A huge Google Photos change is coming - and you may have to pay

Google Photos is changing how photos and videos count toward your Google account storage, and it's unlikely to come as welcome news for fans of the service. Until now, Google Photos has allowed free, unlimited uploads of "High Quality" compressed images in the cloud; from June 1, 2021, that's changing.

At the moment – and indeed until the end of May 2021 – there are two backup settings that matter for Google Photos. If you want the original quality images and videos from your phone, camera, or other device, you can select that. However, they'll count against whatever amount of storage you have left in your Google account, whether free or paid.

Alternatively, Google Photos offers a "High Quality" option. There, in return for allowing Google to compress the content, it has offered unlimited storage. It's that part, Google confirmed today, which is changing.

As of June 1 of next year, High Quality uploads will also count toward the account quota. That decision, David Lieb, Product Lead for Google Photos, explained today comes down to preserving the future of the service, in no small part based on whether it's financially sustainable.

"Since so many of you rely on Google Photos as the home of your life's memories, we believe it's important that it's not just a great product, but that it is able to serve you over the long haul," Lieb wrote on Twitter. "To ensure this is possible not just now, but for the long term, we've decided to align the primary cost of providing the service (storage of your content) with the primary value users enjoy (having a universally accessible and useful record of your life)."

The change will only impact newly-uploaded content from that June 1, 2021 switchover. Existing High Quality uploads will remain exempt from users' storage quotas, including anything you upload between now and then. Based on current usage, Lieb says, more than 80-percent of those relying on Google Photos will be able to keep uploading their media for about three more years before the 15GB of free storage Google includes with each personal account runs out.

Anybody who wants more than that, meanwhile, will have to pay for a Google One plan. That's priced from $1.99 per month for 100GB. Those who bought a Pixel or Nexus device with unlimited storage bundled in, meanwhile, will not be affected by the change.

Google plans to launch a new tool, before the change takes effect, which will help people filter out photos they might not want to keep. That could mean too dark or blurry images, or videos that are too long.

As ever, the transition of a free service to a paid one is likely to meet with frustration from some users. All the same, the reality is that Google Photos has become one of Google's most successful products since the functionality was spun out of Google+ in 2015. Like with other free Google services, there had been some concern among keen Google Photos users that, without a clear strategy to more broadly monetize it, the search giant might instead simply add it to their growing graveyard of discontinued services.