Screen capture from Picasa. Good grief! How many snow pictures do I have??
Column for Lodi News-Sentinel, February 2005
By Ann Kerr
Has everyone been happily “Googling” since my column last month? I believe I said, “To know it is to love it.” This time I’m going to say, “To know it is to love, love, love it!”
Just so we’re on the same page, Google is an amazing search engine. Hopefully you’ve all bookmarked it by now and placed it on your toolbar.
Today, we’re talking about photos. Did you know Google has a section called “images?” Click on “images” on the Google home page and you will be able to quickly access millions of images from all over the world.
How can we use this in family history? I was putting together my Dad’s personal history with what photos I could get from my Mom. One of the things Dad talked a lot about was driving a produce truck as a young man. I had nothing to illustrate this part of his story. I went to Google, typed in “old truck” and came up with many pictures from which to choose. I ended up with about eight illustrations that could have been his truck. Even though it won’t be the exact truck he drove, including it will add a nice sense of history to his story.
A friend was looking for a particular ship in which his grandfather had sailed around the world. He was able to find that exact ship, as well as one of the tickets a passenger had to have in order to board the ship. Adding these items to his story was a nice touch.
One thing to take note of is the size of the image, which is listed directly below it. If it’s small, you may not be able to enlarge it to the size you want. I usually try to choose a picture that as a minimum of 500 pixels in size. Once you have chosen an image, right-click on it and save it on your computer.
Now on to the really good stuff. How would you like to be able to “Google” all the pictures on your computer? It’s now possible because Google bought Picasa, a popular photo-organizing program, and is giving it to us free.
Find it by clicking on “more” on the Google home page and you’ll be directed to the Picasa Web site for downloading. After installing, the program searches your computer for pictures. (Tip: You will have an option to search your whole computer or just the drives where you keep pictures. Don’t choose the whole computer unless you want to see images of every kind imaginable, many of which you’ll never use.)
Now you have your own private Google image finder. Type a word or words in the search box and without even pressing a button, all the pictures in any way related to that word will show up.
The first time I did this I was totally astounded! While my pictures were loading into Picasa the first time I had noticed some pretty winter pictures I had taken in the Sierras, so I decided to type “snow” in the search engine. Up came pictures I had forgotten I had, scrolling like slides on a giant light table.
In addition to scenic shots of pine trees laden with snow, Google found several pictures, some photos a friend had given me for a PowerPoint presentation, pictures from my childhood showing snow banks at our home in Idaho, a picture of pioneers crossing a frozen river, my daughter making a snowman at college, etc., etc. I was staring at my computer in disbelief. How did Mr. Google do it? And it took less than one second!
I tried several other words and names, all with the same result. But finding pictures is only the beginning. I could then choose one of them for tweaking and apply any of the usual quick-fix buttons (auto contrast, auto color, focus, etc.) One of the buttons (in a witty move by Picasa) is called “I’m feeling lucky,” which comes from a similar button on the Google search page. This time it means: “I don’t care which parameters you tweak, just make this picture look better.” The results are often astonishing.
Next I tried the “effects” tab. Here, at the touch of a button, you can change a color picture to black and white, make it sepia (or any other color), or choose from an array of other effects. One I had fun with was “Selective Focus.” Using a picture of my husband and me kissing when we were young, I moved a little icon around the picture until only our faces were in focus, and the rest of the picture gradually went out-of-focus. (You have a choice of how much of the picture remains in focus.) Then I changed the color to sepia, printed it off at exactly 5x7 inches using Picasa’s excellent print choices, put it in a frame, and within minutes had a striking picture for our sofa table.
Another effect I like is “Focal B&W.” Choose one item in your color picture to remain colored, and the rest turns to black and white. My daughter and I had fun playing with this feature using some pictures of parrots she had just taken at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego.
The best thing about all these changes to a picture is that Picasa doesn’t touch your original photo. You can make changes without fear.
There are several other options that you can explore on Picasa, such as being able to “instant message” pictures, put them on blogs, watch a slide show, make a screensaver, or hook up directly to online printing stores. One I really like is the ability to send one or several pictures by e-mail. The program automatically resizes the pictures for you so that they will be just right for sharing with friends.
How does Google plan to make money by giving us this wonderful program for free? Don’t know. But they have promised not to get everybody hooked on Picasa and then turn around and start charging or taking away features. So we will trust them because we love them. Enjoy the program!