Viewing Your Photos


Once you have taken a nice collection of photos the question arises as to what to do with them. In times past there were mainly two choices: paste them into a photo album or put them in slide trays for projection. Now there are an amazing number of choices.  Let's start by listing some of the choices and some of the reasons for using each of them.

Make                                             \ For Yourself Family Friends Public
A Computer Slide Show x   x  
A DVD Slide Show x x x
Small Prints   x x  
A Box of Large Prints x   x  
Large Framed Prints x x   x
A Digital Picture Frame Sequence x x    
A Custom Printed Album x x    
A Calendar x x x  
Post on a Social Network Website   x x x
E-mail   x x
Post on Your Website   x x x

General Considerations

Format. There are some traditional standard shapes for photos. These include [in U.S. sizes] 4" x 5", 5" x 7", 8" x 10", 11" x 14", and 16" x 20". These are at or near the 5:4. aspect ration. The 35 mm film frame has a 3:2 aspect ratio, and digital cameras seem to prefer a format closer to that ratio. There are new standards like 4" x 6" and 9" x 12" that more closely match the wider format. There are some advantages to taking or cropping photos to a common format. Inexpensive prints are available in the standard formats. Also, if you want to completely fill a computer monitor or TV screen for a slide show, the images will have  to match the screen aspect ratio. Standard computer screens match the traditional television aspect ratio of 4:3, and new HDTV screens are 16:9. Computer screens are horizontal, so not only must the shape match, but the framing must be horizontal to fill the screen.

With some exceptions, I suggest ignoring the aspect ratio conventions for images to be viewed electronically. Just use the shape and orientation that best fits the subject matter. computer and TV screens are generally large enough that the image will still be fine even if there are black margins on two sides to fit the screen. If the picture is embedded in a web page it matters even less. The exceptions are for very small displays like digital picture frames and cell phone displays. for those devices there is more to be gained by fitting the viewing area than is likely to be lost in aesthetics.

Prints can be made in a standard size to save money, and getting a frame in a standard size is cheaper than a custom frame. A custom mat may be used to adapt a picture to a standard frame. If the picture is not going to be framed, a paper cutter will easily adjust the aspect ratio, and I recommend doing that.

Color.  The smaller an image, the more saturated the colors need to be. Saturation is the purity of the color; unsaturated colors are pastels. In Adobe Photoshop Elements, the Enhance > Colors > Hue and Saturation command provides a slider to adjust this parameter.  In addition, lowering the overall brightness of an image tends to increase the "punch."  For large displays and prints to be viewed from modest distances, the colors are often better left more subtle. We have a tutorial devoted to the subject of adjusting color and contrast.

Do It.  Camera enthusiasts put effort into taking good photos, but sometimes lose interest when it comes to putting work into displaying them.  One purpose of photos is to evoke the memories of places visited and things done. That involves not just taking the photos, but looking at them later. I suggest trying out new viewing techniques to see what you fancy. Perhaps you have not made a slide show or a custom photo book. Give something new a try.

A Computer Slide Show

There is good chance that the number one viewer of your photos is you. Your computer screen is an excellent viewing device. It is unbeatably convenient and produces nice colorful images. The resolution is not the absolute best, but it's not bad.  I think it is the number one means for a person to look at their pictures. The limitations are that the small screen is not very good for audiences, and that you have to be in front of the computer.

A slide show is a sequence of images. Most often the images relate to a single subject or event, but subjects can be brought up serially, like changing channels on a television. The images in the sequence can be manually advanced, but it is nice to have an option for automatic advance so that you can sit back and watch.

A basic image viewer is built into the Windows operating system.  Open a folder of images and from the top menu select View > Filmstrip.  Clicking on the arrow icons below the image advances to the next image in the folder.  Moving the mouse over one of the thumbnails on the bottom of the screen advances immediately to that image. It is ultra convenient, but there in no option to automatically advance or to fill the screen with the images.

Adobe Organizer has more features for slide viewing. If you use organizer, you will become familiar with the thumbnail setup. Moving the slider to show a single image essentially replicates the Windows filmstrip function, but with the ability to fetch images based on tags and with captions shown. However, hidden away in the menu on the top right, Display > View photos in full screen, is a better mechanism for viewing. That slide show fills the whole screen with each image and has the option of automatically advancing. To start the show you must click the small arrow icon that appears on a menu bar at the top left of  the first image. There are options for playing background music or audio caption, and there is an option for displaying text captions. You can make title slides in Photoshop and include those.

A DVD Slide Show

Professional photographers are usually tasked with coming up with striking single images. Single images serve the commercial purposes of illustrating something that is being  explained or sold. Even travel articles have a relatively few images, and to conserve print space they will likely be diverse. A slide show may have fifty or a hundred images. At, say, seven seconds each, a hundred images will run about 12 minutes. If the images are pretty good, that is short of the point at which the audience will volunteer to reveal state secrets if they can be allowed to leave. I wouldn't try fifteen minutes, however.

Slide shows offer the opportunity to tell a story. Don't worry, you don't need a screenplay and name actors. The story line is usually "What this place was really like."  It might include a mix of close ups and wide angle shots, people, shops, and scenic attractions. We have a separate tutorial on the subject.

Some DVD players will know what to do when presented with a file of unadorned JPG images, and will show them in slide show fashion. You may want to check if you have a Blu-ray player or video game system, as that may be a very convenient way to get high resolution photos on to a big screen TV. For distribution to friends and family its better not to assume such still-geeky high tech, and instead make a DVD that will work in any standard player. From the Adobe Photoshop Elements Organizer click on CREATE, which is in a purple tab on the upper right. After the screen changes, select  Slide show ... and the software will guide you through the mechanics.

Slide show skills apply to using Digital Picture Frames. If the user has a computer, there is a feature for making automated slide shows in Microsoft PowerPoint. The recipient needs a computer to play the slide, but it is self-contained and will run without a local copy of PowerPoint.

Small Prints

Small prints, usually 4" x 6" or smaller, are relatively inexpensive and easy to share. The digital image files can be downloaded to the website of a chain store, like a drugstore or "big box" store, and then picked up from the local outlet. That's hard to beat for convenience. There are plenty of options to have prints mailed back to you as well. If you have friends overseas, there are now services that will accept image files over the Internet, and then print and mail them in the destination country. That saves considerable time in the mails as well as the costs of overseas shipping.

Sending files over the net means you can touch them up first if you choose to, cropping them and adjusting the colors and contrast. That's a good idea because automated prints produce the best results when the image in near the norm.

There are also small inkjet printers for home use. These use rolls or stacks of paper to help automate the printing process. Doing it yourself has the potential for higher quality results. You have to trade off the hassle of maintaining and running the printer for the improved quality.

For personal use, the large, bright, colorful display on a computer screen is better than a small print. It's also easier to keep track of images and call up the ones you want.

A Box of Large Prints

Inkjet printers produce very high quality prints. Large prints are 8" x 10" or larger, and many printers will accept paper that is 12 inches wide or wider. Only the width of the carriage matters; the paper may be quite long for panoramic prints. The printers are a few hundred dollars, but in the long run the costs are in the ink and paper. Operating the printer is not too difficult, but it is time consuming. There are special inks and papers for archival printing, which means the prints are designed to last for decades without fading. Ordinary prints may start to fade in a few years. The technology has advanced to the point where obtaining archival supplies and setting up the printer to yield good colors are not serious obstacles. Given the time in preparing the image files and making the prints, it probably pays to make large prints with archival materials. Ink Jet Art is one supplier of archival ink and paper.

See our discussion of ordering prints on line.for more on this subject.

Large Framed Prints

Sooner or later you will take a picture that  really strikes your fancy and cries out to be framed and hung up on a wall. Most likely that will be your wall. I caution against giving framed prints as gifts, because it will ultimately cause mutual embarrassment when the framed masterpiece ends up in a sock drawer. By contrast, an unframed print is designed to be stored away. For your home or office, however, it's a good idea. A photographer should display photographs.

Framed print  Close up frame corner

For large framed prints, the 300 pixel per inch rule can be waved, because it is unlikely that a wall-mounted large print will be examined very closely. A person with 20/20 vision can only resolve about 100 pixels per inch at four feet, so detail beyond that will not be appreciated at that distance.

ABC Photo and Imaging Services
has long catered to photographers taking panoramic photos, making both machine and custom prints in large size. They did a couple of very nice  2' x 5' prints for me from a 2" x 5" panoramic negatives.

If you take a nice print to a local shop to be framed you will discover that not only does the framing job cost more than the print, it may well cost more than the camera that took the picture. I suggest going with cheaper materials bought from online stores. These stores also sell very high quality materials, but I think that most of the time it's not worth it. Few people will be able to tell a gold plated plastic frame from a genuine metal frame, and fewer will care. However, I recommend ordering a precut mat that sets the picture a couple of inches inside the frame. It improves the appearance considerably. Ordering the frame, mat, and backing and assembling it with the picture yourself is a good way to keep the cost down, and is is not difficult. Sawing frames and cutting mats is only for a skilled do-it-yourselfer.

Pictureframes.com provides many options and has software tools that help visualizing the result.  How about putting that picture of Junior in a baroque gold frame with a green mat?  Hmmm, maybe not.

A Digital Picture Frame Sequence

A digital picture frame is an electronic display designed to sequence through a series of pictures.  The pictures are loaded into the device through a USB cable from a computer or by plugging in a loaded memory card. Once loaded, the digital picture frame takes no expertise to operate. It can sit on a table or be hung on a wall, so long as it can be plugged for power.  There are a limited number of settings that change the display. One of the settings is for the rate at which the pictures change. Oddly, the slowest settings are typically around ten seconds per picture. If you would like it to change once per minute or once per day, you are out of luck.

Digital Picture frame     Ports on a digital picture frame

The devices are ideal for people lack the savvy, or the patience, to operate a computer. Even those of us who are able to sometimes convince computers to do things are not always keen on practicing that skill. Digital picture frames are simple and attractive. They have the rich image colors of a computer monitor. Some will play music files along with the image, though for 24/7 playback it is best to be extremely fond of any music selections. Typically there are ports for flash memory on the digital frame so that pictures can be supplied without a computer hookup.

At least for the present, the images are rather small. Typically they are about five to ten inches on the diagonal measure. Even in the small sizes, they typically cost the better part of $200, or more. That limits their use to dear friends and family.  The cost of the technology is sure to drop, and as it does the use of digital picture frames will be ever more attractive.

Some editing will help fit images to the limited size and pixel resolution of digital picture frames. The frame software will but black spaces around an image if the shape of the image does not match the shape of the frame. Since the images are small at best, it best to find a different venue for that long panorama of the Cleveland skyline. Select images with an aspect ratio that matches the frame. having a pixel format larger than the screen resolution will just waste the limited memory space, so resize and sharpen them to match. Small images need more punch than large ones, so moderately increasing the color saturation helps. Be careful about increasing the contrast, however, because the displays often have a limited tone range.

A Custom Printed Album

Rather that paste photos into an album and handwrite captions, you can have a custom book made with printed photos and typeset captions. The custom photo books are hardbound and resemble books from a bookstore. The printing is not done by inkjet or photochemistry; it the kind used for glossy magazines. The print quality compares to what you see in a travel magazine. Layout options vary from "print the folder of pictures four per page" up to custom layout whereby you determine every pixel on the page. There are intermediate layout options that allow controlling the number of images and their captions on each page. Templates tailored for special events like weddings and holiday celebrations are available to simplify the process.

Making one of these books builds an appreciation for the work of people who layout books and magazines for a living. Doing a decent job takes a lot of work. The first copy will cost something like $35 to $200, with follow-on copies at perhaps half the price of the first one. For the effort and expense you do get a fine product that elegantly and conveniently packages a collection of photos.

Adobe has a deal with Kodak for creating custom photo books.  From the Adobe Photoshop Elements Organizer click on CREATE, which is in a purple tab on the upper right. After the screen changes, select  Photo Book ... and the software will guide you through the mechanics.

First Edition Originals features 10" x 10" and 8.5" x 11" format books, with many layout options including double page spreads.

Vendors Shutterfly, Snapfish, and others offer photo books.  Lulu has products in the $15- $25 range.

A Calendar

I use "calendar" as a token for the large class of "other photographic things." These include tee shirts, mugs, postcards, magnets, transfer temporary tattoos, posters, jewelry, desk accessories, clocks, needle point patterns, and stationery. I am not aware of any service that coverts photos into macramé, but stay tuned. The merchants for custom photo books (above) tend to sell many of these other products, or try a web search for "convert photos to xxxx."

In Organizer, the drill for a calendar is no surprise. Click on CREATE, which is in a purple tab on the upper right. After the screen changes, select  Photo Calendar... and the software will guide you through the mechanics.

Post on a Social Network Website

Social network sites provide a place to park images online at little or no cost. The big one for photographers is flickr. A free account allows posting 200 photos of relatively low resolution. For $25 per year an unlimited number of photos, up to 20 MB each, can be posted. The site includes features for controlling the viewing and use of posted photos, and for deriving products like calendars and prints from the photos you have stored on the site.

Send in E-Mail

With most e-mail programs you can insert a photo into a message by dragging and dropping an image file into the e-mail text. Alternatively, the file can be added with a menu command, something like attach > file.  I recommend using the jpg image file format. There are many file formats, and I occasionally get e-mail photos in formats that I cannot open -- formats that in fact I've never heard of. jpg is universal.

File size is a consideration for e-mail attachments. Some people are still on slow net connections, and some e-mail servers have fairly small limits on attachment sizes, both sending and receiving. As a rule, be sure the total size of attachments is less than 5 MB to avoid server problems. A reasonable starting point is to reduce the file pixel resolution to 600 x 800 or less and save the file as a jpg with medium quality. (See Resizing.)

I have defined a list of e-mail addresses for people I keep in touch with in an alias called "postcard."  When traveling I can write a message and attach a photo or two and send it to postcard for distribution to the list. To find out how to do this with your mail program, search the web for "mailprogramname alias."  This might be "Outlook Express alias" or "Thunderbird alias" for those e-mail programs.

Post on Your Website

If you have enough magic geek dust to build and maintain a web site, you can probably figure out how to post a photo gallery. For present purposes it suffices to point out that this is yet another way to display photos. The disadvantage is that you have to pay for the site and bandwidth used for accessing the site, and you have the work of posting and maintenance. It's easier to use flickr or another social network site.

The advantages of maintaining your own site are:
  • You can post for commercial purposes that are banned on social network sites.
  • You can put advertising on the site
  • You can display images in larger sizes and in different layouts that defy the social network posting templates
  • You can design an interface that makes the site easier to set up and maintain for your purposes
  • You can combine images, video, and software into a multimedia extravaganza
  • In general, you get to make your own rules, at least insofar as the net has enforceable rules
I suspect that these reasons are only compelling for a relatively few people.

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