Spiff Up Albums with Online PhotoLab

SAN FRANCISCO (04/21/2000) - The best things in life are free: Your health, your happiness, and your photo editor.

Photo editor? That's right. Gone are the days when you had to shell out 50 to 100 dollars for a program to help you adjust the contrast of your latest snapshot. Online PhotoLab.com LLC, which at core is an online photo album, also has some gee-whiz tools that let you edit your photos for free.

So how does this online photo album-cum-photo editor work?

Well, much of the photo album part is pretty generic--much like other online tools that allow you to post your images on the Web. You sign up, upload your images, and then send out a bunch of e-mails to friends and family, encouraging them to come see the latest picture of your remodeled kitchen.

But even in the album arena, Online PhotoLab does a few things differently.

First, the site allots you 50MB of space--far more than the 15MB that seems to be standard on other sites. Second, you can distribute your photos in some new and usual ways. For example, instead of just sending an e-mail that invites folks to come look at the photos on the Web site, you can create a special customized postcard. Simply choose the photo you want for the card, type a message for the flip side, and--after selecting a handwriting style and designing a stamp--you e-mail the postcard off. You can even add a postmark from anywhere in the world--a neat trick if you want to "mail" your vacation picture of the Vatican from Italy.

Leaving You in the Dark?

Of course, the really fun and unusual part of Online PhotoLab is its photo editing tools. You can make basic adjustments: tinker with color, fix the sharpness of an image, or change the position of a photo. You can also add cool effects: Turn your picture of a flower into a stone mosaic, warp a photo of the boss so it looks like he's in a house of mirrors, or make a collage of the family vacation.

The good news is that these tools are fairly easy to use. You don't need directions to figure out how to maneuver your way through Online PhotoLab's digital darkroom.

There are a few places where you might want to call an arty friend for advice:

For example, if you want to color balance an image, you have to know the percentage of red, blue, or green that you want to add or subtract. And the tool doesn't offer a thumbnail of the changes you're making, so you're basically working in the dark (or the color, as the case may be).

What's more, Online PhotoLab doesn't offer some of the basics that you can get with a pay-for-it program. You won't be able to fix red-eye, for example. And what Online PhotoLab calls a cutout really allows you only to put your image up on an imaginary billboard; a true cutout, on the other hand, lets you select a portion of a photo and add it to another image.

Still, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. For the price you pay, this tool's somewhat clunky photo editing tools are a good deal.

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