Shutterbugs can show off with albums

January 03, 2002|By Mike Himowitz

If you're among the millions who bought digital cameras over the last year, you may be asking yourself, "Now that I have all these pictures, what do I do with them?" It's a good question, because it's easier to take digital photos than share them with others.

You can print your photos and send them to friends and family, which is fine unless you just snapped 50 shots a gathering where nine different relatives ask for copies. You can send a photo as an e-mail attachment, which is OK as long as the other person has an e-mail account and knows what to do with an attached photo once it arrives. Unfortunately, many people don't use e-mail or have no idea how to store or view a photo attachment. E-mail is also awkward for sending batches of photos.

Another option is an online photo-sharing service such as ClubPhoto.com, Ofoto.com or Yahoo Photos, where you can post pictures and invite others to view them. They work well, but they require a Web connection and can be slow over dialup lines. Downloading and storing photos also requires more computer knowledge than a lot of folks possess.

If you have a CD-burner, you can solve these problems with software that creates a photo album on a compact disc that requires absolutely no savvy on your recipient's part. Just drop it in the mail and you're done. The disk contains its own album-viewing software and runs automatically when it's inserted in a CD-ROM drive. Perfect for Grandma.

The large capacity of the CD makes it possible to ship hundreds, or even thousands of photos on a single disc (just don't expect everyone to be fascinated by every shot you've ever taken). It can include high-resolution originals for savvy recipients who want to make their own prints.

I found two good programs for making CD photo albums - one fancy and expensive, one simple and absolutely free. In addition to creating files for a self-starting CD, both create albums that can be posted on the Web. They'll run on almost any PC with Windows 95 or later.

FlipAlbum Suite 4.0 from E-Book Systems ($79.95) is the latest release of a program I first tried a few years ago. It creates elaborate photo albums that look like the real thing, with a table of contents, an index, thumbnail overviews and animated, flipping pages that include captions, borders, clip art and even musical backgrounds.

If that level of investment or complexity scares you, try Album GV, a clever freeware program that packages your photos with a simple viewer that does the job well with minimal effort.

FlipAlbum is much improved over its previous incarnation, which drew rave reviews from the parents of my son's wrestling teammates when I distributed CDs of match photos I'd taken over the course of the season last year.

At the outset, FlipAlbum presents you with a blank book that looks, strangely enough, like a photo album. After choosing the virtual cover and binding (three-ring, spiral or perfect), you create pages by clicking and dragging various objects from your hard drive or from the FlipAlbum program CD. These can be photos, borders, clip art or music files in MP3 or WAV format (the tunes play when the viewer clicks a music icon on the page).

Unlike the early version I first used, FlipAlbum 4.0 allows you to put multiple photos on a page, resize or rotate them, and change the color, brightness, or cropping in a simple image editor. Each page can have its own color or background texture. You can also add bookmarks, which appear as tabs on the edge of the image of the album. Clicking on a tab takes you to that page.

My main complaint is that the editing process isn't as intuitive as it could be. For example, when you click on a photo, you can't delete it by hitting the Delete key; you have to select "Cut" from a menu. After a while, you'll get used to this and other departures from Windows convention, but there's still too much busywork.

When you're satisfied with your work, FlipAlbum creates a directory on your hard drive that contains copies of all your pictures, music files, backgrounds and other images, along with the viewer program. You must use your own CD-burning program to transfer the files, which isn't hard if you've created a CD before.

If you're not interested in a work of art but merely want to send a bunch of photos in a format that's easy to view, Album GV may be a better choice. It's not a commercial product, but a labor of love by one programmer, Renate Schaaf, a mathematics professor at Utah State University.

To create an album, start by selecting images from your hard drive, which appear on screen in a "light box," the virtual equivalent of an old-fashioned slide sorter. Once you've rearranged the slides to your satisfaction, you can view them in album form, with thumbnail images in a column down the left-hand side and a larger image in the main display window.

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