Photo editing and printing once required a darkroom or a professional photo lab—not to mention advanced training. But in the last decade, digital cameras and computers have revolutionized the field of photography, making it possible for anyone to edit and print photos at home. In this article, you'll learn how the tools in Windows can help you view, organize, edit, share, and print your digital pictures.

Getting pictures from your camera into your computer

Most digital cameras store pictures on a flash memory card, such as a CompactFlash or Secure Digital (SD) card. When you've filled a memory card to capacity with pictures, you'll need to import the pictures to your computer. Then you can erase the memory card and use it to take a new batch of pictures.

There are two main ways to import pictures:

  • Connect the camera directly. You can import pictures by connecting the camera directly to your computer using a universal serial bus (USB) cable. With this method, your camera must be turned on, so importing pictures will use up some battery power. You'll also need to keep the cable handy if you import pictures regularly.

    Illustration of a USB cable
    USB cable
  • Use a memory card reader. The fastest way to import pictures is to use a memory card reader that you purchase separately. Remove the memory card from your camera, slide it into the card reader, and then plug the card reader into your computer's USB port. Many computers have built-in card readers, allowing you to slide memory cards directly into the computer.

    Illustration of a memory card reader
    Memory card reader

Whichever method you choose, Windows should automatically recognize your camera or card reader when you plug it into your computer (if it doesn't, see Troubleshoot camera connection problems or Tips for solving problems with USB devices). Then, follow these steps:

  1. In the Autoplay dialog box, click Import pictures using Windows. Windows will locate the pictures on your memory card.

    Picture of the AutoPlay dialog box
    This dialog box appears when you plug a camera or card reader into your computer
  2. After Windows locates your pictures, you're asked if you want to create a tag (a word or a short phrase that describes the group) for the pictures you're importing. If you do, type the tag name in the Tag these pictures (optional) box. If the pictures being imported don't have any single characteristic in common, skip this step. You can always add tags to individual pictures later (see "Organizing and finding your pictures" in this article).

    Picture of the Importing Pictures and Videos dialog box
    You can add a tag to pictures when you import them
  3. As Windows begins importing your pictures, select the Erase after importing check box if you want to delete the pictures from your memory card after importing is finished. That clears space on the card so that you can take a new batch of pictures.

    Picture of the Importing Pictures and Videos dialog box
    Select the check box to erase the imported pictures from your memory card

After your pictures are imported, they'll appear in Windows Photo Gallery.

Tip

  • You can use a device called a scanner to convert conventional photographs into digital pictures.

Windows Photo Gallery and the Pictures folder

Windows Photo Gallery is a tool included with Windows that you can use to view, organize, edit, share, and print your digital pictures (and videos too). It opens automatically after you import a batch of pictures. To open it at other times, click the Start button Picture of the Start button, click All Programs, and then click Windows Photo Gallery.
Picture of Windows Photo Gallery
Windows Photo Gallery
Windows Photo Gallery is designed to be used with the Pictures folder, the main storage location for pictures on your computer. Any pictures in the Pictures folder—which includes those you've imported—appear in Photo Gallery. To open the Pictures folder, click the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then click Pictures.
Picture of the Pictures folder
The Pictures folder

Windows Photo Gallery and the Pictures folder can do some of the same things. For example, you can view pictures, print pictures, and see a slide show of your pictures from either the Pictures folder or Photo Gallery. So, which one should you use?

In general, Photo Gallery is the best place to work with your pictures. It lets you see all of your pictures in one place and makes it easy to view them by date, tag, and other criteria. It also includes some features that the Pictures folder doesn't have, such as the ability to fix the exposure and color of a picture, crop it, and remove red eye.

Viewing your pictures

Windows Photo Gallery provides a variety of options for viewing your picture collection. When you first open Photo Gallery, you'll see all of your pictures and videos. To see only pictures, click the arrow next to All Pictures and Videos, and then click Pictures.

Picture of the Navigation pane in Windows Photo Gallery
Click Pictures to see your entire picture collection

Working with thumbnails

Windows Photo Gallery displays your pictures as thumbnails—small versions of the full-sized pictures. To display as many thumbnails as possible, make Photo Gallery window fill your screen by clicking its Maximize button Picture of the Maximize button.
To change the size of thumbnails, click the Zoom button Picture of the Zoom button in Windows Photo Gallery, and then move the slider up or down. You can make thumbnails smaller to quickly browse a large picture collection. Or, make thumbnails larger to see more detail in each picture. Changing the thumbnail size does not affect the full-sized version of the picture.
Picture of large and small thumbnails in Windows Photo Gallery
Large thumbnails (left); small thumbnails (right)
To return to the original view of medium-sized thumbnails, click the Default Thumbnail Size button Picture of the Default Thumbnail Size button in Windows Photo Gallery.

At small and medium thumbnail sizes, pointing to a thumbnail displays a larger-sized preview, along with some information about the picture.

Picture of a thumbnail preview
Point to a thumbnail to show a larger preview

Rotate a picture

Vertical pictures might appear sideways in Photo Gallery. You can rotate these pictures to the correct orientation by clicking the Rotate counterclockwise button Picture of the Rotate Counterclockwise button in Windows Photo Gallery or Rotate clockwise button Picture of the Rotate Clockwise button in Windows Photo Gallery.
Picture of a thumbnail before and after rotation
Thumbnail before rotation (left) and after rotation (right)

View a picture at full size

To view a picture so that it fills most of the Photo Gallery window, double-click the picture. On the right side of the window, the Info pane displays information about your picture and allows you to add tags to it (see "Add tags to pictures" below).

To see the largest possible view of the picture, maximize the Photo Gallery window. You can also close the Info pane by clicking the close button in the top corner of the pane.

To zoom in on part the picture, click the Zoom button and move the slider up. While you're zoomed in, you can drag any part of the picture with the hand pointer Picture of the hand pointer to move the picture around. To return to the regular view, click the Fit to Window button Picture of the Fit to Window button in Windows Photo Gallery.
Picture of a digital picture at full size and zoomed
Full-sized picture (left); zoomed picture (right)

To get back to the thumbnails view, click Back To Gallery.

See a slide show of your pictures

You can view your digital pictures as a full-screen slide show that runs automatically. You can also choose from a variety of slide show themes that include animation and other visual effects. Some themes display several pictures on the screen at once, as shown in the picture below.

Picture of a slide show in Windows Photo Gallery
Sample slide show

To start a slide show, select the pictures that you want, and then click the Slide Show button at the bottom of Photo Gallery. If you don't select any pictures, the slide show will include all of the pictures in the current view.

Picture of the Slide Show button
The Slide Show button

While a slide show is running, you can pause it, adjust the speed, go forward or backward, and choose whether pictures are shown randomly or sequentially. To display the slide show controls, move the mouse over the bottom of the screen. If the controls are not displayed, right-click the slide show to display a menu.

Picture of slide show controls
Slide show controls

To end a slide show, press ESC, or click Exit on the slide show controls.

Notes

  • To see slide show themes, your computer must have a subscore of at least 3.0 in the Graphics category of the Windows Experience Index. For more information, see What is the Windows Experience Index?

  • Certain slide show themes are included only in Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate.

Organizing and finding your pictures

If you use your digital camera regularly, you'll soon accumulate hundreds or thousands of pictures on your computer. When you need to find a specific picture in your collection, the tools in Windows Photo Gallery can help you.

Find pictures by date

Your digital camera labels pictures with the date they were taken. Photo Gallery uses this information to automatically organize your pictures by date. That way, you can browse your pictures by the year, month, or day they were taken.

To find pictures by date, click a year, month, or day under Date Taken in the Navigation pane (left pane) of Photo Gallery. You'll see all of the pictures taken in the time period that you select.

Picture of the Date Taken filter in the Navigation pane of Windows Photo Gallery
Click a year, month, or day to see pictures in that time period

For more information, see Find pictures by date.

Add tags to pictures

You can use Windows Photo Gallery to add tags to your pictures—meaningful words or phrases that describe who or what is in the picture and where the picture was taken. Tagging your pictures makes them much easier to find in the future, because you can easily display all pictures that have a particular tag.

If adding tags to every picture sounds time-consuming, don't worry—you can add tags to a whole batch of pictures at once. For example, you could add a "Birthdays" tag to 20 or 30 pictures of a birthday party. To add tags to pictures, follow these steps:

  1. In Photo Gallery, select the pictures that you want to tag. To select more than one picture, hold down the CTRL key while you click the pictures.

  2. Click the Info button Picture of the Info button in Windows Photo Gallery. The Info pane opens.
  3. In the Info pane, click Add Tags, type the name of the tag in the box, and then press ENTER. The tag is added to all of the selected pictures. You can add as many tags as you want.

    Picture showing how to add a tag to four pictures by using the Info pane
    Select pictures, and then type tags for them in the Info pane

You don't need to type tags if you've already created them. (You can see the tags you've created by clicking the arrow next to Tags in the Navigation pane of Photo Gallery.) To add an existing tag to a picture, drag one or more pictures to the tag, as shown in the picture below.

Picture showing how to add a tag by dragging a picture to the tag in the Navigation pane
Drag pictures to a tag to add the tag to those pictures

Try to get in the habit of tagging your pictures immediately after you import them. That way, you won't end up with a backlog of pictures that need to be tagged. For more information, see Tag pictures so they're easier to find and Tips for organizing pictures.

Find pictures by tag

Once you've tagged pictures in Photo Gallery, it's easy to find them again. Just type the tag in the search box. All of the pictures with that tag appear. For instance, in the example below, typing Animals finds all of the pictures with a tag containing the word "Animals." If any pictures have the word "animals" in their file name, they'll also appear.

Picture showing how to find pictures by typing in the Search box
Type in the Search box to find pictures you've tagged

If you can't remember which tags you've created, click any tag in the Tags list to see all of the pictures with that tag.

Picture of the Tags list
The Tags list

For more information, see Find a picture on your computer.

Fixing pictures

It's not easy to take a perfect picture. That's why Windows Photo Gallery includes useful tools to touch up your pictures. To access these tools, select a picture, click the Fix button on the toolbar, and then click one of the following in the Fix pane:

Picture showing a digital picture before and after cropping
A picture marked for cropping (left); the picture after cropping (right)

Experiment as much as you like, because you can always undo your changes and revert to the original version. For more information, see Tips for editing pictures.

Sharing pictures

Sharing your digital pictures means making them available for other people to view on their computers. The most common sharing methods are posting pictures on a website and sending pictures in e‑mail.

Photo-sharing websites

One way to share your digital pictures with others is to upload (copy) them to a photo-sharing website. Friends and family members whom you invite can visit the website and view your photo albums. Most photo-sharing sites allow you to share and store pictures for free. Note, however, that some sites will delete your pictures if you don't purchase prints or gifts from the site within a certain period of time. Be sure to check the site's policies.

Sharing pictures by e‑mail

Another way to share your pictures is by e‑mail. You can use Windows Photo Gallery to attach pictures to an e‑mail message. Photo Gallery can automatically compress them (reduce their file size) so that the e‑mail arrives more quickly and the pictures take up less space on the recipient's computer. The original pictures are not affected.

To send pictures by e‑mail, select the pictures in Windows Photo Gallery, and then click the E‑mail button on the toolbar. In the Attach Files dialog box, select a picture size (the default size, medium, is usually okay), and then click Attach.

Picture of the Attach Pictures and Files dialog box
Choose the e‑mail picture size

Windows opens a new e‑mail message in your e‑mail program, which is Windows Mail by default. (To change this, see Change the default e‑mail program.) The pictures you selected are attached to the message.

Picture of a digital picture attached to an e‑mail message
Picture attached to an e‑mail message

To send the picture, enter the e‑mail addresses of the recipients, type a subject, and write a brief message. Then click Send. For more information, see Getting started with e‑mail and Send pictures or videos in e‑mail.

Tip

  • You can also send pictures from the Pictures folder in an e‑mail message. Click the pictures that you want to send, and then, on the toolbar, click E‑mail.

Printing pictures

This section discusses three main printing methods. For general information about printing, see Getting started with printing.

Using a home printer

If you have a printer at home, you can print your own photos. Inkjet printers and dye-sublimation printers can both produce high-quality color photographs when used with special paper. Many have built-in memory card readers and small LCD screens so that you can print pictures without using your computer.

Illustration of an inkjet printer
Inkjet printer

You can print pictures from your computer in several ways. You can print a single picture, print multiple pictures on one page, or print a contact sheet (a grid of thumbnail pictures for easy reference).

To print pictures using Windows Photo Gallery, select the pictures that you want to print. On the toolbar, click Print, and then click Print. In the Print Pictures dialog box, choose your print options, and then click Print. For more information, see Picture printing: frequently asked questions.

Picture of the Print Pictures window
The Print Pictures window

Ordering prints online

Home printers are convenient and allow you to make prints quickly. But if you want to save the expense and hassle of buying ink and paper, consider using an online photo printing service. These services allow you to upload (copy) your pictures to a website. From there, you can order prints in a variety of sizes and pay for them with a credit card. The completed prints are then mailed to your home or office.

One advantage of using online photo printing services is the variety of products they offer. Besides regular prints, you can order personalized T-shirts, greeting cards, calendars, mugs, posters, mouse pads, and more—all bearing pictures that you choose. In addition, these sites usually offer photo-sharing services (see "Sharing pictures" above).

You can also order prints directly from Windows Photo Gallery or the Pictures folder. For more information, see Order prints of your pictures online.

Getting prints from a retailer

If you want prints quickly and don't have a printer, you can take your camera's memory card to a store that offers digital photo printing services. Stores that offer these services include camera stores, large retail stores, and even some grocery stores and pharmacies. Some stores offer self-serve photo kiosks that let you edit, crop, and print your pictures in just a few minutes.

Backing up your pictures

If you use a digital camera, you'll probably accumulate a collection of thousands of digital pictures in just a few years. These pictures hold precious memories and can't be replaced should your computer's hard disk fail. Therefore, it's important to back up your pictures by storing copies of them somewhere else. You could copy them to recordable DVDs or CDs, or to an external hard disk, or use an Internet-based file storage service.