computer, your iPhone, and your iPad. It is true, if you now delete any photos from your phone, they will be deleted from your other devices. Google Photos, on the other hand, will back up your photos and allow you to delete them from the phone.

Yes! Google Photos can help, but pay attention to your iCloud Photo Library settings

iCloud Photo Library is Apple’s solution for Backup and Sync for all your photos. It works differently than Google Photos Backup and Sync. Using them both will use up more iPhone storage space, and it will get complicated because of the way they handle deletions. With one exception,  I recommend using Google Photos and not iCloud Photo Library. The one exception is if it is important to you that the photos taken with your iPhone get automatically copied to your Mac’s hard drive, then you’ll want to stick with iCloud. With Google Photos, you can view your photos from your Mac (or any computer) by browsing to They are not stored on your computer’s hard drive.

  • On your iPhone:  go to Settings, iCloud, Photos
  • Photo Stream, and iCloud Photo Sharing don’t matter, they can be either on or off
  • Look at iCloud Photo Library. If it’s Off, great! leave it off. Go to next step: Install Google Photos
  • If iCloud Photo Library is On, also notice if the box is checked for “Optimize iPhone Storage”
    • If “Optimize iPhone Storage” is not checked, you can turn off the iCloud Photo Library setting now. This will stop the iCloud Backup and Sync while leaving photos on your phone. If you delete a photo after turning it off, it will not be deleted from your other devices. Go to next step: Install Google Photos
    • If “Optimize iPhone Storage” IS checked, then turning off the iCloud Photo Library setting will stop the iCloud Backup and Sync, AND REMOVE ALL PHOTOS FROM YOUR PHONE. It won’t touch the photos on your Mac or iPad. Leave the iCloud Photo Library setting ON until the Google Photos backup is complete. Go to next step: Install Google Photos

Install Google Photos, turn on the Auto Backup & Sync feature, and wait until all photos are backed up. If you have thousands of photos on your phone, this will take days. Once they are all backed up to your Google Account, then you can turn off iCloud Photo Library and  use the Google Photos “Free Up Space” command to delete all photos remaining on your phone. Here’s the step by step:

  1. Install Google Photos from the App Store
  2. Sign in to your Google Account
  3. Turn on Auto Backup & Sync, connect to Wi-Fi, and leave the Google Photos app open on your phone while the backup is taking place. If you look at the assistant, you should see how many photos are remaining. Keep an eye on it.
  4. Wait until you see the message “Backup Complete” This may take hours or even days.
  5. Verify that all are backed up by viewing on another device like a computer
  6. Now you can turn off iCloud Photo Library. If your phone had the “optimize storage” setting checked, this will remove most photos from your phone. That’s OK. You’ll be using Google Photos from now on.
  7. Delete all photos from phone by using the Google Photos, 3-line menu, Free Up Space command.

You’ll still be able to see all your photos using the Google Photos app because it is viewing your photo library from the online copy. If you lose your phone, or should decide to remove the Google Photos app, you haven’t lost your photos. They are all stored in your Google account online and are visible from the website, or from any mobile device using the the Google Photos App.

iCloud Photo Library competes with Google Photos

You cannot Free Up Space until you disable iCloud Photo Library. You see, both Google Photos and Apple’s iCloud Photo Library serve the same purpose – copying your phone’s photos to cloud-based storage – but their philosophy is quite different.

  • Apple’s philosophy is hardware-based. Apple assumes you have an iPhone, an iPad, and a Mac computer and that you want all the pictures on all the devices. So, iCloud’s job is to keep all devices in sync. Add a photo to one, you add to all. Delete a photo from one, you delete from all.
  • Google’s philosophy is device-independent. Google thinks everything should be in the cloud, under the lock and key of your username and password, and all devices should access the content there. So, once the pictures are uploaded to your online Google account, you can delete them from the phone, or tablet, or computer.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Google Photos: Don't assume your photos are getting backed up

*Updated March 2020
  • It is Google Photos' job to back up your device's photos to your Google Account online
  • It's your job to verify that it gets done. 

There's nothing worse than thinking your photos are backed up, deleting them from your phone and then realizing they weren't backed up after all.
I'm currently traveling in Europe and taking hundreds of photos with my iPhone. I'm constantly checking that my photos are getting uploaded, and I'm not always happy with what I find. Whether it is a problem with the Google Photos app itself, or with the Internet connection, is hard to tell, but I often find that the backup process is stalled. Kind of like a clogged drainpipe, the upload process needs to be cleared and restarted. Using one or more of the following techniques, I have successfully ensured that all my photos got backed up / uploaded.

First Check your Backup Status

Tap on the account button in the upper right. You're looking for the message, "Backup Complete." You will other messages about the status of backing up. Something like "Backing up Photos: 321 items left" You will also see a progress bar that fills in blue from left to right. If you check this several times over the period of a day and see the same number left, then it's gotten stuck. It is not properly uploading your photos to your online account as it is supposed to do.
You may also see messages like "waiting for Connection" or "Backup and Sync is Off." These messages are very useful.


Even if you see the message "Backup complete", I need to see for myself. Sometimes you see that all is complete, then a few minutes later it has more to backup?! The only way to know for sure that your photos have successfully made it to your Google account online is to use a computer (or any device other than the one that took the pictures) and see your photo library there. 
  • Using a computer browser, preferably Chrome, go to 
  • Make sure you are signed in to the same Google account used by your phone that took the photos. You can find that account address on your phone by going to Google Photos settings, Backup & Sync. The backup account will be listed there.
  • Look at your Photos library, check that the topmost photo is the most recent photo you took with the phone in question. Spot check previous photos
  • If your backup is not complete, read through the rest of this article for things to do to get the backup kick-started.

Your Internet Connection

First check your Google Photos settings under Backup and Sync. If "Use cellular data to back up ..." is off, then you must have a WiFi connection before any backup will happen. Even if your phone indicates that it has a good connection, you still need to test it by opening a browser window and visiting some website that would not be in your cache history. This is the only way to know for sure that your Internet connection is working well.

  • Open Chrome or Safari
  • Type in a website that you don't normally visit (I use or because they're short to type)
    • If the website comes up quickly, you're all set. Go on to Google Photos
    • If you see a log in screen, then you need to complete that process for the WiFi hotspot you're on, or find another WiFi hotspot
    • If the website just doesn't come up, or comes up very slowly then you know you have a very poor Internet connection and you'll just have to wait for later to get your photos backed up
  • Try resetting your Internet connection.
    • Turn on Airplane mode to disconnect from all communications
    • Turn Airplane mode back off - this forces your phone to re-connect and it usually gets a better connection. If not ...
    • Power off and Restart your phone
  • Find a better signal or WiFi connection. Just because you are connected, doesn't mean it's good enough to upload photos. Internet connections have 2 separate speeds: download and upload. Browsing the web uses the download capabilities, uploading photos needs the upload. I've found lots of Internet connections where the download is good, but the upload is not.

Google Photos App

If you know that your Internet connection is good, then there must be some problem with the operation of the Google Photos app. Things to try: 

  • Open the app, and leave it open, with the phone screen on and awake. On iPhone especially, the upload cannot take place in the background. This is quite annoying, but true. Even on Android, I find it is important to have the Google Photos app open for the upload to complete.
  • Force quit the app and re-open it. By "force-quit" I mean to open your recent apps screen on your phone (iPhone: double-tap the home button, Android: tap the multi-tasking button next to the home button) and tap the X on the Google Photos app, or swipe the app off the screen. Now, when you re-open the Google Photos app, it is forced to start fresh. See if it has started backing up now by checking your account button. You may have to wait a minute or two.
  • Manually backup some photos/videos: try finding a photo that has not been backed up yet. If you see a report that some photos were skipped, open one of those skipped photos.

     On iOS a photo that is still waiting to be backed up has a circular arrow icon. Select it, tap the 3-dot menu then Back up. If that operation completes successfully, check your assistant to see if backup has resumed. If not ...
  • Power off and restart your device.
  • If your remaining photos are still not backing up, try uninstalling the Google Photos app and then re-installing it. This will have no effect on your photos, Google Photos does not store your photos in the app itself. They are stored online.

Google Photos Help

Here is the official Google Photos help page all about Backup and Sync.

Make a Second Backup before Deleting

Before I use the Free Up Space command to delete the photos from my phone, I want one more layer of protection. Since the Google Photos copy of my pictures is my working copy, I don't consider that a true backup (see previous article: Google Photos is not a "Backup" of your Photos. I use the OneDrive app for this purpose. Other possibilities are Amazon Photos, Dropbox, Facebook, or copying to a computer via a cable connection.

6/13/17 Additional Notes

After several frustrating days of taking hundreds of photos and not getting them backed up I have reached a couple of conclusions:

  1. A stalled backup is almost always due to poor Internet connection. It's the upload speed that counts here, so even though a connection may be good enough to read your email, it may not be good enough to upload your photos. You need to find a better connection.
  2. Google Photos has some problem with iPhone Live Photos. When it comes to Live Photos, it stalls the backup process until you force it. You gotta watch it constantly and be ready to force quit the app and restart. At least that's the way I did it - it may also work to turn off Auto Backup then turn back on.

Chris Guld is President and Teacher-in-Chief at She has been in computer training and support since 1983. She is now a Top Contributor for the Google Photos Forum, owner of the blog, and author of Mrs. Geek's Guide to Google Photos
She loves to teach! If you want to learn, you’ve come to the right place.