Last updated: 13 September 2010
Managing a collection of images
Finding and selecting images
Tags - IPTC keywords
Captions and watermarking
CD or DVD slideshows
Appendix - Picasa Usage Tips
Picasa is a freeware application
Google. You can download it from http://picasa.google.com.
It is available in Windows, Mac and Linux versions. The release
that I am using to put this article together is 220.127.116.11 for the Mac
OS X operating system. With a few exceptions (e.g. Preferences)
the three versions have the same functionality and displays are
virtually identical. So what I state below is applicable to all
evaluated a number of picture management applications, including
Picasa, Irfanview, Photoshop Pro, Photoshop Elements, Paintshop Pro,
and most recently Windows Live
I settled on Picasa. While it has some
limitations, Picasa is stable, very easy to use has a wealth of
functionality and meets most (but not all) of my requirements.
And it's freeware.
It has heaps of functions - too
many to describe in this article. But these are the ones that I
find of particular value:
no constraints on where and how you put images and movie type files
into folders and sub folders. There is no Picasa folder as
Picasa 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 Picasa if you want to, or you
use Picasa functionality to do just about all the
To get Picasa to watch folders, go to Tools /
Changes to folders and/or files such as additions, deletions, moves, renaming and folder splitting made outside Picasa (e.g. within Windows Explorer or Finder) are recognised by Picasa in most circumstances. Therefore, in most cases you do not need to reorganise anything within Picasa when you make such changes.
For the folders to be watched, Picasa can be configured to display any or all of the following types of files: JPEG, JPG, PNG, TIF, TIFF, BMP, TGA, PSD, a number of "RAW" formats, and a number of movie formats (e.g. AVI, MPG, ASF, WMV, MOV). Movie files are played within Picasa and you do not need to exit to any other player. For GIF files, only the first frame is displayed, not the sequence of frames that creates the movement illusion. In the text below, I've referred to all these these objects collectively as "images".
On the left-hand side of the Picasa screen the
names of folders that are being watched is displayed. Note that
if a folder that you have indicated as one to be watched 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 Name, Date or Size and because words
in folders' names are used in a search
operation, it’s extremely easy to find a folder of
A right-click on any folder and selection of the
'Locate on disk' or 'Show in Finder' option will show the folder's
location on your computer. Once in Explorer or Finder you can
rename files and Picasa will keep a track of the change.
Functionality exists for hiding (and
unhiding) images and folders,
renaming and deleting folders (be careful!), and for moving and copying
(via “export”) of files. A batch renaming of files in a floder is
possible through the Picture / Batch edit function although the
renumbering system is not as good as it could be.
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 listed above the display of folders are any "albums" that you may have created. An album is a virtual folder that has in it a set of pointers to where the images are really located. Albums 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 or DVD, or in an album to be uploaded to Google as a Picasaweb album. Deleting albums or "images" in an album leaves the real images untouched, because what you are deleting are pointers to images, not the images themselves.
order in which images are displayed within each folder or album can be
by drag and drop. Batch renaming is based on the order
AFTER any drag and drops.
With a few exceptions, file and folder management functionality is very good. I can see some folk disliking Picasa’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.
and effective image editing of a basic or intermediate level of
complexity can be undertaken. Access to the editing is through
double-clicking on a thumbnail of an image in the "library
display"; hitting the Escape button exits from the Editing
display back to the Library display .
Picasa groups editing functionality under the tabbed panels “basic fixes”, “tuning” and “effects”. Of the functionality that is available, I found these to be very effective in achieving quick fixes:
In fact, I found that for most straightforward adjustments that I wanted to make, I could achieve as good a result or better in Picasa than I could achieve in industrial strength image editors, and much faster. Picasa does not have functionality for working with layers, modifying histograms, de-noising, image stitching, modifying specific areas within an image, fudging images, and fiddling with separate color channels. So for that type of heavy editing, Picasa is not the application of choice, and does not pretend to be. So the type of user that Picasa 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.
There are two editing functions that I'd love to see added in Picasa: de-noising and image stitching (e.g. to create a panorama). These functions are included in the Microsoft application that seeks to emulate Picasa - that is, Windows Live Photo Gallery. However, in my view, the Live function for de-noising does a poor job and the Live function for stitching is OK for some stitching, but ineffective in some circumstances. For those two functions I use the top of the line payware applications Neat Image and Autopano Pro.Picasa maintains a full history of the editing of each image in a hidden file within each folder. 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 Picasa persist across sessions. However, a useful (and initially hard to grasp) feature is that editing in Picasa leaves the original image totally unchanged. So if the file that for the image that is visible in Picasa is viewed in another editor, the changes made in Picasa will not be reflected. To implement the Picasa edits into an image, you need to go back to the Library display (thumbnails screen) and then click on the blue floppy disk icon that is in the row of icons that is underneath the folder name in the main right-hand panel above the thumbnails. This function saves the unmodified original image in a hidden sub-folder named .picasaoriginals and then saves the edited image in place of the original. Such saves can be undone if required. What’s the advantage of this approach? One is that after doing quick fixes in Picasa, you still have the original image without any loss in detail that might occur through Picasa editing. So if you wanted to fiddle with the original image later in some industrial strength image editor it’s still there with all its original detail – zero information will have been lost through your Picasa quick fixes.
An image (or set of images within a folder or album) which has/have been “edited” in Picasa can be “exported” (i.e. saved) to another folder as an image/s in which all the Picasa editing is implemented into the image/s. Images saved to a CD/DVD slide show are also new versions of the original images with the editing implemented into the new images (and if you specify, with downsized resolution).
To find images using Picasa is a dead easy and a virtually instantaneous operation. This is of great merit to someone who has a large number of images, or a poor memory and an aversion to writing things down or maintaining lists in a catalog (like me). Finding is fast because Picasa maintains its own indexed database.
When you are in the Picasa Library 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 above all the thumbnails - look for the magnifying glass. In this box you can type one or more complete or partial terms (which can be numbers) and Picasa 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 either:
Tags and captions are explained below. They are not mandatory but they can enhance your ability to find an image or set of images located somewhere on your hard drive.
For me, one
unintended consequence of using Picasa has been a simplification of my
image and folder naming strategy. In the distant past I used to
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 Picasa),
simply create a new folder with the date first, plus a few words of
description like: “2009_12_25 Xmas party Weetangera”. Some
folders have sub-folders but I maintain a date system of nesting.
For example, on a trip to China I created a folder named '2006_04_22
China tour' Then under that folder I had other sub-folders for
each day, such as: '2006_04_22 Departing for China' and
'2006_04_24 Shanghai apartment' and '2006_04_25 Shanghai around
town', and so on. That means the using the Picasa search
function, I can find all the images for the China trip by searching for
'china 2006', or all the images for Shanghai by searching for
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_12_25 xmas party home”) a search can still be very productive.
more easy: a search term starts being used effectively by the
Picasa search engine after there are 3 or more letters of the term are
in. So you can be lazy. For example, in most cases
typing in the terms "cai xma wee" would turn up the same set of
images as would the terms “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. Numbers are a bit of a mystery, however - I don't think
that three characters work for years.
In Picasa one or more IPTC-compliant keywords can be added to individual images or to a batch of images within a folder. Picasa now refers to keywords as 'tags'. Multiple tags can be added to any image or to a batch of images.
The Picasa tags are IPTC-compliant, because you
edit, delete and add to the tags in any application that has
functionality for using IPTC keywords. Examples are Irfanview and
Having tags in an image enhances your ability to find images that you want quickly and easily. While a search in Picasa will take into account folder names and file names, because it also takes into account tags (and captions), use of tags will enable you to find very specific subsets of your images.
Tags must be single words (of 3 or more letters) or numbers. They are not case sensitive. Each tag can be up to 64 characters in length.
In Picasa, 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 or DVD. Picasa will not add the same caption to a batch of images. You could use Irfanview to do that if you need to.Captions have the same portability as tags - once saved into the image, they can then be read or edited or displayed by other applications that have functionality for handling IPTC fields.
An alternative to captions is to add text to an
image so that it appears like a watermark on the image. This
function is accessed through the 'Text' icon on the Basic Fixes
tab. There is considerable flexibility for determining what the
text will look like. Once the edited image is saved to disk, that
watermark is then an integral part of the image and is visible in any
image viewing or editing application.
Picasa enables easy and fast preparation of a
slide show on a CD or DVD. I would use this functionality to
create a CD or DVD containing pictures to be mailed to someone, with
this in mind, for instance, for a CD:
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 selected items to an album' button on the lower right 'Selection' window of the main Library display, or simply drag into an existing album). Note: 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. Click on any one of the albums or folders of interest and then select Create / Create a gift CD.. from the main menu bar.
6. In the panel "1. Selection and settings" displayed towards the bottom of the Picasa screen, click the "Add More" button. Then select additional albums and/or folders to be included on the CD.
7. In panel 1:
- Make sure that the "Include Slideshow" button is ticked.
- Select an image Size - specify one of these sizes: “original size”, 640x480, 800x600 or 1600x1200.
8. In panel 2, make sure that "Include Picasa" is ticked. That ensures that an executable application that will run the slideshow will be included on the CD. That means that the recipient does NOT need to install Picasa on their computer to run the slideshow. There will be one executable for Mac systems and one executable for Windows systems included on the CD.
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, Picasa 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 Picasa, 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, before creating the folders to be written to the CD, I would change file names to very short and innocuous ones using the batch renaming function in Picasa. If an image has an IPTC caption, it will be displayed (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.
All the images are written 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.
There are more sophisticated applications around
that can be used to make slide shows on CD or DVD. Googling for
'cd slideshow software' will reveal a myriad of applications.
However, for preparing a quick and reasonably presentable slideshow,
the Picasa functionality is good.
A Picasa function that until recently has largely
obviated the need to create slideshows on CD or DVD is Picasa Web
Albums. This enables collections of images to be uploaded as
albums to a server maintained by Google. You can upload albums
for free, with a space limit of 1 GB. If that's not enough space,
buy some more for a few dollars: $5 per year will get you 20 GB
of storage space for instance. You have to have a Google account
to do this. If you have a google email account then you have an
account; if not, getting an account is a simple matter.
Once uploaded, you can provide the URL for any
of your albums to other people and they can then view the images in
your albums online, and if they want to they can download any of the
Picasa then sends copies of the images
sized to an album on the Google server. You can then organise
things on the site immediately, doing all sorts of housekeeping if you
like. One thing that you can do is to add a detailed
"caption" to images of interest. This is not the same as a Picasa
Caption, but is a panel of text that will display at the bottom of the
image when it is viewed. Alternatively you can go to your
albums on the Google site later by clicking on your Google account name
link through the button on the
top right corner of the main Picasa 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 http://picasaweb.google.com/mboesen 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: http://picasaweb.google.com/mboesen/GatesWeetangera?authkey=rYnxyCShDIw Again, very banal.However, there is one feature of this functionality that concverns me to the extent that I have ceased to use it. If the URL for a Picasaweb album is used by a recipient, the Picasaweb album display system now shows two tabbed pages on the recipients screen: one for the originator's "Gallery" (e.g. Boesen's Gallery) and one cryptically labelled "Explore". I have not noticed the Explore tab until recently and can only assume that it is a new thing that Google has implemented (possibly in Version 3? - or has it been there for yonks and I have been unaware of it?). Unfortunately, hitting the "Explore" tab switches the viewer to a page of images and links that has nothing whatsoever to do with the originator's album. I don't approve of that because it means that the originator's communication with a recipient is being used indirectly to promote display of images about which the originator has no knowledge and over which he/she no control. The originator could in fact be indirectly promoting display of images that are offensive to the originator or recipient (as Googling on this topic indicates has occurred). I can find no option in the Picasaweb system that disables that "Explore" tab.
Note that Picasa has a "Batch upload" function
(Tools / Batch upload). That enables you to upload a number of
albums to Picasaweb as a batch job, instead of one album at a
time. When people download images from a Picasaweb album, only
one image at a time can be downloaded. This is inconvenient and
there is a handy little free standalone application
Picasadownloader. That application enables anyone who knows your
Picasaweb user name to download the
complete contents of any of your "Public" albums in one step instead of
having to do it one image at a time. See http://picasadownloader.blogspot.com/
That application is downloadable from here: http://sourceforge.net/projects/picasaalbumdown/
There is a lot of other functionality in Picasa that I have not mentioned above. The more interesting ones are these:
These links will take you to a number of screen shots which I have created using the Mac version of Picasa to give you an idea about how Picasa looks. The Windows version will look very similar. The images are low resolution to cater for readers that have limited bandwidth.
Unfortunately, there is no Help system for
Picasa installed on your computer. However this Google site
provides access to help and the Picasa forum.
In addition, in the Appendix I have listed a number of usage tips for Picasa users; some of the content will overlap with stuff on the Google site.
I have been using Picasa for a number of
years. It is a stable, powerful and 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. It is
free - in my view one of the best-ever freeware applications.
In using Picasa, you may find some of the following suggestions and ideas useful.