Free and Easy Basic Image Editing With Windows Live Photo Gallery

Windows Live Photo Gallery offers a nice array of consumer-level tools for photo organizing, editing, and sharing.

On startup, your photos automatically display in Windows Live Photo Gallery's Organizer. With the click of a button, you can sort them by Date, Rating, Person, Geotag, Tag, Name, Folder, or Published (uploaded to the Web). Adding Tags, Names, and Ratings couldn't be easier. Simply open the Tag and Caption pane (which displays to the right the screen) then select the photo or group of photos, and type in the relevant information into the appropriate field for that tag or select it from a list. To rate a picture(s), click on a star (1 to 5). As you identify photos as containing a certain person, Photo Gallery learns that person's face, and will attempt to recognize it in future pictures. We found the program's face recognition engine works rather well and learns very quickly. For instance, after we identified actor Eli Wallach in only two pictures, Photo Gallery offered his name in the People tag field for every other photo we had of him. Importing photos from a camera, memory card, or other external source is similarly simple.

Photo editing in Windows Live Photo Gallery is as basic and easy as possible. The one-button Auto Adjust can be set to include (or not include) Straighten, Noise Reduction, Color, and Exposure. You can click individual buttons for automatic correction of Red Eye, Retouch, Straighten, Noise Reduction, Retouch, Color, or Exposure. If you'd rather have some choice regarding Color or Exposure, you can choose from among nine thumbnail variations. Straighten Photo and Noise Reduction also have custom options. The Crop tool can be set to Custom or a number of standard print or display sizes, such as 4x6, 8x10 or wide screen (19x9). Choosing any of those options places a crop box over the photo, so you can adjust what portions of the picture are retained before applying the crop. Special Effects has only six duotone options.

The Create tab doesn't have projects like greeting cards or other novelty items offered by competitors (such as Kodak EasyShare). Photo Gallery does directly connect to Windows Live Movie Maker, and can easily download other tools from Microsoft, such as Auto Collage. When you click on Email, you're given an option of the size photo you'll share: original, large (1280x1024), medium (1024x768), small (800x600) or smaller (640x480), which will then provide an estimate of how large the file will be when you send it. For our Eli Wallach portrait, for example, a medium resize would be about 230KB--quite a reduction from the original 30MB file. After you download Windows Live Writer, it's easy to post photos to a blog. The Slideshow option is entirely automated. You get to select the pictures in the show, and Photo Gallery decides on transitions, timing and all other options. Unfortunately, you can't save the slideshow, but you can share it. You can share photos or slideshows via Windows SkyDrive, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Windows Live Group. You could also add a plug-in for additional sharing networks. Other output options include printing to your own device or via an online print service, CD or DVD burning, and setting any photo to your monitor desktop with a click of a button.

Windows Live Photo Gallery is intuitive, with a very easy learning curve--which is good, since the Help is not organized conveniently. For consumers who enjoy using their photos, it can be a very useful--even valuable--program for easy, comprehensive photo organizing, and for basic editing and sharing.

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