Google Photos free unlimited storage is ending – here’s everything you need to know

The Bad News

On 11/11/20 Google announced that their free unlimited storage for High Quality photos in Google Photos will come to an end on June 1, 2021. This is a big change. Many people chose Google specifically for the fact that they could upload ALL their photos and videos without any concern for cost of storage. There is no other comparable free service.

The Good News

Right now (November 2020) the unlimited free storage is still in effect. Any and all photos and videos that you upload to Google Photos using the High Quality setting is stored for free. Specifically, High Quality content does not count against any storage allotment you have in your account. Any High Quality content already in your Google Photos account when the change takes effect in June will be grandfathered in. For example, I currently have nearly 100,000 photos and videos being stored, for free, in my Google Photos account – roughly 450GB. Nothing will change for me on June 1 regarding those 100,000 photos and videos, I will continue to get free storage for my 450GB of content. Only newly uploaded photos and videos after June 1, 2021 will count. I will still use the High Quality setting because they take about half the storage space of Original Quality.

The Details

  • Every Google account is given 15GB of Free storage that is shared among Google Photos, GMail, and Google Drive.
  • In Google Photos, you have the option of uploading photos and videos in Original Quality or High Quality. High Quality is compressed and takes up less space.
  • Right now (before June 1, 2021) High Quality content does not count against your 15GB of storage.
  • After June 1, 2021 High Quality content will count against your allotment.

If you have a Google Pixel phone:

Google’s own Pixel phones came with special storage promotional features. When you purchased a Pixel phone (1-3) you got free unlimited storage even for Original Quality photos and videos, but only the original Pixel 1 was unlimited Original Quality forever.

  • Pixel 1 = free Original Quality uploads forever
  • Pixel 2 & 2XL = Original Quality uploads free until January 16, 2021.
  • Pixel 3 and 3XL Original Quality uploads free until Jan 31, 2022
  • Pixel 4 announced at “Made by Google Event” No more free original quality backup for Pixel. See support page here.

With this new announcement about ending free storage for High Quality, the Pixel is once again in a special position. For the current models of Pixel phones, 1-5, Free unlimited storage for High Quality content remains in effect even after June 1, 2021. They are exempt from the new policies. No such guarantees for any Pixel phone models (6?) that come after June 2021. Here is the official help page on specific details about Pixel storage policies.

  • Pixel 1-5 = free High Quality uploads even after June 1, 2021

What happens if I am over quota and don’t pay?

If you exceed your storage allotment, you won’t be able to upload any more photos or videos. You will need to delete content. Google gives us a tool to help find content to delete. It’s called the Storage Manager. Also check out this help page: Free up Google Storage Space.

If you choose to pay for more storage, that makes you a Google One customer. The current pricing is

  • 100 GB = $1.99/mo or $19.99/yr
  • 200 GB = $2.99/mo or $29.99/yr
  • 2 TB = $9.99/mo or $99.99/yr
  • 10 TB = $49.99/mo
  • Here is a calculator to get a rough idea of how much storage you need

If you remain over quota and do not pay, you will be given 2 years, and many reminders, to correct the situation. After 2 years your account is subject to being deleted.

Links to official documentation about this storage change.

See the official announcement here: Updating Google Photos’ storage policy to build for the future. Read the Google Help Center article here: Storage changes for Google Photos. Read about how the new policy affects your account here: Update to Google Photos Storage policy. This update includes an estimate of how long your current storage will last.

What you should do now

There is nothing you need to do now. You can just keep using Google Photos as always. Check the storage policy statement in your account. In there you will see that Google has estimated how long your free storage will last given your current usage patterns. Be prepared to pay for one of the storage plans at that time.

If you plan to continue using Google Photos, you should: (videos coming soon)

  1. Before June 1, 2021: upload all those photos that have been on your list. If you’re like me and you need a deadline in order to get things done, now you have your deadline! Make sure the setting is on High Quality, and anything you upload between now and June will remain free.
  2. Before June 1, 2021: Check your current storage usage for Google Photos. It should be 0. If not, then you have some photos and videos that were uploaded in Original Quality and you should recover that storage. It’s easy to do by clicking the Recover storage button in your Google Photos settings. If the button is not there, just go to your settings and switch back and forth from the Original quality setting to High Quality and you will be offered the option to recover storage.
  3. Anytime: Learn about the tools Google is making to help you control the amount of storage you are using. Some are already available and more will be coming.
  4. Anytime: regardless of this new storage policy you should have a process of copying your best photos from Google Photos to your local computer or another cloud storage service. Here’s a video on my process: 574. Downloading from Google Photos to local hard drive.

If you plan to stop using Google Photos, you should: (videos coming soon)

  • Inform yourself about the photos and videos you have stored in Google Photos and make sure that you have a copy of them somewhere else.
  • If you want to leave Google altogether, the easiest way to delete all your data is to delete your account.
  • If you want to keep your Google account and delete all your photos from Google Photos, you need to select all the photos and videos (this is done in chunks) and send to trash, then empty the trash.

Alternatives to Google Photos

  1. Flickr (free for up to 1,000 photos $50/year for more)
  2. Amazon Prime Photos (unlimited photo storage included with Prime membership, videos limited to 5GB then $2/mo for 100 GB)
  3. Microsoft OneDrive (5GB free, 1TB included with Microsoft 365, $2/mo for 100GB otherwise)

2 thoughts on “Google Photos free unlimited storage is ending – here’s everything you need to know”

    1. I need a bit of clarification David. Are you trying to get your photos IN to Google Photos? or OUT of Google photos?
      To get them in is UPLoading them and all you do is install the Google Photos app on your iPhone and turn on the Backup and Sync setting. To get them out means DOWNloading them from your Google Account in the cloud to your computer.

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