The new labeling system in Google Photos seems pretty straightforward: just assign a name to everyone in your camera roll and you won’t have any more problems finding a picture of Uncle John.
Yet there’s a lot more you can do. With some legwork your entire collection can be much better organized, with key photos tied to a friend or loved one. You can also have a little fun with some of the quirks in how Google Photos identifies faces.
Here’s an outline of what you can do with some of the new features first introduced in version 1.6.
Find your friends, family, presidents, and possibly your ex
Labeling is rather easy. Touch the magnifying glass icon from the main photos screen. You’ll see a label that says People. Underneath that will be six different individual faces that Google has found in your photo collection.
Touch more to see a longer list. You’ll probably notice some oddities—several paintings of French generals I photographed from at Versailles were listed here. So was former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, whose pictures I had taken when they spoke at my 2006 graduation from George Washington University.
There’s another hazard: if you have an ex-significant other, friend who is now an enemy, or someone else from your past that might you’d rather not see, they might show up here.
Fortunately, you can use Google Photos' new ability to hide select individuals from your photo groupings. Once you do this, that individual won't show up again among the autosuggestions.
How to get labeling and sorting
But back to happier thoughts. Touch one of the people you actually like from the list and you’ll see a batch of photos that includes them.
You’ll see a Who is this? label at the top. Touch that, and then type their name. If that person is in your contact list, you’ll see their name as an auto-suggestion.
Sometimes you’ll find a picture in this person’s grouping that doesn’t belong. Just touch and hold the picture, and tap the overflow button (three, vertical dots) and select Remove from results.
Now you can search for that person in your pictures and find anything they’re included in. It’s great for finding a picture to share on social media or just to peruse through the past.
Connect a person to your contacts
Now that your pictures are grouped by person, you can attach one of those images to their contact on your phone. Find a photo and touch the overflow button, then select Contact Photo.
Now when that individual calls, text, or emails you, that will be what you see. If your contacts are synced with your Google account, this should be the image across all your devices.
How to search better
Google Photos allows you add some context to your searches, such as “Jennifer snow.” When you do this, make sure the autosuggest comes up for that contact as you’ll get more accurate results (if you’ve labeled that person).
You have to wonder if these search capabilities will expand, say with “OK Google” functionality. It would be great to one day just say, “Ok Google, find pictures of John at the ocean” and have them come up automatically. That would be another powerful argument for everyone to go all-in with Google services.
Fun with images
As indicated earlier, it’s not just live humans that appear in your photo feed. One of the many faces was of a mummy that I photographed during a summer visit to the Louvre.
When I touched the thumbnail I found the mummy had been included in several other pictures, though some were obviously a different, dead Egyptian king.
So I did what any sensible individual would do: made a label. Now all the mummies, and some other unrelated pictures, were under the name of “The Mummy.”
This shows that you need to just experiment with Google Photos and see what else it will let you do. It’s by far the best option out there at finding and sorting pictures. But with how powerful Google’s machine learning has become there’s probably even more potential for what it could do in the future.