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How to Use Google Photos as an Archive for Your Travel, Event & Family Photos

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This post describes how to use Google Photos as a central archive repository for your photos and videos.

We describe how to organize old photos and create naming conventions to make finding and sharing photos easier.

I use Google Photos (and an external hard drive as a backup mechanism) as my central repository to archive and organize thousands of photos and videos.

I now have an organization and naming convention system that can be applied on a retroactive and go-forward basis. Locating and sharing photos has never been easier.

To get started, track down all your photos across physical devices and cloud based platforms.

This includes Apple iPhotos, Google Photos, Yahoo Flickr, Dropbox, Box, Facebook, Instagram and others. If you have hard copies of photos, I plan to outline my process for digitizing those in a separate post.

After I went through the exercise of corralling all of my photos, I had over 250,000 photos and 1,000 videos chronicling life events across family photos, school, travel, events and more…yikes.

If you’re starting with a ton of unsorted photos, upload them into Google Photos. Google may be able to scrape some metadata (information about the picture) and provide some initial organization by year.

Create albums organized by year for immediate organization.

Example: Year — Year in Review

You can use any kind of verbiage to replace “Year in Review.” When I am looking through Google Photos and see this tag, I know that this particular album is from a certain year but does not have any organization to it beyond date. As long as the naming convention is consistent, it doesn’t matter the language you use.

The further back in time you go, the less photos you likely have to share, especially prior to the advent of phone cameras (around 2007-8 or so).

You can later go back and use the organization and naming convention described below.

To organize your photos on a go-forward basis, use a standardized filing and naming convention each time you add new photos to Google.

Consistently apply this method to albums created for general home photos, trips, multiple cities, and events. It may take time to make a habit of it; have a friend or family member remind you if they see shared albums look disorganized.

General naming convention for photos taken at home

Country Name + Year — Home City Name — Home

Example: USA 2020 — San Francisco — Home

Trip naming convention

Country Name + Year — City Name

Example: France 2020 — Paris

Multiple cities within a region naming convention

If you visit multiple cities within a given region, but there aren’t enough photos to justify an entire album, put everything into one album.

Use the naming city convention displayed above and list all the other cities in the region that are featured within this particular album.

Event naming convention

Ex. Country + Year — Event Description, Location

Same city, multiple cameras types naming convention

For the more pedantic among us: if you use multiple cameras with different resolution levels (iPhone camera vs. a Nikon) create two separate albums with the same naming convention above + camera name. Due to the difference in photo resolution, a dedicated album for the higher resolution photos makes finding and sharing these photos much easier.

Use these naming conventions on an ongoing basis. If you have the time, you can go back and create albums.

The most important takeaway: having photo organization makes finding and sharing your photos much simpler.

One thing I don’t love about the Google Photos platform is that you can’t remove a single person in that album. To delete a member of the album, you have to delete the album and re-share it out to the group.

Finding photos of a particular person: create an auto-update album on your travel companions and family members.

Google’s artificial intelligence auto update detects changes to your account. Create a folder for a specific person (see directions below). Every time you add a photo to Google Photos, Google will recognize that there is a new photo, detect who is in the image, and automatically add it to the appropriate album.

For family members: You can share this album to the broader family. This creates an automatic archive of photos of a particular person.

How to create an auto-update album:

  • Click “Albums” on the left hand navigation
  • On the top navigation, click “People & Pets”
  • Select a particular person’s image — We will choose “Sophia” for this example
  • Click Sophia’s image
  • Edit the name of this person next to the photo thumbnail
  • A list of all the photos (up to 20,000) will appear of this person
  • Click “Share as Album”
  • Google will create an album
  • Name it “[Name of Person] – Auto Update Album”
  • Optional: Send it that person or a group of people

On a go-forward basis, Google will add every new photo you add to Google Photos to a particular person’s album. Google automatically sends a notification to anybody that is part of that album.

A benefit in this approach:

  • You don’t have to remember to send friends and family pictures.
  • You have an entire archive of a single person’s photos.

How do you organize your photos?

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