Windows 8 deep dive: Get to know your Photos app
The Options menu is the nerve center of Photos. The menu displays the Microsoft account you’re currently using, offers you the option of refreshing the Photos Live Tile with random photos, and lets you select the source from which Photos pulls images and video. The list of media sources includes Facebook, Flickr, SkyDrive, and any folders containing images on the device you’re using or on the devices connected to it. You control where Photos can pull photos by selecting the checkboxes next to each service. Usually, it’s as simple as that.
When it comes to Facebook, though, things aren’t so simple. Getting Facebook and your Photos app to work together entails linking the two accounts, which you may already have done while setting up your Microsoft account or using the People app. Click the Options link next to your Facebook checkbox in the Photos Options menu, and you'll jump to a page of settings for your Microsoft account, where you can configure Photos to pull images and videos from your Facebook account and even publish photos and videos to your Facebook page.
You can also choose to connect your Flickr account to your Microsoft account, so your Flickr photos will appear in your Photo app. Unfortunately there’s no option to post photos from the Photo app to your Flickr account, but having easy access to your Flickr albums is still a pleasure.
The only other setting worth noting is the Help button, which (as in other Microsoft Windows 8 apps) provides links to Microsoft’s official support pages. The remaining settings in your Photos app are less helpful: The Permissions option is handy for staying on top of your data privacy because it shows you what the Photos app is allowed to do with your device (access the Internet, for example, and share your data with connected services). Unfortunately, you can’t change those settings from within the app. To manage the permissions on your Photos app (or on any other Microsoft app), you must log in to your Microsoft account and access the Microsoft Permissions page.
Among the other settings are About (which displays the version number and other technical information about Photos), Feedback (which lets you send Microsoft feedback on the app), and Rate and Review (which takes you to the Windows Store so you can review the app).
Next, let’s run through a brief overview of how you use Photos based on what device you’re accessing it from.
From the main Photos screen, you can swipe or scroll through your media, or click the white Play icon in the lower-left corner to start displaying an automated slideshow of all your photos. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen (or right-click, if you’re rocking a keyboard and mouse) to bring up the options bar, which contains the Upload button. This is the button to click if you need to import photos and video from a camera, USB drive, or other external device. To trigger this action, simply click Upload and then, in the window that appears, select the device that you want to upload from.
The options bar contains a few more features that are useful when you dive deeper into a folder of photos. You can tap (or click) select photos and use the Share charm to share them with other apps. The Slideshow button in the options bar will always run through an automated slideshow of all the photos in the folder, regardless of whether you have selected specific photos.
Tapping or clicking a single photo will enlarge it to fill your screen and give you the option of setting the photo as your lock-screen image, Photo app background, or Photo app live-tile image. You can also share the photo directly to Facebook, or (oddly) start a slideshow of all the photos that share a folder with the one you’re currently viewing. There’s not much else you can do with your photos from within the Photos app. If you want to edit, resize, or exercise more control over them, you’ll have to use a different app or (on an x86 PC) resort to a Desktop app.
Tips and tricks
The best way to get more from Photos is to add as many pictures from as many different devices and services as you can. Photos is a rather paltry app by itself, but it’s a beautiful tool for showcasing your photos, so the first thing you should do is slide your finger in from the right edge of the screen (or drag your mouse to the right corners of your screen) and start linking accounts by navigating to Settings > Options > Show photos and videos from and then linking Facebook, Flickr, and SkyDrive.
You can also use SkyDrive as a go-between for ferrying photos from remote PCs to your Photos app, regardless of where you are or what device you've used to access it. To do this, first install the SkyDrive desktop app on the PC containing photos you want to access, then sign into it using your Microsoft account, and finally run through the SkyDrive setup utility as normal. Be sure to check the Make files on this PC available to me on other devices option, to allow Windows 8 to fetch files from that PC and make them available anywhere you can log in to your Microsoft account via either SkyDrive or Windows 8. These files won't count against your SkyDrive storage limits either, so you can access a lifetime of photos from any device without worrying about filling up your SkyDrive with pictures of your cat.
Alternatives to Photos
Photos is a decent app, but you can get better alternatives online or in the Windows App Store. Fellow editor and photo fiend Alex Cocilova recently wrote an article ("11 winning alternatives to Windows 8's built-in apps") about worthy alternatives to the stock Windows 8 apps in the Windows 8 Store; if the photo management options in the Photos app leave you cold, he recommends checking out Albums HD. This $2 app lets you add notes to your photos and create photo albums with customizable templates.
If you want to do some light photo editing from within Windows 8, check out the free Fhotoroom app in the Windows 8 Store. The name is a little goofy and the app will constantly ask you to upgrade to the paid version (which, at $1.50, is worth it if you want to get rid of the ads, have access to more editing tools, or need to edit images larger than 3MB) but even the free version lets you crop, resize, rotate, and retouch your photos, and then save the edited version back to your Photos app as a .jpg or .png file. Fhotoroom also includes a bunch of neat image filters a la Instagram, if you're into that sort of thing.
If you need to edit and retouch your photos and you have access to the Windows 8 desktop, consider heading onto the Web and downloading the GIMP, Photoscape, or any of the other great image-editing tools available online for free. For more information on how to use those tools and where to find them, I encourage you to check out our guide on how to edit images for free.