How to Use Picasa

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Picasa is a very cool software. It does 90% of everything you'll ever need to do with pictures. You can use it to sort, tag, crop, captio, darken and a few things besides. Enough talk, let's start doing something. First on the agenda, of course...

Installing Picasa

This is really, realy easy. You can google picasa, or get it together with the updated version of Google Earth, Firefox, Adobe Reader.

Just follow the instructions and you'll be fine. The installer will do it's thing, and then picasa will search for all the pictures on your hardrive. If you have a folder whose content you don't want to show in your picture library, you can password protect it.

After it's done I would suggest reading AT LEAST the really good getting started help section. I was going to write my own guide, but then I figured that didn't really make any sens. Everything google does has wicked good help.

Easy Picasa Workflow

If this course goes as I plan, most of you should start taking a lot more pictures than you do now. To this end, it is imperative that you don't waste time needlessly in sorting and editing your pics. The method I'll sketch here is designed to strike a balance of sorts between time spent and effectiveness. Some compromises are indeed made, and these compromoises WILL cost you some shots, some of the time. But Sun Tzu says, "If you try to be prepared everywhere, in truth you will be in every place open to attack".

The photographic equivalent of this "if you try  to not lose any shots, you'll end up taking pictures only twice a year".

As I explain the workflow, I'll call attention to the compromises are that I'm making so you can make your own choice on the risk/return tradeoff involved.

  • Have the camera set on the right day and time!
    This is crucial! Ten years from now, when you're looking for that shot which for some reason you can't find, the date and time might be your only clue. If you have 120,000 pics, all "taken" at 0.00 of 1st Jan 2000 (or whatever your camera default is), you're screwed.
  • Put a memory card in the camera and format it.
    ALWAYSformat your memory cards when you put them in the camera, it a void trouble like corrupted data, etc.
    I'd also add that if you haven't used the camera since hte last format, and a few days have gone by, I'd format it again. This has no safety justification whasoever. It's just so the folder will have the right creation date, and picasa will sort it appropriately with all the others. So far, no compromises.

  • Take the pictures in normal jpg.
    This is our first compromise. The way of the nerd would be to go RAW, or at least High-Quality Jpeg. RAW is a lossless compression format that preserves all the original sensor data, and allows you to change the white balance, output size,etc. on you computer. It 's great, and I almost never use it.
    Why? it's about five times the size of a normal jpg. I can get at least 600 pictures from my D50 into a 1gb memory card. I can only put about 140 or so raw files. If the light is right and there's something even vaguely interesting, I shoot that many pics while waiting for the bus. Then of course you have to keep the things around on your n your hard drive 'til kingdom come. It doesn't even stop there. Anybody can open a JPG, you need a special program to open raw files, a different one for each manufacturer! So if you want to actually do anything with the pcis, you'll have to make a copy in Jpg anyway. Thisis isn't a bi g deal for a pro, but you're doing this as a hobby. You want to come home with a memory card, and have all the keepers touched up and on the web withn half an hour or so. If that's your goal use Jpeg normal. If you're daddy own seagate, and your mom sandisk, and you can afford to waste time twiddling with settings on your raw converter, go right ahead. I ONLY shoot raw when I'm completely at a loss as to what white balance to set (many different kinds of light in the pic.) This of course is a compromise, in the sense that you WILL get a certain number of pics that would have been salvageable if only you'd shot them in RAW. On the other hand, you don't have to spend six hours editing pics every time you go out for a day's shoot.

  • Put the pictures in a folder on your hard drive
    depending on your camera this might mean different things. Check out the manual. In general if your camera doesn't allow being read as a disk drive (so you can't just drag and drop the pictures from the normal file explorer thingy), I'd get a card reader. No sense messing with proprietary software just to copy some files.
    How you call the folder is up to you. For example I have a "Barcelona" folder, and then lots of "Barcelona 1 - Arriving", "Barcelona 2 - University" etc.

  • Open Picasa
    After a few moments it should start indexing your new folder. When it's done you'll get the new name of the folder on the left side of the screen.

  • Star the ok ones
    to start, Click on the first picture, so it enlarges it. Use the right keyboard arrow to cycle through all the pics. If any look OKish, press the spacebar to put a star on it. When you get to the last one, return to the library view (the normal one with the thumbnails.

  • Edit your pictures and weed out the weaklings.
    I start by cropping and then decide whether I want the picture rendered in color or black and white. Basically if the colors aren't all that great, I always go with the B&W. It makes it easier to get the look I want without getting lost in the meanders of color space, etc. If I want to do color I use the shadows and highlights sliders, together with the histogram, to get things to look as I want them to. If I want to do B&W I ALWAYS use the "filtered black and white" option, which gives vastly superior results, and then do the shadows and highlights. If the picture needs it, I'll sharpen it as well.
    As soon as the picture looks ok, I move on to the next one. It should take me no more than a minute or so per pic. If after a minute or so of messing with it, I still don't like it, I remove the star and move on to the next one. Be ruthless, you can still cahnge your mind later. Note that the pictures you take the star away from still remain in the tray. This is again a compromise. If you want the best results no matter how long it takes you, of course you want to open it in photoshop and mess around with it for an hour or so. But that's work, we're trying to have fun, remember?

  • Double check your editing
    There's lots of things picas can do to make your pics look good. Unfortunately all of them can be overdone. Sharpening for example looks great when you do it, but might seem a little to harsh upon looking at it again. Saturation is another control that always looks nice when you do it, but can easily be pushed to far without noticing,
    So what I like to do is to return to the library, reselect the starred pictures (so I get rid of the ones I unstarred), and go through all of them once again. That way I can check if any of them look a little to extreme.

  • Export to folder
    Picasa by default never modifies your originals. It just remembers what you did with the picture and re-renders it the same way everytime you open it. Check it out to convince yourself of this, if you browse to the pics directory, all the .jpg files are in their unedited version.
    To actually get the changes you want, press CTRL+SHIFT+S, to "export picture to folder". In the popup window, select original size and about 80% or so quality. Now you have a folder with all your edited pics. You can do two things with this.

  • Upload to Flickr (or Picasa Web Galleries, or Smugmug, or...)
    For this course we're using flikr because of the groups thing. Of course there's no end of photo sharing sites. We'll concentrate on flickr however.
    What you want to have is the Flickr Uploadr, a small gadget you can run on your computer. You take your exported folder, drag it over the Uploadr window and drop it. A short dialogue box later, your pictures will be automatically uploading to a flickr folder you specify! Convenient. Use the dialogue box to set general tags for all your pics, and then the flickr interface to add specific ones as required.

  • Make a best of directory
    If like me you use the directory tree with a Barcelona folder, and several numbered subfolders in it, you can take all the good ones and copy them into the Barcelona folder. That way you have all your great pics from a given location in the same place, and all the numbered folders with the originals as well. Otherwise you can just delete thetemporary export folder. Picasa lets you easily select your starred pics anyway. 



 That's it

You're done. If all goes well, you should have a gigabyte of pics sorted, and the good ones edited and on their way to your flickr account in no more than 30 to 45 minutes. Back in my film days, I used to spend that much time screwing with maybe one or two slide scans. If you want to use RAW, you can still go that slowly. As far as I'm concerned the whole point of digital is to do stuff fast.

This is a fairly minimalist workflow, but these are the only steps I take 90% of the time I download a memory card from my D50.

Sure, I miss some shots that I could have saved, but so what? I lose shots anyway by not being the right place, not looking in the right direction, etc. It's not about the shots that get away, it's about the shots you do get. The less time you spend in front of a computer screen, the more you can actually be around with your camera, (or doing anything else for that matter). Forget about the occasional spoiled image, nobody will ever see it anyway.

Of course if you're a pro wedding photographer, you can't afford to miss shots, since you can't really re-shot the "I do" scene later. That's the sort of situation RAW is for. If you are a recreational photographer, don't bother.