Missing Pictures & Folders in Picasa? How to rebuild your database

If you use  Picasa, the desktop based photograph management and uploading application from Google, you need to be aware that Picasa can lose images and folders from time to time. If you notice your pictures going missing in Picasa, first off, Don’t Panic!

Before We Continue – an Update

Google is dropping support for Picasa. You can keep using it, but if it goes wrong there’s nothing you can do. So here’s some options [taken from one of my replies in the comments below].

  1. You could keep using Picasa until it stops working … Not ideal but it will work for a while.
  2. Upload all your pictures to Flickr. Flickr online offers all the search, tagging and organizing into albums that Picasa does. And I think the new Flickr uploader works a bit like Dropbox, so you can create a basic folder structure on your computer to upload to Flickr. I say ‘I think’ because I haven’t tried the new uploader. I still use Flickr as one of my photograph backup sites (Dropbox is the other) but, see option 3. below
  3. Adobe Lightroom. $9 per month (last checked October 2016), this has an in-built upload to Flickr. It allows you to tag, geotag, name people, add titles, descriptions, rate images and organize them into endless virtual albums, and export the pictures in lost of formats. It also includes a very comprehensive, non-destructive picture editor. Unfortunately it has a fairly steep learning curve. I love it and it handles my 25,000+ personal images with ease, and also some 10,000+ images I hold for a customer for whom I produce a print magazine. With Lightroom I import the images from the camera into a dated folder (Year\month) in Dropbox, and Export them to Flickr once I’ve processed the images. I shoot Raw and Lightroom handles Raw Files, so I no longer keep jpgs. I can produce a jpg whenever I want to any size I want. Since switching to Lightroom I’ve had very little use for Photoshop, except for producing original artwork.

Now if you want to try and fix your copy of Picasa – read on…

Check Your Hard Drive

The good news is that your pictures are probably all okay.  Have a look around your hard drive – typically in a windows machine they’ll be in the ‘My Pictures’ folder unless you’ve elected to keep them somewhere else. And of course you keep back-ups?

I recommend Picasa to my customers, so I was rather concerned that pictures appeared to be going missing. Even more so when I started looking online and discovered this is fairly common, and the advice from Google is to uninstall Picasa and then re install it. This is fine if you haven’t been using Picasa’s virtual albums, or making use of Picasa’s rather uncanny face recognition software. In either case you’d need to start again from scratch. So I spent a couple of hours reading endless forums trying to find a solution that wouldn’t lose my albums. I’m not quite so worried about the people recognition, but it would be nice to keep that too.

Firstly my reading reminded me that Picasa unlike a lot of other Photo Organizing software actually deletes a picture or a folder if you ask it to do so. Some Photo Organizers  just remove the image from the organizer’s database, leaving the original alone just in case it is needed.

Windows 7 recycle bin on a black background

So if your problem has been caused by some over enthusiastic use of the [dakey k=delete] button, go check in your system recycle bin (usually an icon or your desktop), and if you find your missing pictures, use the File Restore facility.

Restoring pictures from the Recycle Bin
Restoring pictures from the Recycle Bin

If that’s not your issue, and you can see your pictures in Explorer, but not in Picasa, then before you think about rebuilding your database, there is another check to make.

Check Picasa to make sure you haven’t hidden some folders

Add a Folder to Picasa

Have you accidentally removed the folder or file from the Picasa ‘Scan list’? In Picasa click on File and then select  Add folder to Picasa…

Now check the list of folders for any that have a cross beside them. As you can see I don’t bother to get Picasa to look for photographs in some folders on my machine – mainly because I know these areas have duplicates at different sizes.

Picasa Folder Manager - Note the crosses
Picasa Folder Manager – Note the crosses

Rebuilding the Picasa Database without re-installing Picasa

If you haven’t hidden your folders, then it looks like rebuilding your database is going to be required. I found this great tip. There is a ‘secret’ key sequence you can use when starting Picasa that tells it to delete and rebuild the database. To work you must start Picasa from the Windows Start Menu or the Task bar. Hold down the [dakey k=Ctrl] [dakey k=Shift] and [dakey k=Alt] keys simultaneously and keep them held down while you click on the Picasa icon. When the following message appears you can let go of the keys.

Only do this if you are absolutely sure you want to delete your Picasa Database.
Only do this if you are absolutely sure you want to delete your Picasa Database.

Then all you have to do is sit back and wait… and wait… while it finds all your pictures, repopulates your Photo albums, and also (if you have Face recognition turned on) goes through and finds all the faces again. Unfortunately you may need to reconfirm those faces it has trouble recognizing. Picasa took between 1-2 hours to index my 33,000+ images.

Re installing Picasa — DON’T DO IT

Unless you have kept a copy of the install program do not uninstall Picasa. The install program is no longer available.

There’s a Google Support page to tell you how to uninstall and re install Picasa. If you are reasonably technically savvy this blog post tells you what files to save to keep your albums so you can get them back when you re install Picasa.

Backing Up Your Pictures

External drives, SD Cards, DVDs all offer fairly easy ways of making back-ups – depending on how many pictures you have. I also keep copies of my pictures on-line in Flickr – you can have up to 1 terabyte free. Or as Flickr puts it:

[dacallout type=big]1 terabyte = 218,453 16.0 megapixel photos[/dacallout]

That’s quite enough space for most people!

The important thing is to make a copy. Also, remember to check that your back ups are okay, and make a new copy every now and then. Media deteriorates over time.

So, if your pictures are important make sure they are backed up. Especially before doing anything recommended above.

Do not rely on the likes of Facebook to keep copies of your pictures. Even if you tell Facebook to upload high quality images, it still only keeps fairly small (around 2,000 pixels maximum width or height), and quite highly compressed (low quality) versions. If you want to check how bad it is try uploading a picture showing black text against a red background.

Why Use Picasa Anyway?

I use Picasa for several reasons.

  • Picasa lets you scroll through your pictures very quickly
  • The Search functionality is very good especially if you tag your images
  • Creating albums is very quick
  • You can export images at different resolutions – which makes producing smaller images for websites a breeze. I used to use my Nikon Software to run a batch process to do this. Picasa does it much more quickly and easily.
  • Automated Collage production. I use these a lot for posters and promotional materials.

I do not use Picasa to edit my pictures. For that I use a combination of Capture NX 2 and a now aging copy of Photoshop, which is all I need for the simple image fixes I perform. And I don’t use Picasa to embed the IPTC data. For that I use Nikon’s ViewNX 2, which also provides Geo-location data.

19 thoughts on “Missing Pictures & Folders in Picasa? How to rebuild your database

  1. Clint Lalonde

    Thanks for the Ctrl-Shift-Alt tip! Been having a heck of a time with Picasa not recognizing photos in my networked folders and this did the trick. Thanks for taking the time to share.

    1. Gary Post author

      I’m glad it worked out, it can be a long process to re-build the database. I’ve also found it frustrating not having an option in Picasa to force it to look for pictures. I add new pictures, then have to wait for Picasa to ‘discover’ them, which can take a few minutes. I’ve not found a solution to that problem (yet), but I live in hope!

      1. Diane

        Gary, thanks for the helpful post. I let Picasa update itself the other day, and it stopped displaying photos in my watched folders. It seemed to only show the default (My Documents, Desktop, C: drive). I had several network folders watched (containing many images). I tried several ways to get it to update, and then tried turning off monitoring of several folders. I was able to turn off some, but it seemed I couldn’t remove folders which had been deleted or moved (so folder location was no longer valid). Maybe that’s what hung up Picasa. However, it was very inconvenient to lose ALL my watched folders just because some were no longer available. Finally I decided I had no option but to reinstall. I could try rebuilding the database, but that would take just as long, and perhaps the invalid folders would mess it up again anyway. I reported this to Picasa, but thought I’d paste the description here, as well.

        I’ve used Picasa at work for many years, as a way to manage and easily find stock photos (those which we’ve downloaded from our subscription). If stock photos come embedded with keywords (or, you can copy/paste them into the tags area), it makes it easy to find photos in your own collection as needed. I agree, the most annoying thing is that in all these versions for the past 5-6 years, there still isn’t an option to ask Picasa to check for new photos. It gets around to it in a few seconds, or a few minutes, or a few more minutes, or half an hour…and sometimes you really need it to work NOW! Since it’s possible to “refresh” any Windows folder, I don’t see why Picasa can’t be prompted manually.

        However, we have discovered that Picasa seems to recognize items on the Desktop more quickly than other locations. It’s not 100% reliable, but if you want to manage new photos in Picasa, it’s worth copying/transferring them FIRST to the Desktop, waiting for Picasa to see them, doing what you need to do, and then moving the folder to your desired location.

        1. Gary Post author

          Picasa is so good for organizing, browsing and searching pictures it is such a shame it goes quite so disastrously wrong from time to time. I feel your pain!

          That’s a great tip about dropping pictures onto the desktop though – Thanks. I’ll give it a try.

    2. Phil Kohan

      Clint- I followed the directions – control- alt – delete and the message popped up. Then I deleted the database. Nothing happening – just wait or any suggestions?
      Thank you.

  2. richard

    I am running windows 8. I tried the fix to recover my photos using the shift,cnt,alt. it did not work. any other suggestions

    1. Gary Post author

      No, you are not being dim. Picasa doesn’t have a recycle bin – as it actually deletes files it puts them in the system recycle bin. Look for the system recycle bin on your desktop.

      Does that help?

      I’ll have a look at the article text and see if I can make it clearer – thanks for the feedback.

  3. Brent

    THANK YOU! The Ctrl + Shift + Alt trick for re-populating the database worked! Been trying to figure this out for so long. Worked like a charm!

  4. Cihan Ozdemir

    I actually have a different problem. On my PC, picasa facial recognition took me FOREVER to complete. It was great when i would search some “thing” or some “one” and picasa would display the results. Picasa on the web was just as good until Google Photos took over and now i go to search the online database (which is supposed to be the same) and my results are drastically different. No more getting the full complement on my results. Any ideas?

    1. Gary Post author

      Sorry no. I’ve kept well away from Google Photos. I wonder if anyone else has a suggestion. I’ve found the desktop version to be very accurate in picking people out.

  5. Elizabeth Meyer

    Hi, so just finding your article now. Have lost some important pictures in Picasa. I will try your tips to get things back. Are you still recommending Flickr for photo storage? I didn’t realize Google had stopped supporting Picasa! All of my kids baby pictures are on there…

    1. Gary Post author

      Flickr is now only free for up to 1000 pictures, if you want more you need to pay, $49 per year. I’m still using Flickr, is a great backup for my pictures and half the price of Dropbox for more space. There is also Google photos, but personally I don’t trust Google not to change or drop something with little warning, Picasa being a typical example.

      1. Gary Post author

        And just to prove me right, Google are changing the rules about keeping photographs on their systems.

        If you are an Amazon Prime customer you can upload pictures to Amazon. Until you can’t…

  6. Rosemary Adamson

    You can no longer download Picasa so once you uninstall it, it’s gone forever. I just did that. Oops!

    1. Gary Post author

      Google has this amazing habit of buying companies whose products I like and then retiring them. I’m sorry to hear you’ve lost your copy of Picasa — I moved on many years ago so I don’t have a copy of the installer or I’d share it. I’ve updated the article to advise people not to uninstall it, thanks for letting me know.

      1. alden baker

        Dunno if anyone is still viewing this thread but I’ll post regardless. Gary, thanks for the posted info; it’s quite helpful! I must confess that I am still running Windows 7 and will not progress further with M$. It does everything that I wish and I have lifetime leases / own all the software that I’ve installed on several Windows 7 machines. (As opposed to doing monthly, quarterly or annual software leasing payments which seems to have become the business model these days; at 72, I’ve become quite stubborn and reject much of what might be termed “current wisdom”.) Many challenge my remaining with Windows 7 speaking about security. Acronis backups are easy and can be done frequently / automatically so if I am compromised, I can wipe and reinstall.

        Now, if anyone is interested I have always saved downloaded / installed software to my software library– that is, the .exe or .msi files needed for reinstall. I have several versions of Picasa 3, the latest being picasa39-setup.exe If there is interest, I suppose I could upload this 14,914 kb file to http://www.wetransfer.com If memory serves, free accounts will allow a file to stay in residence for seven (7) days before being deleted. Let me know if there is interest. I’ll check back!

        One more note: A few years ago, I discovered Synology– specifically, Synology NAS (Network Attached Storage). I’ve been using computers since the late eighties when I stumbled across a RadioShack TRS-80 and lost two weeks in a motel while waiting for another yacht to haul from Texas. With those early devices, one stored their data on cassette tapes! To the point: These Synology NAS’s are the best thing since sliced bread! Currently, I have three of them! (One new– the other two used and priced nominally!) Truly, I only need one but I love to experiment and test so many different scenarios. There is so much that these devices can do! Let me check for a YouTube Video that will give you a great overview. It has so much software that is intuitive and has an operating (Linux) system User Interface that is reminiscent of Windows. Regarding photos: You are able to configure this device so that you can access (upload / download) from most any device ANYWHERE! IT IS YOUR OWN CLOUD! Invite your family / friends to participate as well!

        I spent an hour looking for a simple video on YouTube that would explain a NAS to a novice but was unable to discover what I was seeking. The fellow below, Marius, has an excellent website (a WordPress site which he runs from his Synology NAS) loaded with so much information! On a few occasions when I couldn’t figure something out, I asked Marius and he responded quickly. While not required, I sent him a gratuity through PayPal.

        Marius Hosting

        Here are a few YouTube links that will get you to where you can appreciate what a NAS will do for you and your photos– your family’s photos– local and / or online. Backups and more. Again, this is but the tip of the iceberg! There are thousands of videos regarding Synology NAS’s, folks!

        Synology Photos



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