Review: Windows Live Essentials 2011 - Photo Gallery

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Microsoft has released the final version of Windows Live Essentials 2011 to everyone on a supported Windows based PC, which comes loaded with very useful and helpful everyday programs that make our lives a little easier and more entertaining. Over the next couple of days, Neowin will be taking an in-depth look at Windows Live Essentials 2011, covering a new program each day.

Windows Live Photo Gallery

On our second day of coverage of Windows Live Essentials 2011, we'll be taking a close look at Windows Live Photo Gallery. This all-in-one photo organizer also includes a lot of neat features and effects for photos. Photo Gallery comes with a number of really helpful features that help improve the look of your photos, with options that you would normally have to pay for in professional software or use multiple programs to get the same effect. Although Photo Gallery isn't by any means a professional photo software substitute, it does have everything the average user needs.

Organizing

Windows Live Photo Gallery organizes all of your photos instantly, without the need to manually add folders or files. You can organize your photos by date, --which is automatically selected when you first launch Photo Gallery--, geotag, date modified, people, filename, folder, image size, and many more. There is a really helpful treeview on the left side pane that allows you to select folders of photos you wish to view, making it easier to narrow down your search if you're looking for a specific photo.

Windows Live Photo Gallery comes loaded with options for tagging your photos This makes them easier to search for at a later date; you can also tag by faces, rating and more. If you keep up with regular tagging of your photos, including face tagging, rating and even text tags, you'll be able to keep your photos and albums well organized and easy to find. The right side pane has an option for face recognition, with the more faces you begin tagging, the more faces it will alert you to tag as friends.

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The Find tab uses your tags and descriptions to search for photos you need and narrows down your query. If you are looking for photos by a specific day, month or year, there is a quick tab that instantly filters your photos by date taken.

Ribbon

Like most programs in Windows 7 and Office 2010, Windows Live Essentials now has a full ribbon support for all the options. If you're familiar with ribbons on Windows 7 or Office 2010, you'll know that each tab has subcategories that make it easier to find options you're looking for, rather than having a drop down menu like the old style Windows programs had. Some programs out there are greatly improved with the ribbon, and Windows Live Photo Gallery is no exception. The ribbon addition to Photo Gallery is a nice improvement over last year's release.

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Sharing

Sharing your images and albums is now easy, with just a couple of clicks of your mouse from within Photo Gallery. The sharing tab is very easy to spot and allows for quick uploading to your SkyDrive, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, LiveGroups and the option to install additional plug-ins for other social networking websites. Photo Gallery also supports videos, which is automatically sorted into their own category. This is why there is a YouTube sharing option, but if you really wanted to turn your photos into a slideshow -- or a quick movie, and upload it, you can select the photos you want, click Movie and open them in Windows Live Movie Maker.

Visual Effects

Windows Live Photo Gallery is not a substitute for professional photo finishing software like Photoshop, but it does contain a lot of everyday effects you may use. If you ever need to quickly rotate your photos left or right, or quickly resize your photos, the options can easily be applied.

Photo Gallery has a really handy feature to help straighten your crooked photos. The one click effect uses an algorithm that detects how tilted your photo is, using objects within the photo to straighten it. Photo Gallery also includes effects such as Noise Reduction (to automatically reduce any noise in your photo), colour balance, expose, and even an auto adjust feature, taking all the thinking out of adjusting your photos.

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There is also many colour effects, such as grey scale, RGB adjustment, and additional darkening and lighting effects. Of course, if you don't like the look of your changes, there is an easy revert to original button, making your changes, in essence, nondestructive.

I know from personal experience, finding software that does a good job at panoramic photos is difficult to find, but after playing around with Windows Live Photo Gallery for awhile, I finally have found a tool that does a good job with panoramic shots. Using some test photos I took two weeks ago in San Francisco. You select the photos you want and the software automatically generates a photo by stitching them all together. Like other software, you'll sometimes be left with a jagged black border around your image, but this can easily be cropped out.

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There is a merge photo option called Photo Fuse, that takes two or more similar images and makes a high quality photo out of them. If you happen to have a couple of photos that our slightly out of focus and a bit blurry, select the fuse option and see if your photos improve. Obviously this feature is hit or miss, depending on the photos you have taken. Your results will vary, depending on the quality of photos.

If you have some spare time and need a good photo organizer that can help you edit your photos, check out Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Make sure to check back tomorrow when we review Windows Live Movie Maker 2011!

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