How I use Picasa

February 3, 2010
This photo doesn't have much to do with this article, but I edited it while writing, so I think I'd include it

This photo doesn't have much to do with this article, but I edited it while writing, so I thought I'd include it

I know I owe you guys another gimp editing tutorial – and I’m in the middle of working on one that was specifically asked for – but when I was working on it last week, Gimp crashed on me (for only the second time ever), which annoyed me enough to stop working on it that night. And then I got sick over the weekend and didn’t do much of anything.

Since I’m still feeling a bit under the weather, I’m going to write something that’s a bit easier than the Gimp tutorial so I can go back to making sure the sofa stays put.

As you know, I use only free software to edit all my photos, and one step in my workflow is Picasa. I’ve touched on this before – though that was more of a complete start-to-finish of my photo storing and organizing process. Today I’m going to talk specifically about the features I use in Picasa – some of which are new since that article anyway.

Importing and viewing RAW files

Note: this section applies even if you shoot in jpg.

I have my computer all set up so that when I plug in my card reader that it automatically starts importing my photos into Picasa. The import screen looks something like this:

Click to make bigger

Click to make bigger

Let me point out some of my favorite features:

  • Photos organized by time – On the left hand side, you’ll see all the photos that are on my card – the first group (of my lazy cats) all of little red Xs on them because they’ve already been imported into Picasa before – so basically it’s saying that it already has that photo, so if I click “Import All”, it’s not going to import those. The rest of the photos are grouped into sections all based upon the time they were taken. So the pictures of me with two of my cookbooks were taken at a different time than the section of me experimenting with my brand new remote. The thing I love about this grouping of photos is that – if you wanted to – you could easily import into separate folders for each date that you took photos on. I don’t bother doing that, but it’s nice to know that Picasa makes it easy for me if I want to!
  • Preview – Even before importing the photos onto my computer, I can preview any of the images on the right hand side of the import screen. As you can see in the screen capture, I have selected a photo of me using my remote for one of the first times. Don’t I look wonderful?
  • Importing into my own folder structure – See at the bottom there’s three dropdowns? The first one is “Import to:”. Picasa is going to put all my photos into a folder, and the Import to: dropdown is asking me what folder I want the newly created folder to go into. It defaults to “My Pictures” on windows computers, but you can change this default folder under Tools –> Options on the General tab (see screenshot below). I want all my photos to go onto my Drobo, so I have mine set to a folder on there. Anyway. The next dropdown allows you to type in the name of the folder you want these photos to go in. I use a naming convention of [Today's Date] – [short description]. So this particular batch says “2010_02_02 – by window, downtown photowalk” (I use that format for the date so that when sorting all my folders by name, they’re still in chronological order). The final dropdown determines what Picasa should do with all the photos on the card after importing (as in, delete them or not). I always leave this set to “Leave card alone” because I’d rather reformat the card later on my camera than just delete them in Picasa.
Click to open bigger

Click to make bigger

After I hit the “Import All” button I’m brought into the Library:

Click to make bigger

Click to make bigger

I’m going to take this time to point out that you’re looking at RAW files. Picasa does have the ability to read RAW files (see their list of supported RAW formats here) – but it’s important to note that I don’t consider it a RAW editor. Remember back when I discussed raw vs. jpg, I mentioned that RAW files weren’t actually images, but that they were just RAW data, and that jpgs are your camera’s interpretation (and compression) of what it thinks that image should look like? Well, Picasa is basically just doing the same thing that you camera does. It’s showing you it’s interpretation of what that RAW file should actually look like. If you it, great! But you’re missing a lot of the power of a real RAW editor if you only use Picasa to edit your photos (and, I might add, if you’re only using Picasa to edit your jpg photos, you’re missing out on the power of software like Gimp – but sometimes you get a great shot Straight Out of Camera, and so you don’t need to edit, of course).

Anyway… where was I? Oh yes, the library. It works like you’d expect it to work, you can see all your folders there on the left, and all the images there on the right. Nothing fancy in here. The cool stuff happens when you double click on a photo to open it up:

Click to make bigger

Click to make bigger

My favorite part is a new feature. Check it out – you can see your histogram and some important EXIF data on the left! By the way, if you want to see all your EXIF data, you can go to Picture –> Properties. If you wanted to edit your photos in Picasa, this is where you’d do it – you can see three tabs on the left (Basic Fixes, Tuning, Effects) that allow for some editing. I very rarely edit in Picasa, but it’s nice to know those features are there. The only reason I even open things up in Picasa is because I take a lot of photos, but I don’t edit them all (I’d guess I edit about 1 in 10 of my photos – I keep meaning to look up that statistic for sure), and by opening up the photos here, I can then use the arrow keys to move through them all and decide which ones I want to edit. When I come to one (like this photo of some shrubbery), I can look at that blue bar on the bottom and it tells me the name of the photo (in this case: IMG_7304.CR2), so then I can find that image on my computer, open it in UFRaw/The Gimp and edit it.

After I’ve edited my photo and save the new image into the same folder, Picasa automatically recognizes that there’s a new file in that folder and adds it into the Library at the end of that folder (personally, I like that it sorts it so all the new files are at the end, it makes selecting my files for uploading easier – I just grab all the ones at the end!)

Exporting/Resizing my photos

Once I’ve edited all the photos I’m going to edit, I select all of them (in this case, there’s only one, but usually there’s more) and hit the little star button:

Adding a star

Adding a star

Now, this is obviously just a personal preference for me and not required. This star doesn’t mean anything outside of Picasa, but it’s an easy way for me to mark which photos are keepers in each folder. I never delete any of my photos, so if I only want to look at the photos I’ve actually marked as keepers, I can set a filter (at the top of the library screen) in Picasa to only show me photos that I’ve starred!

Next, I tag all my photos. Tagging has been upgraded in this latest release of Picasa so now you can store tags that you use often so you don’t have to type them in every time. Here’s the new tagging screen:

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Click to make bigger

The Quick Tags at the bottom allow you to easily add tags to your photos that you use often. The first two spots, by default, show the last two tags that you used, the rest of the slots you can configure to be whatever you want. Since I do a lot of self portraits and photowalks in Akron, Ohio, you can see why I picked some of the tags I did. The reason why I tag photos in Picasa is because I can easily select a bunch of photos and tag them all at once, and the tags are saved with the image itself, so when I export them and upload them to flickr, it will include the same tags there.

Another improvement with the tagging in this new release is that you can put special characters (like hyphens and ampersands) in your tags, which you didn’t used to be able to do! Exciting!

Note: I check out the new Places thing in Picasa, too, where I can add all my photos to a map. It’s pretty cool, but this information is NOT uploaded to flickr

So, at this point, I want to export my photos. I do this for a two reasons:

  • To resize a bunch of photos at once, it’s easiest to do this from the Export menu. I don’t like to upload my full size photos to flickr – it takes a lot longer to upload, and it gives other people access to my full-size images, which I don’t like.
  • Remember I imported all my photos onto my drobo (which is a fancy external harddrive) – this means when I’m on vacation and just have my laptop, I don’t have any of my photos. I like to export all the resized images to my laptop so that I can at least have those with me.

Here’s the export screen:

The export screen

The export screen

You’ll notice that you have the option to add a watermark, but it’s just text and not very pretty (in my opinion), but if you’re ever looking for a quick and easy way to add a simple watermark, this is a great option.

Picasa will export all my photos (regardless if they were RAW or jpg when they entered Picasa) to jpgs. I’m perfectly fine with that – in case you missed it, here’s a great article on DPS about file formats.

Other things I do in Picasa

The things I mentioned above are my “everyday” Picasa actions, but there are a few more things I’d like to mention:

Creating Collages:

If you want to create a quick-and-easy collage, you can select a bunch of photos and hit the “Collage” button:

Click to make bigger

Click to make bigger

That will take you to another screen where you have some options for the type of collage (default is Mosaic, but you can also do stuff like a pile of polaroids), spacing between the photos, background color, etc.:

Click to make bigger

Click to make bigger

The most annoying part is that you don’t have control over which photos go where, the only thing you can really do is keep hitting the “Shuffle Pictures” button at the bottom to move stuff around.

Set as Desktop Background:

I know you can easily do this in Windows, too, but when I’m already in Picasa, and I’m already looking at my photos, it’s really easy to do here, too. Just go to Create –> Set As Desktop

Adding Text to photos:

When I’m sharing photos on here, I often want to add text to them. Once again, I realize this is easy to do in Gimp, but I actually find myself adding text most often to collages that I’ve made (where I’m showing a before and after, for example, and want to mark one as before, and one as after). Adding text is really simple – remember when I talked about having the image open in Picasa and there’s the three tabs for simple editing? One of the options on the Basic Fixes tab is Text. Just select that, click on your photo, and start typing – you can select the font, color, and size – and even if you want it to be slightly transparent!

Quick Edits:

Remember how I said sometimes photos look pretty good SOOC (Straight Out of Camera), and they only need just a bit of tweaking? One of my favorite tweaks in Picasa is on the Tuning tab. Just click the One Click Fix for lighting and it will adjust the fill light, highlights and shadows for you – I find that 99% of the time it really does make the photo look tons better:

One click fix!

One click fix!

Well. I think that just about covers it. Do you do something in Picasa that I’m missing out on? Let me know!

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  • Guest

    need help.. I tried to open my raw files in GImp but the picture is very small. how can i configure gimp to open my raw files in its originl size than a thumbnail size thank you very much

  • Gimp actually can't handle raw files on its own, so you're going to have to either edit the raw files yourself using some software (for instance, I'm assuming your camera came with some software that can edit raw files) and then convert them to a file that Gimp can recognize OR you can install UFRaw - - it's a plug-in for Gimp that allows you to open raw files - when you try opening a raw file in Gimp, it will pop up a window that will allow you to adjust the settings, when you click OK, it will open the image in Gimp, so you can continue to edit it.

    I keep meaning to write an entry about UFRaw... but... well, I haven't yet! But someone did on DPS! You can check out that article here: http://digital-photography-...

  • Guest

    thank you so much I downloaded ufraw and i am loving it:)

  • Another Picasa fan here! I sort and cull my photos in Picasa and also love using the straighten and cropping tools before heading over to GIMP. I'm also digging the Faces feature!

    A feature I use a lot is the "Email photo" function. It resizes the photos for me so I can send quick snapshots to my mom or blog previews to a friend without a lot of fussing. If you hold multiple items in the tray, you can send a group of photos at once.

  • Bob

    What you didn't mention was the easy wat to crop I think that is a great feature. What I do need help in is: How do I move a photo from an E-mail into Picasa. Thanks for any help you can give.

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