Tell me a story

An addition to the family is invariably accompanied by a paparazzi-style flurry of photography. I can personally attest to this, as our second baby is currently vying for the title of Most Photographed Child of 2006.

As we already know, Windows has a huge number of tools to help me take care of this avalanche of digital photos. I've somehow managed to get them filed and organised, printed and posted, so what else is there left to do with all my free time? Why, make them the star of the show with a fun - and free - Windows XP accessory, Photo Story 3.0.

Download the 5MB program from the Photo Story Web site (www.microsoft.com/photostory). You'll need Windows Media Player 10.0 as well, if you haven't got it.

When you start up Photo Story, a wizard asks whether you want to start another story, edit a previous project, or play something. Choose Begin a New Story and then start importing the photos that you would like to use. Next drag-and-drop them along the filmstrip to arrange them into the order you'd like them to appear.

The next step is to create a title image for your photo story that sums up the theme in some way - an establishing shot such as a landscape. Applying a washout effect to the image works quite nicely, but there are about a dozen other neat arty effects to choose from, see figure 1 and figure 2. These include sepia, diffuse glow, coloured pencil and black outline.

Often, when we send photos to friends and family by e-mail, we have to add explanatory notes, such as "This is me with my friend Tricia". A great feature of Photo Story is that you don't have to type information into an e-mail and hope that they can match it up to the correct picture - you simply record a narration.

Set the Record straight

To start recording your voiceover narration for each shot, hit Record and press the microphone button to configure your settings. There's a text box below to type in notes to remind you what you wanted to say. If you make a mistake, press Delete to start over. When you press Stop, Photo Story will automatically place a counter in the timeline to show you how long the narration lasted.

Now it's time to jazz up your still and lifeless images with a bit of movement. Photo Story lets you play around with zoom and pan, as well as with transition effects.

Click on the first photo in the timeline and then click the Customize Motion button above. Two copies of your picture are shown, with moveable and resizable drag-and-drop style boxes indicating the start and end position (screenshot 1 is available here). This means you can start out by viewing only one small area or corner of your picture, then slowly enlarge the field of view to take in the whole image. The preview button lets you try out as many different approaches as you want before deciding which one's best. If you've added narration to the image in question, you'll notice Photo Story automatically figures out how long to apply the motion for. You don't need to worry about your voiceover running into the next photo.

This window is also where you can control myriad transition effects - by clicking on the Transition tab (see screenshot 2). You can add dozens of different kinds, but remember that too many different effects can add a decidedly cheesy tone to your story.

Next, add a soundtrack to your images. Select the picture where you want the music to start, then click Select Music to add a song from your computer (see screenshot 3). For holiday photos, it works really nicely to use some music from the country you were visiting. You can even use something from Photo Story's large library of instrumental musical interludes by choosing Create Music. If you want to have more than one piece of music in your photo story, just select the picture where you want the next piece to start and then choose another song.

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