Get good look at photos sent with e-mail

February 27, 2003|By Mike Himowitz

Today's digital cameras provide terrific resolution at reasonable prices, but if you e-mail photos to friends and family, they may offer too much of a good thing.

In fact, I frequently get complaints from people who receive digital photos so large that only a fraction of the image shows up on the screen.

Although it isn't hard to turn these pictures into images that can be viewed at a glance, the grandmas and grandpas who are likely to be on the receiving end often have no clue about what to do with them. So, here's a quick guide to sending photos that your recipients can view easily, and for grandmas and grandpas, some hints for cutting those big images of little kids down to viewable size.

First, why the problem?

It starts with the camera, which records images in a grid of tiny dots, or pixels. The number of pixels determines the camera's resolution. Sometimes it's expressed by specifying the number of horizontal and vertical dots. For example, the camera I use takes images that are 2,240 pixels by 1,680 pixels.

Resolution also is measured by multiplying the dimensions and expressing the result in megapixels, or millions of dots. My camera records 3,763,200 pixels, or roughly 3.7 megapixels.

The more pixels a camera records, the better the detail. This is important for prints, because the tiny ink nozzles on today's printers are capable of producing detail that's well, photographic.

But your computer screen doesn't have the detail of a printer. Most monitors display an image that's either 800-by-600 or 1,024-by-768 pixels. If your e-mail program displays photos in their original size, a 2,240-by-1,680 pixel image will occupy at least two screens worth of real estate in each direction. So you'll see only a fraction of the image on the screen without scrolling around.

If you receive an image attachment this big, the first thing to do is save it to your hard drive. If you're using Microsoft Outlook Express and have the image visible in your e-mail window, you can right-click on the picture itself or on the icon in the attachment bar of your e-mail program. Then choose "Save As" from the menu that appears, type a file name for the image and click the Save button. The important thing is to look at the Save dialog box and make sure you know where the image has been stored, or choose a folder where you'll remember to look.

What happens next depends on which version of Windows you have. Windows XP has taken the hassle out of dealing with images. Just click on My Computer on the Windows desktop, navigate to the folder where you stored the image, and double-click on the file name.

This will call up the photo in the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, which will resize it perfectly for your screen. The controls at the bottom of this useful program allow you to zoom in and out, rotate the photo or print it in a variety of sizes. You can use the viewer to browse through other images in the folder, too.

If you have an earlier version of Windows, use Windows Explorer to find the file on your hard disk and double-click on its icon. If you don't have photo software installed on your computer, the image will be opened by Windows Paint, a bare-bones editing program.

Now here's the tricky part. In Paint, click on the Image menu, then choose Stretch/Skew from the menu that drops down. A dialog box will pop up with two sections. In the Stretch section, enter the percentage of the original size that you'd like your image to be in both the Horizontal and Vertical boxes. For large images, try 30 percent to 50 percent. Remember to enter the same number in both boxes; otherwise, you'll wind up with a distorted photo. Ignore the Skew boxes and click OK.

The resized image will appear on your screen. If you don't like the size you've chosen, click on Edit/Undo and repeat the process with a different percentage.

If you want to save the resized image, click on File/Save As and store the photo under a different file name. This is important, because if you choose the same file name, the smaller image will overwrite the original.

If you're sending an image to someone who doesn't know much about photography but will probably be satisfied to view the image on his screen, you can avoid putting him or her through this hassle by e-mailing a reduced-size image. This also will result in a faster download, which matters if the person has a dialup connection.

With Windows XP and Outlook Express, this is fairly straightforward. Just find the file using Windows Explorer, right click on its icon, and choose Send To/Mail Recipient from the menus that pop up. Windows XP will ask if you want to send a smaller image and give you the choice of what size image to send. Once you've chosen that, it will launch an Outlook Express e-mail window with a reduced-size image already attached.

With other versions of Windows and other mail programs, you'll have to make a reduced-size image yourself and store it on your hard drive for use as an attachment when you run your mail program.

Because most digital cameras come with photo-editing software, the key is finding the menu item in your program that allows you to resize the image or change its dimensions (click on Help and search for "resize" in the index if you can't find it). To be safe, pick a new size that's no greater than 640-by-480 pixels and use the File/Save As menu to store the reduced image under a different file name.

Just remember that these reduced images will look good on your screen, but don't have enough resolution for high-quality prints.

If your recipients want both, you can send both versions of a photo or sign up with an online photo sharing site such as Yahoo Photos, ClubPhoto (my favorite), Webshots or a variety of others.

On these sites you can post high-resolution versions of your pictures online for those who want to print them or order professionally made ones. But your friends and relatives can also browse through screen-friendly albums without any further hassle on your part or theirs.

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