I’ve been a fan of all aspects of photography for a while.  I’m not a pro by any means, but I find it entertaining to take the perfect shot, then to edit the picture on your own and get it out to your friends and family to enjoy.  What little artistic ability I have, I got from my mom.  She is very artistic and loves to do everything by hand.  I wouldn’t even be able to name all of the stuff she’s worked on, but everything from drawing with pastels, oil paint, & charcoal to pottery, sculptures, and more recently a little tech related with editing photography on the computer.  That’s the area that gets me excited, because I can use my tech experience to help.

I recently got more excited about this with the purchase of an iMac.  I’ve been wanting to learn more and dig more into the photo & video editing with a little web design on the side, so I figured, what better way.  I haven’t gotten the chance to use iPhoto yet, but here’s a few tools I like to use and would recommend.  I use Google’s Picasa 3 to organize all my pictures.  It’s a basic and easy to understand program that can actually be pretty powerful if you want it to be.  I also use Picasa’s web galleries to display most of my pictures with my family and friends.  Picasa makes it easy to just make a few minor changes and easily upload them for free.  One of the advanced features are that it will let you make batch edits to multiple files.  This is nice when you took a lot of pictures inside in bad light, it will try to auto fix the whole folder to make them look nice in a hurry.  The web gallery has face recognition, which will organize all the pictures with similar looking faces to let you name who that person is.  This came in handy for me, when Amy and I went on a vaction and took probably a thousand pictures, but only wanted to send the ones of other people to them.  Then a few other good pictures that we marked with Picasa’s star feature.  If you’ve had problems finding pictures like I have, you’d like Picasa’s photo tagging.  It took a little work to get started, but I like to tag each picture with who’s in it and what was going on, whether it was an event or a holiday or something significant.  It’s necesary to take the people, location, or date if you use Picasa’s other features, but it doesn’t hurt.  Speaking of location Picasa will geotag your photos with the location they were taken, showing them on a simple google map, or even exporting them to Google Earth, espeically fun for people that travel a lot.  It also intergrates well with the other places you would like to use your photos, like uploading to blogs or even to a Facebook photo album.  I use this feature to upload a few of my favorites to Facebook to share with my friends.

As for editing pictures and giving them artistic effects, I usually turn to Picnik.com.  It is an awesome free site with some amazing features.  You upload your picture, then it shows all these options on how to change the photo and make it unique.  It’s much easier than having the 500 page book & second job that Photoshop would require.  Just a few clicks and you’re ready to save the picture back to your computer or share it to a web gallery.  I shouldn’t knock Photoshop too much. They have a verynice site, photoshop.com, that also lets you edit pictures online.  I’ve used it a few times, but I like Picnik a lot more.  Picnik really lets you bring out that inner artist and you can be as dramatic as you’d like.  If you’ve seen those pictures around facebook that looks like a polaroid, then Picnik is probably what they used.  It’s one of their options for borders.  They also have a facebook app, that works pretty smooth.  Most of the features are free, but there is an option to pay a little bit to get more features.  I think it lets you save more of your past photos and a few other things.

I’ve also heard good things about GIMP & Paint.Net.  I haven’t actually used either, but both are free programs used to edit pictures.  And if you’re willing to pay a little, I’ve used Adobe Photoshop Elements and it’s not too bad either.  I’m looking to have iPhoto fill this area for me to see what it can do.

The most fun part of photography for me is sharing the pictures with people.  Flickr has a great web community, I just haven’t started using it as much as I’d like.  I used to use Yahoo photos and those albums got converted to Flickr, I just haven’t done anything with it yet.  As I mentioned above Facebook has become the most popular place to share pictures among other social networking sites.  I use PicasaWeb for most of my pictures, then I put my favorites out on Facebook, and I just have a few of the main ones in MySpace.  Another fun way to share photos is using TwitPic and sending them through  Twitter.  Like  tweets, most of these pictures are from cell phones, when you just want a quick easy way to share them, not always the best quality.  I’d use TwitPic when I’m on the go and I see something cool, or when I just don’t have a camera handy.

Next to the really fun part, bringing those still frames to life.  I used to use Windows Movie Maker or other slideshow tools, but one of the really cool web ones that I discovered is Animoto.  This site will upload about 10-15 pictures and put them to some of their music to make a 30 second music video.  I’ve shared my most recent one above.  I just threw some pictures in there to see what it could do, but this has some really cool posibilities.  Like Picnik, there is a paid premium version to make full length videos that cost something like $3 a video.  Which really isn’t much when you think about it.  Then you can download them to your computer to play on your ipod or other media devices.  Animoto will also let you upload the videos to your YouTube account or embed them into a webpage.  I’ve used the embed feature above, the YouTube upload is nice again because of the community they have.  You get a lot of views on their site.  Speaking of video sites, I like use YouTube and Vimeo to upload my slideshows that I’ve made on my computer, because I think the HD quality is a little better than YouTubes.  I’ll put one of those video’s below (note to see the HD version, you have to click on it to go to the site).  Vimeo and Viddler are both YouTube competitors if you’re looking for somewhere else to post videos.

I can’t mention all the stuff I like without mentioning where I heard about some of it and some of my resources.  I enjoy listening to Scott Bourne on the MacBreak Weekly Podcast, then he also has his own blog/podcast called TWiPPhoto (This Week in Photography).  Another site of his I find interesting is Scottcritiques, basically you upload your pictures and he tells you how bad they are.  It’s not really that harsh, but I haven’t uploaded any of my own photos or it probably would be.  It’s definately intersting though.  Lifehacker is also a good source for finding cheap, efficient tools to help you out, especially when you’re wanting to find that free tool, that does a simple task.

Lastly, you can’t spend so much time on your pictures and videos without backing them up.  Some people don’t realize tell their hard drive crashes and it’s too late.  My backup system isn’t too extensive right now, anytime I work on stuff I run a manual backup to an external drive, then store the external drive in a firesafe box, but I’m really wanting to get a Drobo to replace my external drive, then I would have data redundancy similar to a RAID array and could backup more data than I do on my 300GB external drive.  Another service, I’d like to try out is to backup my important data to an Amazon S3 server.  You can use their storage in the cloud and pay for how much data you upload to them per month.  This way if you have a fire you can pull all your stuff back from the web.  This kinda takes backups to the next level, but I think it’s important.  You can read more about “Managing Your Digital Life” from another Scott Bourne site.  I know another shameless plug, but I’m working on getting me a drobo and saving some money.

These are just a few things that have made my photo editing more fun, if I missed any please let me know, I’m always looking forward to try new things or save some time & money here and there.  I’ve also linked to a few of my sites that I use, feel free to add me or look around.

Jamaica from Nolan Carson on Vimeo.