First, gather up your photos. Still using film? Want to include photos from years past? Scan them. Scanning can take a while, so be patient.Think about how you'll use the scanned photos in the future. If you have negatives, you'll get better results with a film scanner. I recommend scanning at 2600 dots per inch or greater. This will allow you to print decent 8 x 10 copies.
If you don't have the negatives, scan your prints. I recommend 300 dpi when it comes to scanning prints.
If you lack a scanner, many places will scan the photos for you. A drugstore's film-processing department can do it. Or, try a camera store. You'll get the photos on a CD. You can copy them to your computer.
Once you have your photos organized, you're ready to make your slide show. Many programs will create slide shows. I recommend Photo Story or Picasa. They're both free.
Microsoft's Photo Story (XP only) walks you through the process of creating a slide show. You can add transitions, effects and Music. When you're done, your slide show is saved as a Windows Media file.
Open the program, select "Begin a new story" and click Next. Click Import Pictures. Navigate to your photos, select them and click OK.
If necessary, use the controls to rotate the pictures. You can click on photos at the bottom of the window to view them. Click Next.
Add titles and transition effects for each photo. Click Next. To specify pan effects, click Customize Motion. Add audio comments on photos by clicking the record button. Click Next. Follow the instructions for adding music, if you wish. Click Next.
Click Save Project if you want to do more editing later. Name it and click Save. Finalize your slide show by selecting "Save your story for playback on your computer." Specify a name and location and click Next.
To create a CD that plays only on computers, use your CD burning software. To create a DVD that plays in standalone players, you'll need Sonic DVD for Photo Story 3 for Windows. It's $20.
You can create a VCD if you don't have a DVD burner. This is a CD that plays in most DVD players. For this, you'll need Sonic's MyDVD Studio ($70).
Google's Picasa helps you organize your photos and create slide shows. It requires Windows XP.
To add photos to Picasa, click File>>Add Folder to Picasa. You can create slide shows from entire folders or labeled photos.
To label a photo, right-click it and select Add Label>>New Label. Enter a label and click OK. Highlight more photos and right-click them. Select Add Label and choose your label. The photos appear in a new section.
Click Gift CD. Ensure Include Slideshow and Include Picasa are selected. Name your CD and click Burn Disc.
To view the slide show, recipients must install Picasa. Your slide show only works on a computer.
For a DVD or VCD, you must create a movie. Select your photos and click Create>>Movie. Your movie must be converted for a VCD/DVD. Nero ($80) will do this.