Getting to Know Picasa - a Free Image Editor and Browser by Google

Getting to Know Picasa – a Free Image Editor and Browser by Google


Getting to know Picasa

If you’re looking for an image browser and editor that is feature packed and easy to use then Picasa just may be the only bit of software you’ll ever need. It may not have all the advanced features you would expect from some of the more well-known image editors but it is a nice piece of software that punches way above its weight, and what’s more, it’s free and available for both Mac and Windows platforms.

Photo editing picasa 01

Before I get started I will state unequivocally that I have never in the past or present worked, in any capacity, for Google or any of its subsidiaries. Furthermore, I have never received payment of any kind for writing about their products. I wish!

I recently ran a digital photography course in Perth, Western Australia and was asked by my boss to use Picasa as the editing software. I was sceptical at first about what I could achieve with freeware, mainly because I was used to working with the Adobe Creative Suite, and initially protested. But after downloading and trialling Picasa, I was pleasantly surprised to find it’s actually quite a useful and feature-packed piece of software.

So what exactly is Picasa?

According to Google, it’s software that helps you “organize, edit and upload photos”. When you download and install Picasa, the first thing the software will do is trawl through your computer, and attached hard drives, looking for image files such as jpegs, bitmaps, tiffs. In fact Picasa recognizes most image file types, including Photoshop PSD. So what you’ll end up with is a large library of pictures organized chronologically in folders, which is handy for finding that holiday snap you took several years ago. How long this all takes will depend on how many images you have on your computer or hard drive, so be patient and wait until it has finished collating.


Once Picasa has catalogued all your pictures you can then start to browse, organize, and edit, as well as having the option of grouping them into Albums. One of the nice things about Picasa is that it’s non-destructive. So edits you make to photos can be undone. Picasa also stores all edits as separate files so your original pictures are left intact. Picasa also scans your hard drive and updates itself whenever you add more pictures so it’s always up to date.

Picasa main screen 01

Picasa’s main browsing interface is simple and easy to navigate

You also have the ability to import photos directly from cameras and portable drives using the import function in the top left hand side of the browser. Simply connect the device to your computer and navigate to the photographs on your device. Once you have all your pictures imported, and in their respective folders, you are ready to start editing.

Picasa import button 02

Use the import function to download from a digital camera or portable hard drive

Editing and effects

To begin editing you simply double click on a picture in the Picasa browser. This activates the editing functions and you can begin making changes to your selected photograph.

There are five tabs at the top left-hand side of the editing window:

Use the import function to download from a digital camera or portable hard drive

Use the import function to download from a digital camera or portable hard drive


The tools in this tab gives you control over cropping, straightening, red-eye removal, basic brightness and contrast adjustments. There are some automated features too such as “Auto contrast” and “Im feeling lucky”, which all deliver varied results. The “Edit in Creative Kit” feature has been discontinued but there is the opportunity to edit online inside Google+. There’s also a “Text” tool for adding some titles and information to your selections as well as a “Retouch” tool for fixing blemishes and scratches.


The second tab gives you more brightness and contrast options and a greater level of control. It includes sliders to adjust the amount of fill light and shadows in your picture, and you also have the ability to change highlights. There’s a temperature control feature but in reality this simply adds either a blue or sepia tint to the picture which simulates daylight or interior colour temperatures.


The third tab is where Picasa starts to offer some cool features. Here you will find a series of twelve preset filters such as sharpening, film grain and black and white. Most of the filters are adjustable so you can control the amount of each effect applied to a photograph.


Similarly, tabs four and five continue to offer you even more fun filters to apply to your photographs, with twenty four additional styles.

Picasa effect previews 04

The image filters in Picasa offer a wide range of modern and classic effects

In the picture below I applied the Orton-ish filter and a Vignette to get a softening, yet dynamic effect.

Picasa before and after 05


So, you’ve messed around for a few hours and now have a dozen images you want to show off to friends and family. Well Picasa’s bag of tricks doesn’t stop there. In fact, there’s some very useful output options available should you want to either print, make a video, or simply upload your pictures to the web.

Picasa create video icon 06

Making videos is simple and fun in Picasa. Just click the “Create Video Clip” icon to get started

By selecting a group of pictures in the browser and selecting “Create Video Clip Presentation’ it puts your selected pictures onto a simple video timeline. You can then add titles, and even import a music sound track to go with your pictures. If you’re not happy with the selection order you can shuffle the pictures, and then output the file to one of several video formats, including high definition 1080P.

There’s also the option of making a collage for print, screen or for the web. There are tons of options and it takes very little time to come to grips with how it all works.

Other features

If you think that’s impressive, wait, there’s more! If you have a free Google+ account you can upload and share your pictures right from the Picasa browser, to Picasa’s Web Albums photo sharing site with very little effort. Just make sure you familiarize yourself with the privacy settings before you start uploading and always read the terms and conditions.

On the downside,

On the downside Picasa has limited raw editing features, so if you want to try something more advanced then you will have to look elsewhere. That said there’s enough features in this little program to keep most people happy.

Bottom line on Picasa

Picasa is really a fun and easy program to use and the learning curve isn’t too steep. If you need an application that is primarily for browsing and organizing, then this is a handy program. Although the editing capabilities are basic there are some useful features such as geotagging, keyword tagging, face recognition and a range of exporting options. But if you are a serious photographer that needs a program that can do some heavy lifting then perhaps you’ll need something more robust.

Picasa will certainly appeal to a broad demographic and it is really intended to perform many of the most common photographic tasks. It can also speed up the process of getting your pictures online. While I was reluctant to start using this program I have warmed to it. So if you need a photo organizer and editor that’s quick, easy and – dare I say – fun to use then perhaps give it a go.

Download it:

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Mark Sutton runs his own commercial photography business, Imagepro Photography and Design in Perth, Western Australia. He also teaches digital photography at university and at TAFE. He has worked in the media industry both in Australia, and in Europe as a lighting cameraman and director of photography.

  • windy

    if you select sharpen there is a special version .
    you press the left knob on your computer and the shift button and you will get a super sharpen called “Sharpen Old”

  • Brad Waler

    I would like to inform people that Picasa has not been given a major point upgrade in quite some time (ie 4.0), only incremental updates.

  • robrrt

    Picasa also has a plugin for uploading photos to Facebook. Just search FB for Picasa Uploader.

  • Indeed it does, here’s the link for those interested:

  • This is what Google says about updates and releases: “Updates to Picasa are made on an ongoing basis. These updates may include bug fixes, performance enhancements, additional hardware/device support and other improvements”.

  • Yes, thanks Windy. In fact, if you hit the ‘SHIFT’ key on a PC or MAC when you’re in the effects tabs you will get alternative options for: Sharpen, Film grain,Tint, Glow, Graduated tint, Heat map, Vignette, Pixelate,and Border.

  • Eric

    I have been using Picassa as a Lightroom replacement for years. It is simple and easy to organize and mark keeper shots after a shoot. You can even open the images in Photoshop right from Picassa. It does all the important things that Lightroom does….for free!

  • Morgan Glassco

    I always recommend Picasa to friends and family for photo management and enhancements. I dont really use it much anymore but I always loved the Picture viewer, awesome that it even opens RAW files. Much faster than anything else I have tried for quick viewing of RAW files, but I haven’t tried much else either haha

  • The Facial Recognition feature is awesome too. Then you can make face movie which with a bunch of kid pictures over a few years is amazing.

  • I use just Picasa as I am not heavy on editing. It works so well for me. Never tried the video feature, so after reading this will give it a try!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    Eric – I’ve not personally tried Picasa but one of the biggest things Lightroom does that Photoshop doesn’t is image archiving. Once I import my images into LR, regardless of whether the hard drive where they reside is online or not, I can see see, sort, flag and now using Smart Previews, edit my images. If I need to find an old image that’s on a hard drive that’s been long since filled and archived to the shelf – I can just search for it in LR (by keyword, filename, date shot, etc) and it will show me where it lives – EVEN if it is offline. By simply plugging that drive in, I can access the file. No random searching of every drive to find it, which becomes exceptionally hard if you have a lot of images and haven’t renamed them something you’ll remember.

    So while Picasa looks like a great alternative, I don’t think it does everything LR does. Unless of course someone proves me wrong, which I’m happy to admit if that’s the case.

  • Diane Belmont

    I only use Picasa for my digital photos and it works great. Really, good photography takes place with your camera, not your editing. I just adjust the cropping, brightness,and sometimes add saturation. And the text tool makes good, simple watermarks. Nothing bad to say.

  • great tutorial I like it very much Thank you for your propose thing

  • BK

    Sorry, I’m late to see this (too many holidays!)

    Picasa is the only editing program I’ve ever used (8 yrs.). I’ve tried 3 times to force myself to learn PS. No patience for it. I can see the advantages of the numerous choices in PS and LR, and esp. for archiving, but for me… I do better with fewer choices and find that with Picasa’s limitations in mind, I work more carefully to try and get better shots. I know some award-winning nature photographers who use only Picasa and work miracles with it.

  • Different strokes for different folks. The way I look at it is, Picasa is simply another tool. Sure, it’s simple and effective but to compare it with PS and LR is a little like comparing an apple with a banana. We all have different preferences and ways of working, which is a good thing me thinks. Interesting to know even the Pro’s are using it though.

  • Vlad Georgescu

    Picasa is usually a great tool as long as you work with JPG images

  • Anida

    I was just looking for a free, easy to use photo editor. I’ll try Picasa. Thank you.

  • AnonGuy

    Windows users are better off using Photo Gallery. It’s easier to use and bundled with Movie Maker for Video Editing. It also supports a lot more services (OneDrive, Flickr, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.) while Picasa is locked to Google Services.
    It also performs quite a bit better than Picasa in my experience.
    Mac users can just use iPhoto, which has similar advantages on that platform (and bundled with iMovie).
    Picasa is decent, but the user experience really falls apart if you aren’t a Google+ user (no one I know uses it, so I’m certainly not going to waste time on it).

  • Tracy Bankston Smith

    Love love LOVE Picasa! I’ve been using it for approx. 12 years and it has never failed me. It’s my go-to program before I ever start editing in Corel. The updates are great and you can use it anywhere and everywhere.

  • Karl Corey

    I have a question – after we got our new computer we downloaded Picassa – same as we have on the laptop. I used to be able to double click to open a picture – I can still do that on the laptop but am unable on the desk top. What can I change/set/click on to make that happen. In order to open a picture I have to click on view first at the top every time. Annoying, Please help !!

  • Rich

    Picasa is one of the most frustrating “tools” I have ever used. I am sure I have albums that were downloaded using a different e-mail account but I can’t find a way to get to them. It is only showing albums loaded under my current e-mail account. Both accounts are active!

  • Carol Hoch

    I have used for Picasa for several years always loved it…I did the update and now cannot figure out how to email an album…really disappointed.

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