I use Google’s Picasa program to organise my digital photos and, for a free tool, it does a commendable job. It has some basic editing features too, often all that I need. Some of its behaviour is a little quirky, I admit, but mostly it allows me to file and categorise photos, make albums, and generally manage the photos and videos that seem to accumulate so rapidly.
I don’t use the web folders feature much – perhaps I should, as a backup in case of hard disk failure and for ease of access from elsewhere. One thing I do use is its face recognition feature which I originally thought was a bit of a gimmick but which has come in very useful on occasion, especially as a memory jogger or when I’ve needed a photo of a particular person. It sometimes surprises me too, like when it spots facial similarities between kids and they turn out to be siblings! Using it is a big investment in time but it seems worth the effort.
There is ONE BIG PROBLEM though which is not immediately obvious: it doesn’t store folk’s names within the image files (as metadata tags, stored as EXIF data) or as a separate file in the image folders. This means that when you make a backup, none of the names is recorded. If you ever have to restore your images, as I had to recently due to the death of my laptop, then all the faces have to be re-entered by hand. OK, it starts off by grouping similar faces together so you quickly build up core names, but then it starts to slow.
Not only do you have to identify people you know, you also have to tell it to ignore faces – one face at a time! Imagine a set of graduation photos where you know only the name of your son or daughter!
And then Picasa doesn’t identify ALL faces in a photo – a face might be slightly turned or blurred for example, or it might get confused by the background etc, so you have to go through one photo at a time.
It’s fine, doing this one by one as photos arrive, but when confronted by 9,500 photos and a similar number of unidentified faces, it becomes very, very tedious.
Maybe this has been a bit of a wake-up call, encouraging me to delete redundant and uninteresting shots. I doubt I’m alone in this – it’s too easy not to be ruthless. After all, disk space is cheap and it takes effort. Storage space is not the problem, but there’s no point in keeping loads of photos and videos unless you’re able to find what you’re looking for. Not only that, but backing up or virus checking all these unnecessary files consumes processing resources.
I know some people believe in keeping everything. Personally I don’t think that’s good practice. If you’ve ever had to sort out the junk of a deceased relative, or ever had to wade through old documents and files of a former employee you’ll know what I mean. However, although I try to dump duplicates and out-of-focus shots when they arrive, there was still scope for a lot more ruthlessness.
Back to my problem: I have hundreds, if not thousands, of photos taken of kids and staff at the schools where I worked in India and Sri Lanka. I knew all their names but I am sure to forget them in time. Although I may never need them again, it’s part of their identity and part of my life experience – I don’t want to lose them. It’s worth taking some effort now so that the names don’t fade with time. So, for the last week I’ve been working on this little project as time allows.
There are some features I would like to see in Picasa:
- I would like to be able to mask groups of photos from this automatic face recognition.
- I would like to be able to see the EXIF tags at the time I enter names in the face recognition.
- I would like optional EXDIF tag removal on export, for privacy reasons (eg removing names of children).
- Sometimes the photos against suggested names are just too small to be able to identify – they should be scalable.
- and there needs to be a way of keeping names with photos so that both are backed up together.
No doubt Picasa will improve as it matures. Until it provides an easy way to backup names, here is a SIMPLE WORKAROUND: Once you have entered the names then select a person to show an album of all photos containing that person. Select all photos in that album and then tag them all with the person’s name. Repeat for each person. It’s not optimal but at least names and photos are now connected. Useful when you have a sieve-memory like mine!