Q. I am preparing for a big family reunion and want to have a slide show with music in the background for our reunion. All of the software that I have seen is either really expensive or too difficult to work. Is there anything that is easy and cheap for making photo slide shows with music? - Michelle
A. Bringing digital images to life has never been easier or cheaper, but wading through the clutter of software programs that claim to be “the ultimate tool for creating slide shows” can get a bit arduous.
I highly recommend that you skip the software that was included with your camera (in most cases, you will want to avoid installing any of the useless bloat-ware that came with your camera – more on this later) and disregard anything that you see on the shelves of your local office supply or computer software store.
The reason I make these recommendations is that there are a couple of great programs you can download online for free, which takes care of one of your needs because it doesn’t get any cheaper than free! And they are about as easy to use as it can get.
The name of the company that has created a simple, easy to learn and free program for the digital photography slide show neophyte - drum roll please - it’s MICROSOFT!
The name of the program is Photo Story 3, and it can be downloaded at www.microsoft.com/photostory. The simple Wizard interface walks you through each step of the process, and it limits the number of choices you have at each step to help keep you on track.
For instance, your first screen gives you three choices: Begin a new story, Edit a Project or Play a story. Once you select Begin a new story and click on the Next button, you have one big button that says “Import Pictures.” That is how you tell the program what pictures you want in the slide show.
It doesn’t matter in what order you choose the pictures because you can simply click and drag them into the order you want once they have been imported. Bonus tip: whenever you are selecting random files in any Windows program, if you hold down the Ctrl button while selecting images, your previous selections will not be deselected. This allows you to click on random files as a group and then click on the OK button to have them all imported at once.
If you have photos in several different folders, click on the Import Pictures button again and continue until you have all the images that you want in the slide show.
Photo Story 3 limits the slide show to 300 images, which ends up being a 25 minute slide show if each image is given five seconds. You get to decide how long each image will be shown, and they can all be different lengths.
Once you have all your images imported, you can play with the order and do some basic editing of each image or even add effects such as black and white, charcoal, colored pencils or a host of other interesting processing options.
Adding title text, customizing motion, recording voice annotations for each image and adding a background music track from any MP3 or WMA file are all simple options within the wizard interface. At many points in the creation you can click the Preview button to see what you have constructed so far.
Once you have a finished product, you can save the story for playback on any computer in various resolutions (it uses the Microsoft WMV format, which is viewable in Media Player) and then burn it to a CD or DVD. This format would be too big for e-mail, so if you want to send the slide show to someone on the Internet, use a free large file sending site such as TransferBigFiles.com.
The option to “Send the story in an e-mail message” will create a very low resolution presentation that I don’t recommend unless you don’t care that the viewer will have to look at a really small slide show.
Another free download that I highly recommend for all digital camera owners is Google’s Picasa (picasa.google.com), which can replace all of the software that comes with your digital camera, including the software to transfer the images from the camera to your computer.
The reason I like Picasa as an alternative is that one program can handle all of your digital camera needs (organization, red eye, compressing for e-mail, etc.) instead of the three to five nearly useless “included with your camera” programs that will slow your entire computer down.
You can even configure Picasa to automatically launch and suck down your pictures whenever you plug your camera or camera memory card into your computer. That makes it very easy to see all of your images as photo albums based on the date of each image.
In my opinion these two free downloads are must-have programs for all non-professional digital camera users!
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, which can be heard at www.datadoctors.com.radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org