Google Photos AI Helps You Search Travel Photos

Search travel photos for objects and Google Photos AI can find things like plants in the Topiary Park photos from Columbus OH

A search in my Google Photos for “plants” and “trees” turned up photos I’d forgotten about from a visit to the Topiary Park in Columbus, Ohio. One section of this pretty park is a topiary re-creation of  Georges Seurat’s 1884 painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” 

If you’ve ever gone back through your photo archives and said, “I totally forgot about seeing that place,” or even, “I totally forgot I even went there!” then come sit by me, friend.

I have two backups for my phone photos – Google Photos and Dropbox. It’s great that my pics are safe, but as we all know in the age of digital photography, trying to search travel photos or family photos or really anything from the digital pile can be very time-consuming. Now that the world is free from the constraints of film processing, it is easy to take a ton of photos, so we do.

The good news is that if there’s one thing Google knows how to do, it is to be a great search engine, and that also applies to Google Photos. It uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to help you find photos from certain dates, certain locations, with certain people, and with certain items in the photo.

Since I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting outside into parks and nature preserves, I decided to see if Google’s AI and machine learning could find photos I’d taken from outdoor places in the last three years or so. In looking for nature-related photos, I did a search in my Google Photos for “plants” and “trees.”

Note: I’m using an Android phone – a Samsung Galaxy S10 – so I can’t speak to similar search functions for iCloud photo storage that iPhone users use for backup.

River view from part of Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh PA

River view with trees from Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Learn more about what you’ll find there in “A Walk Around Downtown Pittsburgh.”

How does this work? From a Google blog post about machine learning:

“First we get a bunch of examples of photos labeled “dog” (thanks internet!). We also get a bunch of photos labeled “cat,” … Then the computer looks for patterns of pixels and patterns of colors that help it guess if it’s a cat or dog (or…). First, it just makes a random guess at what good patterns might be to identify dogs. Then it looks at an example dog image, and sees if its current patterns get it right. If it’s mistakenly calling a cat a dog, then it makes some tiny adjustments to the patterns it’s using. Then it looks at a cat image, and again tweaks its patterns to try to get that one right. And it repeats this about a billion times: look at an example, and if it’s not getting it right, tweak the patterns it’s using to do a better job on that one example.”

So how well did my “plants” and “trees” search do in finding forgotten outdoor places from travel experiences?

Very well. Here are some examples:

This photo of the park area around the Waco Suspension Bridge didn’t make it into my post “An Afternoon in Waco, Not at Magnolia” but I remember waiting around for the sunset light to hit:

Branding the Brazos sculpture plus Waco Suspension Bridge at sunset Waco TX

Small part of “Branding the Brazos” Chisholm Trail sculpture to the left, plus the Waco Suspension Bridge and some background trees on the Brazos River at sunset in Waco, Texas.

While exploring the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway in Kansas, I went a bit out of my way near Council Grove, KS to peer over a barbed wire fence at ruts left long ago by pioneer wagons on the Santa Fe Trail:

Santa Fe Trail Ruts sign on Flint Hills National Scenic Byway outside Council Grove Kansas

You can’t see much but some slightly dented areas in the earth amongst the grasses and trees, but I went looking for this Santa Fe Trail Ruts place anyway.

I never wrote about it, but spent a few days in Long Beach, California attending and speaking at the Tourism Academy conference. Google’s AI found the plant wall that I stopped and admired outside of the BO-beau restaurant downtown:

Plant wall at BO-beau restaurant Long Beach California

Google Photos AI said yep, those are plants on that wall.

I also attended and spoke at Kentucky’s state tourism conference when it was held in Owensboro, KY, and had completely forgotten that I spent time tracking down a famous sassafras tree in town. Thanks, Google!

Historic sassafras tree in Owensboro Kentucky

Let’s be honest; it’s fun to write sassafras over and over. SASSAFRAS. 😃

Google pulled up a lush, green photo that I thought I’d included in my post about Seattle’s incredible Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, but I hadn’t and so here it is:

Search travel photos in Google Photos for plants and get Chihuly Garden and Glass Seattle greens plus red

Google obviously had no problem finding plants, even glass ones, in Chihuly’s lush gardens.

How do you search travel photos, then sort and organize them? Let us know in the comments.

(All photos by the author)

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