What happens when you delete pictures in Google Photos?

Whether you need to clear out duplicates, limit the amount of full-resolution storage you're taking up or just get rid of some old shots you no longer want, you may need to delete photos from your Google Photos albums from time to time. The "access all of your photos everywhere" system is really cool, but it also introduces a few head scratching moments when you go to delete photos from the service.

We're going to help clarify the situation, and once you understand the system you won't be so worried about what's happening to your photos.

Deleting pictures, and what happens

Google Photos delete dialogue

The main thing to remember about Google Photos is that you're interacting with pictures in the cloud, and every action you take on them can (and will) be reflected on any other device connected to the service. That goes particularly for deleting pictures — when you hit the trash can button on an image in the Google Photos app, that photo is going to be removed from your library on every device that you access Google Photos from. The photo will also cease to exist in any Auto Awesome animations, collages or movies that you've created.

It doesn't matter if you originally took the photo on the device that you're performing the deletion on, either — if you take a photo on your phone and hit "delete" on your computer, the local file for that photo will be removed from your phone. In the case of a local photo being removed, you'll get a dialogue box that pops up to remind you of what you're about to do, though it's very easy to just tap "remove" and watch it leave your device.

The bothersome dialogue box also claims that the photos will be deleted from places that they're shared on Google+, though we actually haven't found this to be the case. We've shared multiple photos to Google+ from the Google Photos app and website, and saw that they remained after being deleted from Google Photos — though this could be a function of the photos still being available in the trash (we'll get to that in a moment). In general it's best to heed the warning and keep photos in your Google Photos library once they've been shared to Google+, though we really wish this wasn't a requirement.

Restoring 'deleted' photos

Restoring 'deleted' photos in Google Photos

If you happen to delete a photo (or 20) that you didn't mean to, fear not — Google gives you 60 days to change your mind. Much like deleting items in Google Drive — which is what you're essentially doing — you can restore any "deleted" photo right from the app or Google Photos website. Go into the "Trash" to view any items that you've recently deleted. You can select individual or groups of photos, and with one tap on an arrow in the top-right corner they'll be restored back into your main library.

The photos are placed back into their original spots based on the time and date information in the photo, and they'll go back to being synced on all devices that are using the Google Photos app. Perhaps having 60 days to restore items is a bit overkill, but the amount of storage that it costs Google is minimal, and if it helps a few people restore an image they didn't realize they had deleted it's all worth it to them.

If you'd prefer to permanently remove photos so they cannot be restored, simply select a photo or group of photos and tap the trash can icon once again to remove them forever. You can also clear out the entire trash with the "empty trash" button, which after a quick confirmation will remove every photo in the trash so you don't have to see them anymore.

With just a little thought about where your photos are and what you're doing with them, you'll never be left out in the cold with a lost photo of a special moment.

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

125 Comments
  • However, if you delete a photo from your device's gallery or camera roll it still remains in Google Photos? Therefore you can keep all your photos in Googles service while clearing out and keeping free GBs on your device?
  • That's right. When I did this, the deleted photos were still in Google Photos.
  • I still DL them to a local device before clearing my phone. That way, in case the innerwebs or Googles ever do something haywire, I still have the originals local.
  • Yeah me too. I always put them on my USB OTG drive and then move them to a couple NAS drives I have at home. Maybe I have gone too far...lol
  • can i ask you , if i have save the photo in the google photos so if i delete a local one , and after that I want the photo back , so I should download the photo or what ?
  • Yes, you would just download the web photo if you ever want it back.
  • Anybody getting photos with the upload cloud with a line through it? These photos don't show up on my other devices, but they have the option to delete from the current device. Galaxy Note 4 {Sprint Lollipop}
    Galaxy S III {FreedomPop 4.3}
    LG G2 {Sprint 4.4.2}
  • I wonder if those are photos that haven't synced yet....if you have it set to sync/backup on wifi only, they may just not have uploaded yet. That's my guess anyways.
  • From my experience that means that you took a photo on your phone but it has not yet synced likely becuase you have it set to "sync only when connected via wifi" and you are on your LTE connection
  • I want to delete everything on my phone, then go onto google photos and delete the photos that i also dont want . Is this possible..? How will google know that i dont want everything on google photos deleted the same way i purposely delte everything on my mobile phone???
  • That should work with no problem if you want to do it that way. Once you upload everything to Google Photos you can delete them off your device and it won't affect them online. Then you can delete anything you want off of Google Photos, but once you do, those photos will be gone forever.
  • If you wan't a photo or video remain in the cloud but no room in the phone for them, select them in the device (check them) and hit the three dot on the top right corner and select "delete device copy".
  • Interesting! Thanks but, Then how do you know which are in you phone and which are not?
  • The pics you see when you go into your file manager and go to where ever your photos are stored (DCIM for me) are stored on your phone. If you delete them there, they are not deleted in Google Photos. Vice Versa if you have pics stored on the device and in Google Photos and delete them on Google Photos, the ones on the device are still there.
  • Yep same for me +1 Posted via the Android Central App
  • This is not true... Deleting from Google photos will also remove them from devices local storage. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Sloan31...you're right. I just deleted a photo off of Google Photos on the web and it deleted it from my phone.
  • I'm not seeing this behavior - but it makes sense this is how it should work, it should be a 2way sync otherwise it gets very confusing. Maybe it does do this, but it is just taking a very long time to propogate the changes because the pictures seem to be sticking around on my phone. Strangely there does not seem to be any way to force a sync and it is not clear what the time delay between syncs is by default.
  • But I want to delete all the pictures on my device and am going crazy trying how to work out how to do it without ticking each one (several thousand)
  • Hold (long-press) and drag - see if this helps... https://youtu.be/Ol9HoFuXGJM
  • You mean in the google photos app or my normal i phone gallery?
  • How do you remove photos taken with and stored on a device that have been synced with Google Photos, without also removing them from Google Photos cloud storage? Do I have to keep another gallery app on the device just to delete local files? Posted via Android Central App
  • From what I read if you have a folder on your mac or pc that syncs with Google Photos and you delete the photos off of the mac or pc the photos are deleted from Google Photos as well. I think that's the way I understood the article.
  • Hamburger > Device Folders > Camera > Delete the pics you want. They'll still be in the cloud if they're already synced. Also, if you're running short of storage, Photos will ask you if you want to clear your local copies to free up storage.
  • Is there any way to force Photos to remove all of the local copies after they have been synced?
  • "It doesn't matter if you originally took the photo on the device that you're performing the deletion on, either — if you take a photo on your phone and hit "delete" on your computer, the local file for that photo will be removed from your phone." Not on my phone. If I delete it from the cloud, I then have to go to device folders and delete the local copy. The way photos treats management of local photos is annoying.
  • if I delete a photo on the web, the original also deleted from my phone... not immediately, but if i reopen the photos app, it will make a quick sync and then.
  • Reading comments from others, it seems that there's inconsistent functionality here.
  • Actually, now that I've other OTHER comments, it seems you're mistaken. The original is not deleted. From your Photos app, select the Hamburger icon (top left), and then Device Folders. That's where your originals are stored, and they are not deleted.
  • If you delete from Google Photos, it will delete from the device. Just tried this again after reading your comment. Went into device folders on my device and to my download folder. Deleted one from Google Photos on web. Device synced and removed the local copy in less than 3 seconds.
  • And as I've stated in other posts, it does NOT work like that on my device, and several others have reported it as well. This is inconsistent and is likely a bug. If I delete a photo from the cloud, it will remain in my Device Folders even the next day, until I manually select "remove from device." And to be clear, I'm not saying that YOU are wrong. I am stating that this app is working differently across devices and it is likely a bug.
  • Actually in your last comment you said that szutsgy was mistaken and that the original is noted deleted. So you should probably backtrack that claim. But ok.
  • Yea, there's a lot of separate threads here, so it's been an evolution from one to another as more information comes in. Sorry for the confusion and I readily admit that I was wrong at the time of THAT post. (Scroll down, there's more info from more people on this subject).
  • Yeah I see 'em now :-)
  • I am having the same issue as jaykresge. I cleaned up a bunch of photos in Google Photos on my computer yesterday evening. Checked my phone and they were still there. Later, I plugged my phone in for the night and this morning they were still there! I'm not sure why it is not deleting the photos off of my phone when I delete them from Google Photo on a computer. UGH!
  • I have a theory - I suspect that phones where it works are on Lollipop, and phones where it does NOT work are KitKat or below. Someone told me that they had a photos two-way sync option under their Google account sync settings. I don't have this.
  • No, this not not true. My phone has Lollipop. I think I understand what's going on here... My computer uploaded pictures taken from my SLR camera to Google Photos and I can see them in the Google Photos app on my phone. If I delete one of those photos from Google Photos on the computer, that photo is removed from the Google Photos app on my phone. However, if I delete a photo from Google Photos on the computer that was taken by my phone, it removes it from Google Photos cloud storage, but not from the local storage on my phone. This gets confusing because you can still see the deleted photo in the Google Photos app on your phone. But you are viewing it from your phone's local storage not the Google Photo cloud storage.
  • Well, it was a theory. Like I said though, we have users hear swearing that it delete the local copy on their phone. I stand by my original offer - anyone in downtown Seattle who has a device where the LOCAL copy is deleting when you delete the cloud copy is welcome to meet me today and show me. Because as of right now, I don't believe that the local copy is truly deleting, just as you and I have witnessed.
  • Are you sure you use the new photos app? Do the standalone one, not the one we always already had through Google plus? Because I have also 2 sync items in the Google account. Sync Google photos and sync Google photos backup So you really should have both I think Posted via Android Central App
  • @Johan, I stand corrected! I guess I was using the Photos app from Google+ I didn't realize it until Sunday morning when I went into the app and it prompted me to download the new Google Photos app from the Play Store! Confusing since it has the same name and icon as the Google+ version! Anyway, I now have the new Google Photos app and the synchronization appears to be working ie. When I delete a photo that was taken by my phone from Google Photos using my computer, it does in fact remove it from my phone's local storage!
  • There is a huge problem with new Google Photos and Google+ ... syncing is always downlading all photos back to the device .... it does not matter how you delete them only in the device, or even directly on gallery... they are downloaded again.
    I think tgere is a bug in new photos app
  • Hey Andrew any idea how to make it so all my hangouts pictures don't show up as separate "albums" in my photos? I'd rather not show any of them as an album.
  • Exactly. Until there is a way to choose which cloud albums I want to appear in the phone's gallery, Photos is useless in my book. Quickpic lets you choose which Picasa / G+ / Photos remote albums you wanna sync to your device, so for the moment it is still irreplecable.
  • Agreed. Also, the way Hangouts albums are displayed is inconsistent. Sometimes the album name is my name first, and then the other person's, and sometimes it's vice versa. It makes quickly scanning through kind of difficult. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Unfortunately no. Hangout photos are still stuck in there Posted via the Android Central App
  • You mentioned duplicates. I think it might not allow duplicates. I was uploading a few thousand pictures and had my computer trash. So I re-uploaded the same files (via the web browser, drag/drop). It looks to re-upload the files but overwrite the existing files. Perhaps not allowing duplicates?
  • It allows duplicates. I was using Dropbox and Amazon to store my pics. I downloaded zip files for both then uploaded to Google Photos. There were duplicates of a few photos that I had uploaded.
  • Interesting. You can download your entire collection from DB in zip form?
  • Yep but it can't be too large. I have a bunch of videos but I can only download a few at a time.
  • This is one major downside of Google Photos. I have the auto upload feature turned on my phone. However, I also offload those mobile photos locally onto my desktop for local backup. My mobile and dSLR camera photos are mixed on my desktop. How can I backup my regular dSLR photos onto Google Photos without creating duplicates in the cloud? Right now I can't. I wish Google would check the file that is being uploaded to ensure it is not a duplicate: i.e. check the metadata, file size, etc.
  • How about an easy way to rotate video's and photos? I don't see any option in the android or web app. You can edit each individual photo which is slow and takes a few steps. I don't see anything at all for rotating video. I don't see how something like this could be left out. ??
  • I'm still not sure about all this. I trusted Dropbox's autosync because I never had in mind to keep them in the cloud for ever, it was just for convenience. I do like the idea to have all my pictures in the cloud but I fear the risks too much.
    There's also the fact that only 25% of pictures I take are to be kept for long time. The rest are just bad pictures, temporary pictures (ie: pictures I download to share on Twitter/Fb) and screenshots...
  • I've personally found photos to have potential, but at the same time, it's very buggy and in some cases, not very user friendly. Examples: I I've seen multiple users mention a feature where, when deleted from the cloud, the photo is also deleted from the local device. Mine doesn't work like this. I have to delete from the cloud and then delete the device copy as well. I've had another user tell me there's an option for the device copy to auto-delete after backup, but I don't have this option. My option for selecting which folders to backup doesn't function at all. The web app is horrid when it comes to editing photos. If I'm on my desktop running the current release of Chrome, selecting the edit option on a photo makes it look like you're looking at it through those old red and blue "3D" glasses. Editing on the phone is at least functional. And then there's the user friendliness. Adding a photo to an album/collection is a CHORE. With most organizers, you simply drag the photo into the photo/album/collection that you want. If that's not an option you can usually select the photo, and then "move to destination." Nope, not here! You have to go into the collection, select add photos, and then go through your ENTIRE COLLECTION looking for that one photo that you want to move into the collection. Another issue that drives me nuts is the selection of original/high quality. If all of my photos are below the 16MP limit, selecting original or high quality doesn't alter them, but selecting original uses up my storage. Why not have a smart upload feature when selecting original? If photo > limit, use storage. If photo < limit, don't use storage (treat it as high quality). And their "auto-backup or nothing" stance is infuriating. Maybe I don't want to backup all of my photos? Maybe I have to take 20 shots to get a good one and simply want to backup THAT photo? With auto-backup turned off, there needs to be an option to share the photo to Photos AND select which collection it's going in from the start! How is this not included? It was in the prior Google Photos, it's in Drive, Dropbox, One Drive, heck, it's even in the old Picasa app! Lastly, the inability to sync a local copy to my phone is really disappointing. This needs to be an option for proper two way sync. I don't like having to buffer when I watch a video that I've taken. Same applies to photos, as I used to be able to say, "Here's a photo of my son!" Now, it's quickly followed by, "wait for it..." As previously stated, this app has potential, but it REALLY needs some polish. Given that this was broken out from an existing app and not a complete re-write, many of these problems are inexcusable.
  • //Another issue that drives me nuts is the selection of original/high quality. If all of my photos are below the 16MP limit, selecting original or high quality doesn't alter them, but selecting original uses up my storage.// Even if your photos are below 16MP, Google compresses them if you choose "High quality". The resolution stays the same, but the file size will be smaller. "Original" is just like a folder in the cloud, nothing changes.
  • That's what I thought, so I did a test. I uploaded a folder of photos under "high quality." The file name and formats remained the exact same (Ie, PNG didn't convert to JPG). I then downloaded them and compared to the source files. Unchanged (file size, etc.). The only thing that I didn't check was MD5. Basically, no, it doesn't re-compress anything uploaded under high quality. If it did, they'd at least use the same format for all photos (JPG?) and videos (MP4?). Heck, some of my videos uploaded under HQ are still 3GP!
  • What if they are very large jpg? Also what if the compression might happen over time on the server side to save space?
    They are not promising originals. While I like the app features for search and browsing, I will stick with other solutions for photo backup.
  • "What if they are very large jpg?" None of mine have been altered yet. "Also what if the compression might happen over time on the server side to save space?" That would be counter productive, as conversion at upload would save the space up front. "They are not promising originals." They are, if you use the original setting. "I will stick with other solutions for photo backup." Go for it. There are many options. If you want original quality backups, Google promises at least 15GB for free (and there are other promos available). But if you find a better deal, take it.
  • If I take a photo with me 12MP camera of my phone it's about 3+MB if I let it sync it will become around 1.5MB. In high quality mode. I zoomed in and can't find much loss of detail do it's fine by me Posted via Android Central App
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  • For adding photos into a collection, did you try selecting the photo and pressing the "+" button (on the web interface it's in the upper-right.) There's an option to "Add to album" where you can choose an existing album to add it to.
  • Between the gallery app on phone, google photo app on phone and picasa i have thousands of pics to delete, can delete from everywhere except picasa. all the same photos in all 3 apps, very frustrating
  • "If you take a photo on your phone and hit "delete" on your computer, the local file for that photo will be removed from your phone" Might need to be clear here, as this isn't the case for any Android I've owned. When you say "hit delete on your computer"... You're talking about Google Photos. Then that will be deleted from the 'cloud' (yep) but that has never then made my phone delete the LOCAL copies of the same photos...it just means (surely) that if I go to Google Photos on my phone, I won't find them there. (Which is very obvious unless you have no idea about cloud services, like my dad, who got confused about this part). Same as if I delete local photo files from my phone. I'd they have already been auto-uploaded to Google, they stay there. Just no longer on my phone as a 'hard copy' as such. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Correct, but in reading comments, either this functionality is consistent, or many people can't distinguish between local copy and cloud copy (and Google was no help in how they presented this).
  • For me, if I delete a pic from the website it really does delete from my phone locally (in the Motorola gallery app). And even when I restore from the Trash on the website it puts the picture back on my phone.
  • This is behavior I'd like to see, to confirm the inconsistency. I'm open to meeting anyone in downtown Seattle today to compare devices and see if one of us is mistaken (I'm mostly human) or if this is a flaw in the app. I know Andrew and several of the readers here are also in Seattle, so this invite extends to any of them.
  • So if your phone fills up like mine does, and you want to delete those 2000 photos or whatever...you have to make sure you select to 'delete local copy' via the menu? This is where new age Android is going to flop against Apple IMO (and I don't like Apple!!)...Android devices and services are now so inconsistent. It's not cool! Posted via the Android Central App
  • -Open the photos app
    -Tap the hamburger button (three lines, top left)
    -Select "Device Folders"
    -Anything that you delete here will ONLY delete from your device. So select all and delete after backup is done.
  • The way I've described here is the intended way for it to work and the way it works with my account and devices. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Andrew, if you're in Seattle today and catch a break, care to meet up and demonstrate? It seems to not be working on my device as you describe.
  • "A writer went missing in Seattle today....." Haha :) Posted via the Android Central App
  • Good point. I should have clarified. Andrew, I'm the guy in the dark glasses. I'll be standing near my van with the dark tinted windows. Come on in! Oh, and would you like some candy? P.S. I already got it demonstrated to me in the office. Works on LG G2 w/KitKat (rooted, custom ROM, not sure which), not working on 2013 Moto X on KitKat (unmodified, not rooted).
  • Question: Lets say i have around 20GB of photos in my Google Photos. What happens if i add a new device to my account ? All these photos will be downloaded to my new device ? Or just visible in the app ? Same for uploading from pc ?
  • Visible in the app. Look at it like this. Anything that you auto-backup is in "the cloud" The Google photos app is merely a viewer. Similar to how a Gmail app lets you view emails from the server, the Photos app lets you view the photos/videos from the server, and interact with them, but they are never stored locally on your device (except for photos taken on the device).
  • Okay, i get it. I was not sure because of the message to sync the photos to all my devices.
  • Would like to consider using this full time but still too buggy to convince me to drop Photobucket. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's so much easier to use the photos app as a simple gallery without signing in and use one drive for backup. Just look at the comments here. Talk about confusing.
  • That wouldn't work for me. The only photos viewable by the Photos app would be photos taken on or manually loaded on my phone. If I upload photos from my computer to One Drive, they won't show in the Photos app. If I am mistaken and you have an easy way to make this happen between the two apps, please educate me. I used Foldersync to od this, but I'm looking for a more native way to do it.
  • I agree if you want to be able to see the photos in the cloud in your gallery app (Photos in this case) then Photos and Drive would be ideal if you can get it working properly. I very rarely look at photos on my phone that I have backed up and when I do I just view them in One Drive.
  • In this case, Foldersync is the best option I've. It will automatically sync your cloud stored files to your device on a schedule that you define (also with limitations for wifi, LTE, 3G, roaming, etc.).