Bless our digital cameras. The little gadgets allow us to endlessly snap away at birthday parties, school plays, even bubble baths. Then we load the instant treasures onto our computers — perhaps to print out later or e-mail to Grandma. Or maybe your pictures end up sitting on your hard drive for years, stashed away in a "digital attic." If so, get set to blow the pixel dust away; help is here.
Countless Web sites have sprung up to help you organize your photos, along with a variety of fun options for sharing them. You can start simply by uploading pictures to a site that allows for unlimited storage. From there, you can order prints, move photos around to create themed albums (how about Holidays '07!), and invite your friends and family to view your albums online. Many sites offer cool additional services, like making a hardbound version of an album.
We've rounded up some of our favorite photo sites. Now is a great time to try one out as you get set to snap — and share — another set of family memories.
Like other hobbies, scrapbooking has recently made the leap to the digital realm. On many Web sites you'll find the tools to create an online scrapbook that includes sweet design touches that make each book unique, such as bows and ribbons, fancy paper, and colorful backgrounds. The Web sites range from the jump-right-in (digitalscrapbookplace.com) to the sophisticated (scrapbook-bytes.com), which may allow you to use powerful design programs such as Photoshop.
Digital photo frames offer a fresh twist on snapshot sharing. These frames, which operate on batteries or electricity, look like a typical picture frame but display your photos in bright, bold color like a computer screen. You plug in the memory card from your camera and load the pictures of your choice. Settings allow you to select how the frame shows off the shots: in a slideshow or just one favorite. Check out Kodak's Easyshare S510 Digital Picture Frame ($70).
Add a personal touch to your holiday cards with stamps created from your favorite photos (yes, the U.S. Postal Service accepts them). You can also personalize your birth announcements, a graduation, or other special event.
Maureen Taylor, author of Scrapbooking Your Family History, suggests using a genealogy Web site as a central place for sharing family photos and connecting with relatives. She recommends Ancestry.com. You can upload family photos and attach audio stories to the shots as well. One of the best features of this site is "the shaky leaf." It searches databases across the country for records of your ancestors. The cost of subscribing varies by product.
There are dozens of photo-sharing sites on the Web, each with its own features and frills. Here are five of our faves:
- Google's Picasa: It's no surprise that the search giant is in on the photo-sharing game. The Picasa software can be downloaded to your computer for free. Then when you're ready, it automatically scans your hard drive for every digital photograph you've ever taken, and collects them all on Google's Picasa library. You can create albums, write captions, and manage a variety of photo projects with ease — all without paying a dime.
- One True Media: New to the digital world? Try this site. It makes some of the sophisticated features of photo-sharing Web sites easy to handle. You can create online slideshows and video montages set to music or commentary, as well as create hardbound albums. The animated and colorful style kits are priced at just a few dollars.
- Smilebox: Create animated e-cards from your photos, as well as photo albums, scrapbooks, and postcards, set to the music of your choice. We like the neat little trick after you've created a digital photo album — roll your mouse over a shot and it enlarges.
- SendPhotos: This innovative site lets you work in conjunction with family and friends, who can add their photos to an album you all share online (it's password protected). That means Mom, Aunt Miriam, and cousin John can upload their photos to one location and work together on scrapbooks or projects for next year's joyful reunion.
- Panraven: Use your digital photos to tell a story on Panraven. Whether you just enjoyed a family trip or a big celebration, everyone who was there can add their photos and collaborate online to describe their experiences in scrapbook format. Panraven steps in with preformatted pages, stock photos (if needed), and backgrounds.