Google Photos sorting and time zone issue

nontavit
5 min readMay 30, 2017

Update 22/10/2018 : This blog applied to the old “Google Photos Backup” which is now discontinued by Google for their new “Backup and Sync”. I’ve update the situation in the new blog here.

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Let dig into the issue, I happened to travel aboard several times a year. While I was on the trip I usually took a lot of photos and back them up using Google Photos Backup on Windows when came back home.

The problem start when I use several devices to take photo.. A Mirrorless Full-Frame Camera, M4/3 Mirrorless camera, GoPro Heroes 5 and Smartphone. After I back all photos from these devices up. The photos are sorted out of order !!! And it’s not my fault, all of the devices has been configure date/time correctly. The EXIF information also be as it should and somehow Google Photos didn’t sorted them correctly.

After I did some research on google. Here’s what I can conclude. Note that all photos taken in GMT+1 and upload to Google Photos in GMT+7.

From above table, we would expected Google Photos to sort them in 1–5, but it will turn out to be 1 3 5 2 4. And you could have tons of photos in between 1,3,5 and 2,4 of which having same issues as these 5 photos. You can imagine that it would turn out to be a total mess.

So here are the fact about how Google Photos work

  1. If GPS Coordinates is presented in photos, Google Photos will treat the Date/Time correctly.
  2. If GPS Coordinates is NOT presented, Google Photos will assume that the photo is taken in uploaded time zone/location (which is determine by your internet connection IP — you can’t just change Windows timezone setting to fool them)
    In this case, if you took photo in GMT+1 and upload in GMT+7. All photo will be treat as they were taken in GMT+7.
    Example, photo taken at 10 AM GMT+1, upload in GMT+7. Google will treat that the photo is taken at 10 AM GMT+7 — equal to 4AM GMT+1.
  3. Even if you take your photo by the device that has GPS tag capability. Don’t even think it will be OK all the time. Sometime if the device (GoPro Heroes 5 and Nexus 6P in my case) can’t locate GPS. It will NOT record GPS coordinates information in your photo. It usually happen if you are inside the building.
    Consequence ? Photo with GPS data will be treat as (1) and those without GPS will be treat as (2). A pair of photos taken 1 minute apart, one with GPS and another without, will be sorted as if they are taken 6 hour and 1 minute apart from my example.
  4. In other related topic, if you happen to turn on Location History in your smartphone. Google Photos will be able to guess where you took the photo and do something with it. The problem is, in my case, it mess up even more. Let’s what it did to some of mine.
    If it determine that you take this photo in GMT+1 because of your location history say you were there. It will sort the photo accordingly. The problem is it somehow they do it wrong.

Let see what I have here. It is so obvious that I have to be on one of The London Eye capsule to take this photo, right ?

Yes, I was there — at 5.24 PM.
EXIF is captured from Lightroom.

Now look at the date time Google Photos have done to this photo after I uploaded. It say the photo taken at 6:24 PM GMT+1. Then check out the location panel on the right, they show that the photo location is at Harrods.

Yes, I was there — at 6.24 PM.

I have to idea why Google Photos pin the wrong time and location to this photo. The photo itself have EXIF of capture time, and they know where I am at that moment from my Location History.
They should be able to tell that the photo was taken at 5:24 PM (from EXIF) and the estimated location is right around London Eye (from Location History)

Why Why Why ?

Any yes, even worst, Google Photos did not do this for every photo… you will felt like pulling all your hair out when they did this to only 100 photos out of 2,000 you have upload. OMG !

Solution

If you wanted the photo to sort correctly, you have few choices.

A. Upload the photos at the same timezone it was taken. It seem to be easy if you are not tourist. Not everyone will have strong internet connection or laptop with them when travel. MOST people upload photos later when they are back home.

B. Remove GPS data from all your photo before upload. This will (likely) help you in sorting issue, but is still not a perfect solution, let’s hope Google Photos won’t do (4) above to some of the photos. If they do, you will be doomed again.

C. Add correct GPS data to all your photo before upload. This is by far the best solution if you can’t do (A). But you need to put some effort to do so. If you want every photo to have precise location, you’ll need to do it 1 by 1. Most people will just add one location in the country or just the city location to the photo, which will be just fine.

Feel like trying this solution? Head to http://www.geosetter.de/en/ to download GeoSetter program. It will help you tag GPS location into your photo easily.

That’s it for now. Hope this help !

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