Whenever the family gets together, I take pictures, and on each occasion I promise to send copies to Grandma Jen and Uncle Bob and Cousin Barry and everybody else who found themselves in my viewfinder.
Unfortunately, I rarely get around to it. If I'm shooting film, I never seem to make time to sort through the negatives, mark the shots I want, drop them off at the photofinisher, pick them up, stuff them in envelopes and mail them off. If I'm using a digital camera, I rarely get around to editing the photos, creating 15 or 20 prints and stuffing them in envelopes. Even when I find the time, I often run out of paper. I usually post family photos online, which pleases the wired crowd, but some of my relations don't know what to do with a digital photo, and some don't have Web access. They want prints in hand.
This Thanksgiving, I decided to mend my ways and make sure everybody got what they wanted. I let the Internet act as the middleman, and it worked like a charm. The whole process took less than an hour and everybody had photos within a couple of days. If you're taking pictures of the family this holiday season, it's worth considering.
First things first: You don't need a digital camera, or any knowledge of digital photography, to make this work. So let's assume you're shooting with a camera that uses film.
The secret is getting your photos from the camera to the Internet. You can, of course, scan your prints or negatives if you have the equipment, and then upload the images to a photofinisher or print them yourself. But that takes a lot of time, knowledge and fussing.
Instead, when you leave your film at the drug store or photofinisher, check a box on the drop-off envelope that tells the developer to scan your negatives and post the photos online.
Kodak, Ritz and most other drop-off processors offer this service for a couple of dollars extra per roll. The best deal I've found is from Clark Color Laboratories (www.clarkcolor.com), a fast, inexpensive mail-order photofinisher I have used for 25 years. Clark charges nothing to post your photos online -- it's part of the service.
When you get your prints back (or even before they're delivered, if you've given the photofinisher your e-mail address), you'll get a roll ID number that gives you access to the scanned images on the photofinisher's Web site.
There you can view your photos, download the images, order prints and invite friends and relatives to admire your handiwork online. Most charge 35 to 50 cents for a 4-by-6-inch print, $1 for a 5-by-7 and $2.50 to $4 for an 8-by-10. That's a bit more than the cost of printing the images yourself on glossy photo stock, but the pros use real photographic paper and photo chemicals instead of ink, so you'll get better quality prints that are less likely to fade over the years.
You can have all your prints sent directly to you, or select different groups of prints and have them mailed directly to your relatives. Shipping charges are typically $2 to $3 per order -- a bit steep if you're sending only one print, but the convenience of using a mouse instead of getting in the car and waiting in line at the post office is worth something.
Just be aware that various photofinishers handle your prints differently online. Most "rolls" have an expiration date of a month or two unless you're willing to pay for extra time.
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