Edit photos for sake of better e-mail

April 26, 1999|By Mike Himowitz

If you use e-mail to keep in touch with family and friends, it's time you took advantage of the new medium to liven up your messages with photos.

It's one thing to tell Grandma that your daughter just lost her first tooth -- but it's a lot more fun to send a photo showing that gap-toothed grin.

If you have a scanner or digital camera, sending a photo as an e-mail attachment is a snap. And if you don't have either, most photofinishers will be happy to put your images on a disk for a few dollars extra when you get your film developed.

How do you send an e-mail attachment? Standard e-mail programs have a menu item or an icon that allows you to attach a file to your message. It may be a paper clip image in the tool bar at the top of the page, or a menu item labeled "Insert," or in the case of America Online, a button at the bottom of your message screen labeled "Attachments." When you click, the e-mail program will display a list of files -- just navigate through your folders until you find the photo you want to send.

But don't get carried away. The most important thing to remember about e-mail attachments -- particularly photos and sound files -- is courtesy to your correspondent.

Downloading attachments takes time. It's doubtful that anyone wants to download a 5-megabyte snapshot of your kids that takes 20 minutes to arrive over a dialup connection. OK, maybe Grandma doesn't mind. But you can make life easier on her and everyone else by making your attachments as small as possible. This means preparing the images you've saved in the proper form.

Chances are good that your scanner or camera came with image-editing software, such as Adobe PhotoDeluxe or Ulead's PhotoImpact. Or maybe you're just using Windows Paint. These programs vary in their complexity, but they'll all do two things: First, they'll let you change the size of your picture (measured in the number of dots, or pixels, displayed horizontally and vertically). Second, they'll let you change the format in which your picture data is stored. Both of these affect the size of the attachment you'll be sending.

For example, the Canon PowerShot A5 digital camera that I use records images that are 1024 pixels wide by 748 pixels deep (This is called 1,024 x 768 resolution.) Since most Windows PCs have their screen resolution set to 800x600 dots, a full image from my camera will take up more than an entire screen -- not very useful for casual viewing.

If you're using a scanner, you'll wind up with an even larger image. Let's say you scan a 4-inch-by-6-inch photo at 300 dots per inch. You're creating an image that's 1,200 by 1,800 pixels when it's displayed on the screen -- far too large to be viewed without scrolling.

There are good reasons for storing and sending high-resolution images like these -- you or your correspondent may want to print high-quality images. But for screen viewing -- which is the point of most e-mail attachments -- a smaller image is better.

I typically use photo-editing software to reduce a photo from my camera to half its original size or less and save the reduced copy under a different file name for e-mail use. This reduces the size of the file my correspondent has to download by at least 75 percent. A good rule is to keep the width of your images to 500 pixels or less.

The second issue is the format in which the picture is stored. Photo-editing software will usually save a picture from a digital camera or scanner in an uncompressed format, often as a TIF file (an acronym for Tagged Image File Format). This maintains the highest quality image, but eats up a lot of disk space and download time.

For e-mail use, save a copy of your photo in the compressed JPG format, which throws away some of the information, but not enough to be noticed on the screen. You'll usually find this option when you choose "Save As" from the File menu of your program. The net savings in file size and download time can be phenomenal.

As a test, I took a 1,024-by-768 photo of my son in TIF format that occupied 2.4 megabytes of space. I reduced its size by 50 percent and saved it as a JPG file. The result was a perfectly acceptable screen photo that occupied only 26 kilobytes of space -- a savings of almost 90 percent. Even with a slow, dialup Internet connection, the photo takes only a few seconds to download.

If you want the fun of sending photos without any of this hassle, Kodak will post your entire roll on the World Wide Web for an additional $6 if you check the PhotoNet service box when you drop off your film for processing.

When you pick up the film, you'll receive a password that will take you to your pictures online. You can invite others to view the photos, download them to your computer, or send them directly via e-mail from the PhotoNet Web site. You can order reprints, photo mugs, calendars and other items on-line. Kodak's Web server can be maddeningly slow, but the service is first-rate.

AOL help for laptop users: I've had several calls from laptop users looking for America Online sign-up kits on floppy disks. AOL used to carpet-bomb the country with these floppies, but over the last year the company has switched its mass mailings to CDs. Unfortunately, this has left owners of laptop computers without CD-ROM drives in the lurch. Good news -- the floppies are still available. Call 888-265-8002 and AOL will be glad to send you one.

Pub Date: 04/26/99

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