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A Snapshot Scrapbook Of Your Photos


I’m just putting the finishing touches to the new version of John’s Background Switcher (due out in a week or so) and I thought I’d write about one of the cool features I’ve come up with for this version. I’d seen the idea of a photo pile in screen-savers before and thought it would be pretty slick to add it as an option to the mosaic and montage modes the current version supports. A picture paints a thousand words so this is what I came up with:

A Snapshot Scrapbook

I’ll admit right now that I didn’t come up with the name ‘snapshot scrapbook’ – that honour goes to John Topley. I’m rubbish at coming up with catchy names (example: John’s Background Switcher) but luckily John isn’t! Anyway, what it does it use the photos you’ve chosen, creates a bunch of snapshots and throws them onto your desktop background in a sort of pseudo-random fashion. The cool thing is that you can choose these photos from your own computer or from a variety of web photo sharing sites including Flickr, Phanfare, smugmug and picasa web albums.

It’s one of these things that as soon as I got the code working and ran it for real the first thought in my head was “Wow!”. My friend Ian pointed it at a collection of photos of his newborn son and to see the pride on his face as an assortment of photos of his smiling son filled his screen warmed my heart. A snapshot scrapbook is cool, but when it’s of your own photos, photos of your loved ones or photos of your favourite animals (cats for example), it becomes something much more. You can judge for yourself in a week or so when it goes live.

From a coding perspective it was quite an interesting challenge actually creating the snapshot scrapbook. If you want it to look random then it’s no use actually laying them out truly randomly – more often than not you end up with half the photos directly on top of each other which looks rubbish. Then there’s the spacing. You want them to be pretty close to each other, sometimes overlapping, but not by too much – and you want them close to the edge of the screen, but not too close. Next you want them at different angles, but not too much of an angle (you don’t want half of them upside down) or all at the same angle. Then there’s how many photos to put on the screen – different people have different resolutions so it has to look right on every possible computer. It’s all a bit hand wavey really but I managed to create an algorithm that seems to do the job nicely. As is usually the case with algorithms, once it’s written it’s only a few lines of code and looks pretty simple – although it was rather tricky to write (you’ll have to trust me on that one)!

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

23 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Mac version ?

    Can you make the spam sums a bit easier next time please, I’ve only got ten fingers.



  2. That’s my New Year project and I’m halfway through a Mac programming book at the moment!

    And sorry about that Paul, and I’ll make sure not to put any long division in either! 😉


  3. Cracking feature there John. It’s almost worth me going back to using Windows. But then again…


  4. Cheers Ben! And I know what you mean, I’ll never go back from my Mac either! (Except for work of course…). Expect a Mac version in the New Year…


  5. Yay – mac version…. fantastic, until then will have to make do with running it on parallels


  6. it’s really a great software! I installed it on all my computer as well as my friends’ computers (as long as they allowed me!). Good Job!

    I am quite excited about this scrapbook function, it looks fantastic! However, on my SONY UX notebook (with 1024×600 native resolution), only 2 ~3 pictures comes about. Is there a setting for me to set a range of number of picture I would like to show? (of course keep the original automatic algorithms, it works great on my 1280×1024 notebook!)


  7. I’m glad you like it! 🙂

    Unfortunately in the current version you can’t change how many pictures are shown – it just works it out automatically. I’ll add it to the list to let that be customisable – I guess I should have put that in in the first place!


  8. Pingback: Snapshot Scrapbook Postcard Mode « John’s Adventures

  9. Hi,
    I just discovered this software and downloaded it, but can’t figure out how to get my personal pictures to do the snapshot scrapbook feature.


    • It works for all modes except Pictures and Yahoo!. Look near the bottom of the settings dialog and you’ll see a drop down list – click that and choose ‘Create a snapshot scrapbook’ from the list (it’s ‘Scale pictures to fit then screen’ by default). Hope that helps!


    • Cool! It’s sort of buried away in the current version and is very easy to miss. One of the things I’m going to do in version 4.0 is make it a lot more obvious and easier to discover, as well as making the general user interface simpler and easier to use. It’s become a bit cluttered over the past few versions and some redesign is long overdue!


  10. Is it possible that you could add a scheduling feature. Something so that the backgrounds would change only during a certain range of time? That way, we won’t miss all our lovely backgrounds that change when we leave our computers running overnight? Just a thought.

    BTW, great software. I got a friend using it just because of the dual monitor support. Now he uses it because it rotates his backgrounds. Thanks a bunch,


    • Yes, you can run JBS as a scheduled task so it’ll do exactly what you want! I wrote about how to set it up here. Also, if you’re away from your computer and the screensaver kicks in then JBS will stop switching by default so you shouldn’t miss any over night. And glad you like JBS! 🙂


  11. I am mightily impressed by your Background Switcher, having just come upon and installed it this evening. In the process, I learned about how much photographic resource I had not been aware of – anything that allows a collage-like background of personal, shared and discovered photos is great by me – I’ve barely scratched the surface on your resource and am eagerly anticipating more learning.

    Many thanks


  12. Thank you so much. i never fill these out but your software has brought me much joy so i made an exception. Thank you again.


  13. Just discovered your Background Switcher and I’m super pleased with it. I’ve played with many programs of this type over the last 25 years, and this is the most clever implementation by far.


  14. I think this is one of the best pieces of software I’ve ever run across. The first time I saw it my jaw dropped and I couldn’t wait to get back to my office to install it; I’ve been using JBS for about 4 months now and I couldn’t be happier.

    FWIW, I’m a Windows Sys Admin because even though Mac might be a nice OS for grandma and children, Apple simply doesn’t see fit to play in the grownup business world, which I think is too bad.

    I’d be very happy to look at an Apple NOS if they ever felt like writing one, but I hate to think what an 2500 Apple servers would do to any corporation’s IT budget.


  15. I really like your wallpaper manager program. I am using Windows 7 Pro SP1. I was wondering if you could make the time and day sync with Windows for the built in calendar. It is switching days, 21 hours late on my computer.


    • If your timezone or daylight savings just changed, exit then restart JBS. There’s a bug in the underlying .NET Framework where it doesn’t detect such changes and needs to be restarted to do so.


  16. I just wanted to say that I love your program! I downloaded years ago it when I needed a good solution for displaying cycling backgrounds across 2 monitors, and I’ve used nothing since, on my PC and my Macbook Air. I recommend it to all my friends who are looking for a great background switcher.
    I found one of your features quite by accident, now that I’m using one 27″ monitor, instead of 2 24″ screens; The backgrounds were still 3840 wide, fit to width, and I was going to change that, but then I noticed that the blank space above and below the image changes colour based on the colours of the image, and it looks so beautiful that I left it!! Well done on that feature!


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