Digital imaging - new and much improved

Part 1 - Getting it together
Part 2 - Putting Photos Online - 4 choices

Referenced (or sort of reviewed) in this article:

Where I’m going:

Iphoto is my choice for importing, organizing and storing my images - as well as providing slide shows, books, email images, prints, CDs and DVDs. Image Stitch is a great way to put together panoramas for display in Quicktime. (See the technical note about the Mayflower picture at the end of this entry.) Photoshop Elements 2 is quickly becoming my first choice over Photoshop 6 - and I’m not sure why! Pbase - thanks for pointing this out James - seems like the best all around site for sharing photos on the Web that I’ve seen to date. Shutterfly and .Mac’s HomePage offer some special advantages depending on your Web needs and skills.

How I got there:

I’ve been playing with photography for 50 years and for five years I’ve been strictly digital - but it’s only been in the last month or so that my eyes have been open to whole new vistas of easy image storage and display generated by the digital world. (And I do mean “easy.”) This article is not a comprehensive review of the subject, but it is a summary of what I’ve learned recently, what I’m doing, and why. As such, it may be of help to others exploring the digital image world - particularly if you’ve dipped your finger into the digital photography river, but find that you’ve created a mass of images and are not sure what to do with them. (And, of course, I’d love to hear your comments and experiences!)

My early experiments with digital showed me that I could crank out digital photographs by the hundreds - and since there’s no film cost, the medium encourages it. But I was doing an entirely clumsy job of keeping track of them and using them. I sometimes printed, sometimes shared online, but seldom made any consistent use and my storage methods were abominable, at best, with photos on various media whose files were identified only by a number and perhaps a date.

Programs purporting to solve this came with my original Nikon Coolpix and with the Canon ELPH I later bought. Canon called its program an “image browser” and it had a cool “time tunnel” feature. (Canon now seems to have something called Image Gateway with more capability, but it did not come with my recent purchase of a Rebel, so I don't know how you get it or how good it is.) Image Browser didn’t really solve my problem. That solution came when I started playing with the “Ilife” suite from Apple.

In the latest version, this suite is one smooth piece of software, meeting your organizational needs with a database that hardly feels like one. But more importantly, Iphoto does for images what Itunes does for music and the two interface seamlessly with Imovie and IDVD and the ability to burn CDs and DVDs, order prints, and share your photos through email or web sites.

screen shot

Here’s the key organizing principle - all photos are stored in one place in a database. You might not think of it as a database because there’s none of the usual, complex database interface - but that’s what it is. Photos can be imported to this directly rom your camera, existing files, or a scanner - even digital video clips of single video frames! Once stored in what is called your “library” - the photos can be “filed” or arranged in multiple places - called “albums” simply by dragging and dropping them. And the really cool thing? When you drag and drop a photo in an “album” you don;t really move the original anywhere. You move an alias of it to the folder. That means you are not creating copies willy-nilly. It also gives you incredible freedom to delete those copies without any sense of loss, so you can be a stricter judge of what photos belong ina an album.

So, for example, you may have all your favorite photos of your grandchildren in one folder - one “album” - while those same photos might be in other albums called “Kit’s Birthday,” or “Christmas 2003” or “Disney Vacation.”

To appreciate this you have to play a while, but believe me - it’s powerful. You can even mix in photos that you have scanned. So, for example, I can put together a “family album” of the best photos of children, starting with scans of daguerreotypes dating from the 1840s! (I scan with an “Epson Perfection 3170 Photo” because it not only provides for copying 35mm slides, but also slides or negatives in 2 1/4 -square format. )

Bottom line: Iphoto makes it simple to store all your images in one place - the library - and drag them into folders that they call “albums.” And that makes all the difference.

But that’s only the beginning.

Now comes what you can do with your albums. Your choices are multiple:

  1. Print on your own printer.
  2. Send online to a commercial printer.
  3. Have a slick (pricey) cloth covered book with text made of them.
  4. Send one or more images by email
  5. Make a slide show of your images with music from your “Itunes” folder.
  6. Export your slide show - with music - to IDVD to make a DV D containing multiple shows.
  7. Save your images on a CD. (For back-up or sharing.)
  8. Export individual images for manipulation in another program - Iphoto provides some minor fixing capabilities, but all you have to do is double-click an image to bump it into Photoshop, or whatever.
  9. Make a web page of your images and have it online in five minutes or less.

Part 2 - Putting Photos Online - 4 choices

Oh my - the world has changed since I stuck some boards over the old bathtub to hold my chemical trays and enlarger, then kept everyone out of our one bathroom while I attempted to develop and enlarge photos from my 2 1/4-square and 35mm negatives!

I could write oodles about steps 1 -8, though “Ilife” has made it so easy to do any of these things it seems like a waste of breath. What I want to focus on, however, is the online opportunities I have explored. See, for me this is nothing new - and yet it’s all new. What I mean is, I have been building Web pages and using complicated Javascripts to build online slide shows and occasionally making use of an online service and I have been doing this in some form or another for a full sun-spot cycle - 11 years.

But it hasn’t been easy - and now it is. It’s easy and the results are better.

My recent fascination with all this went from initial experiments with IMovie in System 9 to purchasing a new Powerbook with System X (“Panther”) installed and the complete Ilife suite, plus a 20 gig Ipod. But while Imovie provided an introduction to the ease of use and power of these programs, it was Itunes and Iphoto and IDVD that really opened my eyes. Not to mention the power of System X. You can do some of this stuff without it - and most of the online opportunities I’m about to describe - and many more - are open to anyone with just about any computer. But while I have a Gateway here with all the Microsoft stuff on it, I have to admit that I am still in the Mac camp with both feet and more enthusiastic than eve. I had the first Mac on our campus at UMass Dartmouth 20 years ago and until System X and Ilife came along I had not recaptured that initial excitement. Now I’m a shameless Mac booster again and I’ve even bought more Apple stock ;-)

OK - about online systems.

There are many choices out there, but I’ve focused on four:

Shutterfly - (online galleries)
Apple’s .Mac HomePage (online galleries)
Photoshop Elements 2 “Create a Web photo gallery” feature
Pbase (online galleries)

Here’s what I found.

Shutterfly - (online galleries)

I got involved using Shutterfly because a nephew - who works as a programmer for Adobe and is extremely image savvy - showed up at a family gathering with beautiful prints of his trip to the Galapagos. He got them from Shutterfly. I was blown away. I would never have guessed they were digital.

So I tried it out. In my mind Shutterfly has two big things going for it:

1. It’s free.
2. It produces quality prints from your photos - and that’s why it’s free. Because they are hoping to sell prints to you and others.

(I even assembled my Hurricane Carol pictures into a little booklet on their site - as they encourage - and thus made them available to anyone who felt like paying Shutterfly to print the booklet. Go here to see it.)

Shutterfly does offer you a way to share your pictures online. But I found the interface a little clumsy and time consuming. I also want to add text with some of my images and there was relatively little space for this.

So while I am still comfortable recommending it, it is not my personal first choice.

Apple’s .Mac HomePage (online galleries)

I bought a year’s subscription (about $100) to Apple’s .Mac service not because I saw any real need for it - but because I was so taken with System X and Ilife I figured I should give .Mac a try to see if it was more useful than I could imagine. The jury is still out on that question.

BUT . . . I am amazed at the ease with which you can create an online sideshow using “home page” - a Web site builder that is part of .Mac. (As an example here's my first attempt - which took all of about three minutes. )

The advantages here are:

1. Ease of use - assuming you have a Mac and Iphoto installed.
2. Speed - I’ve never put photos online so fast.
3. The slide show display appears to read the resolution of the user’s screen, then produce an image of appropriate size. Cool and useful.

There's a lot of manipulation going on here behind the scenes. If I was putting the images up by hand I would make “thumbnails” and I would reduce both the image display size (to make it fit low resolution screens) and file size (to make it download quickly). This manipulation is largely handled by the software out of sight of the user. You just select a photo, then make some other choices about the basic design for your show.


Any time they automate something they make choices for you. What you gain in ease of use, you lose in flexibility and choice. So the choices here are limited. And, of course, you need a “.Mac” account to store them. This feature only works with .Mac. (That’s “dot Mac” by the way, not plain “Mac.” That's what Apple calls their online service, but in text the “dot” doesn’t jump out at you.)

Another alternative with more choice?

Try Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 2. This came for free with my scanner and I think it’s packed with some digital cameras as well. It lists for $99 which is a heck of alot cheaper than PhotoShop. I thought it was just a dumbed down version of Photoshop - and maybe it is. But it’s smart enough for me. I’ve owned Photoshop 1, 3, 4, 5,and 6 and have used it for years without knowing what the hell I’m doing. That is, I use it for a few things I want to do - but I have never systematically learned it. Photoshop is a career in itself. It is an incredibly powerful program - and complex. Bottom line - for my dumbed down approach, it looks to me like Photoshop Elements 2 does all I want to do and seems to do it simpler.

Besides, it has this one special feature buried deep in the “file” menu called “Create a Web photo gallery.” This has a big “wow” factor for me.

It works a lot like the Iphoto/HomePage feature. But there are more choices. And - it does NOT upload your stuff. What it does is create a single folder with a complete Web site in it. Cool. What you need to know is how to get it online - which means uploading with an FTP program - or if you happen to have a .Mac account you can just drag it to a special folder on your desktop.

I like this because it means I can easily create a very acceptable Web site that features a slide show. I can then put that Web site anywhere I want. That is, I can put it on the same server that hosts my blogs. Or on .Mac. Or anywhere else. And I can simply link to it.

Here’s a quick example I made using Photoshop Elements 2 and put on the same server as this blog.

Advantages - just a tad more difficult than using Iphoto, but far from rocket science, and more versatile. Especially good if you want to put your slide show on some existing server you use.

Disadvantages? Same as Iphoto/HomePage combination. Making things simple limits choices. You want to do more and have more choices, then you have to learn more. But not much more.

Which brings us to PBase, my current first choice in this department.

I have a “free for 30 days” temporary account which I feel pretty sure I will upgrade and pay for. The price is just $23 a year for the same amount of space - 100 megs - that .Mac offers for four times that - but in defense of .Mac it offers a lot more than just photo display. Anyway, 100 megs is enough space for roughly 400 photos - but exactly how many depends upon the size of your photo files. Remember - you are not storing photos here - you are displaying your best work. So 400 photos seems like quite bit to me. (For $60 Pbase will give you 300 megs. )

The sign-up process is free and fast, but I did not find the interface intuitive. I did just sort of feel my way through it and got some photos online pretty fast, but it really does help to read their “help” pages.

Oh - and when I tried it with Internet Explorer on my Mac I could not get photos to upload. So I switched to the Apple browser, Safari, and that worked fine. I’m sure most people using this are using Windows and judging from the number of photos online, they're not encountering problems.

This is much more of a community. It’s fun to look at what other people have up, there is the ability to comment on every photo and every site gets its own guest book and stats about number of visitors. There are also special features where, for example, you can look at all the photos taken with a specific make and model of camera. Just as I really like Movable Type for blogs, I really like PBase for photos. Here’s how James summed up the advantages s in a recent email:

PBase allows the viewer to see small, medium, large and original sizes, which is nice in case you're trying to show your photos to people with differing access speeds. (A cookie records their size choice until they change it, apparently).

The site also gives you control over some of the gallery and photo display HTML -- colors, borders and such. You can upload all your pictures at once by zipping them into an archive and then uploading that archive. That's a big timesaver, if you're uploading many pix.

I agree. And more. (James also was the one who pointed me towards Movable Type . He seems to always find the really good stuff first.) I’m still exploring all the capabilities of PBase, but you can see my first efforts here

So what have you learned? Have you been playing with digital images? Have some favorite software, cameras, or Web sites? Please feel free to add your comments!

Slocum River

Posted by Greg Stone at February 8, 2004 06:56 PM

great post...very useful info

Posted by: Darren Rowse at February 8, 2004 08:23 PM

Thanks Greg,

Informative and educational!


Posted by: Kevin Lee at February 11, 2004 10:14 PM
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