Sunday, May 12, 2013

Un-Jumbling Picasa

Non Destructive Photo Editors, have an achilles’ heal. Whilst they don’t change the original file (some may make a copy of it) they normal have to store the procedure that was undertaken and this is typically stored in a datafile somewhere. It might be a sidecar style file (like lightroom’s .xmp format) or a in the same directory (like picasa’s ini file) or even in a master database (lightroom’s catalogues). Because these files are normally hidden then it is possible to miss a corruption and damaged data could easily get formally rolled into your backups and archives.

In the process of moving around a lot of my photos I started to noticed that on at least two of my computers that Picasa occasionally displayed the wrong thumbnail. Clicking on a photo might reveal something else. The full view was the correct photo but the thumbnail didn’t match. Pressing the Refresh Thumbnails in the folder View did fix this locally. However the more I looked the worse the mix ups became, what appeared to be folders of new photos seemed to have some old photos scattered around. then the thumbnails would change! It looked bad. Yet I didn’t panic I know enough about picasa to know the original photos would be untouched. What was happening was some kind of mixup in the linking to the photos. But what about all my editing, tagging, and geocoding. Time to tread warily.
Then I updated to version 3.9, build 136.20, and my main photographic machine would not load picasa at all. Looking at the release notes didn’t give me any hint of what was going on The thumbnail mix up just got worse and worse. Time to get serious.

Fixing the Mix Up

The Google Picasa Help, recommends a fairly drastic way to Rebuild your Picasa Database, if you follow this approach you should definitely backup your photos first (yes they do recommend that). Yet I was still not convinced I needed such a drastic measure!

A much gentler explanation and procedure to follow appears in Picasa Tutorials , under the post/tip by Chris Guld, When your pictures get "All Messed UP" however her first approach no longer works (at least in picasa 3.9). The second approach might sound a bit scary but it is actually easy just make sure you have closed picasa and rename the folder C:\Users\User\AppData\Local\Google\Picasa2 Folder manager dialogue(replace User with your user name) to something else (like …\Google\Picasa_corrupt).  Notice I suggest renaming the folder not deleting it, this might be vedry important (see saving Face below).

Now is the time to follow the instruction to uninstall picasa, download the latest version and reinstall it. When picasa restarts it will set about recreating the database. This can take a long time! So I did it in two steps for the initial run as prompted I just guided picasa to look through my pictures directory only. Later I used the File/Add Folder to Picasa... menu to identify my external hard drive folders and selected just the folders containing my archived photos. Rather than having the scan always I selected these to be scanned once and also checked the face detection on for these folders

Picasa.ini to the Rescue

Picasa stores most of the actions you undertake on your photos in a hidden file called picasa.ini which is stored in the same folder (sub-directory as the photos). Mostly this is to do with how the photos has been edited and what process/filter has been applied. Details of which photos you have starred and any album you have chosen to also include that photo within. Some of this information is also stored in teh central data files but the picasa.,ini file remain a secondary location and when picasa is re-installed and begins reading through your directories it can use this information to recreate you views in picasa as before.
Simple example of what’s in a picasa.ini file
category=Folders on Disk
As I had extensively used staring and albums as part of my organizational tasks as I load new photos into picasa I was keen not to loose this information, and it was preserved. Also the geotagging information was actuall stored embedded into the EXIF metadata so it was also preserved.

Saving FacePeople manager Dialogue

The one thing that may be lost in the picasa database rebuild process is the identity of which face can be recognized in which photo. This is a bit complex because the recognition that a photo contains a face is stored in the picasa.ini file, but like the thumbnails the actual contact name is stored in the main database. Further with the google+ changes the way these names are synced is a bit different. So the good news is in theory if you have sync to the web ticked on the tools/people manger tab (shown here) then your contact information will already be synced to gmails and/or google+. However what if they aren’t? Great Aunt Mable probably doesn’t have an email address anyway. That is why it was better to rename the picasa2 folder, because all your names can still be accessed in the file called contacts.xml. You just need to copy this back into the new folder once it is set up (ie soon after picasa start searching your computer for folders). As this process progressed I noted that under 3.8 build 136.20 where the person is identified by you, their name with their email address when defined, is now included under the new [contacts2] label in the picasa.ini file. So Maybe these hassle can be avoided in the future.

It  has actually taken me a few days (mainly taken up as picasa trawled my directories and photo storage location on external hard drives) but I am now confident I don’t have any more funnies in my photo collection. My confidence in picasa as a reliable non-destructive Photo Organizer has been restored.
So in the words of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy Don’t Panic.
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