The great advantage of filmless digital photography is that the sky’s the limit when it comes to the number of pictures you can take. That boon is also digital photography’s biggest challenge: how do you organize the thousands of images now residing on your computer’s hard drive?
Managing your digital photos used to be a lot more confusing when cameras came packaged with their own software for uploading images to your computer. The software was often poorly designed and not well integrated with the computer’s operating system. Cameras still come with photo management software-but thanks to new and better programs for Mac and PC users, you can throw away the CD-ROM included with your camera. (There is one caveat: If your camera has its own docking system-a separate gadget that plugs into your computer for one-touch uploading-there may be necessary software in the kit.)
For Mac users, the answer continues to be straightforward. Since 2002, Apple has given away a robust digital photography program called iPhoto on every Mac it sells. Now in its sixth version, the program lets you easily transfer pictures to your computer, then organize, edit, and print them. Some of the program’s best-loved features include step-by-step templates for creating bound photo books and customized calendars, and the “slideshow,” which lets you add music and Ken Burns–like effects to your presentation. Kelly Turner, a senior features editor at Macworld magazine, says that the program took a quantum leap forward nearly two years ago, when it introduced a simple yet powerful tool for improving your photos: the “adjust” palette, which gives users more advanced editing tools than the program had previously. “That’s really the point at which iPhoto became not just a photo management tool, but a photo editing tool,” Turner says. Now, even a first-timer can fine-tune an image’s brightness, contrast, saturation, tint, and sharpness, and straighten out a tilted horizon, all using the simple sliders that display your changes instantaneously. And since iPhoto never deletes the original version of your photo, you can experiment with abandon. For those who’ve outgrown these basic tools, Turner recommends Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, an advanced editing program that retails for about $100.
On the PC side, things get a little more complicated. Cade Metz, a digital photo software expert at PC Magazine, remarks that many PC users don’t realize that Windows does offer some means for viewing and managing a photo collection. “But it’s very minimal,” he says. For a better experience, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The best bet for novices, Metz says, is an elegant program called Picasa, which is a free bit of software you download from the Web. Acquired by Google two years ago, Picasa, in a nutshell, is iPhoto for the PC. Once installed, the program searches your computer’s hard drive and displays all photos-regardless of where they’ve been stored-in a convenient, unified view. According to Picasa product manager Adrian Graham, the program’s hidden talent is that it won’t get sluggish no matter how big your collection grows. “[Picasa] can be used to organize hundreds of thousands of photos, and we have users who do that,” he says. Picasa lets you view your pictures, assemble albums, and apply easy-to-use editing effects, as well as print using your preferred online photo finisher from a long list of partners that includes big, well-known names such as Kodak EasyShare Gallery (formerly, Ofoto), Snapfish, and Shutterfly.
The program’s niftiest feature by far is a new one, rolled out over the summer, called Picasa Web Albums. When you’re ready to share your pictures with friends and family, Picasa makes the process extraordinarily simple by letting you publish them to a personal Web site. Your albums can remain “unlisted” or viewable in a public gallery, for sharing with anyone who knows your Picasa Web album address. Friends can download your pictures at full resolution; the service is free up to 1,000 pictures and only $25 a year for up to 25,000 images; and, perhaps best of all, this innovative Web service is available to Mac users too.
You have the tools. Now, get snapping.