Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Since I'm the father of a 20-month-old boy, I take a lot of pictures, and put them up on Flickr for sharing with family members. My home PC is on Vista and so is my work tablet, so I've been using Windows Photo Gallery to tag the pictures with tags relating to people, places and events, and then tagging the best with a "flickr" tag, dragging these into Flickr Uploadr, writing up some commentary, and uploading them. My pictures are all stored in the default location in Windows and that directory is shared with my work user and my wife's user account on her (XP) laptop.

Every so often I get burned out on choosing pictures and writing commentary but the relentless demands of my wife and mother-in-law for fresh pictures never cease. So I usually still have to choose the pictures to show because my wife doesn't have Photo Gallery, and then I use Outlook to resize them and e-mail them to her, while she writes the commentary in GMail, sends it back to me, and then I paste it into Flickr Uploadr, one picture at a time. This does save me time because I don't have to write the commentary, but there has to be a more efficient way.

Besides this, and more importantly, our son has grown interested in pictures of himself and his relatives and friends, to the degree that he tells us "find picture of Oskie [his nickname for himself] pouring cat food at Grammy's house" or "picture of Oskie and Grammy and Mommy in the playroom". The way I had tagged everything made it pretty easy to do that search, though as has been noted in many internet comments, there was no good way to do an "AND" search as would be most efficient for my son's two requests -- if you search for Grammy Mommy it is as if you did Grammy OR Mommy and you get every picture with one or both of them in it. Clicking on the tag for one person and then using the search field to find the other person is how you solve that.

Since my wife has XP on her laptop, I also had to find something that was like Windows Photo Gallery but worked on XP. Windows Live Photo Gallery seemed to fit the bill so I installed it on all three machines. The Vista machines knew where the pictures should live, and I added my share to my wife's laptop. It began to process the pictures and build the list of tags and, after many hours, it seemed to have all the tags are in place.

First impressions were that Live Photo Gallery was a smarter and fancier version of Photo Gallery, with better editing tools and the whole People Tags thing, and it had the added benefit that it actually ran on my wife's XP PC.

However, after a few days of trying to tag pictures on my laptop and home PC and checking to see what syncs, I came to the conclusion that if you share a directory, you can only set People Tags on the machine on which the directory is shared. Using my laptop to tag people in pictures in the share sometimes set them, sometimes required dropping back to the gallery and hitting F5 a bunch of times on both computers before they set, and sometimes actually removed all the tags from the pictures.

This really started to piss me off and an earlier draft of this blog post had a long rant about it, when finally I took a breath, sat back, and asked myself if I was trying to make the program do something it wasn't meant to do, when in fact what the program wanted me to do was staring me in the face. So I set up Gallery Sync between my laptop and home PC, which ties into sync.live.com (the former FolderShare). I connected the laptop and desktop via crossover (the wireless router is in another room) but could see that they were syncing at like 10Mbit over wireless, so I turned off wireless and just copied all the stuff over from the laptop manually. Sync was smart enough to figure out that I did that, and just checked everything once I turned wireless back on and Sync could sign into Live. I can't blame Sync for not knowing that the private IP address was the faster network to connect to my desktop PC.

And, now all the People Tags work great, and Sync really seems to sync changes within 10 seconds, which is less time than it took to make one Live Photo Gallery library see the changes made to its underlying files from another machine.

One problem I saw tonight is that some videos and pictures ended up with the wrong "date taken," 1/31, and I can't figure out why this could be or how to fix it besides figuring out the date each actually was taken and fixing it myself. Even odder, the files are fine in the source directory -- I even renamed some of them and saw that they resynced in the little Activity window, but they still have the wrong date on my laptop.

I've also played with the Flickr upload but I'm not sure I've saved a step. As described many, many words ago in my first paragraph, I tag pictures so I can find them later, and if they are flickr-worthy I tag them with flickr. What I used to do was then drag this bunch into Flickr Uploadr, select them all and tag them with Oscar (supposedly there are a few viewers of my photostream who subscribed to this tag though I suspect there's just one and his name is Matt and he lives in Boston and if I told him that I almost never post anything on flickr besides pictures of Oscar my full photostream feed would probably suffice), name each picture and write commentary, and then upload the batch. Now I can type into the "caption" field in the same program I tag them with, which has the added benefit of being searchable later down the line. Then again, take a look at this blog very entry -- I'm not known for brevity and this is true of my flickr commentary as well. There is a couple-sentence limit on the Caption field in the picture so I ran out of that. I also am not sure what to do about the title. A clever or cute title is key to a well-received flickr picture but I'm not quite sure I want to rename the file given my (justified) lack of trust in Windows maintaining an accurate Date Taken for the life of the file. IMG_0540 or whatever places the file in a sequence that will always exist (until I get another camera as I just did, but, what can you do). So when the pictures are uploaded to flickr from Live Photo Gallery I have to create titles for them, finish my captions if they got cut off, delete all the tags and replace them with Oscar (again, I can't blame Live Photo Gallery for my use case, which is to have "private" tags in Windows and a far more limited set of "public" tags). Still, I could still use Uploadr but I'll stick it out with Live Photo Gallery for the next batch and see whether its advantages (of having the commentary local and searchable) outweigh the disadvantages of requiring post-processing. (Oh, and it takes like 20 seconds to log into flickr when you click Publish to Flickr.)

Finally, after all these years of thinking I was too smart for automated sync programs for your camera, I decided what the hell, I'll let Live Photo Gallery figure out which pictures are the latest for me, and put them in the right place. The first sync didn't know which pictures were newest and created a lot of duplicates in the directory. There should probably be a setting that figures that if the same file with the same Date Taken exists in the directory to which you're copying it, it shouldn't copy over those files. But I used DOS FIND to make a textfile of every file with a (2) in the name and then made a batch file from it which moved everything to a temporary directory (from which I could delete them). Incidentally, Vista is an asshole when it comes to searching -- *(2).JPG does not find any files called IMG_1234 (2).JPG as you would expect. Neither does "dir *(2).jpg" so maybe parentheses are a meaningful wildcard of some sort. Anyhoo, the next time I used Live Photo Gallery to import pictures it properly chose just the newest ones, so I guess it keeps its own records of when an image was imported rather than looking at what's in the directory to which it's importing. I would also like to import pictures from my laptop but suspect I won't be able to sync the two galleries that closely such that imports from camera to one gallery are recorded in the other gallery. That, I suppose, argues for doing it based on the contents of the destination directory rather than a separate database. But I'm willing to risk deleting extras and try it.


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