Printing is especially well done.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


Picasa's amazing photo expertise

February 16, 2014

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, The Post-Standard

Picasa, the free photo management software from Google, at http://picasa.google.com, is unlike anything else you can use to edit photos on a Mac or PC.

As I mentioned last week, Picasa never touches your photos. It always works on a virtual copy. This isn't unique -- Adobe's Lightroom does this, for example -- but it's a great example of how software should work. (Read last week's article at www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec020914.html.)

Besides the essential task of displaying your pictures, Picasa has three other functions -- editing, organizing and sharing your photos. Its editing abilities are superb. It doesn't have some pro functions such as layering, but unless you're preparing pictures for magazine publication, you probably won't miss the stuff that's left out.

Editing functions include adjustments for cropping and straightening, auto enhancing, retouching, redeye removal, text overlay, fill light, highlights and shadows, color temperature, sharpening, color saturation, black and white by color filtering or tinting, black and white in a specified area of focus, graduated tint, film grain, soft focus, film-like effects, color inversion, duo-tone, vignetting, bordering and much else.

Thumbnails are normally organized by the actual nested folders on your computer. This can be changed to a "flat" view without nesting. You can select photos from any of your actual folders and put them in virtual albums, so that, for example, pictures taken at various times and places can be put into common collections. Photos can't be in more than one actual folder at a time unless you have two identical copies, but the same picture can be in any number of virtual albums simultaneously -- a great feature for slick photo organization. You can easily add tags and captions, and you can search by tag, caption and more. If you use Picasa's "experimental" menu, you can even search by the shade of colors in photos.

Printing is especially well done. Picasa will tell you if a photo doesn't have enough resolution to print at the size you're trying to make it, and its options for printing multiple photos on a page are superb.

Sharing photos is a strong point. Photos in a folder or album can be shared online in a Google+ album, by a single click for the entire collection. Any time you add a photo or take one away, the online album is automatically updated. If you edit a photo in any fashion, the online version gets the changes, too. Photos can be mailed easily and shared in other ways, also.

Picasa can display and catalog photos of all common formats -- JPG (also called JPEG), TIF, BMP, PNG, DNG and so on. But Picasa uses only JPGs when it saves edited photos, using the export function. In other words, when you want to use a photo outside of Picasa, Picasa will export it as a JPG. You have full control over the quality, and if you use Picasa's "Automatic" or "Maximum" quality setting, pictures will be indistinguishable in nearly every way from the originals. (People who knock JPG processing need to see how Picasa does it.)

However, if you're worried about Picasa's refusal to save photos in a lossless format such as Tif, you can relax. You seldom need to work with a photo outside Picasa. There are many advantages to doing everything in the program. Because all changes are made to a virtual copy, Picasa maintains a photo's first-generation integrity no matter how many times you change it -- lighting, color, cropping, sharpening, left-to-right flipping, and so on. So as long as you stay within Picasa when you view, print or share the photo, you never have more than one generational change to the original.

One more thing. I work hard in Lightroom or Photoshop when I edit photos for gallery exhibits to make sure colors are as accurate as possible. I also try hard to adjust bright areas so they're not totally blown out and dark areas so they have at least some detail. These common problems with most photos, and are sure signs they were edited poorly.

But with Picasa, I have no such hard work. Picasa's Auto Color function always repairs blown out areas, and a quick slider adjustment fixes the deeper-than-dark sections.

Sometimes, however, I absolutely must have lossless versions of photos I'm working on. Picasa's inability to provide that single requirement keeps it out of my pro editing workflow. But If Google would only add TIF, one of the lossless formats used by professionals, as an option when exporting photos, I would abandon a lot of other photo-editing software in a minute.