Compcol/18"/mike1st/mark2nd

By T.R. REID and BRIT HUME

Our flight for Shanghai was scheduled to leave at 8:30 a.m., so we got up at the crack of dawn to make sure everything was ready. We particularly reviewed the stuff we needed for an entry visa upon arrival. Valid passport: check. Official invitation from a Chinese organization: check. Completed application form: check.

And then disasters! At the bottom of China's visa application, we spotted a notice saying that we would also need to present two passport photos, 5.1 centimeters square, in color, with a plain background. We had not noticed this before. There was no way we could get pictures from a photo shop at 6 in the morning.

But we resolved the crisis and without much trouble, either. We sat down at the "photo shop" in our house that is, the personal computer and the new color ink-jet printer. Within 20 minutes, we had two full-color pictures, printed on photographic stock, precisely 5.1 centimeters on each side.

This kind of thing is possible because modern computers and printers can do work that used to require a fully equipped photo studio. And you don't need any special computer equipment. Any Mac or Windows PC, hooked up to a standard color ink-jet printer, can now turn out color prints.

As a result, working with photos printing, cataloging, or transmitting them via the Internet has become one of the most useful applications for small computers. If you're not using your own PC as a photo shop now, you ought to take a look at the prospects.

The first requirement for working with photographs is to get your pictures into your computer. There are several ways to do this, all easy as pie.

If you're really into high tech, you can get one of the new digital cameras that do away with film altogether and capture your snapshots onto a floppy disk or a memory chip. You load the pictures into your PC through a cable, or by inserting that floppy disk.

The vast majority of us, though, are still using cameras with traditional film. We still have to take the film to a photo shop to have it developed. At that point, there are two options.

You can get traditional color prints. Then you read these into a computer using a scanner. We've previously mentioned the scanners from a company called "Easy Photo," which cost $200 and up. This scanner is well regarded because it is extremely easy to hook up ? then you just run a photo through it, and watch the image come up on your PC screen. The Easy Photo software lets you crop the picture, adjust color and brightness, eliminate "red eye," etc. Then you can store the pictures in an "electronic album" on your PC's hard disk, or print them out using a photo-quality color printer.

If this sounds too complicated, you can forget the snapshots and scanner and have your roll of film developed onto a floppy disk. Any photo shop today will offer this option. It tends to be cheaper than traditional prints. We've been quite happy with a mail-order outfit called "Fuji Direct" (888-438-3854), which will turn a 24-shot roll into 24 digital images on a floppy disk for $5.25. This "FloppyPix" disk includes software (both Mac and Windows on the same disk) that lets you view, print, label, catalogue and upload any picture.

So when we ran into the passport-photo crisis early that morning, we just pulled out one of those FloppyPix disks and looked through the photos until we found one that had a plain background. The software helped us crop the picture so that we had a facial shot, and then sized it to the correct dimensions.

We printed the pictures on photo-grade paper (this is sometimes called "glossy coated paper," and is available at any office or computer store) using our newest color ink-jet, the Lexmark 7200V Color Jetprinter. Using the control software that came with the printer, we changed the settings to "High" quality and "glossy/photo paper."

Because the photo-quality paper is expensive (about 50 cents per page), we printed both photos on one sheet and then cut them out. It took about eight minutes for the Lexmark to print the page, but the results were marvelous.

Seriously jet-lagged, we arrived in China many hours later and stepped up to the immigration counter. An officious guy in a green uniform looked over our homemade passport photos and gave us the visa without a quibble. We uttered a silent prayer of thanks to the PC and the printer back home.

T.R. Reid is Rocky Mountain bureau chief of the Washington Post. Brit Hume is managing editor of Fox News in Washington. You can reach them in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200, or you can e-mail T.R. Reid at trreid@ix.netcom.com, or Brit Hume at 72737.357@compuserve.com.

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