One of the best features of digital cameras is that they encourage people to be snap-happy, taking many pictures without having to worry about the steep development and printing charges with old-fashioned film. And with the capacity of digital-camera storage cards rising past a gigabyte, photographers can take a huge number of pictures before having to empty their cards onto a PC hard drive.
This technological advance has created a new problem, though: image overload. While taking digital photos is easy, actually looking at them later – let alone organizing, renaming, and publishing them – is a chore. The result: millions of hard drives holding billions of photos in neglected folders called “My Pictures,” with anonymous filenames like DSC0113.jpg and PICT0274.jpg.
But the latest crop of photo management tools – inspired by now-familiar concepts from the Web such as searching and hyperlinking – can present your pictures in an organized way without turning you into a file clerk. With a bit of effort, you can even use some of these tools to create a multimedia album of your life, with each image or other file connected to the people, events, and topics that are important to you.
Picasa, a free download for Windows machines from search leader Google, has several highly useful features. The best, by far, is its ability to “find the pictures you forgot you had,” as Google puts it. When you start Picasa, it automatically scans specified folders on your hard drive, for example, “My Pictures,” and organizes the photos it finds there by date, using the information (known as EXIF data, for Exchangable Image File Format) attached by your camera when you took them.
From Picasa’s main photo library window, you can then scroll through thumbnails of your photos, select a group of them to view as a full-screen slide show, or – using a feature unique to Picasa – wheel through an animated timeline that spins either right-to-left (backward into the past) or left-to-right (forward to the present). It’s a fun way to retrace your photographic journeys, and be reminded of just how many pictures you’ve taken over the years.
Like most other image-management software, Picasa also automates simple image editing tasks, such as removing red-eye, adjusting color and contrast, straightening and cropping, and adding special effects. (Also, befitting a Google product, one editing button is labeled “I’m Feeling Lucky.”)