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Preview Pictures with a Lightbox Effect in Windows

Are you tired of the default photo previewer in Windows 7 and jealous of your Mac’s cool Quick Look Preview tool?  Here’s how you can preview your pictures in a fast and snazzy way in Windows with the Picasa Photo Viewer.

If you’re using Mac OS X, you can quickly preview your pictures and more by selecting them in the Finder and pressing the space bar.  It quickly lets you see your picture in a larger size, and zooms in and out when you open and close the preview.  A similar Lightbox effect is popular on many websites; click a picture, and the page will fade while the image zoom out larger.  Windows 7 and other versions of Windows instead use a full preview application that can take several seconds to load and contains a full window frame.

A small irritation, to be sure, but if you often find yourself previewing images, this can be time wasting and frustrating.  Thanks to the free Google Picasa program, though, Windows users can have an equally useful picture previewer.  Here’s how you can start using the Picasa Photo Viewer to preview your pictures, even if you don’t want to use Picasa as your normal photo organization and editing program.

Getting Started

To get the Picasa Photo Viewer, we’ll have to install the full Picassa application as normal.  Download it from Google at the link below, and then install as normal.

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Google will ask to set your default search engine and send anonymous usage stats to Google, among other things.  These are all checked by default, so you may want to uncheck them when you’re completing your installation.

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You’ll need to run Picasa to setup the Photo Viewer.  On first run, select if you want Picasa to scan your computer for pictures or to only scan your Documents and Photos.  Unfortunately, there is not an option to skip the scan, so you’ll have to select one of the options.

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Now you’ll be presented with the Photo Viewer Configuration window.  Select to Use Picasa Photo Viewer as the default viewer, then select the file types you’d like to viewer with the Viewer or just click Select All.  Don’t worry; if you don’t like the new Viewer, you can always revert back to your previous settings.

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You can now look around the Picasa program, or just head back to Windows and continue with your work.  Next time you want to preview a picture, simply double-click the photo or click the Preview button in Windows Explorer.

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Your screen will dim, and the picture will zoom out and display in a full-screen overview.  No window chrome, just your picture and your desktop behind.  The preview loads almost instantly, and looks sharp!  Press the left or right arrows on your keyboard to go to the next images in the folder, or scroll in and out of the picture by scrolling with your mouse wheel.  Close the preview by pressing the Esc key on your keyboard, or click the X in the top right corner.  The preview works beautifully, with zoom in and out animations when opening and closing a preview.

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The Photo Viewer does have some additional items on the bottom of the preview, though these will appear grayed out until you hover over them.  Click the small thumbnail of other pictures in the folder to preview them, click the arrows to browse through the pictures, or click the play button to start a slideshow.

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If you click the arrow button on the bottom right, you can select to open the picture in any of the installed and compatible image editors or viewers.

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Or, of course, if you’re previewing pictures in Explorer and wish to open a picture directly for editing, click the down arrow beside Preview and select the program of your choice.

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If you click the grayed out area around the preview, the preview will switch back to look like a normal Windows application.  Click the exit button to close the preview, or double-click the image to open it full-screen again.

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Note that Picasa for Linux includes an option for the Photo Viewer, but it didn’t work correctly in our tests.

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Change Picasa Photo Viewer Settings

You can easily change the Photo Viewer’s settings.  If you’re running the Picasa program, select Tools in the menu bar and then click Configure Photo Viewer.

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Alternately, select Configure Picasa Photo Viewer directly in the Start menu.

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Now you can select all the file types you want to preview with Picasa Photo Viewer.

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Or, from the User Interface tab, you can change several things about the Photo Viewer.  Uncheck the Zoom with mousewheel box to turn off this feature, or have the preview open in a window by default by unchecking the Fullscreen startup box.

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Disable the Picasa Photo Viewer

If you decide you’d like to turn off the Picasa Photo Viewer, just open the viewer configuration as above.  On the first tab, click Don’t use Picasa Photo Viewer.  Close the dialog, and now your photos will revert to the previous preview program you’d setup before; if you’re not sure what viewer was setup as default, you can see the previous settings listed beside the file names above the disable button.

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Conclusion

The Picasa Photo Viewer is one of the biggest reasons we installed this program.  We were very pleased to see that Picasa remembered our previous settings and quickly restored them when we turned the Photo Viewer off, and additionally made it easy to continue editing in another program other than Picasa.  If you’re a Google fan, you may like using Picasa to organize and backup your photos, but even if you prefer other organizers, the Photo Viewer is a great and fun way to preview your pictures.  It fits in great with the Windows 7 interface, and seems more natural than the default Photo Viewer.  Try it out, and let us know what you think!

Link

Download Picassa from Google

Matthew digs up tasty bytes about Windows, Virtualization, and the cloud, and serves them up for all to enjoy!

  • Published 07/19/10

Comments (7)

  1. Alejuss

    Thank you very much for this tip, really I liked and I am already using it.
    A hug from Argentina.

  2. GBot

    Yeah, Picasa is awesome, but join the discussion about a known issue when displaying RAW images. Hopefully if we shine enough light on this problem (mild pun intended) then Google will fix it.
    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Picasa/thread?fid=446e3f69dc88cf7400048b9206dad92f&hl=en

  3. Matthew Guay

    @GBot – Ah, I hadn’t heard of or seen that problem, but then again, I just use a point-and-shoot camera or my phone, so I don’t actually use RAW files.

  4. Ivor

    Thats really handy, how can i set it up so that i have a keyboard shortcut to envoke the preview mode? Am i also able to view psd’s?

  5. Matthew Guay

    @Ivor – I don’t know of a keyboard shortcut to invoke the preview mode (other than if you’ve selected a picture in Explorer, press Enter and it will open in a preview). Also, I don’t believe Picasa can preview PSD files.

  6. Fodaro

    I’s just point out that you don’t have to use a preview application in a separate window in Windows 7; use Alt+P or click the second button on the right of the toolbar to open the preview pane. Personally, I don’t see what’s wrong with this, apart from the lack of eye candy.

  7. Leeroy

    Any way to roll your own?

    Without installing more software?
    I mean it’s done so simply on the web, why can’t it be simple in Windows

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