Katherine Boehret

Sorting Out Digital Photos

It’s easy to get carried away with taking digital photographs. Thanks to memory cards with lower prices and higher capacities, people have their cameras at the ready for every vacation, family get-together, birthday, night out, night in, snowfall, fallen leaf, school play, play date, new dress, full moon and half moon. It’s no wonder computers are steadily filling up with image after image, documenting our lives.

Using a good photo software program can make it easier to organize and edit digital photos. Arguably the best of these programs is Apple Inc.’s iPhoto, which comes loaded on any new Apple computer or can be purchased separately in iLife ’06, Apple’s $80 suite of software programs.

Snapfire by Corel Corp., <a href=www.snapfire.com, quickly arranged slide shows.” />

Snapfire by Corel Corp., www.snapfire.com, quickly arranged slide shows.

But iPhoto only works on Macs, much to the dismay of Windows XP users who are stuck with Microsoft Corp.’s My Pictures — a meager feature that serves only as a way to organize photos into folders, without options for editing. Windows Vista, Microsoft’s new operating system, will offer a photo-organizing program called Windows Photo Gallery. But most Windows users won’t have Vista for years.

This week, I tested a free photo software program that is already available for Windows users: Corel Corp.’s Snapfire. Like iPhoto, it displays your images in an aesthetically pleasing way. And it has some nice features for editing and making slide shows.

Yet Snapfire has some serious downsides. Unlike iPhoto, it can’t directly turn your photos into keepsakes like books, and even prints ordered through Snapfire must use a third-party Web site. And it isn’t as smart as it claims to be.

Some of the program’s shortfalls are corrected in Snapfire Plus, a $40 enhanced version of Snapfire that includes tools that correct blemishes and whiten teeth. Snapfire Plus also fixes one of Snapfire’s most annoying features: an always-visible Corel message box and advertisement that can be minimized in Plus.

Neither Snapfire nor Snapfire Plus offer easy ways to create things through Corel using your digital images, like the products you can create with free online photo programs or iPhoto. Both programs offer a link for uploading images to CVS or CNET’s Webshots, where prints can be ordered. Once your images are on these Web sites, you can use them for other projects, but this requires stepping out of Snapfire.

Photos can be organized easily for email sharing.

Photos can be organized easily for email sharing.

Snapfire makes use of an editing feature called Photo Doctor, which sounds like it may offer intelligent suggestions on how to improve your photos. Photo Doctor actually only tells you whether or not to use an easy, once-and-done button called Quick Fix; most people won’t need a special feature to tell them to use this. Corel hopes to expand Photo Doctor’s capabilities, but as of now it isn’t much help.

I downloaded Snapfire and noted its four organizational categories stacked in a column on the left: Home, Enhance, Show and Create. In the Home menu, photos can be retrieved from the My Pictures folders, where most Windows users have already organized batches of digital shots. I opened up a folder of mine called “California September 2006,” and its contents instantly filled a large window on the screen.

Below this window rests a horizontal photo tray, a feature that appears in all four of Snapfire’s categories. You can add photos to this tray, select one of its images for editing or drag a few of its photos into a Snapfire Show — the program’s term for slide shows.

A Share option in the photo tray generates three quick types of emails that you can use to send your photos to others: a Snapfire Show, photos embedded in an email or photos attached to an email. I selected four images in my photo tray and easily shared them using each method. The Snapfire Shows are impressive, automatically organizing your images into a mini slide show, artsy transitions and all.

But only recipients who’ve already downloaded Snapfire will be able to open and watch the shows. In Snapfire Plus, users can send these shows in movie files that anyone can open.

I edited photos using tools in Snapfire’s Enhance category such as Quick Fix and Photo Fix, which shows before and after shots, letting you adjust brightness, contrast, warmth, saturation and focus.

After editing a photo and before moving on to another, a message popped up asking if I wanted to save my changes over the original photo, save a new version of the photo or discard changes. These clear commands were refreshing, as some programs leave you wondering whether or not your new changes are saved, or if the original photo is still somewhere in your files.

In the Show category, a storyboard tray pops up above the photo tray and is used to designate special photos that you’d like held for use in your Snapfire Show. I quickly organized a handful of my images from California into a slide show with transitions, six seconds of pause on each slide and John Mayer playing in the background.

I was a little disappointed to open the Create category, to find limited options of projects I could make with my photos. Projects included print layout pages, album pages for scrapbooks, calendars, collages and greeting cards.

I made a collage, dragging images from the Photo Tray into one of 13 collage designs, but didn’t know quite what to do with it after that. I found a way to save the collage as an image and then emailed it, but I would have liked to use Snapfire to directly order a print of the collage. To do this, you must save your collage in a special format, and then upload it using the CVS or Webshots Web sites. The same procedure applies for calendars and greeting cards.

For a free program, Snapfire isn’t bad. It does well in the sharing department, automatically generating slide shows that you can email. But if you think you’d like to use your photos for projects like hardcover books, calendars or greeting cards, Snapfire is the wrong choice.

–Edited by Walter S. Mossberg

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