One of the best features of Google Photos is the way your photo collection can be displayed on many different screens.
For example, if you have a Google Nest Hub, Google Photos essentially turns it into a smart photo frame. On Android TV and Chromecast devices, Google Photos can deliver the images in “Ambient” screen saver mode. You can even turn Pixel phones into a place for Google Photos when using Google’s Pixel Stand Wireless Charger.
But until recently, my desktop PC didn’t receive the same treatment. Neither Windows nor Mac offer many dynamic background options, and they certainly don’t integrate with Google̵
Fortunately, a program called John’s Background Switcher changes all that. The software, which is free to download on Windows (and an $ 8 purchase on Mac), can automatically refresh your desktop background with images from a wide variety of sources, including Google Photos. And because Google Photos makes it easy to create albums full of specific faces, you can constantly view new photos of friends and family on your desktop.
Setting up Google Photos with John’s Background Switcher (which I’ll call “JBS” from now on) isn’t as intuitive as it could be. But once you’ve done it, you may never want to go back to boring, static wallpapers.
Prepare Google Photos for the project
For this story, I’m going to assume that you already use Google Photos and are somewhat familiar with how it works. (If not, here’s a handy primer.) However, I’ll suggest using the “Live Albums” feature in Google Photos, which uses facial recognition to automatically update albums over time.
If you haven’t created a live album yet, go to the Albums section of Google Photos and select ‘Create Album’ in the top right corner of your screen. Add a title for the album and click ‘Select people and pets’. You will then see a menu of faces that you can select. Anyone you click will have all of your photos from them added to the album, including new ones you take later.
Set John’s Background Switcher
For Windows you can install JBS via the green download link on this page. (Mac users must purchase JBS from the developer’s website for $ 8, or from the Mac App Store for $ 9.)
After installing JBS, a settings screen should appear. You can also access this screen by clicking the JBS icon in the Windows taskbar and then selecting ‘Settings’.
From this screen, select ‘Authorize’ or ‘Accounts’, then select Google Photos and click ‘Connect’. Follow the login prompts in your web browser and then paste your browser authorization code into JBS.
Now go back to the JBS main menu on Windows or the “Picture Sets” menu on Mac. Select ‘Add’ or the small + button and then select ‘Google Photos’. Under ‘Choose from’, select ‘Choose an album’, then press the small radio button next to the ‘Album’ menu below. Here you can select any album you have created in Google Photos.
JBS may not immediately refresh with new photos when you make these changes. To activate the changes manually, right-click on the JBS icon in the Windows taskbar and select “Next background”. After about 10 seconds, your desktop background should switch to any image from your Google Photos album.
By default, JBS is refreshed every hour with a new image, but you can change the frequency from the “Toggle” menu.[ Get more tech advice in your inbox every week with Jared’s Advisorator newsletter. ]
Make a collage
Setting a single image as the wallpaper is nice, but JBS can do even better than that. Go to the same ‘Switching’ menu I mentioned earlier, and next to ‘Picture Mode’ click the dropdown menu and select ‘Create a collage’. This will fill your screen with a series of photos, as shown at the top of this newsletter.
However, I have noticed that the default collage setting has too many photos on the screen. To adjust the collage size in Windows, click on ‘More’ in the JBS main menu and select ‘Settings’. Look for the small slider on the right and scroll down until you see both a horizontal and vertical slider. Set both sliders as high as possible, refresh JBS and shrink sliders if necessary.
Create a photo stack
For a wallpaper that feels a little less virtual, you can set JBS’s Picture Mode to “Make a postcard stack” or “Make a polaroid stack” instead of a collage. Both will spread a selection of photos across your desktop, but the latter will recreate old instant photos with squared-off aspect ratios and thick bottom edges.
Again, if these photos feel too small or too big, you can go to the same Montages menu I mentioned earlier, and this time adjust the horizontal slider next to the image showing a stack of photos. (It’s called “Snapshot size” in Windows and “Postcard or Polaroid Pile” on Mac.)
I’ve found it can be tricky to choose the right size, so experiment with different sizes to see what works best. In Windows, you can also use the “Distance between snapshots” slider to control how much your photos overlap. I suggest choosing a value of -50 or -100.
One last thing: by default, JBS chooses one of your album’s images to display in shades of gray behind your Polaroids or postcards. In the Montages menu, you can instead choose a different image, change the background effect to something other than grayscale, or select a general background, such as wood paneling or bulletin board.
And that’s it, your Windows wallpaper should now automatically update with new photos from the Google Photos album you have chosen. If you ever want to stop downloading photos, you can right-click on John’s Background Switcher icon and select “Pause”, or you can just delete the app.
A version of this article first appeared in Advisorator, Jared’s newsletter for practical technical advice. Sign up to get tech tips and offers delivered to your inbox every week.