Review of Windows Live Photo Gallery

Woman using keyboard, editing photos
CDC/ Amanda Mills acquired from Public Health Image Library

Microsoft’s latest incarnation of Windows Live Photo Gallery is finally on par with its Windows counterpart, Picasa and Apple’s iPhoto for Macintosh computers. This new version sports so many new features and improvements that put a lot of Picasa’s tools to shame and in some cases replace professional photo editing applications like Photoshop.

Features

  • Face recognition and people tagging are possible.
  • Geotagging images using the built-in map and the ability to read location information from images taken with GPS-enabled cameras.
  • Tight integration with Windows Live SkyDrive, Microsoft’s equivalent of Picasa Web Albums.
  • Curved based tonal adjustments (forget Photoshop).
  • Easy sharing to Facebook, Windows Live, YouTube, and Flickr.
  • Familiar Ribbon interface found in Office applications and other Windows applications is now a part of Windows Live Photo Gallery.

User Interface

Windows Live Photo Gallery's new incarnation is starting to feel like a full-blown photo editing application that rivals iPhoto in ease of use. The familiar Office Ribbon that made its way into applications like WordPad and Paint in Windows 7 is now a standard in Windows Live Photo Gallery. You will find that the similarity with other Microsoft applications will make switching between applications very easy.

The main application window is composed of three panels from left to right containing a list of folders, the photos within the folders, and an actions panel that allows you to edit the selected photographs.

Although the editing panel serves as a great spot to perform basic edits, double-clicking an image will bring it full view where you will be able to make changes with the tools and effects hidden in the Office Ribbon. Editing pictures is a great experience. When you plug in your camera or insert a memory card containing images, Windows prompts you to select an application to import the photos.

When you select Live Photo Gallery you are given the options to import the images by date, add tags, rename the files and more. Keeping your files organized will start from the moment the images are added to the library.

Editing Photos

Once you bring your photos to Windows Live Photo Gallery, editing them is a snap. You can use tools from the panel on the left of the screen or you can you use the menus on the Ribbon to find the effect or tool you are looking for.

Most of the basic tools like cropping, image rotation, exposure and color correction can be found on the Edit tab in the Ribbon. One of the things you will appreciate if you are an amateur photographer is the ability to adjust the image’s highlights, shadows, color temperature and brightness with a histogram, a tool usually found in applications like Lightroom and Aperture.

The panorama stitching feature allows you to stitch together several images taken in a sequence into a seamless panorama. I’ve used this tool myself for pictures of the Grand Canyon and found it to be intuitive and effective. Panorama’s made with this tool look professional. The Photo Fuse tool is probably the most innovative of them all. Born from Microsoft Research, this tool allows you to combine everyone’s best look from different pictures into one image where everyone is looking at the camera with eyes open.

You can tweak which faces are changed and how the changes are made.

Sharing and Printing

Sharing photos is one of Live Photo Gallery’s strongest features. You can email photos with Windows Live SkyDrive. which differs from traditional messages that include the actual images. With this option, you can send as many images as you would like because they are hosted on SkyDrive and not the recipient’s email account. You can still send using traditional attachments, but be aware of email size limitations.

You can also upload images and slideshows to your Facebook account, Flickr, YouTube, and Windows Live Groups.

All you have to do is select the photos and click the appropriate upload icon for the service you wish to upload the images to. When you are done uploading the images you will be presented with the option to visit the image or album on the page where it was uploaded.

One of the things Microsoft did when they introduced this feature was the ability for third-party developers to leverage Photo Gallery’s API to add other services like Snapfish, Shutterfly, or CVS for photo printing right from your desktop.

Final Thoughts

One thing is certain; Windows Live Photo Gallery has graduated from just another mediocre photo management application to a feature rich consumer level application. The ability to efficiently import and organize photos as they are added to the library, the strong set of tools (particularly the ability to edit an image’s histogram along with its photo sharing capabilities), put it at a point that is on par and beyond in some instances to its counterparts Picasa and iPhoto.

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