I’ve used Picasa for about a year now, yet I’ve never posted a review about it. That oversight ends now, for I’ve been playing with its features a lot the last few weeks and am just bursting with love for it.
Picasa, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
I love thee for thy simplicity:
It is simple enough I am confident about installing it on the computers of those unfamiliar with basic photo editing. But it’s also feature-filled enough, I use it myself and recommend it to seasoned digital photographers.
I love thee for helping me organize my photos:
I have well over 30 gigabytes of photos on my notebook’s hard drive alone. Picasa lets me attach labels to photos, tags which allow me to organize photos into groups without moving the photos on my hard drive. They explain this better than I do:
Labels are used to group and organize pictures based on your own criteria and identified by a simple word or title. For example, you can create a label called “Flowers” to group all of your pictures of flowers, or you might create a label like “Trip to The Grand Canyon” to arrange all of your latest vacation pictures. Unlike the “Folders on Disk” collection, which matches exactly the folder locations on your computer, labels do not correspond to physical folders on your hard drive. If you delete or move pictures inside the labels collection, the original files stay safe in their original locations on your hard drive. You can even add the same image to multiple labels without creating multiple copies of the same image. Edits you make to a picture will also be applied to every instance of the image, including the original.
This feature is tops in my book. I can highlight multiple photos of our animals and add the label “pets”. But it doesn’t stop there; I can then highlight others and tag them with the label “dogs”. Then, when I want to bring up all my pets, I can view the photos labeled “pets”…Or if I want to just see the dogs, I can view the photos labeled “dogs”. I’m not duplicating the photos and putting them into folders named “dogs” and “pets”, I’m just adding multiple labels to the original photos so I can pull them up based on different criteria.
Best, as I review my photos and choose certain ones to include in my online gallery, I have only to label them “gallery-pets” or “gallery-weightloss”. When I’m ready to make my album, I can just view the photos I’ve tagged for albums. You get the picture.
I love thee for bringing Google’s marvelous search features to my photo collection.
Need I say more? Picasa indexes every photo in the folders I specify, so searches are fast. All I have to do is type in the beginning of a file name and Picasa immediately brings up matches. I can narrow my search by file creation date, too.
I love thee for letting me scroll through images at a lightning fast pace.
It’s very fast, plus the interface is attractive. You can scroll quickly through lists of folders, viewing thumbnails, or you can open a folder and whip right through the contents.
I love thee for making it so simple to correct color cast, underexposure, and other common photo problems.
What the developers wanted to do was bring the most common and useful image correction tools into a simple interface. They also wanted to make it easier for people to organize thousands of photos. They succeeded in both efforts.
I am pretty handy with Adobe Photoshop and other advanced image editors, but that doesn’t mean I want to go to all that fuss for what amounts to basic tweaking. Picasa does not include things like layers, cloning, or curves, but on the majority of my photos, I don’t really need to futz with all of those features. Picasa is perfect for the tweaks.
I’ve found the “I feel lucky” button to be pretty reliable, though it can sometimes notch the contrast up a little higher than I’d like on our dog Emma (she’s brown and white and the whites can be blown out if the rest of the frame is dark). Even so, there are individual controls for saturation, contrast, fill light, shadows, color cast, and others. There are oodles of nice effects you can apply to your photos, including selective B&W, sepia, selective soft focus, and others. The photo of our dog Sarah is an example of Picasa’s selective soft focus feature.
I love thee for leaving my originals safe in their original files.
Have you ever opened a photo, done some editing, then accidentally chosen “save” and saved over your original? If you’ve resized the photo for the web, for instance, you’re out your full-sized original…Forever. Picasa is unique in that it applies the changes you make to the photos, but only within the program.\ what it does is put a “picasa.ini” file in each folder. The file contains all the edits you’ve done to the photos in the folder, but the photos remain untouched. This is why your original photos will not show your edits if you open them in a program other than Picasa.
To save your edits to your photos, you must use Picasa’s “export” feature. This saves a copy of your original, but applies your edits to it. You can tell Picasa what folder to save your exports to, as well as the pixel dimensions and JPG compression to apply to the saved copy. You can also e-mail photos right out of Picasa, and your edits will be saved to the copy sent.
The system can take a little getting used to, but once you remember to first export any photos you want to share with others, it’s easy.
I love thee for making it so easy to add captions.
Adding a caption to a photo is as easy as typing it in the caption blank. What’s cool about the captions feature is your caption is written right into the picture file (in this case, your original is tweaked, but it’s not changed in any noticeable way – this is just data, nothing visual). The caption will be exported or e-mailed right along with your photo, so recipients can view it when they view the photos IPTC information (see technical gobbledygook).
I love thee for allowing me to peek at EXIF data in my photos.
Digital cameras create what’s called EXIF info and embed it into each photo file. This information shows the technical details like shutter speed, f-stop, ISO, flash, camera model, etc. Not all photo viewers and organizers will let you view this information. Picasa does, plus it lets you look at the histogram of your photo while you apply changes to it; that’s a pretty advanced feature and one useful to those who are into the nuts and bolts of photography.
I love thee for making it easy to share my photos with others.
Picasa makes it easy to crop photos to the perfect ratio for various print sizes like 4×6″, 5×7″ and others. Once I’ve cropped and edited my photos, I can choose the ones I want and click the “order prints” button. From there, I can choose from several online photo finishing companies and order prints.
Picasa makes it easy to print sheets containing various sizes of pictures at home, too. I can print one image as a sheet of wallet-sized photos or I can print several different images of varying sizes on one sheet.
If want to publish my photos to the web, I can do so by creating an online gallery from my chosen photos, then FTP the resulting folder to my website. Simpler yet, I can use Picasa’s “blog this” and publish my photos directly to one of my blogs at Blogger.
I can also take those photos and share them via Google’s chat/photo sharing program, Hello. Photos are easy to save to slideshows in a folder or even on CD, and Picasa is copied onto the CD so your recipient can play the slideshow.
I can also use the “Collage” button to create desktop wallpaper in different fun layouts such as picture stack, multiple exposure and contact sheet. Those make great gifts to e-mail to friends or surreptitiously install on their desktops. (Note: I used Irfanview to add the gardenwife.com to the wallpaper — Picasa doesn’t have a way to add text. Irfanview I’ll save for a future review!)
What’s wonderful is, it’s all packaged in one application, easy to use and — best — free. Give it a try!