The family-photo realm has seen a lot of change in the last several years. An amazing number of people use the Web to display their family photographs, and take advantage of new software with applications for genealogists. Incredible as it may sound, Americans will have an estimated 95 billion images on their computers by the end of 2005.
This week, instead of focusing on identification, I want to share some new products, Web sites and trends that will influence not only your photographic habits, but also what you do with your heritage images.
Here in the Northeast, creating heritage albums of family photographs and genealogical information isn’t as popular as in other parts of the country. But industry growth suggests that New Englanders will be getting into the hobby in the future. According to the Hobby Industry Association, what began as a $200 million business in 1997 skyrocketed to $1.4 billion in January 2002. With new products and trends continually popping up, scrapbooking shows no signs of slowing down. Digital imaging is even transforming scrapbooks from paper creations to computer creations you can share with family all over the world.
Have you joined the digital picture-taking revolution yet? There’s no reason not to invest in a digital camera: Prices are affordable, and there are models for novices as well as professional photographers. Digital cameras let you preview your photographs as you take them, so you can delete less-than-perfect ones immediately and try again. Plus, you don’t have to buy film because all images are stored on a memory card. Read reviews, such as those on Steve’s DigiCams, before you buy, so you’ll end up with a camera that suits your needs and skill level. If you want to copy old photographs, make sure the camera has a zoom lens capable of getting close enough.
If you have a new Mac, then you should have iPhoto, which ships (or is free) with all OS X models. But if you have a PC, you’ll want to invest in one of the photo-organizing packages on the market. There are plenty of choices. One top-rated package is Lifescape Solutions’ Picasa, which automatically searches your hard drive for image files in a variety of formats—regardless of whether you scanned them or downloaded them from a memory card or CD—and organizes them into folders. E-mailing images and ordering prints are simple tasks. A nice feature for genealogists is the option to add keywords, which makes searching for all photographs of a particular person or family a snap.
My last column mentioned one woman’s efforts to improve the quality of a damaged family picture. You, too, can make your family photos picture perfect with photo-editing software. I’d recommend using a version of Microsoft’s Picture It! or a program offered by Adobe.
The features that were once available only in professional packages are now standard in photo-editing programs for beginners. Adobe’s Photoshop 7.0 has a steep learning curve and is very expensive for the average user, but the new, easier-to-use Photoshop Elements package offers some of the same features. Picture It! comes in an edition easy enough for novice editors, but Microsoft also offers Picture It! Digital Image Pro 7.0, which has more sophisticated options. You’ll never have to worry about taking a bad picture again—drop out or add details, get rid of red eye or even sharpen the focus of blurry images. It’s all possible with photo-editing software. Keep in mind that it will take some time to learn these programs. Read reviews in computer magazines, so you buy a product that matches your computer expertise.
New Web sites
Finding out when a photographer was in business is easy if you can locate him or her in a city directory. But wouldn’t it be helpful to find that information on the Web? Fraser Dunford is adding new data to his Finding Photographers Web site that enables researchers to find working dates for those elusive family photographers.
If you have Irish roots and are looking for family photos, then check out Otherdays.com. This site has images and other materials that researchers will find useful. Sign up for the newsletter to keep up with changes to the site.
This column offers just a brief overview of what’s happening in the world of family photographs. I’d love to hear from you about sites or products you’ve found useful. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For an upcoming column on photo success stories, I’d also like to know how old photographs have influenced your research or changed your life. I can’t wait to hear about your successes!