/ Technology

Google Photos: will you pay for more storage?

Google is ending free unlimited storage for your photos at the beginning of June – here are some tips to help you manage your pictures after then.

If you’re anything like me, your phone is probably full of photos. Even though I live alone and have barely gone more than a couple of miles from my front door for the past year, I still seem to have taken hundreds of photos.

There are photos of my cat, photos of the box of white KitKats a friend sent me to encourage me on to press day, photos of Brompton cemetery, my local green space, photos of things I need to remember – I really enjoy having a decent camera close at hand. 

I’m an Android user, so my default photo app is Google Photos, and I always set up a new phone to sync my pictures to the Google Photos cloud service. I use the ‘High quality’ setting, which compresses the photos a bit but which saves on storage space. 

Thus far, Google has allowed unlimited uploads of ‘high quality’ photos, not counting it against your overall Google Drive storage, but starting on June 1, photos you take and add to Google Photos will start to count towards your online storage, though the good news is that Google isn’t adding all your existing photos to your quota.

How to prepare for the changes to Google Photos

If you’re on the free tier, you’ve got 15GB. You might find that you haven’t used up all of that yet. You can check how much you’ve already used by going into the Google Photos app and tapping your profile picture or initial in the top right-hand corner. On the screen that pops up, you’ll see how much space you’ve got left.

If you’re close to filling up your free 15GB, you’ll need to make some decisions. First, do you actually want to keep all of your photos? This upcoming weekend might be a good time to wade through all your pictures and think about deleting some of them.

If you don’t want to do that on your phone, you can do it on a computer: go to https://photos.google.com, where all your pictures are available in the browser.

You might want to think about deploying Google’s excellent search tools at this point. For example, you could start by deleting all your screenshots: just type ‘screenshots’ into the search bar and then tick the ones you want to delete. 

What are the alternatives?

The next decision to make is whether you want to continue using Google Photos’ cloud storage, or if you might want to switch to another cloud service such as Flickr, Dropbox or Amazon Photos.

Guide: How to choose the best cloud storage service

I use Amazon Photos: if you already have a Prime account, you also get unlimited storage for full-resolution photos. I have the app installed on my phone and that’s set to back up automatically from my camera roll (beware that videos aren’t included in the unlimited storage and will count against your basic 10GB). 

You could also decide that you want to move your photos to a hard disk you have at home. If you move your photos off your phone, make sure you have a second copy of them as a backup.

Or you could decide – as I have done, with some gnashing of teeth – to pay for additional storage via a Google One membership: there are six tiers, starting with £1.59 a month that gets you an additional 100GB.

I rely heavily on Google Photos’ search tools, and I want to continue to be able to search through my archive, so I’ve upgraded to 100GB. I also decided that I wanted access to additional editing tools that come with the Google One membership such as the ‘dynamic’ filter that’s a quick and easy way to perk up an image. 

How do you feel about the service being monetised?

There has, understandably, been a lot of complaining about this move by Google: it’s always frustrating when a service you rely on suddenly puts its prices up – or starts charging in the first place. 

However, it is arguably reassuring. Google has a long history of killing off products and services that people rely on. From Google Cloud Print to Picasa, more than 150 products have been buried in the Google Cemetery over the years. At least now that Google is monetising Photos, there’s a good chance it will be with us for a while yet.

How are you planning to manage your photos now that Google is limiting your free storage? Let us know in the comments.

Are you planning on changing to another cloud photo storage service after Google Photos ends its free unlimited storage in June?

I plan to pay for extra storage with Google Photos (46%, 368 Votes)

Yes, to offline storage (e.g. a hard disk at home) (22%, 174 Votes)

Yes, to another cloud service provider (e.g. Amazon Photos, Flickr, Dropbox) (22%, 171 Votes)

Something else (tell us in the comments) (6%, 49 Votes)

I don't use Google Photos (4%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 794

Loading ... Loading ...

That’s really useful to know, I’m an apple user but a lot of my family have android. So will pass the information on. I do always keep my things on a hard drive at home bit of a pain to clear my phone every 6 months but its nice to go through old photo’s that you may have forgotten about.

I pay 79p per month for an iCloud account which allows me to share photos and files across several computers and my IPhone. It is very convenient when out and about. Anything else is stored on hard drives. There are other services that will be more cost effective but this works well for me.

I store all my photos offline on portable hard drives.

Me too.

Phil says:
19 May 2021

Me too. I have two so I have a back-up and I keep the SD cards from the cameras when they are full too.

This not only gives me total control over what is my personal property but it’s also better for the environment than storing them on some remote hard drive which needs to be constantly powered up. I’m surprised Which? didn’t mention that.

I join the rest of you with a back up hard drive and a few USB sticks. I like to have what’s mine here and not there, floating around the ether.

I have an aversion to storing stuff anywhere but directly on my devices or on sticks.

Mark Palmos says:
19 May 2021

I think you have missed a major point. All HQ photographs that you have already on Google photos will never count towards your storage. SO THERE IS NO NEED TO EDIT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS NOW BECAUSE IT WILL MAKE NO DIFFERENCE. Upload everything you have in the next few days and you’ll be ok.

Phil says:
19 May 2021

If you’re happy saving them in ‘high quality’ or ‘express backup’. Original quality images (>16MP) and videos will count as part of the 15Gb free storage.

Malcolm Spolding says:
20 May 2021

I object strongly to monetising photos. It is greed. Pay for being online. Ok. Endless irrelevant ads. Irritating. Pay for an established free service. I will stop taking photos. Back to prints?

There is no need to store any photos online and many people don’t do it. Others find it useful. We have the choice.

Joe B says:
21 May 2021

Storing this day comes with a cost, why should you expect it to be free?

Some random thoughts on photo storage:

Back in the days of dinosaurs, I considered myself to be a good photographer and was in demand for weddings, funerals, family events, book and magazine illustrations, and even mundane bus pass and passport pictures. My particular interest was architectural and documentary photography. But since the digital age started I have lost all interest in photography and have not taken any pictures for many years. Old cameras, lenses, and other apparatus gather dust in boxes – some with half-used rolls of film inside them. I have several thousand prints which are of nostalgic interest but very few of them mean much these days.

But now everyone is taking millions of photos and spending all their idle time reviewing them. But what happens next? What will happen to all the images stored in the Clouds? Are they labelled and captioned as mine were and passed around at parties or shown as slide shows on a big screen?

It’s a wonderful thing that taking pictures is now so easy and so cheap [unless the costs of the mobile phone are taken into account], and there is no longer any need to store them in shoe boxes or set them into albums. But I feel that some of the magic of photography has been lost. I probably only kept 20% of all the pictures I took, discarding many immediately after collecting the enprints because I was dissatisfied with the quality or the shot, so if I was taking pictures these days I would still be ruthless in deleting any that I was not happy with or were no longer of any interest.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, the German government provided a free developing service for their citizens going abroad and it supported the Agfa photographic film company in developing colour film and the Zeiss camera and lens company with manufacturing higher definition cameras. There was, of course, an ulterior motive and all the output was scrutinised before being returned to the customer for anything potentially of military interest. Today the Clouds must be bursting with items of security interest but to little avail because there are other superior ways of undertaking surveillance and because those taking the pictures are far less selective in what they keep so a picture of an important building in the background of a selfie is mixed up with a shot of the (empty) toilet tissue aisle in Tesco’s during the first lockdown and will never be seen again.

There are certainly some people who carefully document every digital photo they take or keep. In the past four years a friend who is in his 80s has been doing this since he joined a small society. He can be relied on to produce photos and do presentations on request. These modern photos have added to an extensive collection belonging to another member, now no longer with us. Her son scanned every slide and print, along with the dates and other information.

I have been looking through old prints and colour slides recently and am disappointed by how much they have faded. In contrast, the more recent digital photos have not deteriorated.

I still carry a compact camera when I am on holiday but mobile phones take reasonable photos these days and most people carry one with them.

Em says:
20 May 2021

I certainly agree with those sentiments. I was the proud owner of an Olympus OM1 camera and before that had the use of my Dad’s Leica M3 before he had it stolen on a trip abroad. I did all my own B&W and later colour processing and enlarging. It’s just stashed in a cupboard now and I take my smartphone on holidays.

I even thought about training as a photographer as a career. Thankfully not, as I have lost all interest in photography as a technical process or hobby. There is no skill involved – unless you Photoshop – which I class as art, not photography.

Same with electronics and personal computers. It was the domain of hobbyists and professionals to build and program something unique and interesting. Now everybody can be a programmer of sorts. Work on mainframe computers is still interesting and challenging, and exclusive enough not to become ubiquitous and put me out of work doing a job I still enjoy.

I suppose it depends how you use Photoshop. I use it to crop photos and to compensate for problems such as poor exposure, just as I did when developing and printing photos at work. One of the great benefits of digital photography is that you can take dozens or hundreds of photos and select the best, and it need not be an expensive hobby.

I did smile when I learned of people building computers when they would not know which end of a soldering iron to hold. Nevertheless, many have assembled computers, learned some programming and gone on to have successful careers.

Em says:
20 May 2021

Of course! I meant the use of Photoshop to create an image that could not exist in Nature.

I agree there are many benefits to digital photography, not least of which is that nobody is forced to admire someone’s holiday snaps any more – that only applies still to weddings – or sit through interminable slide shows.

As you have said, it’s a different skill. I have been using Photoshop since version 2 and explored its potential. The main appeal over free and cheap alternatives was the ability to batch-process images, even to do something as simple as turning them through 90 degrees.

Em says:
20 May 2021

Another option I have been very satisfied with is Microsoft OneDrive. It comes included with the Microsoft 365 (Office) subscription at £79 per year for a family of up to 6 users. Or £59 for a personal subscription.

I’m not saying rush out and subscribe just to get the storage. But you might have it anyway, or would consider it if you are also paying for Skype minutes or have members of your family who use the Microsoft product set for study or work.

Peter S says:
20 May 2021

I pay for Google storage. Google allows you to share your photo archive with younger members of your family and share your storage space I believe. PICASA still works – just. That allowed you to backup to external hard drive – no money for Google then, that’s why they discontinued support for it. Picasa has many useful options compared to Google Photos.

Anthony says:
20 May 2021

The only thing I would add is that you have to keep hard storage at home.

If you save in the cloud it is off site so less at risk of any sort of damage.

I do both, just to be on the safe side.

That is my only worry with having everything on a hard drive, food for thought here. I need to look into a back up in case there is any damage. I’m the only one with all my little ones baby pictures saved in one place, so I will look into a cloud service. Thank you

You could back up to an external hard drive?

When I was working I used to keep a backup of photos and other files on a hard drive in my office. I would periodically swap this one for another hard drive with an updated version.

Now I am retired I keep a backup hard drive in a sealed plastic box in the garage, which is separate from the house. At present it’s at the bottom of a box containing decorating tools and other items that no-one is likely to take. I do have some photos on iCloud, so they are immediately accessible, but that is in addition to other backups.

It really is worth having backups, Chirag. A friend of mine paid hundreds of pounds to a company to try to recover files from his failed hard drive, and they did not succeed.

Thank you, that’s on my weekend to do list. It’s something that has just been put off but I should really do it as my current hard drive is easily over 5 years old now. It’ll be a matter of time before something goes wrong with it.

Em says:
23 May 2021

If you are just worried about drive failure – which can happen with backup devices too – then a simple RAID network-attached storage (NAS) device – or computer that supports internal RAID drives – will enable you to recover from a single hard disk or solid state disk failure.

Note that RAID 0 (which is for performance) does not provide immunity from a single drive failure and is less reliable that a single drive. RAID 1 mirrors all data, and requires a minimum of two identical drives. The storage capacity is halved. RAID 5, requires 3 or more drives, and is immune from a single drive failure.

If physical security is important, you could consider asking another trusted household to host a NAS drive that you can attach to over Internet, and perhaps vice versa. But possibly not worth it financially in the long run, compared to a commercial service.

Note that many routers now support a USB-attached hard drive, which is a very cheap way to have a backup drive, not co-located with a computer, so less likely to be stolen or destroyed in a small fire. Or if you have two or more computers, take regular backups of important files to the other device(s) over WiFi.

Em says:
23 May 2021

If you have an old hard drive, it is worth looking at that cost of replacing it with a solid-state drive (SSD). As these have no moving parts, they are more reliable and consume less energy. It is also one of the best performance improvements you can make to any computer.

Paul McCracken says:
21 May 2021

I’m going to Google pixel 6….it continues to be free then forever to all Google phones

Faiez says:
21 May 2021

Can I buy Google storage once in a year too backup all my photo? How does it count?

I don’t understand what the fuss is about. There is no need to pay subscriptions or to use cloud services to store your data. You can store data on your own devices for free, including hard drives that remain more securely at home.

If you need cloud backups, then you should automatically back up all of your data to zero-knowledge cloud storage, not just photos.

Shaun says:
22 May 2021

I have my own Nas drive / cloud storage

AJ says:
23 May 2021

Which NAS are you using? Do you like it? Which cloud storage? Thanks

Paulo says:
22 May 2021

Office365 family offers 5 accounts with 5x 1Tb cloud space and office365 subscription (excel, word, etc).
Joined with 4 friends and it’s great for photos using OneDrive and also cheap for 1Tb + office365 👍
Still have Google 200Gb but will probably move completely to Microsoft, wish Google had a 1Tb pack..

Em says:
23 May 2021

Six accounts – please see above.

Derek F says:
23 May 2021

I haven’t read the Ts & Cs, so am a bit ignorant on the subject, but I have one question –
Who owns the copyrights to anything stored on the cloud?
If your pics are liable to be used for monetary gain and you are also expected to pay them for the privilege . . .

Em says:
23 May 2021

The usual laws of copyright still appy. The fact that a work is stored in the cloud is irrelevant.

This is easiest to understand if you thing of a computer program, book, photograph or piece of music. The copyright is normally owned by the author of the work (or the author’s employer, if they have created the work in the course of their employment).

The fact that you have stored this work in the cloud cannot automatically transfer the copyright. In many cases you may not even own the copyright and would have no right to transfer it to a third party, whether explicitly or implicitly.

The fact that you have paid for a service to store digital assets is an additional protection. No different really to moving a physical library of books, albums or records to rented storage. The storage facility does not (and in most cases cannot) acquire the copyright to these works, simply because you lodge they there for safekeeping.

Joe says:
24 May 2021

I will use Amazon for automatic uploads as a saftey, and keep all photos/videos to an external drive

Phil says:
25 May 2021

Anybody like to take a guess at the carbon footprint of this operation?


Has it’s own vulnerabilities too as happened to the Channel Islands.

I ended up switching over to Microsoft in the end. I felt I got better value with my own domain and the extra features available. Happy to pay a few £ each month for the OneDrive space. I also back-up everything onto an external hard drive once a month when my laptop prompts me.

Tom Fallon says:
17 June 2021

I uploaded 700gb of photos and videos before the Google Photos deadline on 31 May. I advised family to SAVE to their GP accounts all shared items before the deadline. Going forward, I have subscribed for Microsoft Family 365. For less than £80pa it provides: 6 @ 1tb cloud storage across 6 accounts. That makes 6tb in total. Videos and photos are stored full size without compression by the service. That is a competitive deal. But one also gets Office Pro on all 6 accounts on up to 5 devices for each account. That makes 30 installations of this software. Synchronisation: OneDrive plays nicely with “rclone”. Note my main OS is Linux Ubuntu.