Author:  Mike Boesen

Last updated:  30 January 2007


1. Introduction
2.  Attributes that I wanted in my image management application
3.  Managing a collection of images
4.  Quick and effective editing of images
5. Finding images
6. IPTC keywords
7. IPTC captions
8.  Preparing images for a CD slideshow
9. Web albums
10. Other functionality
11. Screen shots
12. Help
13. Conclusions
Appendix 1 - Picasa2 Usage Tips


1.  Introduction


NOTE:  this article is now a review of a superseded version of Picasa (version 2).  At the time I added this note (10 September 2010) the current version of Picasa is  3.8.  I have written a review about that 3.8 version and placed it here:


Picasa2 is a freeware application from Google.  You can download it from   The version that I was using at the time I wrote this article is 2.6.0 (build 35.97).  Version 2.6 includes major enhancements on versions 2.1 and 2.2.  

While the first release of Picasa2 was designed to work with Windows 98, Me, 2000 and XP, the Google web site states that the latest release (version 2.1) only works with Windows 2000 and XP.  There must be an error in the Version 2.6 Help/About screen because it indicates suitability for all four operating systems.  The inapplicability to 98 and Me is most unfortunate. 

The functionality that I find particularly useful includes:

I first used Picasa2 in preparing some CDs containing a selection of digital photos in JPG format which I wanted to send to some friends overseas. I continued to use Picasa2 because of its terrific image management functionality, and moore recently because of its web album functionality.

2.  Attributes that I wanted in my image management application

At the time I first started to use Picasa2, I was looking for an image management application that had these attributes:

I had a look at a number of applications, including Picasa2, Irfanview, PhotoAlbum, Photoshop Album and others. I settled on Picasa2. While it has some limitations, versions 2.1 and 2.2 of Picasa2 worked very well, achieving virtually all of my desired objectives, and it's freeware. 

More recently I have been experimenting with Picasa2's web album functionality.  This feature was introduced in version 2.5 and continued in version 2.6, as were other improvements.  This functionality would be of value to folk who want to make their images available to others via the web.  While its web album functionality is probably less comprehensive than in specialised applications such as Flickr, it meets my needs and would be of great appeal to many people.  Most importantly, creation of web albums can be done extremely easily within Picasa2, and that integration attribute is of considerable value. 

Here is a summary of Picasa2's capabilities relative to each of the attributes that I mention above.  In section 10 I have provided links to a number of screen clips that might be of interest to you when you are reading the article.

3.  Managing a collection of images

Picasa2 puts no constraints on where and how you put images and movie type files into folders and sub folders.  There is no Picasa2 folder as such;  Picasa2 simply "watches" folders and/or sub-folders that you tell it to watch and it then displays the images that are located in those folders and allows you to operate on those images.  You can do your folder and file management outside Picasa2 if you want to, or you can use Picasa2 functionality to do just about all the management.   Changes such as additions, deletions, moves and renamings of folders and images made outside Picasa2 (e.g. within Windows Explorer) are recognised by Picasa2 in most circumstances.  Therefore, in most cases you do not need to reorganise anything within Picasa2 when you make such changes.

For the folders to be watched, Picasa2 can be configured to display any or all of the following types of files: JPEG, JPG, TIF, TIFF, BMP, GIF, PSD, PNG, RAW and similar formats, movie formats (AVI, MPG, ASF, WMV, MOV).  Movie files are played within Picasa2 and you do not need to exit to any other player.  I've referred to these objects collectively as "images". 

On the left-hand side of the Picasa2 screen the names of folders that are being watched is displayed.  Note that if a watched folder has no images in it then that folder will not be displayed.  Folders can be displayed in a tree structure or as a flat listing.  Because the folders can be displayed sorted by attributes such as Name or Creation date and because words in folders' names are used in a search operation, it’s extremely easy to find a folder of interest.  A right-click on any folder and selection of the 'Locate on disk' option will show the folder's location in Windows Explorer.

Functionality exists for hiding (and unhiding) images and folders, renaming and deleting folders (be careful!), and for moving and copying (via “export”) of files.

images in each folder are shown as thumbnails of user-controlled size, with either captions or file names (but not both) underneath the thumbnail.  

Also displayed above the display of folders are any "albums" that you may have created.  An album is a container that has in it a set of pointers to where the images are really located.  Albums are virtual folders and can be operated on as if they were folders.  The images "in" an album are displayed as thumbnails just like the real images.  This feature is very useful if you want to make a collection of images that are located in different folders.  That is handy, for instance, when compiling a set or sets of images to be included in a slide show or gift CD.  Deleting albums or "images" in an album leaves the real images untouched, because what you are deleting is the pointer, not the image. 

The order in which images are displayed within each folder and album can be changed by drag and drop. 

The scrolling icons and the way they operate is a bit idiosyncratic and for me, not all that easy to control.

With a few exceptions, file and folder management functionality is very good. I can see some folk disliking Picasa2’s style, but I think that with a little use, most people would feel that it ’s fine.   I am quite used to it now and can get around it quickly and effectively without stress.

4.  Quick and effective editing of images

Quick and effective simple editing of images can be achieved in Picasa2.  It groups editing functionality under “basic fixes”, “tuning” and “effects”.  Of the functionality that is available, I found these to be effective in achieving quick fixes to badly taken pictures:

In fact, I found that for most straightforward adjustments that I wanted to make, I could achieve as good a result or better in Picasa2 than I could achieve in industrial strength image editors, and much quicker.  Picasa2 does not have functionality for working with layers, modifying histograms, de-noising, modifying specific areas within an image, fixing blemishes, deleting spots and cracks, fudging images, and fiddling with separate colour channels.  So for that type of heavy editing, Picasa2 is not the application of choice, and does not pretend to be.  So the type of user that Picasa2 will appeal to is not a person who is into heavy tweaking of images but rather a person who wants to make quick fixes and then to move on to the next subject of interest.

Picasa2 maintains a full history of the editing of each image.  This means that you can come back later and undo one or more or all changes that you made, and make additional changes.  Fixes made in Picasa2 persist across sessions.  However, an interesting (and initially hard to grasp) feature is that editing in Picasa2 leaves the original image totally unchanged.  So if the file that for the image that is visible in Picasa2 is viewed in another editor, the changes made in Picasa2 are not incorporated.  I have been trying to find out how Picasa2 does this and have a partial answer, which is that the editing data are kept in “picasa2.ini” files in each folder and elsewhere (but where that “elsewhere” is, is a mystery).   So if you were to uninstall Picasa2 and delete all the Picasa2.ini files and all the other folders that are used by Picasa2, you would lose all the editing that had been undertaken in Picasa2.

However, an image which has been “edited” in Picasa2 can be “exported” (i.e. saved) as a new image, in which all the Picasa2 editing is applied.  Images saved to the CD in the slide show are new versions of the original images with the editing applied and if you specify, with downsized resolution.

In addition, you can implement Picasa2 edits to an image through the "Save changes" button that is shown above the thumbnails in each folder.  This function saves the unmodified original image in a sub-folder named "originals" and then saves the edited image inplace of the original.

What’s the advantage of this approach? One is that after doing quick fixes in Picasa2, you still have the original image that has not been degraded at all by applying the Picasa2 edits.  So if you wanted to fiddle with the original file later in some industrial strength image editor it’s still there, with all its original detail – zero information will have been lost through your Picasa2 quick fixes.

5.  Finding images

To find images using Picasa2 is a dead easy and an extraordinarily fast operation.  This is of great merit to someone who has a large number of images, a poor memory and an aversion to writing things down or maintaining things in a catalog (like me). 

Finding is fast because Picasa2 maintains its own indexed database.

When you are in the Picasa2 main display screen (with the folder pane on the left, and thumbnails shown in panels on the right) there is a search box in the top right of the screen.  In this box you can type one or more complete or partial "words" (which can be numbers) and Picasa2 will find and display only the images that contain ALL those terms.  By "contain" I mean that the complete or partial term (or terms) are in either the name of the folder in which the image's file is located, or in the image's file name, or included as a keyword or caption in the image.   Keywords and captions are explained below.  However, insertion of a keyword or caption as an IPTC field in an image, enhances greatly your ability to find an image or set of images located somewhere on your hard drive. 

For me, one unintended consequence of using Picasa2 has been a simplification of my image filing strategy.  In the past I used to create generic nested folders such as: \Family\Brendan & Kate\Cian\   and  \Family\Brendan & Kate\Rachel\. Then I put images into those folders as I created them.  A consequence of that was that each folder would have images created at different times. This led me to spending a lot of time changing camera-assigned file names like “DSC01134.JPG” to “Cian Xmas party 2004.JPG”.   Now when I download a batch of images from my camera to the PC (using the import function in Picasa2), I simply create a new folder with the year first, plus a few words of description like: “2004 Xmas party Weetangera”.  Inserting the folder within a nested tree is just wasted effort, because I can find any folder so easily in Picasa2. 

I then use Picasa2 to put keywords into the images in the folder.  A lot of that can be done quickly in batch mode, so for example, I would add the keyword “cian” to all images with Cian in them, and the keyword “brendan” to all images with Brendan in them, and so on.  I leave the name of image in the camera’s “DSC01134.JPG” type format, because I can find images easily by keyword or by a word or partial word in a folder's name, so why bother spending time renaming the file?  Later if I want images of Cian at ANY xmas at my home in Weetangera, I do a search in Picasa2 by typing the words “cian” and “xmas” and “weetangera” into the search panel.   Works like a treat and is lightning fast.  

In fact, the search engine looks for the search terms in the folder names, file names, keywords and captions.  So if you don't insert keywords or captions, but do use verbose folder names (e.g. “2004 xmas party home”) a search can still be very productive.

Even more easy:  a search word starts being used effectively by the Picasa2 search engine after there are 3 or more letters of the word typed in.  So you can be lazy.  For example, in most cases typing in the words "cai xma wee" would turn up the same set of images as would the words “cian xmas weetangera”.   Searches will also include images in folders or files with names that contain the search terms, but the names do not have to match precisely the search terms.  For instance, if you search using the term "200" it will show all images in folders such as "Home at 2003 Wilson Promenade", files such as "DSC_2004.JPG", images with a keyword like "2005", and images with a caption like "Windows 2000 screen".

6.  IPTC keywords

In Picasa2 one or more IPTC-compliant Keywords can be added to individual images or to a batch of images within a folder.   Multiple keywords can be added to any image or to a batch of images.  

The Picasa2 keywords are IPTC-compliant, because you can see, edit, delete and add to the keywords in Irfanview and Adobe Photoshop (which also have IPTC viewing and editing functionality).  All three applications will each see each other’s keywords (and Captions – see below).

Having keywords in an image enhances your ability to find images that you want quickly and easily.  While a search in Picasa2 will take into account folder names and file names, because it also takes into account keywords (and captions), use of keywords will enable you to find very specific subsets of your images. 

Keywords must be single words (of 3 or more letters) and are not case sensitive and each keyword can be up to 64 characters. 

7.  IPTC captions

In Picasa2, IPTC-compliant Captions can be inserted into a single image (but not to a batch of images).  Captions can then be displayed under the thumbnail of the image, and they will be included under the image when displayed in a slideshow written to a CD.  

Picasa2 will not add the same caption to a batch of images.  So I use Irfanview to do that.

8.  Preparing images for a CD slideshow

I wanted to create a gift CD containing pictures to be mailed to my friends and for the CD to have these attributes: 

There are a number of ways to do that but in my view, this is the simplest:

1.  Select images to be included from within a folder, and "put" them in an Album (highlight the images, click the Add to.. button, or simply drag into an existing album).  (What's "put" or "dragged" is the pointer to the image, NOT the image itself.)

2.  Repeat step 1 for any other folders and images of interest.  Keep in mind that images from different folders can be "put" into the one album.  This means, for example, that all your pictures of Fido that are located in different folders can be "put" into a Fido album (woof woof!). 

3.  If all images from a folder are to be included in the CD, you don't need to make up an album for that folder. 

4.  Arrange the images in the albums and/or folders in a suitable presentation order by dragging within the album.5.  Clic

5.  Click on any one of the albums or folders of interest and then hit the "Gift CD" button towards the top of the Picasa main screen.

6.  In the panel "1.  Selection and settings" displayed towards the bottom of the Picasa2 screen, click the "Add More" button.  Then select additional albums and/or folders to be included on the CD.

7.  In panel 1:

8.  In panel 2, make sure that "Include Picasa2" is ticked.

9.  Hit the "Burn Disk" button.  You can burn to an write-once CD or to a rewritable CD.  If there is stuff on the rewritable CD, Picasa2 will ask you if you want to erase it. 

The processes after you hit the “Burn CD” button are few and trivial. Creation of an autoexecuting slideshow on CD is all done automatically and quickly.  The burning is done by Picasa2, not through use of some other application.

Once the CD is created, it will boot as an autoexecuting CD.  The images are shown with a stop/pause button on each screen. The user has an option for continuous play and is able to control the time each image is displayed. 

One irritating problem is that above each image the name of the file is shown (white on the dark grey border).  I have not been able to find an option for NOT including the file name during creation of the CD.  For that reason, when I import a batch of images into Picasa2, I then change the file names to very short and innocuous ones.  If the image has an IPTC caption, it is also shown (below the image; white on the dark grey border), so the viewer has a nice narrative there (e.g. “Brendan, Cian and Rachel, Xmas 2005").  If there is no caption, nothing is shown below the image.

The type of transition effect (movement from one image to the next one) is good. There is no facility for selecting other transition effects but that does not worry me because the result is nice and smooth. There seems to be no facility for including background music on the CD, but who needs that anyway?

The CD created contains all the required executables, so the recipient does not need to have any image viewer on their PC.  In addition, all the images are sent to the CD as image files which are visible on the CD using any browser. These files are created on the fly and have all the edits and resizing applied, so they are “normal” image files. They could be loaded into any viewer or copied to hard drive, if the viewer wished to so do.

9.  Web albums

The most exciting addition made to version 2.5 is Web Albums.  This functionality is implemented very simply in Picasa2.  Just highlight a set of images, or a folder or an album, and click the Web Album button at the bottom of the Picasa2 screen.  Picasa2 then connects to the Google web site.  You are then presented with a screen in which you specify the attributes of the album:

Picasa2 then sends copies of the images suitably sized to an album on the Google site.  You can then organise things on the site immediately.  Alternatively you can go to your albums on the Google site later by clicking the web albums link on the top right corner of the main Picasa2 screen.  You and other people could also go to your "public" albums from within any web browser by invoking the URL for your album site.  For instance, my URL is  These albums are rather banal, because I'm still in the process of developing them.   For a person to view an "unlisted" album, you need to inform them of the specific album's URL.  For instance, here is the URL for an unlisted album on my site:  Again, very banal.

Google provides you with 250 MB of space on their site for free.  Additional space can be bought. 

To get access to this great facility you need to have a Google Gmail account.

The Picasa Web functionality is not as comprehensive as in specialised applications such as Flickr.  However, there is more than enough functionality for my requirements and the really appealing attribute is the integration with Picasa2 - to set up and maintain albums, you can do it all through the links within Picasa2.  In short, I think it is terrific - and free!!

10.  Other functionality

There is a lot of other functionality in Picasa2 that I have not mentioned above.  The more interesting ones are these:

11.  Screen shots

These links will take you to a number of screen shots which I have created to give you an idea about how Picasa2 looks.  The images are low resolution to cater for readers that have limited bandwidth.

12. Help

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any comprehensive or organised help system for Picasa2.  This Google site has a list of frequently asked questions and links that will be of some use. 

In addition, in Appendix 1 I have listed a number of usage tips for Picasa2 users;  some of the content will overlap with stuff on the Google site.  

13.  Conclusions

I have been using Picasa2 for more than a year.  It is an excellent easy to use application.  It can be used very effectively to organise and manage digital image files, to find image files very easily, to make easy and quick fixes to images, to create gift CDs and to create web albums.  It has considerable additional functionality that may appeal to other users.  It is well worth trying.

Mike Boesen

Appendix 1 - Picasa2 Usage Tips

In using Picasa2, you may find some of the following suggestions and ideas useful.

  1. You can assign IPTC keywords in bulk:  select all the thumbnails of images to which you want to assign a common keyword (like "xmas") and then add the keyword (hit Ctrl+k).  The keyword is then applied to ALL the selected images.  Then select subsets that can have another common keyword, and add that keyword.  Then select any image that is to have a keyword unlike the others, and add that keyword. And so on.  This does not take much time when you know how to do it. 

  2. To add a caption, double-click the thumbnail to get the expanded screen view of the image, then type in the caption below the image.   

  3. Adding captions to single images in Picasa2 is easy.   However, iIn Irfanview you can also assign captions in bulk (e.g. "Xmas party at Weetangera 2004") very easily to a group of images.  You can then then add extra endings to individual images' captions (e.g. a caption relating to the Turkey can then become "Xmas party at Weetangera 2004 - Turkey from the Saxon Turkey Farm").  To do the bulk adding of a caption:
  4. When creating folders to hold images, make your folder names meaningful.  Include the year in your folder names.  e.g. "2004 Xmas Weetangera".  This means that in Picasa2, the left-hand folder display pane will list your folders in Alphabetic within Chronological order, making them easy to find if you are scrolling the pane.  To show the images that are in the folder of interest, simply click it in the left-hand folder pane.  No pain!  Keep in mind that a Search operation in Picasa2 will include scanning of folder names, so typing "xmas" or "2005 xmas" will display all the folders that have that in the folder name (or in an image's caption, or in an image's keywords, or in a image's file name).  So the search function can get you to the folder of interest very quickly, too.

  5. When I import files into Picasa2, I don't waste time renaming them.  I leave them with the cryptic camera-assigned names (e.g. DSC01236.JPG).  Time spent typing text is better spent in adding keywords and captions as a bulk plus individualised operation.   Another benefit is that very short unobtrusive file names will not be irritatingly obvious if you burn some images to a Gift CD  (note that Picasa2 always includes the file names in the Gift CD, above the image, plus the caption below the image).  On the Gift CD, the information that the recipients will get most information from is the Caption, which will show nicely underneath the image. 

  6. If you want to order your images within a folder into some meaningful sequence or groups, you can drag and drop the thumbnails around in Picasa2.  This means that if someone gives you some additional images that you want to put into the same folder, the file name can be anything.  After they are in the folder, simply drag them around to get the required ordering or grouping. 

  7. Having determined the order of images in a folder by dragging them around, I then do a bulk renaming of them so that (a) the names are as short and unobtrusive as possible, and (b) the order is set when I am looking at files in some other viewer (e.g. Irfanview, Windows Explorer).  For example, I could rename the images in a folder to something like xw01.jpg,  xw02.jpg,  etc.  For this example, xw stands for Xmas at Weetangera.  I could have named them simply 01.jpg,  02.jpg, etc, but if I am collating images for some other purpose (don't ask me what) I could have problems in that there might be some other file also named 01.jpg in other folders.

  8. Picasa2 has a file renaming function and you can rename a batch of files in the one folder.  However it is primitive and has a problem - say you rename everything with a start string of AB.  The first image will be renamed AB, the second will be AB-1, the third will be AB-3, etc.  The problem is that AB-1 has alphabetic precedence over AB, so AB appears LAST in the set when written to a Gift CD, or viewed in Explorer or Irfanview, or whatever.  There might not have been a problem if the first image was named AB-0.  Also some sort algorithms will give AB-19 precedence over AB-2.

  9. Irfanview is much better for renaming files.  So:

  10. Keep in mind that when you do a search in Picasa2, the words (or partial words) that you enter into the search panel will identify files that have the words imbedded within:

  11. This search process can be very useful when you know what's going on.  I could not understand why some searches were displaying ALL my images when I searched for images into which I had inserted the keyword "mike".  The reason is that the search found the folder c:\documents and settings\mike\ and all the folders under that that had images in them.  Like, EVERY image on my PC!  I reigned that in by making appropriate settings in Tools/Folder Manager.  Set "Remove from Picasa2" and "Watch for Changes"  carefully.  However, once I knew what was going on, I found the Search facility very useful, and stunningly fast.  So for example, searching for "xmas" will show all the folders that have xmas in their names plus all the children folders below that, and adding 2004 to the search pane will narrow the search to show only the folders that have xmas AND 2004 in their names (plus all the children folders below that).  Plus of course, files that have xmas AND 2004 in their names or captions or keywords would be shown.  The consequence of this search technology is that providing that you have an idea about SOMETHING that you put in a folder name or file name or caption or keyword, you can generally find the target file/s you want VERY easily and quickly.  Beats the heck out of searching for the files in Explorer.

  12. If you want an expanded view of a thumbnail file, double-click it.  If you want a full-screen view, hit the Slideshow button.

  13. If you want a full screen view of an image temporarily, hold down the Ctrl key and press the Alt key.