My 5/05/08 Missoulian column
If you’ve tried the image editing and enhancement software that came with your digital camera and want to try something different, Web-based software might be for you.
Web-based photo editing software is fairly easy to use, but it’s more limited than the software on your personal computer because it must work over the Internet. If you can point and click and navigate Web sites, you can edit and share your photos online. Working with your images on the Web can be very handy if you’re traveling and want your photos saved in one place, and sharing photos via the Web is what some of these services really shine at that you can’t easily do in other ways.
Most Web photo sites are a mix of editing, sharing and printing services, and many appear to be trying to “out-feature” each other for market share and to make money by selling prints. And like anything in cyberspace, the territory can shift fairly quickly as sites come and go – as happened with the popular Yahoo! Photos, which disappeared when the company bought Flickr – and other sites pop up overnight. A Google search for “photo editing” will bring up more choices than you have time to try.
Many online photo sites require you sign up for an account, which it typical of nearly everything you do on the Web these days, even if it’s free. And if you’re going to order prints, you’ll need an account anyway. Some sites also offer “pro” services for an annual fee. Any way you go, broadband access is a must for uploading and downloading large image files in a reasonable amount of time.
Web-based software is different in a way that you might not realize: it’s “platform independent,” which means it works on both Macintosh and Windows computers, because it’s browser based. Success, however, can sometimes depend on the Web browser you use. Microsoft Internet Explorer is still the most used browser out there, so all Web services work fairly well with it. But IE isn’t made for Macs anymore, and you might have problems with Apple’s Safari browser. Firefox is a good alternative for the Mac, as it will act more like IE when it accesses a Web page. Try Safari first, then go to Firefox if needed.
The first two photo sites I checked out were Snipshot.com and Picnik.com, two fairly new services. Both sites worked well with the few photos I tried. Both are designed for quick editing and e-mailing, and uploading and downloading photos. And both sites allow resizing, cropping and other basic operations. Picnik will automatically make a slew of copies of your image with special effects, while Snipshot has a more limited selection. But Picnik is a bit overloaded with animations and actions for the operations you perform on your photos; Snipshot has about the same capabilities and is cleaner and easier to use.
The Flickr Web site is very popular, with 6 million to 8 million users and as many as 1 billion photos, and growing. Flickr is geared toward sharing and building albums and “photo streams,” slide show-like displays that can be open to the public. You also can send images to many of Flickr’s partners to get printed books of your images, your photos on products and on and on. If you have your own Web site, you can display images directly from your Flickr library. Some evidence that Flickr and photo sharing in general has hit the big time is that the Library of Congress has Flickr photo streams of images from their collections.
For more serious editing, Adobe – maker of the industry standard image-editing software Photoshop – recently began offering a service called Photoshop Express. I tried it and it looks and works well, but as a Web-based system, of course it has nowhere near the power of the full version of Photoshop. Walter Mossberg reviews Photoshop Express at All Things Digital.
I can’t forget Google’s photo service, Picasa. Google offers a client program for Windows computers (Macs use iPhoto) that helps you upload photos to your Picasa Gallery, organize images and order prints. Picasa is limited on editing capabilities, though. If you already have a Google account – who doesn’t? – you might as well give it a try.
I found David Pogue’s review of seven Web photo services at the New York Times to be good. He concentrates on sharing and printing features of image services in order to help his 60-ish mother browse photos and order prints. The article is a little dated (it was written in 2007), but all the services he reviews are still around: Flickr, Shutterfly, Webshots, Kodakgallery, Photobucket, Picasa and Snapfish.
Pogue’s bottom line is he likes Snapfish or Kodak Gallery for easy, one-click print ordering, and Google’s Picasa for Web albums for sharing. I’d go for that.
Overall, some online photo services feel overloaded with features to me, but Flickr and Picasa make it easy to put a photo album on the Web for your family or friends, or the general public, to see. I’d rather do photo editing on my MacBook than on a Web site, but next time I take a trip I might try out a Web service to doctor a photo before e-mailing it. And for now, I’m going to stick to local printing at a photography business in town.
I see nothing but rapid growth in the world of people sharing, editing and printing images via the Web. The software services will continue to develop, and more people will move to broadband Internet service for fast access and as a result, I think Web-based image management will become more common – and possibly the rule rather and the exception – for everyone but professional photographers.