Living

Picture perfect

You don't have to be a computer wizard to share your photos online

Want to share the latest snapshots of your little one treating a bowl of strawberries like fingerpaint? If you’re like Lezli Kuntze, who’s raising two young boys in Barrie, Ont., and has family and friends living around the world, inviting everyone over to flip through the family photo album is not an option. What’s more, says Kuntze, “You might have time to snap the photos but no time to get them developed, put them into envelopes with cute little notes and then send them off in the mail.” That’s where your digital camera can save you time (and postage). Digital photos can be uploaded to your computer, and then sent to websites that allow you to store, share and order prints. The best part? You don’t need to be a computer wizard to share your memories digitally.

Sure, you could e-mail your photos to friends and family as an attachment, but why clog up their inboxes with large files? Or you could create your own website, but it’s time consuming. That’s what makes online photo album sites such a great alternative: With a few clicks of your mouse, much of the work is done for you. Once you’ve uploaded your images to the online album, you send an e-mail to your friends and family with a direct link to it. To ensure you’re not opening your life to the entire world, protect your online album with a password and include it in the e-mail.

Everyone, it seems, is in the online photo album business. On their websites, traditional imaging companies such as Kodak and Black’s offer them, as do retailers such as Wal-Mart and Future Shop. Then there are the popular websites such as Flickr, Shutterfly and Snapfish. To create your online photo album, you’ll need to set up an account with one of these companies. But which one?

Karen Tam, an avid photographer, is a former executive at a major photo-finishing company. She says you first need to figure out what you want to accomplish with the photo site. If you want to share and order prints, then think about a retailer such as Future Shop or Best Buy, where you can open a free account and receive several free prints on your first order. With an account like this, even your grandmother can order her favourite shots directly. (No more mailing her photos she secretly doesn’t want.) These sites even offer basic image editing and cropping to clean up those prints. So if someone has red eye, for instance, you can point your mouse at the afflicted area and the site corrects the problem for you. And by choosing a Canadian retailer, your grandmother can have the prints delivered to the nearest store or right to her doorstep. Keep in mind that these websites offer the free bandwidth to display your photos online expecting that someone will actually buy prints, so a minimum purchase is required each year or they’ll terminate your account, and your pictures.

If you just want to share your photos online without ordering any prints, then Flickr and Shutterfly are great options because these websites don’t support other businesses. In other words, they don’t insist that you buy prints. (Flickr, for instance, doesn’t even offer this service in Canada. With Shutterfly, you pay in American dollars and delivery can take a few weeks.) Better yet, most of these websites offer free accounts.

A Flickr account, for example, allows you to upload 100 megabytes worth of photos (which is a lot) each month. If you find you like the service and want to upload more photos, you can pay the extra fee later (at Flickr, about US$25 annually gives you unlimited photo space).

Designing a scrapbook of, say, your wedding day or summer vacation with your kids can take, well, months. Nicole Friesen, merchandising manager for digital cameras and camcorders at Best Buy, says with online albums you can create and order high-quality customized photo books that can include graphics and even captions. “There are so many fun options today,” she says, and many cost a fraction of the amount it would take to make a scrapbook from scratch.

Not only can you add digital pictures to photo books, but you can also paste them onto coffee mugs, greeting cards and calendars. Every Christmas, for example, Kuntze selects her favourite photos from her Kodak EasyShare Gallery to create a family calendar, which for under $30 makes a memorable gift.

Thanks to the web, you can even engage in a kind of digital scrapbooking with family and friends. At Flickr, users can leave not only comments about the photos, for instance, but also little notes that become visible when they scroll over them with their mouse. This means family and friends can help identify people in photos and share funny stories about them. (This feature also makes it easier to search for that image later.)