Nowadays just about everyone has a digital camera. Whether you take the occasional fun snap with your mobile phone’s camera, or you’re a keen shutterbug with a top-of-the-range SLR which would make the paparazzi jealous, you could do with a good way of managing photos. Over a long period of time you’ll probably find that your photo files begin to build up in a chain of different folders. Whilst this system works, it’s certainly not the easiest to navigate, organise, and alter your images. Interestingly, Google Picasa is useful even if you don’t take photos yourself. It’s likely that you’ve been sent photos by friends and family; and you may be a habitual hoarder of interesting images from the Internet. Picasa isn’t limited to only photos – it will happily manage and edit any of the supported image file types. It’s got plenty of features, but it excels at organisation.
After installing Picasa and loading it up, it’ll either begin to automagically index your images, or it might prompt you and check what you want to index. Mine just goes scavenging around for any image files which exist on the hard drive. ‘Scavenging’ may be a misleading choice of word, however. It actually finds the files very quickly and shows them in their folders in the tidy sidebar. You can then scroll though these folders to see your images. This saves you navigating through different folders and their often confusing structures. It’ll also detect when any new images arrive and add them to its index. If you move or edit photos, it’ll notice that too and update itself. I was also impressed that it even saves screenshots – pressing the print screen button resulted in Picasa saving the screen capture. This could prove very useful if you need to take a number of shots, since it’ll bypass the usual gruelling process of pasting each shot into a picture editor and saving the file individually.
A feature which I really like is albums. Whilst you could (and probably do) organise your photos into folders which represent different events, places, or times, you may find that you’ve got a number of similar pictures in different folders. A recent example of this for me was the wedding I attended. I had photos from my camera’s memory card; photos from other people’s cameras; some I had downloaded from friends on Facebook; and a few folders containing images I used in the film I made of the day. Being able to save this mish-mash of images into one album made it much easier to find, view, and edit them in future. If you then want to keep a copy of your album or send it to a friend, you can have Picasa export the photos into a folder. It’s also worth noting that creating albums doesn’t affect the location of the photos – moving them into a Picasa album will not remove them from the original folder in which you saved them.
Importing photos was also a simple procedure. After popping a memory card into the slot it was just a matter of clicking the ‘Import’ button and telling Picasa where to look. It then automatically detected any duplicate photos so I wouldn’t end up with multiple copies of the same photos. If this was your intention, you can simply untick the ‘Exclude duplicates’ box, and then enjoy watching Picasa zip along as it copies the files to your PC and makes them nice and easy to access in future.
Of course Picasa will never match up to expensive software like Photoshop when it comes to editing your photos, but it works very well when it comes simple fixing and improvement. The red eye removal too was especially impressive; it automatically found the red eyes and turned them back to their usual, less demonic colours. If it can’t detect them alone, it’s a simple case of dragging the crosshairs to where the eyes are located. The other filters consist mainly of colour changes – things like shadows, brightness, and other effects. These fall under three editing tabs which become visible when a photo is double-clicked to view it larger. If you’re feeling even more creative you can create collages of chosen photos, folders, of albums. The collage I created of the wedding album looked very high-quality and would be well worth sending off to a friend or family member to briefly showcase your photographic skills or show them what a grand day they missed out on. Another smashing feature is the ability to create video slideshows of your photos. Music, titles, and captions can all be added to the stream of pictures before exporting the file in a video format that can be viewed in media players and potentially DVD players.
Yet another fantastic feature is the ability to upload your photos quickly and easily to Picasa Web Albums. Not content with providing photo software for you, Google also runs an online service where you can store your photos online to share with others. You just need to choose an album, folder, or image to sync to the web, set a couple of options, and then they’ll be safely stored on the Web. The privacy settings are simple but more than adequate – you can click the ‘settings’ button before syncing to choose who can see your album – everyone, those you give the link to, or allowed users who have a password. Picasa will then keep track of any changes that you make and keep the online photos updated as per your alterations. You an disable the auto-update of the online album if you wish by disabling the sync again. The photos uploaded can also be reordered or deleted by visiting your online albums page.
Having long avoided photo management software, I’m very impressed by Google’s offering, and therefore glad that I downloaded it and gave it a try. It’s got an intuitive interface, fantastic features, and it’s fully free. You can download it from picasa.google.com
Fiddling with photos is fun, isn’t it? Whether you’re an advanced Photoshopper or a casual photo snapper, it’s always nice to be able to have a bit of fun with your masterpieces. I won’t be talking about smashing free photo manipulation software in this article – that may be saved for the future – but I will be pointing out a couple of fun websites which let you style your photos in a more exciting manner by allowing you to turn a dull mugshot or landscape into something far more exciting. These selected online photo tools come in the form of BeFunky, PhotoFunia, and Dumpr.
Let’s begin with the first of these strangely named beasts – BeFunky. This is my personal favourite of the three, and it differs a bit from the other two. This site is more geared towards adding effects to photos of people, especially faces. There is a small selection of techniques which can applied – such as Warhol, charcoal, and patriotic. After choosing an effect there are also a bit of additional fine-tuning which can be done to the effect. There are sub-options within the main option. For instance, choosing ‘Patriotic’ will change your photo to a typical red and blue style, reminiscent of stereotypical presidential candidate posters. However, this base effect can also be changed by selecting other options within that category, one of which will add a star effect to the photo. Another rather smashing feature of the website is the ability to add extras to photos – anything from hats to red lips are available for your customising pleasure. After completing your masterpiece you can download it your PC for keeping, or send it to a friend so she can marvel at your handiwork. A feature I especially like about this site is that it’s incredibly easy to change the effect you’ve applied without losing the other additions you’ve made to the photo. Pop along to www.befunky.com/photoApps.php to begin your epic quest to change a photo.
The second website is PhotoFunia. This one is more centred upon putting a face on landmarks or objects. For instance, you could have your mug carved into Mount Rushmore or printed on a dollar bill. Some of the effects come out better than others – a lot of it seems to be dependant upon the size of the photo; if it’s too small you might have trouble making it look right on some of the designs. However, when they do look right, they’re very good. I was especially impressed with how the dollar came out with Bill Gates’ head on it; it looked very realistic. You can test these out at www.photofunia.com.
Finally, we come to Dumpr, the most strangely named of all the strangely named websites. This one is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s some rather smashing photo effects – the Rubik’s cube being my favourite – which will make your images look rather dandy. There are also some more dull ones, which won’t really make them look very interesting at all – such as Lomo, which seems to some sort of faded film effect. Some of them are very clever though, such as the one which adds someone taking a photo of your photo as if they are a famous person (it makes more sense if you see it yourself.) You can test these at www.dumpr.net.