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How to Add Keyword Tags to Your Photos with Picasa

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Picasa is a program from Google for organizing your digital images. Picasa also offers some image correction tools, but its strength is definitely in taming your photo collection.

Picasa is available for free for Windows and Mac, and is available for download.  It might be free, but make no mistake: Picasa is a very capable digital asset manager.

Why Keyword Images?

Picasa can help you to keep your photos manageable. The more images you create, the more you'll add to your digital collection, and the harder it will become to keep that collection usable. One of the best ways to get organized is to add keywords to your collection. Adding keywords to your images keeps everything easy to search and explore. When we add keyword tags we build a collection that can grow in a sustainable, meaningful way.

Don't be fooled by the price tag - PIcasa is incredibly useful for digital asset management. As your collection grows, adding tags to your images keeps it highly explorable.

Computers can interpret images in a lot of ways; they can tell us which day our image was made or what settings we used on our camera when the image was captured. But no software can tell us what's going on in the image, and that's where we need keywords to bridge the gap.

About Controlled Vocabularies

No matter which piece of photo software you're using, it's essential to use a controlled vocabulary, or limited number of keywords in your collection. Without keyword sanity you'll soon have conflicting tags. You might have "puppy", "dog", and "pooch" in your collection, for example, but which one do you look for when you want just the right picture? Having a controlled vocabulary is a way to plan, track, and describe your pictures in a repeatable way.

When you start keywording your collection, try to control your vocabulary and use a limited number of tags while still adding meaning to your images. As part of our series on Digital Asset Management, I highly recommend further reading on controlled vocabularies.

Adding Your First Tag

When you're ready to get started with tagging in Picasa, open the tag panel by clicking the tag button near the lower right corner of the application, or by using the keyboard command Control-T. The tag panel will slide open and you'll see text boxes to enter keywords.

Picasa Tagging panelPicasa Tagging panelPicasa Tagging panel
The Picasa tag panel is located on the right side of the application and is opened by accessing View > Tags. Adding tags is as simple as selecting an image and typing the tag. When you press enter, all selected images receive the tag.

To add your first tag, select an image from the center panel of Picasa, and type a tag in the box; press return to apply it to the image.

If you've added tags in compatible applications, (including from directly within Windows itself) Picasa will automatically pull those tags into the tagging panel and display them.

Adding Keywords to Multiple Images

The main reason many photographers don't tackle tagging is due to the time it takes to tag your collection. It's important to learn a few tricks to speed up the process, like how to tag multiple images at the same time.

Picasa multi taggingPicasa multi taggingPicasa multi tagging

Multi-selecting images is easy. To choose more than one image, you can hold Control on your keyboard (Cmd on Mac) and click on all of the images you want to include. Now, adding a tag in the tagging panel will add the tag to all images.

Configuring Quick Tags

Another great way to expedite your tagging process is to add quick tags, a Picasa feature that keeps your most used keywords ready to apply.

To get started with quick tags, find the quick tags panel at the bottom of the tags menu. Click any of the buttons marked with "?" to add a quick tag.

Quick Tagging PanelQuick Tagging PanelQuick Tagging Panel
At the bottom of the Tagging window is a panel called "Quick Tags." Quick tags are tags that can be added to an image simply by clicking on the tag. By default, Picasa shows the 2 most recently used tags at the top. Let's look at how to configure quick tags.

The new panel that opens allows you to add tags that will be ready at a moment's notice. Simply input the tags that you'll use frequently, and then they'll be close by at all times.

With quick tags configured, you can simply click a quick tag to apply it to the selected image.

Configure Quick TagsConfigure Quick TagsConfigure Quick Tags
The quick tags panel is fantastic for speeding up your tagging process. You can assign your favorites keywords to the empty boxes and apply them with a single click. Turn on the autofill option to have Picasa update and automatically choose the keywords for quick tags.

The best part of the quick tags panel is that it can be changed often. If you're keywording a portrait session or commercial shoot, you can keep the applicable tags at handy.

Search for Keywords

You've spent time adding tags to your images and are ready to reap the rewards of a well-groomed image library. The way to do this is with a search based on the keywords you've added.

Picasa has all of the search excellence you would expect a Google product to include. Tags are just one of many things that you can search your image library for; searching for a year or the name of a file will return it quickly.

The search box is never far away in Picasa, and is located at the top of the application on the right side. Searches are incredibly easy; simply start typing a keyword and choose it from the autofill, and Picasa will show you images that match those keywords.

Simple Search PicasaSimple Search PicasaSimple Search Picasa
Picasa's search feature is really powerful; simply start typing a tag you're looking for and Picasa will begin autofilling the search panel. Notice in the search box that Picasa will also search for any folders that match your search, or any images with the correct file name.

If you want to refine your search, try searching for multiple tags. When you search with more than one tag, Picasa will return only images that match all of the tags input.

The search feature is the way to capture the benefits of your hard work tagging your collection. With simple and multi-tag searches Picasa is a very capable tool for exploring your digital collection.

Wrapping Up

The tag feature in Picasa is easy to use and essential for maintaining a large image collection. Whether you're using this free piece of software or a more advanced tool like Adobe Lightroom, tagging your images with keywords will shape your digital collection into healthy image library.

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