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Windows Photo Story (Part 1)

Windows Photo Story (Part 1)

These days, most of us have hundreds of digital photographs lurking on our computers, but we are virtually doing nothing with them and they are being seen by no one.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could jazz them up and put them into a video like slideshow that you could view on your computer or even on your TV? And what if you could zoom in and out and pan the shots? What about having classy transitions between the shots? And a commentary, as well as, some background music? Wouldn’t all of that be so cool? Don’t you think an offer to “show you my latest holiday photos” might then be greeted with a little more enthusiasm by friends and family?

I know what you are thinking right now. You’re saying, “That’s probably expensive and very complicated and difficult to do.” Well, what if I told you that the cost was zero and that doing it was a breeze, handheld all the way? Would that make a difference?

Well, that’s what Microsoft’s Photo Story is: a free program with a walk-you-through wizard for every step of the way.

In this article (which, for convenience, I will split into two parts), I will show you how easy it is and the professional results you can achieve.

I will show you a very quick and easy way to get your show “on the road,” as well as, a few little extras you can use to spice things up even more.

So are you ready? Then let’s go!

Our first stop is the Microsoft site to download the program. Go here and get yourself a free copy of Photo Story. (Please note this will only run on the Windows XP operating system. You can see the System Requirements on the Web page).

After installing the program, when you first run it, you will be greeted by this screen:

Obviously, you should select “Begin a new story” and you will then see this screen appear, which asks you to import the pictures you want to use in this project.

Clicking on this will give you an Explorer like window in which you can select the pictures you want to use (it will give you a little preview of the actual pictures to the right (see next illustration).

You may select the shots you want to use in one of two ways. If you want to include all the pictures in a folder, click on the first thumbnail while holding the left hand Shift key down. Then click on the last shot and all will be selected. Click OK. (Ctrl + A will have the same effect).

Or, if you only want some of the pictures, click on the ones you want while holding down the Ctrl key and then click OK.

This will then be followed by a moving bar indicating that the pictures are being imported in to Photo Story.

Now, before we go any further, there are three important bits of information I want to tell you about:

1. From this point on, any changes you make to the pictures in Photo Story will not affect the originals you have on your hard disk or elsewhere. Changes will only be made to copies of the pictures.

2. Make it a habit to save the project at regular intervals. There is nothing more frustrating than having spent some time on getting things right and then the computer crashes or the power goes off and you lose everything!

3. I will give you two routes through Photo Story. If you just want to get to the finished results quickly, without bothering too much about getting everything 100 percent perfect, there is the “Express Route.” On the other hand, if you want to delve a little more in to how to improve the quality, there is the “Detailed Route.” So, in the course of this article, we will divide between the two routes, so just follow along whichever one you want to use.

Now, back to the (photo) story.

If all has gone well (and why shouldn’t it?), you should now have a screen like this (but with your pictures of course):

Let’s explain the various features:

1. Save Project (see advice above).
2. The sequence of photos in your project (you can change the order at any time).
3. A slide bar you can use to move backwards or forward through the pictures.
4. These arrows will move you backwards or forward through the shots one at a time.
5. This is a preview of the slide you have highlighted and are (possibly) working on at the time.
6. For removing black borders (see later).

If you’re taking the Express Route, you can skip past the detailed explanation of some of these features so you can just move on to the next stage.

However, for those who are still with me, I want to deal with the Remove Black Borders button.

Why would you want this? The standard ratio of width to height for photos is 4 : 3. If any do not meet this standard (for instance, you might have a shot in portrait orientation and have had to rotate the shot to get it the right way around; in which case, it would be 3:4 instead), you will have a black border around those shots. Clicking this button will take you to the situation show in this screen shot (ignore the blue arrows for a moment, you won’t actually see them in Photo Story).

On the left, you will see “Before” with the black border, and the right will show you “After” with the shot cropped and the border removed.

Now, if you want to change where the cropping is done, this is where the imaginary blue arrows come in. They indicate the various “handles” on the highlighted area that you can use to move the size and position of the crop to give just the effect you want.

When you are satisfied, you can then either say Yes to have this single shot fixed or Yes to All to have every single one with a black border altered in the same way. (Photo Story does a pretty good job of getting it right, so for the first time through, you might just want to leave the default setting and say Yes to All and see how it works out).

Before we click Next to go to the next stage, let’s stay a little while longer on this screen and have a look at the little buttons below the main picture (1 and 2).

Both sets are there to enable you to make some adjustments to the picture quality of your photos if you are not happy with them as they are.

Please take my advice and leave the buttons shown as #1 well alone for now! (You can play with them later if you wish, but if you make changes using these, you have to almost jump through hoops to reverse those changes).

Instead, click on Edit to reveal the following screen:

Notice first, (# 1) the three tabs at the top: Rotate and Crop, Auto Fix and Add Effect. We will go briefly through each one in turn.

Rotate and Crop – Maybe you have never rotated a picture taken in portrait mode or maybe you want to cut out a part of the picture (an ugly pole in an otherwise beautiful shot, for instance) by cropping it slightly. Then this is the tool to use.

To rotate, just click the relevant arrow for clockwise or counter clockwise and it’s done.

If you tick the little box (#2) to Crop, the screen changes to give the highlighted box shown here (with those little imaginary arrows again in our picture). Moving these points will enable you to change where you will be cropping, but the box will always keep the 4:3 ratio for you. (Just a little warning: if you make the box too small by cropping extensively, you may find that the result picture is very blurry, because Photo Story will blow the small picture up to the full size and it will become grainy).

If you are not happy with the result, you can click Reset to go back to the beginning. But, if you’re happy, click Save.

Auto Fix – As this picture shows, you can alter the contrast, the color levels and correct red eye (that funny effect you get when you use flash directly in someone’s eyes). Just click On for whatever adjustments you want and Photo Story will attempt to improve things for you. If you don’t like the suggestion, click Off again or Revert to go back to the beginning. (If they are really bad, either delete them from the project or use a graphics program to make adjustments).

Add Effects – This is a function to use with extreme caution! As this shot shows, you can really have fun here. (Whether your audience will share your sense of humor is another matter of course!)

The drop down box (highlighted in this picture) gives you a choice of some ten or so effects you can apply to one or all of the pictures in the show. They range from the artistic to the bizarre and the only excuse the writer can think of for using them might be to have a special effect for a title slide (more about that later).

If you want to apply the same effect to all the slides (heaven forbid!), just tick the little box shown circled in the above picture.

If we now Save from this section, we come back to our original screen and are joined by those of you who took the Express Route. Welcome back!

Now’s the time to take a little break and review what we have covered and see what progress we have made.

We will continue with the rest of our Photo Story adventure in tomorrow’s article, so stay tuned!

~ David Woodford