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Get your Google Photos library started with the desktop uploader

Problem is, unless you've had Google+ automatic photo backup turned on the past couple of years, your photo library is probably looking pretty barren. And even if you have had auto backup on your phone(s), you haven't likely uploaded all of your past photos from before Google+ (or Google itself) existed.

If you're looking to get your Google Photos library started or filled up with a long history of photos, there's no better way than installing Google's desktop uploader app and getting them all up there in one fell swoop. We're going to show you how to do it.

Google Photos desktop backup app

The first step of this process is grabbing the appropriate desktop uploader app for your computer, which you'll find at photos.google.com/apps (or in the side panel of the Photos website). If you've yet to sign into Photos from either a phone or web browser you'll have to go through the "sign up" (really just an introduction) process, which will just take a few clicks. Click the "desktop uploader" button on the left, and the page will detect whether you're on Windows or Mac OS X and download the appropriate file. (We'll show the tutorial here on Mac, but the process is the same on Windows.)

Google Photos desktop backup app

Install the app, accept the terms of service and then sign into your Google Account. Be ready to enter a two-step verification code if you have that enabled (which you should) for your account — you can't use an app specific password.

Google Photos desktop backup app

You'll then be given a very basic settings page, where you'll make a decision about what folders and devices the app will be scanning to back up photos, and at what quality you'd like to upload them. By default the app will be set up to import any photo that hits your computer's default "Pictures" folder, as well as the desktop and any camera or memory card that's inserted. You can choose which folders you want, and then also add more folders of your choice — for example if you like to store your photos in a different folder, or on an external hard drive, but still want them backed up.

The decision between "High quality" and "Original" is also a personal one. Google defines "High quality" as up to 16MP in size, with small optimizations done on their end so that the photos can be scaled appropriately to the device you're viewing them on. You get unlimited high quality storage, which will instantly make it the most appealing option for most. The "Original" option will be for the photography purist, as it will upload your photos in full and keep them that way if you ever want to download them again. Photos uploaded and stored at original quality will take up Google Drive space, and you'll quickly move past your 15GB of free storage, after which you're paying $1.99 per month for 100GB or $9.99 for 1TB of storage.

Once you've made your decisions, click "Start backup" and the app will scan the folders you selected and push any of the photos found in there to Google Photos.

Google Photos desktop backup app

You can check your system tray (Windows) or menu bar (OS X) for the Google Photos Backup icon to see the status of your current uploads (which may take some time depending on your internet upload speeds). You can also click "Preferences" to change what folders you're backing up at any time, as well as choose between upload qualities. You can also pause backups and then resume them at any time if you have a bandwidth constraint and don't need the photos uploaded immediately.

With the backup app running, the next time you add a photo to any watched folder or connect a camera, the app will instantly start uploading those photos to the service. Of course just like photos uploaded from your phone they'll be kept private, and you can delete and manage them from the Google Photos website or apps on any device. Also remember that if you're using the Google Drive desktop app, photos will be copied to a "Google Photos" folder and automatically downloaded (in essence duplicating what's already on your computer) — head into the Google Drive desktop app to turn off syncing of that folder.

After some tweaking and setup — and the inevitably long first upload of your albums — the desktop uploader will work seamlessly in the background, and you'll never be stuck without a backup of every photo you capture.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

96 Comments
  • the upload has been really really slow. maybe its because the software is trying to compress the photos before uploading
  • Makes sense Posted via the Android Central App
  • Why hello there, Kim Jong Il.
  • I better not even try it with my 756kbps upload speed Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • I did that back when I had DSL and it took weeks to upload 20k photos into my G+ account. Now I'm debating whether to upload them again (over 100mbps fiber) at the new quality setting to knock out the 30gb they are taking up in my Google storage so I can quit paying for it.
  • i dont know about that, I kept my setting on Original and it's still slow
  • Has nothing to do with that just how it is, because it's a non Apple service. If you try to sync with icloud or Apple photo service it's fast. I watching about that on YouTube forgot which channel though. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Thank you. We are all richer for having gleaned a bit of your wisdom today.
  • I bought Google Drive storage space a few years back and put all my photos in there. Is there any way to transfer them to googly photos without having to re-upload? Posted via the Android Central App
  • dont know if this will work with new photos or not but try it. go to google+ settings https://plus.google.com/u/0/settings
    check "Show Drive photos and videos in your photo library"
  • This works but is very annoying if you store more than final copies in Drive. It picks up all photos in Drive. No way to say "Just this folder"
  • My primary Google account is a Google Apps account. The "Show Drive photos and videos in your photo library" doesn't show for me on the page you linked to. I have checked the "include..." in photos.google.com's settings, as well as in the android app on multiple devices - they aren't showing.
  • Wait, so how does this work with Picasa? #fragmentation
  • when you upload pics via picasa or google+ or the new photos it shows up everywhere.
    photos are stored in one place but 3 services access them
  • Bro ditch Picasa Posted via the Android Central App
  • Also the hash tags Posted via the Android Central App
  • Upload Via Picasa -> goes to Picasa Web Albums, Google Photos, Google +
    Upload via Google Photos -> goes to Google Photos, and Google+ (only if they are shared to Google+_
    Upload via Google+ -> goes to Picasa Web Albums, Google Photos, Google + I think that is how it currently works? Picasa's local editing, and 2way sync are great. it is the most feature filled of any of the tools. Google+ broke apart into streams and photos a while back and this is the result.
    I've been a google fanboy for a long time but lately my confidence is really waning
  • you are wrong about this
    Upload via Google Photos -> goes to Google Photos, PICASA and Google+
    look in to the auto upload folder. you will have all the photos you uploaded via photos
  • Ive uploaded a bunch of my old pics but since many of those had being taken with and old digital cam they had the date and time wrong and its a complete mess and i cant find a way to edit them :(
  • Yeah, Google+ and Picasa you could edit meta data date, time, and location. Google Photos - no can do...
  • I uploaded photos using Google Photo, but have been able to edit the meta data date, time in Google+ Photos. PITB, but it works.
  • I should be done uploading my 28,000 photos in roughtly 3 and a half years. (I kid, but it at the rate it's going it will take well over a month, if I left the machine on 24/7, which I don't). Not really a complaint, except to my ISP's slow upload speed :D For me uploading to photos will not be a full on backup, as 2/3 of the photos are in RAW. but I think it will be nice to have a permanent-ish list of all the pictures I take in an easy web interface. For the pictures i'm actually serious about editing properly, I'll still be processing the raw files in lightroom.
  • You can upload RAW on the desktop app as a separate check box. It doesn't describe how those count against your quota, though.
  • RAW counts against your storage limit, unless they are really tiny. And they show up as photos, no need to convert them to see them in a screen. Posted via Android Central App
  • 130gb of photos on my mac... I backed up all my phone photos with "original" quality.
    So can I backup my desktop photos with the other setting and it not effect my phone? Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • You'll need to switch to "high quality" then upload all of those photos. You can then switch back to "original" and get back to uploading originals that count against your storage.
  • If I upload a picture to Google photo then delete device copy can it only be viewed in Google photo app? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Correct. Or on photos.google.com
  • Well yeah... if you delete it locally then you don't have it locally anymore.
  • Good article, I was just looking for this info! Thank you. Posted via the Android Central App
  • If I upload pictures from my "Pictures" directory on my computer, then delete some pictures from Google Photos, will the desktop app delete the picture from my computer? IE, is it a two way sync?
  • Although that's highly unlikely, I wouldn't delete anything until you get official confirmation!
  • nope its not 2 way sync.
  • Nope, the only two-way sync is if you have the Google Photos folder in Google Drive syncing and you delete the files in that folder.
  • I'll stick to using Picasa until it dies. Picasa lets me do basic edits and only upload the photos I like. I see no need to upload every photo I ever take with my camera. I typically only upload 50%-60% of the photos I take with my camera. Using the photos app would upload a lot of trash with the treasures. Not to mention there doesn't seem to be be any kind of album management. No thanks. I have yet to see anything about the new Photos environment worth using. I know a lot of people wanted to see it split off from Google+ but the new site doesn't even have half of the features Google+ Photos have. If I visit my photos on the web I will still use the old Picasa Web links and the Google+ links until again, they are dead.
  • no album management?? did you even try to use the software?
  • It offers nothing in Album management in the way that Picasa does. When I import photos from my camera using Picasa, not only can I select which photos I want to go in to what Album, it also creates a corresponding folder. Google Photos does not appear do this. You also cannot open albums directly from this app, it redirects to the web. This app is nothing more than folder back-up software. It requires you to manage your albums and folders outside of the app using your OS's file explorer or on the web. If that suits your needs, then great. But Picasa is much more powerful and it is what I will continue to use.
  • isnt that what this software is?? a photo uploader. what did you expect a full fledge photo software??
  • That's my whole point. Why would you use this when Picasa already exists and does so much more? If you want to upload every single photo on you computer to the web then great, but a lot of people don't. I don't know anyone who takes a shareable photo 100% of the time. Since that is the case why would you keep every photo? This app isn't adding any functionality that wasn't already in Google+ Photos Auto back-up app. I saw no use for that software and I see no use for this. YMMV.
  • This isn't about sharing, this is about backup. It's about cloud storage. It's about removing local photos and still having access to that photo as if it were local. This is about removing the concept of "photos on my computer", and embracing the concept of "my photos", where that photo "is", is of no concern to me. It's about the future.
  • Using that method you are putting all your eggs in one basket, and you are trusting that Google will never lose your photos. I prefer to maintain a local copy and a cloud copy.
  • As a Linux user
    http://i.imgur.com/WZrpdJi.jpg Edit: I thought the commenting system use BBcode?
  • It'll come, eventually -- I mean there is a Linux version of the Google Music Uploader, so why not images?
  • Thanks for the article Andrew - didn't know about this! backing up 1731 files, 1720 left lol
  • I had used the desktop uploader to upload all of my computer pictures at previous free low quality of 2.8 megapixels, now that the high quality is free will the desktop uploader automatically reupload all of my pictures at 16 megapixels?
  • I need to know this answer as well. Who knows? Anybody? Bueller?
  • Google didn't indicate what happens to your photos that were uploaded at the previous free size threshold.
  • Why not just drag and drop all your folders onto https://photos.google.com/ - I just uploaded about 3000 that way. Works on all desktop environments, including Linux.
  • I'm not interested in trusting the drag + drop uploader for thousands of photos, particularly if you have a slower internet connection that will require several hours to upload. That's also not a good system for continuously keeping your library up to date with new photos as they hit your computer. The drag+drop uploader definitely has its place, but I don't think it's a first choice solution.
  • It's a great way to keep things up to date - Drive syncs back a copy so after Google has them, I can delete the copies I uploaded. New photos come from my phone, so they go to Google, then sync to my desktop. Everything stays perfectly in sync.
  • I did something similar. However, when I wanted to upload just one picture it showed up on the website; but did not show up on the photo app on my android phone. Does anyone have an explanation for that?
  • I did just that. However, when I added just one photo from my desktop, that photo, did not show up in the android app on my phone. Can anyone figure out why that would happen?
  • "Also remember that if you're using the Google Drive desktop app, photos will be copied to a "Google Photos" folder and automatically downloaded (in essence duplicating what's already on your computer) — head into the Google Drive desktop app to turn off syncing of that folder." But doesn't that turn your syncing options into an "opt-in" kind of mode? Like... if I exclude this folder, it changes it from "sync everything" to "only sync what is checked" - now what happens when I create a new folder? Is it checked by default? Or UNchecked? And further, I have been using Google+ backup for forever - now the quality I'm allowed is much better. What's the recommended way to replace all of my lower-res photos with the ones that I still have on my file server at home?
  • 1) It does indeed put your Google Drive app into a "selective sync" mode that only syncs folders you choose. Any new folder that you create is unchecked by default — hop into the Drive app to select it for local storage. It's a bit annoying, but it's Google's solution to this problem. 2) Google hasn't really said what happened to any lower-resolution photos that were uploaded under the old free quality limit. You'd hope that Google would either have a de-duplicate system to remove old low res versions, or a tool to upload and instantly replace. I'm not sure.
  • Thanx
  • In regards to Google Drive, they messed up on this. If you decide to uncheck sync all you have to manually monitor folders somewhat. If you create a folder on your computer then it will sync to the web automatically. If you create a folder on the web in the root directory then you have to manually add it to the sync'd folders on your computer. Thus, (I will have to wait until tonight to check this), you most likely must also manually add it to other computers where you have Google Drive and you have unchecked sync all. I don't understand the thought behind adding Google Photos to Drive anyway. Do we really need a 4th place (Picasa, Googe+, Photos) to manage pictures? Anyway, I don't want the duplication so I will be turning off sync I guess and will manually monitor my drive folders.
  • I agree. I have a file server that has all my photos on it. I also have Google Drive on it, because everything on my file server is backed up to the cloud with Backblaze. So I installed the uploader onto it and it goes to town, uploading my stuff as soon as I pull them off of my phone(s). So with all of the photos being sent to Google Drive, this is where i have my photos:
    1. on my phone(s) until I delete them, which usually isn't too long
    2. on my file server's hard drives
    3. on Backblaze's servers
    4. uploaded to Google Photos, which also now puts them into...
    5. ...Google Drive, which also now puts them into...
    6. ...my Google Drive folder ON MY FILE SERVER!! Craziness.
  • When I first became an Android user I had no idea I even had a Google+ account. Upon discovering my Google+ account I discovered that I was auto uploading pictures. So I put a stop to that, then I discovered I had to get on a computer and dive into my Google settings in order to totally make my stuff private. Then I discovered I could upload pictures to my Google Drive, so I manually created folders on drive and upload pictures for the better part of 8 hrs. Then Google introduced photos to Drive, I still don't understand that move. Then finally last week Google separated photos from Google+, a move that I was wanting all along. So I spent all weekend learning the ins and outs of the new photos app. I also uploaded the same pictures that are in my Drive to the new Photos. I took a lot of time to create collections (albums) and things are looking and running smooth. I don't have auto upload activated, I manually select which photos get saved. Android All Day Everyday!
  • That's what I don't understand about photo upload... Not having a freaking checkbox to create an album for each folder! Come on Google!
    How many albums do you have and hiw did you manage to recreate all your albums correctly?
  • No Chromebook support? That's going to make it tough for me as I've abandoned all Windows and OSX devices....
  • I agree they probably could've built a similar uploader to what they already had for Google+ photos, but they didn't... You can upload from the photos.google.com website, at least.
  • As you said eloquently above, I can't trust drag and drop for a large number of photos, but yes, that will probably be my route. And in case it hasn't been said, thank you very much for tearing apart Google Photos for us - these posts are very useful and your participation in the comments section even more so. Over and above the usual help provided from AC....
  • It's a half-baked service at best. Someday it may be nice, but not today. Every photo, from every folder, is tossed into one big pile sorted by date. Gee, thanks Google. They could have at least made a collection out of each folder.
  • You have to create your own albums. It's time consuming at first but once your up and running it's awesome. It actually saves time. Android All Day Everyday!
  • How does it save time? I have over 3,000 photos on my phone organized in folders. If I allow those to sync to google photos, they're going to get jumbled together in one big mess.
  • That's what I'm saying. Once your setup then you'll be saving time. Until then it's time consuming as a mother f-cker LoL Android All Day Everyday!
  • You should also rethink why you care about those folders. They may be unnecessary in the google space due to the powerful search function. I'm in the process of uploading 30,000 pics (mostly DSLR) from my computer. It's only about half done, but already the search capability is fantastic. I have them in folders on my computer, but I don't miss not having them online.
  • I TOTALLY agree with you. I'm waiting for a freaking checkbox in the Photo upload tools to keep my folder names as Albums. I classified all those photos in albums INTELLIGENTLY so yeah I doubt Google will manage to organize them better! On Google+ albums were created for each folder in Google Drive. That's my setup. Now with Google Photos the albums are there anymore... You can search the folder name, that's it!! Problem with photos on Google Drive is that not all features are available... Not able to rotate my picture by example. So dammit Google bring me the checkbox I want and I'll reupload my picture... Or simply make the Google Drive integration better!
  • There's another way pictures get uploaded: Eye-Fi cards. The pictures I take with my super zoom point and shoot are automatically uploaded to Picasa, which of course later became Google Photos.
  • Google needs to implement a de-duplicate function. You'd think that with all this machine learning, they'd have some sort of feature like this. Hard to go through thousands of pictures to find duplicates!!
  • Yup agreed.
  • One thing I don't understand...if I select Original, but upload a picture smaller than 16mp, does it still go against the limit? It sure seems like it based on the room I have left after uploading, because I don't have any pictures over 16mp, yet my available space went down. Posted via the Android Central App
  • If you upload "original" photos, they all count against your storage, no matter their size.
  • Strange they did it this way. I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it would've made sense to just have the option to either cap the number of pics over 16mp or have them shrunk and then all other pics just go towards unlimited. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Isn't this the same as the Picasa uploader? I downloaded it, same icon same info? 113,000 photos online Posted via the Android Central App
  • Been using Google backup for years... It's cool. Say I use my dslr to shoot a birthday party, videos and photos and use my phone to take more photos and video. Import my dslr photos into my desktop, Picasa and google photos goes to work... Then plug in my phone (as I have it set to backup on WiFi while charging)...., a few hrs later Google auto awesome has a great video slide show assembled from all the photos. Been using that for years and years... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Do they have a way of identifying duplicates? What happens if I copy all my photos from my phone to mac book and I have activated back up in both the devices? Are the photos uploaded twice?
  • They don't upload duplicates. For example, when my SD card gets a few GB of photos and video on it, I cut the photos off my SD card and onto my desktop. Provided that my photos we already backed up from my phone, there won't be any uploads from my desktop backup. Automatically, I think I tries to upload, but it checks the file names and does not backup. I don't seem to then have any duplicates in my library. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Google Photos uploader can not detect duplicates as of now, but if you are using other (3rd party) photo uploaders to upload photos from your machine to Google, it will check for duplicates first and then will upload photos to your Google account.
  • I have always used Picasa and see no reason to change that. It does seem ridiculous that Google have ended up with all these different photo backup services though. I also pay for extra storage for Picasa and miss out on this free unlimited storage. Bit of a mess.
  • What's up with the osx interface? That's odd!
  • If I have dozens of folders that I want to be replicated online as albums, does the desktop uploader create albums accordingly? In Picasa it does and I would see the albums in Photos as expected, but there still the old upload rules apply (small - not 16 mpx - or original against the quota) that are not good enough any more.
  • I think no it doesn't... Reading comments here to find someone who can proove me.wrong or has a great workaround. Google don't want us to keep folder names as albums... Ao frustrating!
  • A "service" I don't want or need. So, no. Posted from the redheaded stepchild of the Nexii
  • I wonder if there is a selective option for uploading certain folders at original quality and others at the "High Quality" setting. For instance, I want to keep the photos I've taken with my DSLR at original at the ones from phone on "High Quality" setting. Any one know about this?
  • I'm still wanting for a feature to detect duplicates and eliminate them - not pre-upload, but for the many, many duplicates I've amassed over the years that are all in the cloud now.
  • this upload app is VERY basic, which is fine i guess for most, but if you have a serious collection you need to manipulate it's quite cumbersome. it's funny that google has another, seemingly competing uploading app that does the same thing and puts your photos in the same place, but you have far more granular control over uploads (and can batch upload 50,000 at a time if needed...). https://picasa.google.com/
  • I have been using Picassa for many years. Picassa is one of Google's best buys; very nice program. For Photos is there a way to upload everything but not duplicate any photos? Only have about 60% of them up in Picassa. I have a "Media" folder in Drive that I think has all photos the music and videos. Picassa uploads are about 60% of the photos but I don't know for sure which ones. All photos are in a directory by people if I did not have a date.
  • Later
  • If the camera on my phone IS a 16-megapixel camera, can't I use the "Original" setting and still not use any limited Drive space? Alternatively, in that scenario isn't the "High Quality" setting storing my 16-megapixel uploads in their original form???
  • My problem with the app for mac is that it does not recognize the new photo app. It will do iPhoto by default, but not photos. So now that my library is update to that, it will not upload the pics. It will add folders, but not library.
  • I use the Google Drive Sync app to sycronize my Google Drive files to local folders on my PC at home, work and a laptop. This has worked great for years. But now, with Google Photos, it is downloading all of my photos to the local hard drives on each machine. How can I disable this?
  • I 2nd (or 100th) everyones comments on duplicates. The new search functionality is insane and shows the level of technology they hold. I honestly havent seen anything else out there that can search objects or scenes that you did not manually tag. That functionality should allow them to come up with the most elaborate deduping system out there. I have used dozens of de-duplicating tools, but none of them can leverage the logic Google has....time to allow the users to use it and free up some additional space on their servers.
  • Wish I could exclude video. God it's SLOW Posted via the Android Central App
  • I now have loads (thousands probably) of duplicates. Low res versions originally uploaded via web sync with Picasa and now my full res (within Google's 'high quality' definition) versions from Photos Desktop Uploader. How go I get rid of the low res ones? It'll take me the rest of my life to delete them manually. Do I just unsync the album in Picasa? Thanks
  • Does this work like iPhotos? Syncs everywhere?