BACK IN THE DAYS OF film photography

BACK IN THE DAYS OF film photography, photographers used to be very careful with the amount of pictures they took. This was because film photography cost money. Each exposure on each piece of film cost you a penny. Not anymore. We can happily snap away to our hart’s content, with no regard for our wallet whatsoever. That does of course mean that we are taking many more pictures than we used to. Indeed, it is not unknown for snappers to come back from a 10 day holiday with several 2GB memory cards filled to the brim. Our dream of Utopia is soon shattered, however, when we start looking for an image we took six months ago. You are then faced with the challenge of pilling through bucket loads and bucket loads of old photographs, and unless you have a very strict archiving methodology, you may never find the image at all.

More about Google Photos (ex Picasa)

Enter image management systems

In the brave new world of software development we currently inhabit, a problem such as this will never stay without a solution. Using what is know as a photo management system, or image management system (which has a nicer acronym), you can easily keep track of any number of photos, drawings and, in some cases even things like movies and audio files. A good image management system will allow you to keep tabs on your pictures by allowing you to categorize and tag your images. It will generally create a centralized database which will store miniature copies (or thumbnails) of your images, which helps your computer to speed up the process of generating previews, which can make it a lot quicker to browse through a big collection of pictures.

Image management systems come in any number of different shapes and sizes

Image management systems come in any number of different shapes and sizes, from the top-end Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom, aimed firmly at professional photographers, to the more broadly aimed ACDSee Photo Manager and Adobe Album. Picasa falls firmly in the second category falls firmly in the second category. Not only is it very simple, yet powerful to use, it is also available for the bank breaking price of… Nothing! That’s right, nada. Google is giving away Picasa 2 for free. Like the fresh air that we breath (in some parts of the country), anyone who wants Picasa, can download it at no cost whatsoever. Provided, that is, they own a PC. That is because Picasa is not available for Mac. There are tools available to upload images to the Picasa Web Albums, but the image management software is still PC only.

Like all image management systems

Like all image management systems, Picasa builds up a database of thumbnails, and when you first install the program, it will ask you whether you want it to scan your computer for images, or just certain locations, such as My Documents and My Pictures. Be warned that this can be a very lengthy process.

My hard drives contain over twenty thousand images, most of them high resolution files, and some RAW images and It took Picasa more than an hour and a half to scan these. One nice feature, which is not common amongst image managers, is that Picasa leaves your original folders in tact. It does not move files about, and does not require you to place newly imported images in specific locations.

This means the program can easily slot into your existing filing system. Once all your files have been scanned, you will invariably be left with some images which you do not want to have included in your database. These will include images that form part of programs you have installed on your system, or pictures which you have downloaded from the web, and which does not form part of you photo collection, but fortunately it is easy to remove these from your collection.

You can also tell Picasa which folders you want regularly scanned for new images. Having the program scan your entire computer every time you start up is impractical, so you can instead point it at locations where you regularly copy your new images. For instance, some photographers choose to arrange their images by date, copying all images taken in march 2008 into a folder called ‘March’, which is located in a folder called ‘2008’. In this case you could simply tell Picasa to scan only the ‘March’ folder each time you load, which will minimize the workload on your system.

And speaking of arranging images by time, one of Picasa’s nicest features is how it builds a database around the date and time when images were taken. Using the built-in metadata in images captured on a digital camera, Picasa knows when an image was taken (provided you remembered to set your camera’s date and time). This allows you to easily browse images according to when they were captured, which in itself is often enough to find a specific image in a database of thousands.

If you prefer not to have your database arranged by date, and would rather view them as they are arranged on the disk. But there are other ways that Picasa helps you to arrange your images. Again using the file’s built-in metadata, you can add a caption and a keyword to an image or a group of images.

The fact that this is done using the IPTC metadata is very handy, because it means that should you want to open the files in another program, the caption and keywords will be available along with the file. In some other image management systems, your caption is stored in the central database, meaning that if you ever decide to migrate to another program, you will have to go through the process of captioning all over again. Once you have captioned and keyworded your images, you can easily search your database by typing the selected keyword in the search bar. This will then bring up all the images which have been tagged with the selected keyword. Another interesting feature is that you can search for images by color.

Say you remember taking a picture of bright red sunset, without having keyworded the image, you can type ‘color:red’ in the search bar, and all the images which contain a lot of red will appear. Picasa does not recognize all color names though, you cannot search for burgundy, it only recognizes the obvious ones like blue, red, green, yellow, etc. (brown is a notable exclusion, presumably because the system confuses it with red or yellow.)

Beyond merely locating

Picasa does a lot more than helping you find images. Like most good image management systems, it allows you to interact with your images. It has some basic image manipulation capabilities built in, but these are just that: basic. If you need a robust editor you are better of looking at a program like Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or Gimp.

Using Picasa, you can add a bit of sharpening to your images, or turn them into black and white, or maybe increase the contrast or apply a slightly different crop. It also has a “I’m feeling lucky” button, which will let Picasa adjust the image according to what it think is best. Again, like all good image management systems, it leaves the original images in tact, it creates a separate file to which these adjustments are applied. Much more exciting is how it allows you to share and look at your images.

Picasa has a built in slideshow viewer, which makes it great for showing off your images. It also has a facility for uploading your images straight to the web using a service like Picasa Web Albums or Flickr. You can also use it to create photo cd‘s and to order print directly from the web.

Final Verdict

We really like Picasa, it is a very professional piece of software, and it has some high quality features. Not only do we recommend it to anyone and everyone who asks, we have even installed it on our own system and use it to keep track of all our thousands of images.

Picasa – Google Photos

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