Look out iPhoto, Picasa 3.0 is about to give you a run for your money.

Picasa is a free, downloadable, photo editor now available for Windows XP, Vista, Linux and Mac platforms. It is easy to download and not only keeps track of your photos no matter where they are on your computer, it also has photo editing features you won't find for free anywhere else. It super easy to use and fun to play with. But before you can get started, you’ll have to download a free version.

Getting your Free Software

Here are the links to download the version you need. One word of caution, you'll need to have an Intel Mac to take advantage of Picasa 3.0. If you have an older Mac, you'll still be able to use Picasa Web Albums. You'll want to check back next week, when we talk about those.

Once you download the program, you’ll have to install it like you would any software program. Decide where you want to have it reside, and open.

If you think you'll need more help installing Picasa, here is a website that'll help:  MyPicasaDownloads

Picasa will scan your computer and find your pictures and movies wherever they are on your computer, including ones you even forgot you had. Picasa won’t move them, it'll just keeps track of where they all are. On a Mac, it will even integrate your iPhoto library. The program works with JPEG, GIF, BMP, PSD, and movie files and is compatible with most digital cameras. Just think of the time you'll save trying to locate that photo you knew you took on vacation in 2004.

When Picasa is done, it'll open the Library page. You'll notice that your media will be organized in Folders or in Albums.

Folders in Picasa contain your media and will appear in chronological order. They represent actual folders on your computer's hard drive that contain photos. Be careful because changes you make to folders in Picasa will affect the corresponding folders on your computer's hard drive. For example, if you delete a photo from a folder in Picasa, it will delete the photo from your hard drive. There are different views of your Folders available, you can find under View. Unlike Folder, Albums exist only in Picasa. You can create an album that contains combinations of photos from multiple folders. For instance, you might want to have an Album of your favorite photos. While they can be found in an album, you'll also be able to find them in their folder. Unlike Picasa folders, your albums don't correspond to real folders on your hard drive. When you delete or move photos from an album, the original files remain in their original locations on your hard drive.

The main part of the window is called "The Light Box." Beneath it, you'll find a status bar giving you information about the Folder you are viewing. Beneath that, you'll see the Photo Tray. Here is where you drag your photos when you want to create an album or edit them.

As you are adding a number of photos to your tray, you might have some you know you want to hold onto. The green lightening icon "Holds" the selected picture in the tray until you "Clear" it by selecting the red circle. The bottom icon in that row, adds the pictures in the tray to an Album.

Basic Editing

Picasa never changes the original image of your photo. It just keeps track of the changes you made. Select a photo you'd like to edit. It will appear in your Photo Tray and the Editing menu will appear on the right. You can select Basic Fixes which includes things like red-eye reduction and cropping, but also lets you straighten a photo, add text, or retouch the photo. I'm Feeling Lucky lets the computer figure out auto contrast and auto color changes to your photo.

Tuning lets you add light to a dark photo by using the slider, or add warmth to a bright photo. It's also where you can touch up a photo. The wands on the side are the "I'm Feeling Lucky" changes you can ask the computer to automatically suggest. Notice the "Undo Tuning" tab in the left bottom corner. It will return your photo to the version you last had.

Effects gives you thumbnail views of the different effects.

There are four choices (the ones with the "1" in the corner) that simply give you one version of that effect. The rest all have sliders that let you adjust the amount of filtering, focus, or color saturation you'd like.

It is really fun to play around with these, and when you have the photo exactly the way you want it, the new version will be saved. Remember, Picasa never changes your original. It will always be saved in an "Orginals" sub-folder.

The best way to really learn about Picasa is to get in and play with it. Here are a few resources you might want to check out if you'd like more information:

  • This is a video from Google introducing Picasa 3 to PC users. While some of the features are not yet available on Mac and Linux versions, there is still a lot of good information on Picasa.

  • Here is a link to a HelpMeRick YouTube video, it is geared toward PC users but again, there are tips here for any Picasa User.

  • This is the Google Help site for Picasa.

Next week, we'll talk about how to share your photos and Picasa Web Albums. In the meantime, enjoy learning about and playing with the photo editing features on Picasa.