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.

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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.

Browsing

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.

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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.

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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

TAB #1 COMMONLY NEEDED FIXES

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.

TAB #2 CONTRAST ADJUSTMENTS

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.

TAB #3 FILTERS

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.

TABS #4 and 5 MORE FUN FILTERS

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

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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.

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Video

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.

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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.

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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.