postheadericon TECH TALK: Time to Get Your Photos and Videos Online?

When I browse any laptop in Nepal other then my own, I notice one glaring attribute: photos and home videos are everywhere – on the desktop, stuffed in folders named “Aardwolf photos” and “Zamboanga videos” and almost everywhere else in between.

As a neat freak, that drives me nuts, and I cringe every time I go to update my wife’s MacBook, as I have to plow through media dating back to Cretaceous Period of our married life, just to do what needs doing. Granted, everyone has their own homegrown filing system for stuff on their own computers, but are you really happy with yours?

The file-folder paradigm works (perhaps) when you have a few hundred word-processing documents and that’s it. But when you are dealing with thousands of photos and videos accumulated from years of birthday parties, holidays, babies and puppies - and you have stuff both on your PC, on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites - using your computer’s native file system quickly becomes unmanageable. Anyone with years of accumulated media is sure to agree.

Computer manufacturers understand your plight, and most provide you with tools to bring your photos and videos back into a manageable reality. Take for example every Apple computer, which comes stock with iPhoto for managing photos and videos together. iPhoto is a fantastic bit of free software that 1) organizes all your media in one place – complete with auto imports from cameras and other devices, 2) allows you to do some basic photo editing, and 3) gives you a media connection to three social media sites: MobileMe, Facebook, and Flickr, so you can easily share your media with the rest of the world.

Unfortunately for PC users, iPhoto is Mac only, and the free photo/video organizer that comes in Windows 7 is limited in features and flat out worthless. Windows Media Center allows you to organize your photos and videos with tags (searchable identifiers) and by ratings (where you give your item 1-5 stars for quality or not), but your files are still sitting somewhere within your file system, as scattered and as chaotic as ever. Media Center also does not offer any of the features that you really want: easy backups, easy searching, upload to Facebook-type sites, and some simple editing.

To get those features in Windows, you have to download something, and to get something really fantastic, you have to actually go out and buy something.

For Windows users, the free Picasa from Google is your best choice, and caters to those on a tight budget and who really want to do a lot more with their photos then look at them once and then lose them. Picasa is equal to the Mac’s iPhoto, and while a bit daunting to use at first, it’s really a nice piece of software that will help you take control of your photos and videos.

I am primarily an Apple user, but what I like about Picasa on the PC is the deep integration with other Google products, like Google Earth and YouTube. Geo-tagging your photos and uploading your videos to YouTube is a snap. Creating albums online for sharing with others is also painless, as is doing some sophisticated photo manipulations by just pointing and clicking on the healthy toolkit of options available in Picasa. Backing up to CD/DVD is a 1-2-3-click operation, and there is a display simulation (to see what your photos look like on other devices) that is unheard of in any free application.

However, your photos are still scattered to the four winds on your hard drive, as while Picasa does a great job finding all of your stashed stuff, it does nothing for you once you leave. To get that level of “professional” management, you have to either buy a Mac - or buy some PC software. For PC users, the purchase de jour is Adobe Lightroom 3, but not much of a steal at the hefty price of USD $299.

However, if you are a professional photographer, this is the bread for your butter. Lightroom, like it’s equivalent on the Mac called Aperture (USD $199), creates a true catalogue of your media. And with a true catalogue, you can do wonderful things. One such wonder is the ability to create different versions of your photo using sophisticated editing tools, but still retain the original photo side-by-side with your edited versions. This feature is called “non-destructive” editing, and is a must for anyone serious about photo manipulations.

Both Lightroom and Aperture allow you to do more with your photo library then ever possible with Picasa or iPhoto. For example, you can create coffee table-sized photography books and get them printed professionally online, as well as produce photo websites and full-featured slideshow movies, complete with your favorite audio track. Lightroom also has “tethered shooting,” which is where you hook your camera to your PC and make technical adjustments before you press the shutter button.

But for me (and hopefully someday for my wife), these two professional-grade applications ensure that no photo or video is ever lost, or further away then typing a simple keyword into a search box. After all, that wedding photo where I have tika sliding down my nose is after all, priceless, irreplaceable, and if using one of the tools discussed, just a click away.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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