Photo editing made easy on the Web

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Somewhere in my attic are three large plastic containers filled with photographs. One day, perhaps when I retire (although with four children to put through college, I'm not quite sure when that will be), I'll put them into photo albums. It should take me, oh, a decade or so to do, taking the odd break for nourishment and sleep.

That's why three years ago, I bought a digital camera. No more containers filled with photos, I told myself. Easy to download, and I can print them myself.

Now, somewhere on my hard drive, are dozens of folders filled with digital images of my family and friends. One day, perhaps in the next life, I'll sort through them and put them on a portable hard drive or DVDs.

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You can see my problem. Digital photos, which may have made my attic less cluttered, have nevertheless not made my life any more organized.

One of the biggest problems that I've had with digital photos was how to work with them – make them look better, improve the contrast, rotate them, etc. Most computers come equipped with built-in photo programs, but I've not been impressed with many of them. These programs can be confusing and often save photos in a proprietary format, making them difficult to work with and share.

To make my life easier, I could buy a copy of Photoshop. It's a great program, but quite expensive – about $500 for the full version and $300 for the student version – especially if you're just looking to do a few simple things with your photos.

That's why I'm so intrigued with Snipshot (www.snipshot.com). This website allows you to upload images from your computer and edit them. Or you can enter the Web address of any photo stored online and get a copy with which to work. Snipshot uses nondestructive editing – the original image that is taken from your computer or the Web remains untouched. The site also keeps a copy of the uploaded image for 24 hours before discarding it.

To me, the coolest feature is unlimited "undo." If you make a mistake somewhere in the editing process, you can undo it right back to the original uploaded picture. It's also free to use (at least for now), something I also like very much.

Snipshot was launched in April of this year. Its cocreator, Beau Hartshorne, says that he and his partner, Greg Dingle, decided to make the program because people said it couldn't be done.

"An online photo editing program was always used as the example of the kind of software that cannot be done on the Web," says Mr. Hartshorne in a phone interview from his home in Vancouver, B.C. "That was really our initial motivation. We really wanted to prove them wrong."

For now, the start-up has been funded by Y Combinator, a venture-capital firm in Cambridge, Mass., that specializes in Web-based start-ups. Hartshorne hopes Snipshot will make money in the future by licensing its software to large companies. Later this month and in the months ahead, the site will make improvements that will allow users to manipulate photos in new ways, Hartshorne says.

Once you've edited a photo with Snipshot, you can download the finished product onto your computer or upload it to Flickr.com, the popular Web photo-sharing site owned by Yahoo! Flickr is a place for "open source" photography, allowing people to share their photos with the rest of the online world. You can also choose to keep your photos private, or only allow a few people access to them. (Flickr is also a free site.)

While I'm not crazy about putting personal photos on the Web, here's the benefit: Computers crash and hard drives can fry. If your photos are on the Web, they will still be there even if your computer is toast ... or at least as long as the website stays in business.

But I've found another use for my photos. I create one-of-a-kind photo albums for special occasions using MyPublisher (www.mypublisher.com). This website has software that can be downloaded onto a computer. It allows users to create photo books using their photos (for me, they are the ones I edit with Snipshot) and then, when they're done, click the "purchase" button. Photo books will ship within a few days.

Price depends on the size of the album and the number of copies. A hardcover photo book can cost about $40. Recently I ordered 10 paperback books, with 20 pages for photos (7-3/4-by-5-3/4-inches) for about $100.

Other good Web-based programs include Shutterfly.com (which has features similar to all the previously mentioned programs), Snapfish.com (which has won many kudos from industry experts), and PixVillage.com (which resembles the file-sharing programs like Kazaa or the old Napster, only with photos instead of music).

For those wishing to learn more about digital photography and online photo services, visit www.digitalphotos101.com.

Thanks to these websites, my digital photos are finally in order. Now all that's left is finding a site that will handle all those pictures in the attic.

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