The new google Photos app for smart phones

I don’t know about you, fellow “smart” phone user, but I have yet to find the holy grail of photo management apps for my iPhone. In this amazing day and age of running water and drive-through coffee shops, why oh why is it so hard for Apple to allow us to name, describe, and search for our photos in our phones? Oh, sure, we can mark a little heart on our favorites, or put photos in albums, but sometimes I just want to name a photo and search for it by name. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. 

There are 3rd party apps that allow you to do this amazing feat of modern computing, but they also seem to require you to import all your photos from your built-in photo library. I don’t want to have to duplicate or import photos every time I take more. C’mon. If anyone out there is using a photo management app that automatically reads the camera roll AND allows you to name, describe, tag, and search the photos. Please post it in the comments! I beg of you!

In the mean time, Google has released a new free photo management app, called Google Photos. It still will not allow you to name your photos – like we do with all other objects, people, and every digital file in our entire computing world, but it does do some of it’s own magic that is pretty cool – and a step up from the Apple Photos app. Of course, since it’s Google, it’s free and allows powerful searching – although the search is limited to things it automatically deciphers for you. Fortunately, it is pretty smart about figuring those things out. Maybe I don’t need to manually name or describe anything anymore. Can google do the thinking for me? 

Google photos figures out the most photographed people and places in my life as well.

Google photos figures out the most photographed people and places in my life as well.

When I first launched the app, it got busy rummaging through my photos (automatically; no need to “import”). It built categories for faces of people that were common in my photos. It also grouped all my photos by where they were taken – so each vacation, camping trip, and lunar visit had it’s own little set. Then it did something really cool, it started creating groups for common subject matter that I photograph! Apparently I take a lot of photos of Bikes, Cars, Mountains, Flowers, Forests, Food, Lakes, Sky, Lions, Beaches, and Elephants. I was truly amazed at the speed and accuracy of which it ingested and analyzed my life. 

"these are a few of my favorite things..."

"these are a few of my favorite things..."

So, if I tap on one of my son’s faces, it will show me all photos containing that offspring. So far, it seems to be 100% accurate – even finding photos from years past, where they obviously look a little different. I can use the search to actually find a photo by name – although you have to actually find a way to name the photo in another app or on your computer. What’s cool, however, is that when I search for “bird”, for example, it will actually turn up bird photos, even though that wasn’t a category it initially created as one of mine. It seems google is hard at work in the background trying to recognize everything in my photos. To be honest, there was one “bird” photo that was actually a deer in some tall grass, but if you squint your eyes, it kinda looks like a bird taking off. When I searched for "dog" it found all the photos of my cute pup, and also a penguin. I’ll cut you some slack, google. 

That could be a "bird", right?

That could be a "bird", right?

The app will also automatically back up all the photos you take, in medium resolution or full resolution. If you use medium, you have free, unlimited storage. If you use full resolution, you use whatever storage you have left in your regular google account that you use for Drive, Docs, etc. You can always buy more space, of course. 

The app also has features to create mini movies, stories, and collages from your images and video. I haven’t tried all these gadgets yet, but I’m sure they are fun ways to share your view of the world. Of course, you can do basic edit and cropping to your images, like you can in the Apple photos app. Google also owns Snapseed, which is a nice photo editing app, so you can pass them on to that app easily if you want super fancy schmancy editing capabilities.

The app is new, so there are some quirks. Namely, it seems to hang up sometimes when you tap to apply or do something. It seems it happens while it is also busy uploading and backing up your images in the background. It doesn't "crash", per se, it just doesn't respond for a few seconds, then it seems to catch up and all is fine. 

There is also a dedicated website to peruse and play with your photos: So when you backup and tweak your images using the app for iPhone or Android, it synchronizes with the website too. Sharing photos is really easy as you can generate links to email or SMS someone. I love the cool way it creates sharable albums too, although there doesn't seem to be a way to share photos without letting them be downloadable. I guess if you're choosing to share it, you're putting it out there anyway, right?

So, while I have yet to find the perfect photo management app for my iPhone, the Google Photos app is definitely a step in the right direction. If they only could allow us to rename, describe, and tag our own photos, then it would be near perfect. Together with my other favorite tool for transferring photos from phone to computer, PhotoSync, I now have great tools to manage my photos. All I need now are similarly powerful tools to manage the kids in my photos. 

Lightroom trick for fast sharing images to the cloud

I love it when I can pull together several great apps to work as one. A common task for me, and probably most photographers, is to work on some images in Lightroom and Photoshop then send copies of them to someone via a cloud service like Dropbox or a plethora of other options. I've tried many of them. Believe me. I'm a bit of a freak like that. Dropbox is great – I use it every day and it's awesome for collaborating on files or backup. However, my favorite way to simply share files is with the super simple app and service called Droplr.

Droplr is a cloud based file sharing service. The real beauty of it though lies in the desktop companion app that lives in your menu bar or system tray. You simply drop files on it, they upload, and a shortened link is automatically copied to your clipboard – ready to paste in an email. It couldn't get much easier…or could it?

Droplr installed in the Mac menu bar

Droplr installed in the Mac menu bar

Since I use Lightroom for all my image management, I wanted a way to export images directly from Lightroom, have multiple images zipped up in a single archive, and then automatically uploaded to Droplr for me. Turns out it wasn't that tough to do, with the help of a little Lightroom export preset tweaking.

So with this setup I can select any number of images in Lightroom, choose the export preset I've saved, and let 'er rip. Seconds or minutes later I hear a blip from Droplr and I know my images are online and a short link is ready to paste in an email or IM. Blamm-O!

Here's the steps to create this yourself on a Mac. You'll need a Droplr account  which is free for the basic version – although the Pro account for $3.99/mo. is well worth it to me. You'll also need the Droplr desktop app, which is free in the Mac App store. Of course, you'll need Lightroom too.

  1. Create a free Droplr account
  2. Install the free Droplr app
  3. Test that Droplr is working by dropping a small file on it in your menu bar.
  4. Open Lightroom and go to the export dialog box
  5. Choose the options you want (or copy mine)
  6. Make sure the final step is "Open in other application…" and choose Droplr
  7. Save these settings as an export preset

My Lightroom export preset settings. Be sure to change any that you need, including renaming or save location.

Tip: Make several variations of this export preset – one for low res images with watermarks, hi-res without watermarks for print, medium res for screen viewing, etc. Save each as a unique preset and choose the appropriate one at export time.

Droplr can also share videos, screen captures, and simple notes via it's menu app. If you have a supported browser in use, it will also give you the option to shorten and share the current URL you're at. It's super slick and one of my most used little apps!

Do you have another favorite way to automate your day? Share it in the comments and save us all some time!