Picasa’s editing options are described on the Picasa web site and most are pretty obvious. You can get a lot of entertainment from trying them out and combining effects. If you don’t like the result, just undo all the effects to get back to the original image, working backward in order. I do want to make some comments on the features I use most:

  • Cropping: Generally the first thing I do is crop the photo. This is one of the most critical elements to getting an attractive, well-balanced composition. The great thing about having an electronic format is that you don’t need to follow a standard size like 5×7 or 8×10. You can make any proportion that you like. When you think you have a good composition, try cropping again. You can usually cut out even more background than you originally thought you could to make a less fussy, stronger composition. I usually end up cropping two or three times, editing, cropping again, editing at least one more time, then adding a frame around the image. Be sure to save images you like as JPGs, because it can be hard to recreate the edits to get the same result twice.
  • Auto-contrast: I know some people say you should work on adjusting the contrast all by yourself, but I love auto-contrast. It saves so much time. After cropping, I start with that. It usually gets very close to the final product that you are looking for, and requires minimal work to adjust the look perfectly.
  • Auto-color is great for trying to fix color images. Again, a major timesaver. Not all photos can be saved by simply adjusting the color but it is worth trying on most pictures.
  • I’m feeling lucky works great every once in a while. I usually try it at the beginning and/or end of editing just to see what it will do.
  • I also spend time fine-tuning the highlights, shadows and lighting. Sometimes auto-contrast works so well you don’t need to do much, but some photos take a lot of experimentation. I tend to like pretty strong contrasts in my sepia and B&W editing, but deciding on the best contrasts and overall light effects is very subjective. Sometimes I will save several versions or work on an image days later to see if I still like what I did. Getting these effects right will make the difference between a pretty good picture and a great picture.
  • One of my favorite effects is sepia, because you can get a good looking finished photo even if the color is impossible to fix. Once you click on sepia, all the adjustments you did previously will disappear and you’ll have to edit everything again.
  • Once the sepia editing looks good, you literally only have to push a button to change it to black and white. It will need few editing changes unless you want to try to achieve a very different look.
  • Warmify can warm up a boring photo. It is a very strong look, so it doesn’t work well on many photos.
  • Glow can really make the whites in a photo pop. I generally use sharpen before using glow because it almost always looks better.
  • Sharpen is a great editing tool when you have a photo with a lot of detail. It really helps to define each separate element in the picture. I often use it before adding other effects.
  • Graduated tint is useful when the sky in the photo is much brighter than the rest of the picture. You can use it to tone down the top of the photo. I experiment with this tool a lot.
  • HDR-ish is occasionally just the tool for adding a beautiful effect to intricate or rough looking surfaces.
  • Orton-ish is occasionally just the tool for blurring the overall look slightly and giving a mellow or aged feeling.
  • Posterize gives a really contemporary and graphic look to photos. It is best used on photos with simple composition. I find it hard to use but I like the look when I’m able to make it work.
  • Vignette allows you to add varying degrees of shadowing to the edges of photos. It can be very effective in pulling together a finished look on a photo. I also use it after I have added a frame on the photo to soften the lines and make it blend more with the photo.

Most of these effects can be adjusted to varying degrees of strength. That is where trial and error and willingness to experiment will make the difference. Spend the time necessary to make the best picture you can!