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Create a photo album with high-tech tools

No need to display digital pictures in confusing gadgets, new high-tech programs can help any user build old fashioned photo books with digital images.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Plenty can be done with the hundreds of digital pictures we took of our baby in his first few weeks, from simple prints and calendars to paperweights and elaborate CD slide shows that run on the PC or television for hours.

But my favorite, and one that is sure to be cherished for years, is the old-fashion photo book created with high-tech tools from a company called MyPublisher Inc.

The final product is a real book that's professionally printed on archive-quality paper. The photo quality, though not as crisp as a photo print, is similar to that of books and magazines. As a book, it's in a format that's accessible to everyone, not just those with high-tech gear.

The biggest drawback is the price, starting at about $30 for a 10-page book that can contain as many as 40 photos. Additional pages are $2.95 each, up to 100 pages. It can add up very quickly, but the company occasionally offers deals.

Similar services are offered elsewhere, including in Apple Computer Inc.'s iPhoto organization software. In fact, MyPublisher appears to produce the books created in iPhoto, with both shipping from Valhalla, N.Y. Apple won't say.

But iPhoto has its drawbacks. For one, it only works on a Mac, and it has limited layouts.

I started my baby book project with iPhoto on my Mac but was frustrated by how I couldn't make major adjustments to the layout of photos. After a quick Google search, I discovered that MyPublisher offered a free program that offered much more flexibility, but it only worked on a Windows PC.

I exported the pictures from iPhoto and transferred them over my home network to a computer running Windows XP, though I could just as easily have transferred them from my digital camera.

The 1.3-megabyte MyPublisher BookMaker program installed in seconds.

Technical skills not required
It was extremely easy to move pictures into the book, even with a baby slouched over my shoulder. The images are simply dragged from one part of the program to another.

The second step involved organizing the pictures in the right order. Again, dragging and dropping were the only skills required.

After that, I made some simple enhancements, converting to black and white, rotating, flipping, cropping and automatically enhancing them. It would be nice to be able to fix red eye or adjust brightness and contrast, but other programs can be used for that.

Finally, the pictures are placed in the book based on theme and template choices. The program automatically places the pictures on the pages. The results aren't set in stone: I simply dragged the best pictures to the bigger holes.

If a photo doesn't have a high enough resolution for a particular space, its outline changes to red. The snapshot can then be swapped out for another picture.

MyPublisher costs
MyPublisher also offers a handy pricing tool, which automatically calculates how much the book will cost even before asking for a credit card.

My 16-page masterpiece came in at $47.65, down considerably from the 32-page tome that I originally created. I added a leather cover, which was $10 more than the standard linen. After throwing in two more copies for grandmas who haven't learned to say "No," I had an order of more than $100.

But the final price tag was cut in half thanks to a 50 percent discount on orders over $100. That deal runs through the end of January.

The order shipped in two days as advertised, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality once the books arrived. The pictures appeared exactly as I had laid them out, with all the cute captions I wrote. The 8 1/2 by 11-inch pages are printed on glossy paper.

One problem, and it's nobody's fault but my own. You should be a good self-editor, or have someone read the captions before they're sent. The program could use a built-in spell checker.

After the finished books arrived, my wife noticed in a snap that one caption refers to my father as our son's uncle. Oops.