Q: I have amassed quite a collection of images from my digital camera and am having a tough time keeping them organized. Any suggestions? — Peter
A: Digital cameras have made taking pictures of just about anything easy and carefree, but the resulting pile of digital images can challenge even the most technically astute.
The primary problem is that we build collections over a long time and the organization of these images can easily change with the various cameras that we use.
If you are in a multi-camera household, it can become even more challenging since different cameras use different file formats, different default directories and different interface programs.
Years ago, I discovered an useful photo management program that has evolved into one of the best on the market, and the best part is that it’s free.
It’s called Picasa (www.picasa.com), is one of the many properties of the Google family and is one of the bestkept secrets on the Internet. (For those that used the original and have not updated to Picasa 2, it is loaded with tons of new features.)
Not only can it help you locate and organize all of the images on your computer (no matter where they are), it gives you easy to use tools to improve image quality, an easy way to make slide show CDs for friends and family, an easy way to backup images and simple image compression so you send pictures in an e-mail friendly format.
It automatically locates and sorts pictures and videos into visual albums based on the date of the files so you can quickly view all of your photographic masterpieces in chronological order.
Each folder that constitutes an album uses easily identifiable labels that can be edited and shows you how many images are in each folder. You can even give a gold star to any photo you love so you can later search for your "best of" collection.
You can password protect folders, quickly get rid of red eye, optimize the contrast and brightness and write captions that will stay with the picture.
Another great feature of the current version is that it works with most cameras for downloading images directly into Picasa albums, which eliminates the need to install those bulky, poorly written programs that come with most digital cameras.
For those camera buffs who like to work in RAW formats, the latest version works with the highest quality files from camera manufacturers such as Canon (.CRW, .CR2), Nikon (.NEF), Olympus (.ORF), Pentax (.PEF), Kodak (.DCR), Sony (.SRF), Minolta (.MRW), and Fuji(.RAF). New models supported include the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (aka the 350D), Pentax *istDS and Konica/Minolta Maxxum7D (aka the Dynax 7D).
The best thing about Picasa is that it is fast (once all of your pictures have been indexed) and easy to master, yet is powerful enough for hard-core photography types. If you own a digital camera, this is a must-have piece of software.