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Photo Story - So, you want to be a movie director?

by Alan German

Do you have dozens of digital photographs from your recent vacation, or visit to your grandchildren, and need to package them in a novel way for viewing by friends or family? If so, the tool for you might be Photo Story from Microsoft and – gasp! – it’s a free download. But, a word of caution, the program only runs under XP, so users of earlier versions of Windows need not apply.

The program is essentially a multi-function wizard that guides you through the various steps necessary to develop a fully-contained movie file with your chosen photographs, added titles, spoken commentary, and even a music soundtrack. At each stage, you can opt to include the feature being offered, or move onto the next stage of the process.

As you might imagine, the first step is to identify a number of digital images that are to be the basis of the presentation. This is achieved by using the Import Pictures button to insert a group of images onto a “film strip” or linear story board. The initial order of the images is not important since any individual picture can be selected and moved along the length of the story board using left- and right-arrow keys, or by simply dragging the image to the desired location. Similarly, if you want to add more images, or delete one or more existing images, such changes are readily accomplished.

Once you have a suitable set of images, it’s time to move on to the next step – where you can add text to your pictures. One obvious thing to do here is to put some text on the first image in the series for use as a title slide. You can select a font of any size, colour and attribute, but control over placement is limited to a few, fixed choices for left-to-right and top-to-bottom alignment. One neat feature that can be added at this stage is a special effect – to completely change the look of the picture – with options such as sepia, coloured pencil, and grey outline. An appropriate choice here certainly makes for an interesting title slide.



After adding text to one or more images, the next stage is to optionally add comments as a narrative voice-over, and to choose the type of transition between images as the series is displayed. You can choose the time for which each image is displayed or have the program determine this automatically. There is a wide range of transition effects, such as cross fades and page curls. In addition, there is the added ability to specify starting and ending positions for the transitions by moving and resizing frames on thumbnails of the image. The result, which can be previewed, is a very neat effect with the view either zooming in or out as one image changes to the next.

The next choice is to add background music to your movie. Different tracks can be added to different images or groups of images by selecting one picture as an anchor image and assigning a piece of music to start when this image is displayed. The music will then play until either the music track or the slideshow ends, or another anchor image is encountered with a different track assigned to it. Any music tracks in use are noted along the time line of the story board as musical note symbols. Tracks can be associated with a selected image or just dragged onto the time line at any desired spot.

The final choice is how to save your newly-created masterpiece. The normal option will be to “Save the story for playback on your computer”. The WMV file produced can be viewed in Windows Media Player. There are also options to send the story in an E-mail message, or to set up the story for playback on a Pocket PC, a Smartphone or Mobile Media Player. Each of these options results in the program writing out a WMV movie file; however, the sizes of the various files are different; at least in part resulting from the images being made smaller for display on the smaller screen formats.

Photo Story also provides a range of in-story editing functions such as cropping or rotating an image. In addition, there are some rudimentary controls for adjusting colour levels, contrast, and fixing “red-eye” conditions. A tool to remove “black borders” can be applied to automatically crop any images in portrait format since the main display is for images in landscape mode. A preview of such a cropped image allows you to accept the change, to modify the crop selection, or to reject the change in favour of manual cropping using the program’s edit capability. It should be noted that any changes remain internal to Photo Story; they do not affect the original images stored on your computer.

While this program is dedicated to the task of packaging a series of images for subsequent display as a slideshow, it does this job very well. The program interface is simple to use and yet offers many features. And, because of this combination of ease of use and power, the process of setting up a slideshow, complete with a custom title slide and a music track that fades out at the end of the show, is exceptionally quick.

So kudos to the programming team that created Photo Story, and to Microsoft for making their work freely available. It’s almost enough to make me want to switch my Windows 2000 machine over to running XP!

Bottom Line:

Photo Story 3 for Windows XP (Freeware)
Microsoft Corporation

Originally published: January, 2007

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