I'd been hearing a lot about Picasa 2 lately so I decided to try it out. I don't do a lot of photo editing and have always had Photoshop or Macromedia Fireworks around when I needed to touch some things up or resize some images to send by e-mail. However, both of these programs are complete overkill for what I do with images. Picasa 2 is available as a free download from Google (http://www.picasa.com). The blurb from the website gives the best overall descrtiption::
"Picasa is software that helps you instantly find, edit and share all the pictures on your PC. Every time you open Picasa, it automatically locates all your pictures (even ones you forgot you had) and sorts them into visual albums organized by date with folder names you will recognize. You can drag and drop to arrange your albums and make labels to create new groups. Picasa makes sure your pictures are always organized."
Picasa 2 is an easy to use, lightweight program that makes it easy and pleasant for a home user to organize, share and edit their pictures.
The first time you run Picasa 2, it asks if it can scan your hard drive for pictures. You can specify whether the software can scan the whole hard drive or just "My Documents, Desktop, My Pictures". I chose the latter and Picasa 2 started its scan. As it scanned, it created entries on its left navigation bar for the folders that it found.
There are 3 main areas to the interface. Vertically on the left hand side, there is the Folder List. The "main" window, to the right, is called the Lightbox. Along the bottom is a frame that contains the Picture Tray.
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The Folder List displays all the images that Picasa 2 is aware of. It organizes items by date and folder name. It also will display any "albums" that you've created. The Folder List provides an easy way to navigate through all of your pictures. There are also lots of options on the context-sensitive menu (by right clicking) so that you can rename, move folders and images around, start a slideshow, or hide the folder.
One side note - if you don't have the time set correctly on your camera, the dates shown in the Folder List will not be what you expect. Picasa 2 looks at the image details, created by the camera (EXIF data), not the date you copied your pictures to the computer to determine the "age" of the images.
The Lightbox fills most of the space of the window. It displays all the thumbnails in all of the folders or albums that you've set up. The Folder List (on the left) is a good way to navigate around the Lightbox. If you click on a folder on the left, the Lightbox scrolls to the appropriate folder.
There is also a search box at the top of the Lightbox. By default, the search box is just that. However, there's a little icon to the right of th search box that expands a window to allow more advanced searching. One of my favorite advanced search features is a slider that lets you specify how recent the pictures can be in the Lightbox. It defaults to "All" images, but can be moved down the most recent set of pics (for instance, I could view pictures as recent as 2 days old, since that was the last date of the pictures I had taken).
On each folder or album available in the Lightbox, there are a set of Actions, by dropping down a menu on the right side of the "title" bar of each folder. This Actions menu allows the same functions as right clicking on the folder in the Folder List.
A main purpose of the Lightbox is to select images to add to the Picture Tray. You can either Ctrl-click to select specific images, you can click-drag to select several pictures, or you can select an image and click the Hold button in the Picture Tray to keep it there.
You can also double-click an image to view that image. From this screen, you can apply any edits or filters that you would like.
The Picture Tray is a "holding area" for images that you'd like to work with. Once you have a set of pictures that you'd like to manage, there are several functions that you can do to the whole group.
1. Label them as a new album, or add them to an existing album
2. Apply rotation -- clockwise and counterclockwise
4. Email -- use Gmail or other email client to send pictures
5. Create a collage
6. Use Hello to instant message them to someone -- another Google service
7. Post them to your Blogger blog
8. Order prints from an online provider. You can choose between walmart.com, Shutterfly, Ritz or Wolf Camera, Ofoto, or Snapfish.
9. Export (allows you to resize and edit image quality to optimize for the web or email)
When you double-click on an image, a new view opens up to let you do some basic fixing and editing for pictures. One interesting thing is that if you make changes to your pictures with Picasa 2, it doesn't actually change the image on your hard drive. You can always open up the picture in another editor and it will be just like the original. Picasa 2 saves a simple text file that describes the how and what of the edits that were applied to the picture. If you want to save your changes permanently in a new file, you can "Save a Copy".
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There are three categories of tools for picture editing: Basic Fixes, Tuning, and Effects. The best way to learn these features is just try them out. Remember, you can always undo anything and it won't change the original file.
Picasa 2 is a great program for the home user to modify, organize and share pictures. It's easy to learn, hard to mess things up and the user interface is fun and pretty. There are enough image editing and manipulation features to let a home user play around with "lite" versions" of some of the effects and fixes that imaging professionals apply to their photographs. The download is also free. I'd highly encourage anyone to download the application and give it a try. It doesn't take very long to learn and if you don't like it, you haven't lost any money.
Picasa 2 Home Page: http://www.picasa.com/
Picasa 2 User Forums: http://forums.picasa.com/