The Photo Gallery application included with Vista has now evolved to be Windows Live Photo Gallery – while it won’t be bundled with Windows 7, you can download it for free. It includes all of the features that you’ll need to manage, upload and browse through your pictures, and there are some basic editing tools included as well. You’ll be able to create slideshows of your favourite pictures, easily share images with family and friends, and make more sense out of the hundreds of photos cluttering up your hard drive.
If you’ve used Windows Photo Gallery in the past, you’ll find the Live version familiar. New features include improved importing tools, histogram support, panoramic stitching and a face detection feature that enables you to quickly tag images with details of the people in them. The software covers every aspect of photo management, from transferring pictures from a digital camera to sending them to the Web (you can upload pictures to Flickr, Facebook or Windows Live Spaces with the help of plug-ins). If you have a Windows Live ID (from another Microsoft service such as Hotmail, for example), then you can associate this with the Photo Gallery program and tag images with your Windows Live contacts as well as interact with other Live products more easily.
Once you’ve downloaded, installed and launched Windows Live Photo Gallery, the program will take a look at the folders on your hard drive and begin organising the images that it finds. By default, you’ll be given a number of options on the left for quickly organising your media by type or by date – the date that each photo was taken, together with other key information, will be automatically pulled from the metadata stored in the images.
The gallery page will initially sort your pictures by folders, but you can change this using the small drop-down list in the top left hand corner – available options include name, date and rating, and you can even group your photos based on the people who appear in them. On the right hand side of the gallery page is an option to filter your pictures based on the star ratings that you’ve assigned to them. So, if you only want to see your favourite images, you can temporarily hide any that have a rating of less than four stars. You can easily filter out particular groups of images by date as well.
Once your collection of photos grows beyond a few hundred pictures, it can be increasingly difficult to find all the images of a certain person or from a certain event. This is where tags come in – by adding tags that identify your friends, family and pets, for example, you can quickly call up matching snaps and sort them by date or rating as usual. Windows Live Photo Gallery splits tags up into People and Descriptive, and in the latter case you can add any tags you like to make sorting through your photos more straightforward.
(For a complete step-by-step guide to Windows Live Photo Gallery, look out for The Essential Windows 7 Handbook, on sale from Magnesium Media and newsagents now).