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Hot on the Web

Photo albums and the 'Net

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 2, 2005
(Issue 2335, The Great Outdoors)

Never more than five years behind the technological curve, I recently bought my daughter a digital camera. While I prefer working with my 35mm film camera, even then I opt to have the drug store give me my pictures on a CD, not prints from my negs.

Further, my bound photo albums haven't been updated in years. With no fresh prints coming along, they're unlikely to be.

Instead, like more and more people, I scan my pictures in as digital slideshows.

From vacation pics to new baby portraits to family reunions to, well, capturing your girlfriend in a Winnie the Pooh costume at Halloween, the idea of an online photo album is rapidly gaining serious traction.

Early on, I used a 3-D program with a cool rotating carousel effect to make my online photo albums. But the 3-D plug-in you need for your browser never caught on, and so most people didn't see the cool effect.

Then, I made my Web slide shows by hand - a tedious exercise at best.

Finally, I've found a new method of automating the process.

Make it automatic

Going back to at least PhotoShop 5.5 (and perhaps earlier), Adobe's pre-eminent photo-editing software has included a utility that will automatically make an online slide show out of all the digital pictures in a single directory. (While the latest version of PhotoShop is far too expensive for most casual photographers to purchase, earlier and perfectly legal versions can be found on eBay and other second-hand shops online.)

Found under File>Automate>Web Photo Gallery, this little utility is an eminently useful tool – particularly for those with enough HTML knowledge to fine-tune the results.

While many of the online file-sharing services (reviewed here in two weeks' time) are easier to use than the PhotoShop utility, you sacrifice control.

Using the PhotoShop utility, you have absolute control over the appearance of your photos and Web pages – and you can post the resulting slide show anywhere you want. If you have your own family Web site already, this may be preferable to a third-party hosting service.

Drawbacks are that you're using up your own hosting space and your friends and family can't purchase prints as they can from most of the photo hosting services.

Be cautious

Making my first PhotoShop slide show, I copied all my pictures from our trip to New Orleans last summer (as we drove cross-country) from the CD-ROM to a new directory in my hard drive. The PhotoShop Web Gallery tool gets its page titles, captions and copyright information from the optional info fields in the image files themselves.

So the first thing I did was open each photo, crop as necessary, and then size them (500 pixels in my case; plenty wide for online viewing, albeit useless for printing out). Then I went to File>File Info and entered in all the information as I wanted it to appear on the slide show.

This part is a bit time-consuming, but once you get used to it it's no different, really, from entering the captions, et al, on a photo-hosting service.

Important tip:not use the File>Save for Web option to save these files. You need to use the regular File>Save As, and then select JPG as the file type manually, and choose the JPG compression manually. As I learned most painfully, the Save for Web tool strips out all the file information as one way of making the image file smaller for Web use.

It's also important to note that the order of your pictures in the slide show will be determined by the file names. So you need to consider this as you name your images. I went with 01.jpg, 02.jpg, etc. Not exciting, but easy to control!

Finishing it up

Once I was done, and all the images were saved into one directory, I was ready to let PhotoShop work its magic. I clicked on the File>Automate>Web Photo Gallery. Depending on which version of PhotoShop you're using, the specific menu items may differ – but basically you need to point PhotoShop to the directory where your images are, create a new destination directory where it can save all the HTML and images for the slide show, select a template for the HTML pages, and make a few other simple decisions on formatting and layout of the slide show pages: do you want PhotoShop to re-size your images for you (saving you one step above), what information should be used for the page titles, etc.

There aren't really enough templates to choose from – and no easy way I've found to import more or edit those included. There may be a plug-in that does that, however.

Myself, being comfortable in HTML, I simply let the PhotoShop utility run, then used directory-wide search-and-replaces to customize the pages the way I wanted them. You can see the results for yourself.

In two weeks: Online photo hosting makes it even easier