Don't Leave Your Pictures Trapped In Your Camera Forever

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New programs let you create cool DVD slide shows and coffee-table photo albums

Used to be, when you came home from a vacation with 5 or 10 rolls of film, a quick trip to the Fotomat and a blank wall were all you needed to bore your friends with a living room slide show. These days, you return with memory cards filled with hundreds of digital images to dump onto your hard drive. Before you know it, your computer is crammed with thousands of files, all unhelpfully named something along the lines of DSCN970116b.jpg. Your photos are stored in a maze of subfolders, half of the images are sideways, and for some reason all the shots from the trip to Tuscany are tinted orange. Face it: You need help.

Printing, e-mailing, storing

If you're just looking to order prints or share a few vacation shots via e-mail with friends, upload them to one of the many easy-to-use Web services. The cheapest prints come from Snapfish.com (19¢ per 4 x 6), but it's only possible to make or edit photo books with PCs, not Macs. Shutterfly.com is fine for Macs and PCs, allows you to crop photos and fix red eyes with a few clicks, and offers prints for 29¢ (24¢ each if you order 100, 19¢ each for 500). Kodak's Ofoto.com also lets you do simple editing on Macs and PCs, and while a 4 x 6 is 25¢ and the prints are of crisp Kodak quality, ordering in bulk (20 or more) is generally cheaper through Shutterfly or Snapfish. Storing and e-mailing photos through each of these sites is always free, and they'll all make CD-ROMs of your images and pictures, from wallet- to poster-size. They can also print shots onto almost anything--teddy bears, wall clocks, coffee mugs, T-shirts, mouse pads, calendars, Christmas cards. Shipping charges start at $1.50 per order.

Slide shows, albums, fine-tuning

When you're hankering to proudly show off your photo collection, huddling around the glow of a computer screen and clicking a mouse just doesn't cut it. Three new digital photo programs let you do a lot more than what was possible at the old Fotomat. They're not that difficult to use, and they allow you to rotate and retouch images, arrange sophisticated online photo albums, and create everything from CD/DVD slide shows to glossy hardbound books worthy of a prime spot on the coffee table.

iPhoto 5

All new Macs come with this program, which offers excellent editing, organizing, and book-making options. Color saturation, sharpness, and exposure controls let you toy with images like a pro. If that's too complicated, there's also a standard one-click automated fix. All editing changes are made to a copy of the original image--great for when you goof, but multiple copies can gobble up lots of hard drive real estate in a hurry. As for creating personalized photo books, iPhoto 5 gives you a fine range of possibilities--including choosing a favorite picture for the cover and adding captions of various fonts and lengths in eight different themed layouts. Prices are cheap, too: 20-page softcovered books are $4 to $20 depending on image size, and linen 11 x 8.5 hardcovers are a steal at $30. Additional pages are less expensive than what competitors offer, at 29¢ to 99¢ per. Another feature allows you to import short video clips from your digital camera and incorporate them into slide shows. The bad news is that iPhoto 5 only works with Macs, and creating Web pages or archiving your pics online requires a .Mac account ($99 per year). If you have an older model Mac, the cost of upgrading to iPhoto 5 is $79. apple.com.

Photoworks

To get images into a Photo-works account (free, and OK for both Macs and PCs), you can either upload them as usual, or drop a disc, memory card, or even a roll of old-fashioned film in the mail and they'll do it for you for $5. You alter photos and create albums online using standard editing tools-- rotate, crop, red-eye fix, brightness/contrast, and a few filter effects such as sepia (a brownish tint to make things look old-fashioned--fun for trips to Europe and ghost towns out West). Using Photoworks, however, can be a bit tedious. The browser processes each incremental change for you to review, so editing on the Internet takes forever. If you have a slow connection, it's better to touch up photos on your camera and then upload them. Photoworks does allow you to quickly edit titles and captions of all of your pictures on a single screen. The site has six different templates for creating photo books, which are somewhat pricey at $10 for a 8.25 x 5.25 softcover, up to $130 for a suede- or leather-covered 11.25 x 11.25 book, plus $1 or $2 for extra pages. You can't put photos on covers, but there are see-through cutouts on hardcovers. photoworks.com.

Picasa 2

The editing tools of this Google-owned option are advanced, simple to use, and free. Like iPhoto, editing changes are made on a copy of the image. In addition to quick fixes like removing red eyes, cropping, and auto-contrast, Picasa 2 allows you to tweak photos endlessly and customize captions for each shot. The program is helpful if you're not a good housekeeper--it'll scan your entire hard drive for photos, even ones that have been accidentally misfiled. If you have TiVo, you can even export a slide show to your TV and watch it from the couch. The downsides are that Picasa 2 doesn't work with Macs, and, while it is good for e-mailing pictures and burning CD/DVD slide shows, all printing is conducted through third-party sites such as Snapfish or Shutterfly. Picasa 2 doesn't offer online archiving per se, but it is set up to use Hello (hello.com), a free instant-messaging system that will send photos to friends who are logged on. You can also create a blog and post albums full of photos on it for free using Google's Blogger. picasa.com.

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