Author:  Mike Boesen

Last updated:  13 September 2010


Managing a collection of images
Importing images
Editing images
Finding and selecting images
Tags - IPTC keywords 
Captions and watermarking 
CD or DVD slideshows 
Web albums 
Other functions 
Screen shots
Appendix - Picasa Usage Tips



Picasa is a freeware application from Google.  You can download it from  It is available in Windows, Mac and Linux versions.  The release that I am using to put this article together is 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 three versions.

I have evaluated a number of picture management applications, including Picasa, Irfanview, Photoshop Pro, Photoshop Elements, Paintshop Pro, Apple iPhoto and most recently Windows Live Photo Gallery.  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:

In the sections below I have provided a description of how these functions are used.  I have provided links to a number of screen clips that might be of interest to you when you are reading the article.  The pictures were captured from Picasa running under Mac OS X but the Windows and Linux versions of Picasa will show virtually the same displays. 

In an Appendix I have listed a few tips about how to use some of Picasa's functionality.

Managing a collection of images

Picasa puts no constraints on where and how you put images and movie type files into folders and sub folders.  There is no Picasa folder as such;  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 can use Picasa functionality to do just about all the management.  

To get Picasa to watch folders, go to Tools / Folder manager.

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 interest. 

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. 

The order in which images are displayed within each folder or album can be changed 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.

Importing images

The Import button at the top left corner of the screen provides access to the Picasa Import system.  Connected devices (e.g. camera card reader, flash drive, scanner) are detected automatically by Picasa.  Importing is straightforward.  Picasa will indicate what images have already been imported.   You can select images to be imported or nominate all images.  The destination folder can be selected or a new one created through the import screen.  All in all, the import functionality works well.

Editing images

Quick 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).

Finding and selecting images

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 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 Picasa), I 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 'shanghai'. 

If you want to you can augment the search functionality by adding 'tags' (which are implemented as IPTC Keywords).  A lot of that can be done quickly in batch mode, so for example, I could add the tag “cian” to all images with Cian in them, and the tag “brendan” to all images with Brendan in them, and so on.  By assigning tags to individual images that meas that I can quickly find images of interest that are located within different folders.

I leave the name of images 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 Picasa 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_12_25 xmas party home”) a search can still be very productive.

Even 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 typed 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.

Adding Tags - IPTC keywords

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 can see, edit, delete and add to the tags in any application that has functionality for using IPTC keywords.  Examples are Irfanview and Adobe Photoshop. 

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. 

Adding captions and text as watermarks

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. 

Creating a CD or DVD slideshow

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:

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.

Creating Picasa Web Albums

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 images.

The functionality for compilation of an album and uploading it to Google is implemented very simply in Picasa.  Just highlight a set of images, or a folder or an album, and click the 'Upload"' icon at the bottom of the Picasa Library screen.  Picasa then connects to the Google web site.  You are then presented with a screen in which you:

Picasa then sends copies of the images appropriately 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  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.

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.

Therefore, I suggest that if you use the Picasaweb URL method of making albums available to other people that you are fully aware of this aspect of the Picasaweb display system.  I suggest that you also inform the recipient that hitting the "Explore" tab could lead to display of images about which you have no knowledge and have no ability to control, and some of which images may be offensive.   

I have ceased to use the Picasaweb URL method and now regret recommending it to other people. 

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  That application is downloadable from here:

Other functionality

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

Screen shots

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.

Appendix - Picasa Usage Tips

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

  1. You can assign tags in bulk:  select all the thumbnails of images to which you want to assign a common tag (like "xmas") and then add the tag (hit Ctrl+t for Windows or Command+t for Mac).  The tag is then applied to ALL the selected images.

  2. To add a caption, double-click the thumbnail to get the expanded screen view of the image, then overtype 'Make a caption!' below the image.   

  3. Adding captions to single images in Picasa is easy.   However, in Irfanview you can also assign captions in bulk very easily to a group of images (e.g. "Xmas party at Weetangera 2004") .  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"). 

  4. When creating folders to hold images, make your folder names meaningful.  Include the year in your folder names.  e.g. "2004_12_25 Xmas at Weetangera".  This means that in Picasa, 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! 

  5. Keep in mind that a Search operation in Picasa will include scanning of folder names, so typing "xmas" or "2004 xmas" will display all the folders that have that in the folder name (or in an image's caption, or in an image's tags, or in a image's file name).  So the search function can get you to the folder of interest very quickly, too.

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

  7. If you want to order your images within a folder into some meaningful sequence, you can drag and drop the thumbnails around in Picasa.  This means, for example, 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. 

  8. Having determined the order of images in a folder by dragging them around, I then do a batch 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.

  9. Picasa has a batch file renaming function and you can rename a bunch of files or all 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/DVD, 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.  Not ideal.  Irfanview is much better for renaming files.

  10. Keep in mind that when you do a search in Picasa, the words (or partial words) that you enter into the search panel will identify files that have the words embedded 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 tag "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 reined that in by making appropriate settings in Tools/Folder Manager.  Set "Remove from Picasa" 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 tags 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 tag, 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. In the Windows version if you want a full screen view of an image temporarily, hold down the Ctrl key and press the Alt key.  Does not work in the Mac version, though.  Darn!