October 4, 2005

Managing digital photos with Album Shaper

Author: Dmitri Popov

Even a novice digital photographer knows that finding a good application for managing digital photos is as important as having a decent lens in your camera. DigiKam and F-Spot are the most obvious open source tools for the job, but a lesser known but equally useful digital photo application called Album Shaper is also worth considering. This multi-platform software allows you not only to organize your digital photos, but also enhance them and share them with others.

Installing Album Shaper is a breeze. Linux users will be delighted to know that the application's Web site provides binaries for different distributions. If you are running, for example, Mandriva, installing Album Shaper is as easy as double-clicking on an RPM file. To start the application, switch to the usr/bin directory and run the sh AlbumShaper command.

Once Album Shaper is installed and started, you have to populate it with your digital pictures. The application allows you to create albums that can contain an unlimited number of collections. When you start Album Shaper for the first time, it creates an album containing an empty collection. You can add digital photos to the collection either by using the Add photo button or by dragging selected pictures onto the Organize window. Once photos are imported, you can add information about the album and the current collection as well as set their thumbnail image (right-click on the photo you want and select either Set album image or Set collection image). In a similar manner, you can add other collections. Using the Organize window you can also rotate photos, add annotations to them, and set the currently selected photo as the desktop wallpaper. When you are done adding collections and photos, save the album. In the Save dialogue window, choose the theme you'd like to use when you create a Web album.

Any worthwhile digital photo application should offer some editing tools that can help you tweak your photos, even if the editing tools let you do only basic editing. In Album Shaper, all the editing tools are arranged in groups. The Frame group contains tools that allow you to crop the current image; you can either select between predefined aspect ratios (5x7, 8x10, postcard, wallet, etc.) or use the mouse to do user-defined cropping. You can also straighten images, and Album Shaper offers an unusual way of doing this: Use the mouse to mark the tilted object, and the application takes care of the rest.

The Enhance group contains tools for applying quick fixes to images, including Colors, Contrast, and Red Eye. If you want to edit your photos manually, you can do so using the Levels feature. Finally, the Grain button allows you to perform probably the most used correction, namely sharpening/softening.

The third group, Manipulate, allows you to apply artistic effects, such as black and white, mosaic, and painting. If you want to undo all the applied fixes and effects, you can revert all changes by choosing Photos > Revert to Original.

Album Shaper screenshot - click to enlarge

Sharing photos on the Web

When it comes to sharing your digital photos, Album Shaper allows you to export existing albums as HTML galleries, ready to be published on the Web. Album Shaper also includes a few simple yet attractive themes, and you can find several others on the application's Web site. You can also design your own themes; the Album Shaper Web site provides a detailed description of how to do this.

Despite all its fine features, Album Shaper suffers from a few significant drawbacks. Crucially, there is no way to view EXIF data, which provides valuable information about the photos. Another omission is the lack of support for external applications. Since Album Shaper can perform only basic fixes, the ability to open the image in the GIMP for further editing would be a welcome addition. Finally, Album Shaper doesn't include any searching capabilities.

Of course, the inevitable question is, "How does Album Shaper compares to other open source digital photo applications such as digiKam and F-Spot?" First, it lacks any of digiKam's advanced features, such as tagging, plugin support, and searching capabilities. digiKam is tightly integrated with KDE, and lets you upload images from your digital camera into the application. Also, Album Shaper lacks F-Spot's Timeline feature and the ability to write the entire collection to a CD from within the application. However, comparing Album Shaper with digiKam and F-Spot is as fair as testing KolourPaint against the GIMP, in that the applications are designed with different groups of users in mind. digiKam and F-Spot cater to users who need advanced sorting and editing capabilities, while Album Shaper is designed for people who are looking for an application that allows them to easily organize their photos and perform simple one-click fixes.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.

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