How to delete photos from Google Photos: delete from cloud, phone, or both?

If you use Google Photos and the trashcan icon, that’s one kind of delete. If you choose the menu and “Delete from Device”, that’s another kind of delete. And, if you use a photo gallery app other than Google Photos to delete, that is yet another kind of delete. It is so important to know what you are deleting when you press the button! Yes, it can be confusing, make sure you have an extra backup first. This is a common question with Google Photos. For lots more detail, see the official help page on Google Photos for deleting.

First, for some background

When you take a photo or video on your phone, it is stored on your phone. If you have enabled the Google Photos Backup feature, a copy of the photo is uploaded to the cloud where it is stored on a remote Google server. This allows you to access your photos from any device that is connected to the internet – just go to the website Photos.Google.com. With your Google account, you get 15GB of free cloud storage, then you need to pay a nominal amount for more. Some people would rather delete photos from their Google account (in the cloud) than pay for more storage. But they do not want to delete the device copy. Other people are running out of storage on their phone and want to delete that copy without deleting cloud copy.

In this article, I’m going to tell you how to delete photos in 3 different ways: 1) from both cloud and device – the default, 2) from device only – easy, and 3) from cloud only – hard. Realize that it is Google Photo’s mission to collect your lifetime of photos in the cloud and work with them there. Once that is done, it doesn’t really care about the device copy any more. So, Google Photos has no problem deleting from the device because it is working with the cloud copy. But, to delete from the cloud while leaving the device copy is counter to its mission.

“Device” refers to the device (phone) that took the photo.
“Cloud” refers to your Google Photos account.

Some advice

  • Deleting photos in one place and not another can be very messy and have unintended consequences. My advice is to only delete photos/videos that are garbage – you want them gone from everywhere. Use the Google Photos app on your phone to do this, not the native app like Samsung Gallery or Apple Photos. Use the trash can (bin) icon and confirm that the selected photos/videos will be deleted from everywhere.
  • If you’re running out of cloud storage space, pay for more – deleting from cloud while keeping photos on device simply doesn’t work with Google Photos unless you turn off auto-backup forever.
  • If you’re running out of space on your phone, you’re probably ready for a new phone. If that’s not possible, you can use the Google Photos “Free Up Space” command, but on iPhones be aware that the Apple iCloud copy will also be deleted if the iCloud setting is ON. If you want the iCloud copy of all your photos to be deleted – you’re good, that’s what will happen. If not, be sure to turn iCloud Photos OFF before using Free Up Space.
  • In any case, make sure you have a separate backup of your precious photos. Either downloaded to your computer’s hard drive, or another cloud storage service like Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon Photos, Dropbox, or Backblaze. The Google Support forum is loaded with queries from people like this: “I permanently deleted my photos from Google Photos, please restore them for me.” Sorry, it can’t be done. If you deleted, then emptied the trash (or it’s been more than 60 days) those photos are GONE, unless you have another backup.

On Pixel – or other phones where Google Photos is the only photo gallery app

  1. Delete from both cloud and device
    • From Google Photos on web or device: click the trashcan (bin) icon and approve by clicking “move to trash”
  2. Delete from device but not cloud
    • From Google Photos on device – delete one photo from device:
      Open 1 photo/video, swipe up, tap “Delete from Device”

      If you don’t see “Delete from device” then it’s not on the device.
    • From Google Photos on device – delete all photos from device:
      tap the account button, Free up Space, confirm “Free up xxx GB”
      note: this only deletes photos from device after confirming that they are safely in the cloud
  3. Delete from cloud but not device
    • This is not possible with the Pixel phone because Google Photos and your device photos are one and the same.

On iOS and Samsung, or other phones where there is a native gallery app in addition to Google Photos

  1. Delete from both cloud and device
    • From device that took the photo: using Google Photos app: Open photo, tap trashcan (bin) and confirm deletion. That confirms the deletion from the device as well as from Google Photos’ cloud copy.
    • From Google Photos on web (photos.google.com) = 2 steps:
      1-click the trashcan (bin) icon and approve by clicking “move to trash”
      2-go to GP app on device, tap account button, Review Out-of-Sync changes, Delete there
  2. Delete from device but not Google Photos cloud
    • Do not delete photos using the native gallery/Photos app because you may be deleting your only copy. The native app (Apple Photos or Samsung Gallery) does not know if any given photo was successfully uploaded to Google Photos cloud.
    • 1 photo: – using the Google Photos app, open the photo to delete and swipe up. Tap the option to “Delete from Device.” This will free up the space taken by that photo on the device, but it’s still there when viewing your library in Google Photos. It’s gone if you use the native gallery app like Apple Photos or Samsung Gallery.
      iOS notes: 1) this will also delete from Apple’s iCloud if ON because it syncs with device 2) Space will not be freed up immediately because Apple just moves the photos to the “Recently Deleted” album. You need to clear that before space is freed up on phone. After 30 days, they will be cleared automatically.
    • All photos: this is an option in the Google Photos app. Tap the account button (your face or initials in upper right) and tap “Free up Space.” If you don’t see those words, tap where it says “xxx items to delete from this device.” Either way, it will ask to confirm before deleting. It will only delete photos from your device that it knows have been safely backed up to the Google Photos cloud. You won’t see any difference while viewing your photos in Google Photos, but they will be gone if you use your native photo gallery app.
  3. Delete from cloud but not device: Google Photos’ purpose is to collect all your photos in the cloud. Wanting to delete from the cloud while still keeping the photo on your device goes against its design. There will be problems! I highly recommend making an additional copy of the photos affected (to your computer or to another cloud service.)
    It is possible to delete from the cloud while leaving the photos stored on your device, but you need to turn OFF the Backup setting on the Google Photos app, and leave it off. Basically defeating the purpose of Google Photos!
    • On phone – turn off Backup (account button top right, Photo Settings, Backup, turn OFF)
    • Using the web version of Google Photos delete the desired images. This deletes them from the cloud while leaving them on the device because it is not now a “device with backup turned on.”

      This is the message when deleting photos using the Web version of Google Photos.
      iOS – even with Backup off, the deleted photos will disappear while viewing with Google Photos. They are still on your device if you look at your camera roll using Apple Photos.
    • On phone – You cannot turn backup back on. If you do, the photo(s) deleted on the web will still be deleted from the phone when they are emptied from the trash and out-of-sync changes are deleted. So, if you want to do this (delete from cloud but not device) you will have to manually backup photos from now on.

      To manually backup – select the photos, then tap Back up that appears below.
    • Note: you can also add photos to an album. That will, of necessity, upload those photos.
    • See discussion about How to not delete from phone when deleting photos from Google Photos web.
    • Google Community Guide: Google Photos – Delete from Google Photos and not the camera roll iOS users.
    • Google Community Guide: Google Photos – Delete from Google Photos and not the gallery Android users.

About the author: Chris Guld has been teaching technology since 1983. Since 2010 her focus is on smartphones and photography. She wrote a book on Picasa in 2009, you can get her current book: Learn Google Photos at Amazon. Chris is a Diamond Level Google Product Expert in Google Photos.

MrsGeek
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