It’s not difficult to amass a huge library of photographs these days, thanks to the excellent cameras on our smartphones.
But it's not a good idea to rely on your phone to keep them safe. If it's stolen, lost or damaged, you'll lose them in an instant. Don’t worry though, as it’s very easy to protect against these worst-case scenarios by backing up your images to Google Photos or other services.
The best part is that it happens automatically, so you don't have to remember to back them up. And if that's not enough for you, it's also free*!
How to back up your photos to Google Photos
Google Photos is the best option for backing up your images, as there’s a good chance it’s already on your phone and getting it up and running is simple. While you can buy additional storage via a Google One account, you can upload your entire photo library for free, as Google Photos offers no-cost storage for images and videos that meet the following criteria:
- Photos that are no larger than 16MP (they'll be resized to 16MP if they are larger)
- Videos at 1080p (higher resolutions will be downscaled to 1080p)
These are for the 'High quality' option that we'll explain below. If you want to keep the original quality of your photos and videos, you'll need to choose that option, and this will count towards your free 15GB of Google storage, which when full will require you to subscribe to get more. We find the High quality setting is great for photos from phones, but it does compromise the quality of videos quite a lot. However, we are mainly focused on photos here anyway.
*Note: On 11 November 2020, Google announced that starting 1 June 2021, High quality uploads will also count towards your 15GB Google storage allowance - ending its offer of free unlimited photo/video storage.
Users of Google Pixel phones up to the Pixel 5, however, won't have the same restriction and will be able to continue to upload as many High quality photos as they like without them counting against that 15GB free storage allowance.
Turning on Back up & sync for Google Photos
To enable backups on Google Photos, launch the app (you can download it from the Google Play Store if you don’t already have it installed), then make sure you’re signed into your Google account.
Tap the three lines in the top-left corner of the screen to open the menu, then select Settings > Back up & sync. In here you’ll see a toggle switch at the top of the page called Back up & sync that enables or disables the feature, so tap it to turn it on.
Underneath there are a few important options in the Settings section. These include Upload size, which you’ll want to make sure is set to High quality (free unlimited* storage), and Mobile data usage that should be set as No data used for backup to avoid accidentally burning through your entire month’s allocation in a couple of hours.
Now, so long as you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network, you phone will begin to back up your library to the Google servers. When it’s completed this task, which could take a while if you have a big library, there’s another tweak you can make to lighten the load on your disk space. From the main Google Photos app screen, tap the three lines again and select Settings.
If you like, you can tap Free up device storage. This will delete any photos or videos on your device that are already safely backed up to Google Photos. You can of course download them again whenever you want, but in the meantime, it will give you back storage space on your device to take more photos and videos.
The Google Photos app itself is brilliant. It lets you use Google's powerful search to find things such as "yellow cars" or "dog videos", and will show you memories, which are photos from the same day in previous years. It will also recognise faces so you can find photos of certain people, just by entering a name for each person under the People section.
How to back up Android photos to cloud storage
If you don’t want to use Google Photos and prefer to have the original image quality retained, most cloud storage services have an automatic photos backup option. Of course, many of these will entail a monthly or yearly subscription as the free space on offer quickly gets eaten up by photos and videos.
For example, on Microsoft’s OneDrive app you’ll need to tap on the Me tab in the bottom right corner, select Settings, then tap Camera Upload and turn it on. The method is usually similar on other cloud storage services.