With photos, less often can be more

January 01, 2001|By Mike Himowitz

I'VE BEEN GETTING New Year's "resolution" calls lately, which tells me that a lot of new digital photographers are out there snapping and e-mailing photos to family and friends.

The question goes something like this: "My son-in-law sent me a photo of the kids, but when I call it up on my screen, it's so big that I can't see anything except a little corner of it. When I print it, it takes up four sheets of paper. Is there any way to make it smaller?"

The answer is yes, although it takes a couple of steps. To understand why, it helps to know something about "resolution," a term that refers to the amount of detail in a photograph. Normally, we think of "high resolution" as a good thing, but it's not always helpful if you're sending a picture to someone who intends to view it on her screen. If you get one of these monster photographs, you'll have to cut it down to size.

First things first. When you take a digital photograph or scan a snapshot, the image is converted to a grid of tiny dots, or pixels. Each dot is assigned a number based on its color and brightness, which tells your computer how to display it. Each dot is too small for the eye to see, but when you print them or reassemble them on the screen, your eye "sees" the entire image. If you look at the photos in this newspaper under a magnifying glass, you'll see that they're actually composed of little dots, too.

The number of dots used to record an image is its resolution. The first digital camera I used could resolve an image into a grid of 640 by 480 dots. That's 307,200 dots if you're not a math whiz (I cheated and used a calculator). The superb Olympus Camedia digital camera I've been using captures 2,048 by 1,536-dot images, which comes out to, ummmm, 3,145,728 dots.

Obviously, the new camera provides a lot more detail. And the photo will look great when in print because my printer can produce 600 dots per inch. But what happens if I e-mail one of those pictures to Aunt Rhoda?

Aunt Rhoda sees the photo in her e-mail and clicks to call it up on the screen (Microsoft's Outlook Express displays photographic attachments automatically). She's using a 17-inch monitor, and the resolution of her screen is set to 800 dots across by 600 dots vertically, which is comfortable for displays that size.

If my photo is 2,048 dots wide, she'll see less than half of it unless she scrolls around - which is hardly a great way to look at a picture of the kids.

What to do?

If you're on the sending end, you probably have photo-editing software. Call up the photo and change the size so that it will fit onto a screen. For example, at 30 percent of its original dimensions, my Olympus photo will be 614 dots across by 416 pixels deep, small enough to squeeze onto Aunt Rhoda's display. Just remember to save the resized photo under a different file name so you don't overwrite the original.

Another benefit: the file size of the reduced photo will be 90 percent smaller than the original (more math). So it will download much faster when Aunt Rhoda receives her mail.

Another possibility, particularly if you're sending photos to several people, is to post your images in an online album at a free photo-sharing Web site such as Zing.com, Clubphoto.com or Photoisland.com. Then, invite everyone to view the collection.

You can upload a full-sized image to a photo Web site, but when it's displayed on-screen, the Web site will automatically resize it for comfortable viewing. I like Zing in particular because it gives viewers who enjoy digital photography the option of downloading the photo in its original size. Most sites will allow you to create invitation-only albums, and all allow friends and family to order their own prints.

If you receive a giant image through the mail and you're not a digital photo maven, you have some finagling to do. The first step is to save the attachment by clicking or right-clicking on its icon in your e-mail header and writing it to your hard drive. The hardest thing about this is remembering the file name and its location on your hard disk. Your best bet is to choose the My Documents folder, because that's where most programs look first. Write down the file name to be sure.

That done, it's time to call up Windows Paint, a little graphics program that comes with the operating system. To find it, click the Start button and then choose Programs/Accessories. When Paint starts up, click on the File menu, choose Open and select the picture file you've just saved.

The image will appear on your screen in its original size. Now click on the Image menu at the top of the screen and select Stretch/Skew. A small dialog box will pop up. In the Stretch portion of the box, you'll see two blanks labeled "horizontal" and "vertical." In each one, type in the percentage reduction you want. For example, type 30 in each box to reduce the image to 30 percent of its original size. Make sure to type the same number in each box, or you'll get a distorted picture. Then click OK.

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