Google Photos “Free Up Space” command is scary

An opening screen of Google Photos encourages users to
remove photos from their device

The moral of the following story is this: Make a separate backup of your photos, either to your computer, or to another cloud storage like OneDrive or Dropbox BEFORE using the Free Up Space command on Google Photos.

Why? Because you want a true backup of your photos. Let’s step thru the count:
  1. You take a photo with your phone, at this point you have one copy of that photo
  2. Google Photos copies that photo online to your Google account, now you have two copies of that photo, the original on the phone and a backup in the cloud.
  3. Free Up Space removes the original photo from the phone, now you have only one copy of that photo.
One copy does not a backup make!

Here’s the story

One of the reasons that people start using Google Photos is the advertised capability to remove the photos from your phone after they’ve been “backed up” to Google Photos. I teach a lot of newbies how to use Google Photos and the conversation goes something like this:

User: I’ve installed Google Photos, so now I can delete my pictures from Gallery, right?Me: No, do not delete using the native Gallery or Photos app. You need to use the Google Photos command for removing photos User: What command is that?Me: In the Google Photos app, tap the 3-line menu, then Free Up Space. The Free Up Space command will delete them all in one tap, AND it will only delete photos from the phone that have been successfully uploaded to your Google Photos account.

So far, so good. My main goal is to teach them the proper command. I don’t want them using the trash can (which deletes both the device copy and the cloud copy) or using the native app to delete photos (which will delete photos that haven’t been uploaded to Google Photos yet.)
The second part of the conversation goes like this:

User: Ok, I tapped the Free Up Space command and now I get a message that 1,367 of my photos will be deleted and this cannot be undone. I’m scared.Me: Good! That tells me that your photos are precious to you. Let’s be double-sure they’re safe before you delete the originals from the phone. If you do these two things first, you can Free Up Space without fear …

  1. View your photos on a computer. If you can open a browser on a computer, go to and log in with your Google Account username and password, you should see all your photos. This will give you the confidence that they have, indeed, been copied from your phone to your Google account, AND, that you know the username and password for that account!
  2.  If you have another cloud storage account with sufficient space, such as Dropbox, OneDrive, or Amazon Prime Photos – they all have the ability to automatically upload photos from your phone, similar to Google Photos. I use OneDrive. I have a Terabyte of storage there because I pay $69/year for Office 365. There is a OneDrive app for my iPhone with a setting to upload all photos. Only after I see that is complete, do I use the Free Up Space on Google Photos.

    If you don’t have another cloud storage service, you can connect your phone to your computer, or an OTG Flash drive to copy all photos to that storage. You can also connect your phone wirelessly to any hard drive, using a travel router like the one we demonstrate here.

    Note: Apple’s iCloud Photo Library is yet another cloud backup solution, but if you use that, you cannot use the Free Up Space command because iCloud will sync the deletions across all your Apple devices when they are removed from device.

Love your photos? Back them up!

Chris Guld is President and Teacher-in-Chief at She has been in computer training and support since 1983. She is now a Top Contributor for the Google Photos Forum, owner of the blog, and author of Mrs. Geek’s Guide to Google Photos
She loves to teach! If you want to learn, you’ve come to the right place.

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