Add Face Recognition to Lightroom w/ Picasa!


We teach clients how to manage their professional image libraries using a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Bridge. I typically don’t recommend iPhoto for most professional libraries.

Then Apple added Faces (facial recognition) in the latest version of iPhoto. I’m loath to give up my professional workflows, but easily keywording photo libraries with people’s names is a game changer for many businesses.

This week I started testing Picasa 3.5, free software from Google, which now includes face-matching. It works great, integrates easily with Lightroom or Bridge, and did I mention it’s free?

Download a Free copy of Picasa 3.5.

Picasa is free photo editing software from Google. I haven’t worked with the previous versions, however the latest version, Picasa 3.5, adds powerful new facial recognition features, which is what attracted my interest this time around. You can download Mac or Windows versions:

Download: Picasa 3.5 for Mac.
Download: Picasa 3.5 for Windows.

Step 1. Launch Picasa the First Time.

The first time you launch Picasa, a dialog box announces that Picasa is ready to search your computer for photos. This dialog nicely sums up Picasa’s strengths and weaknesses for our purposes.


Strengths: Picasa doesn’t move or copy your image files. You’ll be able to easily add new keyword metadata without upsetting your current file management system.

Weaknesses: Picasa makes it difficult to work on a specific photo library. The default options of searching default user folders or everything is terrible. We’ll get into that in Step 2.

Step 2. Use Folder Manager to target specific folders.

In Picasa, choose Tools > Folder Manager. This is where you tell Picasa which folder to scan for photos, and which to ignore.


We’re using Picasa to augment existing photo libraries, so you may have to do a little digging in this dialog box. In this example I’ve disabled all the folders except for the specific collection I am interested in.

Step 3. Wait for Picasa to scan your photos for People.


This will take a while. To demonstrate this tip I used a folder of family photos from our trip to Maine in 2007. Picasa took about 1 hour to scan 1,711 photos (about 4GB of disk space). Bigger collections take longer.

“Enable Face Detection” is turned on by default. You can find options for that in preferences under the “Name Tags” tab.

Note: Yes, we do take a lot of family photos!

Step 4. Start Identifying People’s Faces.

This is the fun and time consuming part. Picasa automates and streamlines the face-matching process. Here is the short version. Click on “Unnamed” under the People tab, pick a face, and start naming.


I can’t turn this tip into a detailed Picasa tutorial, so I recommend reading Google’s help files for more details.

Help Files: Adding Name Tags in Picasa.

My biggest time-saving tip is that you’ll end up identifying the same people again and again. Once you’ve started naming a few faces, you can select multiple photos of the same person in the Unnamed list and drag them over to the correct name. Saves a lot of time.

Step 5. Add People’s Names as Tags.

You just finished identifying everyone’s name right? But Picasa doesn’t embed that information in the metadata of your files. The goal this tip to get those names into your keyword lists to Lightroom or Bridge, so we need to add this extra step.


First, display the Tags palette by choosing View > Tags.

Under the People list, click each name one at a time and select all the photos in that set (Command-A on the Mac). Then in the tags column on the right, add a Tag with that person’s name. As you work, those tags are automatically added to the original image file metadata.

Step 6. Names are now embedded in image metadata!

Your work is done! The name tags are now embedded in the metadata of each of your photos. Which means they should be visible in Adobe Bridge, Photoshop or other image management tools. (Read below for an extra detail for incorporating this technique into Adobe Lightroom).


Bonus: Using this technique with Lightroom!

Unlike Bridge, Lightroom will not automatically recognize these metadata changes in your image library. If we wanted to use a tool like Picasa to quickly run facial recognition on a collection of photos, here is the process you should use:

Before Using Picasa: Select all the photos in your library, and choose Metadata > Save Metadata To File. (This writes any metadata changes from Lightroom back to the original files).

After Using Picasa: Now, back in Lightroom, select all the photos in your library again, and choose Metadata > Read Metadata From File. (This imports all your new name keywords into your Lightroom database.


10-Week Flash CourseSource: This tip was inspired by the 10-Week Lightroom Course that Steve Laskevitch is currently leading in our live, worldwide classroom. In fact, in today’s class Steve is digging into keywording in Lightroom, and we just might throw in a live demonstration of this tip in action!


  1. Immanuel says

    I tried the above steps today using Picasa 3.9 and Lightroom 4.2. It worked perfectly well!! Picasa scanned 41 000 pics. Some were omited without reason but the process saved me many many hours of tagging!!! Thanx for the tip!

  2. says

    hey,this is one of the best posts that I’ve ever seen; you may include some more ideas in the same theme. I’m still waiting for some interesting thoughts from your side in your next post.

  3. gabriele says

    Great tip Danckel!

    It works very fine also with RAWs, preserving Lightroom changes while adding the tags.

  4. dan says

    this would be a great tip if it worked with raw/dng files. what’s strange is that from all the people who warned against the potential issues nobody bothered to do a test. well, I did and the only thing that happens is that lightroom never manages to read those tags. it just gets stuck “reading XMP data”. but the actual tags are never read, that’s all. It does read whatever tags I had before doing this trick, but not the people’s names. so that makes it useless if you shoot raw/dng. I hope picasa does two things in future releases:
    – make this work by using the newer metadata standard mentioned in other comments
    – automatically add a tag with the person’s name once a face is identified, that’s a no-brainer

  5. says

    @ Eric

    It’s not a problem as such but picasa automatically tags people in photos reasonably accurately with very little input from the user.
    Lightroom requires you to go through manually and tag people in each picture. Which is very time consuming if you take a lot of family photos with groups of people.

    It would just be nice if you could use picasa to do the tagging then have those tags available in lightroom.

  6. says

    Why go to all this trouble, when keywords can be used in LR for pictures? This is my workflow, I have a keyword called “people” and there is family, along with family last names and the individuals underneath, my school and everyone associated with that, all embedded in the hierarchy. This accomplishes the same thing.

    also- the email I wanted to enter-– was not recognized as a valid email address.

  7. says

    Hey Craig,

    Don’t you think you should put a note at the beginning of this article, explaining what has come out here in the comments? Not everyone reads comments to articles such as this, obviously… Your site is gaining (or must be, I should say) a lot of attention these days, thanks to your incredible training webinars, and I would hate for your burgeoning reputation to be tarnished by someone having their Lightroom database bunged-up by this tip!

    Sincerely, and respectfully,

  8. says


    It’s not a corruption problem, it’s a synchronization mis-match. The other issue is that Picasa does not write metadata to RAW files. While your test may have worked with JPEG files, that doesn’t mean that you can simply substitute RAW files and expect the same results. It doesn’t work that way, even if you wanted it to. The only possible way might be if you had a RAW+JPEG set for each image, and LR or CS3 bridge would read the legacy IPTC info written by Picasa, and then write both IPTC and XMP into both the JPEG and the RAW files.

    You can set up Photo Mechanic to read IPTC before XMP, and then write the info into both IPTC and XMP into both the JPEG and the RAW. However, I’ve not tested to see if Lightroom or Bridge can do this so you’ll have to do some testing.

    If you have written any metadata to those files with Bridge or Lightroom, and that includes Star Ratings, color labels, or color setting info, then trying to write the “keyword tags” in Picasa is unlikely to work anyway.

    My recommendation is to test on a small set of duplicate files before proceeding, as I don’t think you will be able to get the results that you want.

    Hope that helps.


  9. Gary King says

    Very interesting article, very promissing, but reading David’s comments it’s also quite worrying…

    I ran through the process on a small folder containg 50 jpg images and hey presto, LR now has all the people in the images keyworded.

    Now, I have been shooting RAW (Canon 40D) for a couple of years and am afraid of messing everything up.

    If I follow the process for my entire image collection (jpg & raw) and then uninstall Picasa, will I be safe from the potential corruption/sync issues outlined by David?

    If I understood David correctly, the risk is if I were to go back into Picasa (after having editted the tagged images in LR or CS3) and updated the metadata.

    I’d only want to do this once and hopefully be disciplined enough going forward to tag new images as and when I import ino LR. Hopefully Adobe will incorporate face recognition in LR in the future.


  10. says

    David, thanks for the detailed comment.

    I’m sorry I didn’t test this fully before posting the tip. We did test Picasa quickly with a range of formats, but my test files for the face-matching was only JPG.

  11. says


    As Geoff and Richard have pointed out, there are significant problems with the procedure you outline for RAW or DNG file formats. In the past Picasa has only recognized the “legacy” format of IPTC, usually referred to as IPTC-IIM (Information Interchange Model). Adobe Bridge, Lightroom, Photo Mechanic and many others are designed to work with this older format AND a newer format known as XMP. For those that want a better understanding of these formats see the Photometdata website (

    I posted this to my last night and only had time to test this morning. In respect to metadata, nothing has changed with Picasa. It is still unaware of XMP, and does not write metadata to RAW or DNG files in a way that other applications can read this information. The only way you can tie these tags (or descriptions) to a NEF or DNG file is to “export” the image to a JPEG in Picasa. In that instance the metadata is written using the older legacy IPTC format, and can be read by other applications. The problem with this method is that any changes made to the files in other programs and written to the DNG will be ignored by Picasa, and thus “lost.”

    What you propose in this blog post is likely to cause major problems for all, except for those photographers that only shoot JPEG’s or only use applications that do not store metadata in the XMP format. If they do use the facial recognition to identify people, and add those as tags to the images, they need to be very careful if they then move from Picasa to another application (to retouch or adjust colors) to never go back to Picasa to modify the image metadata, as this will create a synchronization mis-match between the IPTC and XMP containers.

    The ideal solution would be for applications such as Picasa to move forward and adopt the use of XMP metadata. Short of that, they could adopt the methods proposed by the Metadata Working Group ( and create a flag to let Photoshop and other XMP aware applications know that the legacy IPTC metadata container is “fresher” than the information in the XMP container.

    Hope that helps others avoid this potentially disastrous problem.


  12. says

    Just tested this and it would appear to be true.

    I tagged a photo in Picasa which was straight from the camera, so I knew there weren’t any tags already present then imported it into Lightroom and the tags showed up.

    So if that is the problem what is the solution do we have to wait for an update from Google?

  13. says

    It appears as though Picasa is still using the legacy IPTC-IIM format to write Tag metadata instead of the now-preferred XMP-based IPTC Core format.

    This can lead to problems with tools that track changes of IPTC Core in precedence over IPTC-IIM in image files.

    In such cases, if an image file already has IPTC Core Keyword metadata, and Picasa adds further Keywords (Tags) using IPTC-IIM, the tool will not pick up on the fact that a change has occurred to the image file, and the file and tool database will get out of sync.

  14. says

    Richard, in our tests, this works with raw and dng files. Although it would be limited to raw files that Picasa supports, so the results might vary depending on your camera.

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