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Sharing your Photographs over the Internet

The time will come when you want to share your photographs with your friends and family, or transmit them somewhere for whatever reason. Fortunately thanks to digital cameras the images are stored on the camera in a format that the computer can access almost immediately so with a little bit of re-sizing you can then send over sensibly sized images. I say sensibly sized because the worst mistake you can make is not compress or re-size your images before you send them over the internet, which will result in a tremendously long wait (many hours even with a fast internet connection) and there is no guarantee that the person at the other end will be able to receive and view such large images.

If you have been shooting in RAW for some time then you are obviously familiar with having to crop, resize and compress images for transmission, so we will just gloss over advanced users and focus on the person who has just bought a digital camera. If you use your new camera to shoot in RAW mode (discussed in another one of our articles here) then you first need to use a piece of software to change the file format from RAW to something else. RAW is probably one of the largest image formats you will work with as it literally contains nothing but the raw information gathered by the camera sensor for the time the shutter was open. Most cameras also shoot in JPEG, this is a compressed file format that is pre-compressed on the camera for you, however simply sending that file will often still result in a long upload time and an image so large and of such a high quality that it simply can't be appreciated on a PC screen.

Obviously the next step you will have to take for transmission across most forms of digital medium (e-mail, uploading to an image site such as photobucket or imageshack, creating an on-line photo album or uploading to an internet forum for example) is to re-size the image. This is because the image your camera takes is very often comprised of far more pixels than a computer monitor can display. For instance your average TFT monitor has a maximum resolution of 1600 x 1200 pixels. The most common native TFT resolution is 1280 x 1024 pixels. Most DSLR cameras shoot in exceptionally high resolutions such as 3456x2304 and even higher, so you can see you are shooting far more pixels than can ever been seen on a monitor. You can use most pieces of imaging software such as Adobe Photoshop, or even Microsoft Paint (although I recommend the freeware GIMP before you resort to using the default Microsoft Paint program) to resize images, and if you wanted to size your picture to a sensible resolution for viewing then you would usually go slightly smaller than a standard monitor resolution. Resize to 1000 or even 800 pixels (ensure that the software you are using maintains the “integrity” of the size, so if you resize one of the figures the other figure automatically re-sizes to the same ratio automatically) and compare the results yourself. You can also vary the quality of a JPEG image (the standard format for internet transmission) in most pieces of software. Generally speaking the scale runs from 1 (lowest quality) to 12 (highest quality). At the resolutions we are working with the difference between 10 to 12 is not noticeable. 8 is probably a good compromise, and once you get down to 6 you will begin to sacrifice image quality for a smaller file size. This may be necessary depending on where you are sending your images.

It is important to not use the blanket coverage mentality when picking the quality of your images, each image will be a different size depending on the number of colours that are stored in the image itself so you will have to compress some images more heavily than others if you are working to a file size limit, and I do recommend you work to a file size limit. If a website allows a maximum of 250k per image and the images you are uploading are 125k you have potentially wasted a lot of quality that would display your images in a far better manner. If you are posting your images on an internet forum be aware that most forums have strict image size restrictions to allow the site to be viewable by those using smaller monitors, whilst most websites and online photo albums have file size as opposed to image size requirements. Some of the more recent online photo albums will automatically compress your images or resize them if they are too large or too big in physical size, however the quality of these conversions is often not very good and it would be better if you converted and re-sized the images yourself before uploading. Finally you should always be wary when e-mailing photographs to someone; keep in mind what sort of internet connection they have, if they are still on a slow dial up connection it could take them half an hour to download one 3 megabyte image, so if you attach twenty to an e-mail you will make their connection unusable for over ten hours!

To conclude, you should always transmit your images in the highest quality possible given the limitations of where you are uploading them. You should also always re-size and compress images yourself rather than relying on internet sites to do it for you, and most importantly always keep a back up of your original high quality image straight from the camera just in case you compress it too much and are not happy with the results!