While almost all of my articles over the past year have been about Adobe Photoshop, I’m well aware that not every reader owns that marvelous application. Recently, I was “re-acquainted” with one of the best free programs on the internet: Picasa from Google. Not only is it PC- and Mac-compatible, it’s so stinkin’ simple to use that I felt I needed to give it props as an awesome graphics tool for any arsenal.
Step 1: Download and Install Picasa
In this article, I am only going to touch on one detail of Picasa’s functionality. But once you see the simple power of this one item, you’ll happily explore all the other wonders of Picasa even further. Head on over to http://picasa.google.com and download the latest version. As of this writing, Google is at version 3.0 (Figure 1, below).
Step 2: Let Picasa Locate Your Media
Once installed, Picasa will pore through your entire system, cataloging all the photos, videos, and whatever other imagery you might have. Then, that content will be nicely organized for you to view within Picasa.
One of the things I love about this is that by looking in all the directories on my computer, I can easily see photos long-since forgotten. Picasa will even organize the folder structure based on an actual year such as 2001, 2002, 2003, etc. (Figure 2, below).
Picasa allows you to open a photo to do the usual editing such as cropping and retouching. But some of the filters, such as soft focus, make the ability to introduce visual effects so incredibly easy. By moving your cursor over the area you want to be clear, you can make the rest of the image soft and blurry—no Photoshop masking is required! Changing the lighting or color temperatures is just as easy, with simple, one-click functions or slider bars to ease the process. Again, play around with Picasa and you’ll see just how fast it is.
Step 3: Create Your Collage
One of the cool features I want to show off is Picasa’s ability to take a group of photos and instantly create a nice photo collage layout. Simply find a folder of images on the left column and click it. As you do this, you’ll see the images that are in the chosen folder scroll to the middle of your screen. Now, click the bottom icon called Collage (notably, you’ll also find Upload/Email/Print/Export/ Shop/BlogThis/Movie/Geo-Tag). When you choose Collage, all of your photos will instantly appear stacked together in the middle of your screen (this is the Picture Pile profile). Don’t like the layout? Click the Picture Profile and change it to Mosaic, Grid, Contact Sheet, or many others. The simple part is that you can also click and delete the photos you don’t want to be part of the collage. You can also click and rotate images, or try the Settings tab and choose Picture Borders. In one click, you can give all your photos a Polaroid photo border. The process couldn’t be simpler.
Scramble Collage or Shuffle Pictures can instantly give you a nice variety without needing to manually manipulate the photos arrangement (Figure 3, below).
I’ve found Picasa to be the perfect complement to my Photoshop work—especially when I want a really cool group of images to be displayed as a background quickly. I’ll have Picasa do the grunt work and then I’ll import that background into Photoshop to be placed as an additional element. As I mentioned earlier, not only is it superfast and free, but with multibillion-dollar Google being the muscle behind it, there’s no telling what’s to come.
As you might guess, I’ve barely touched on many of the features available with Picasa: You can create slideshows, upload photos to an FTP site, create cool gifts, and much more. So download a copy and start exploring all the amazing things Picasa can do for you!
Lance Gray (lance at pixelpops.com) is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas, simply email him.