Digital cameras are becoming better and more popular all the time and can take some terrific photos and often we want other people to enjoy the pictures too. Unfortunately the pictures as they come out of most digital cameras are not very suitable for sharing online. Those 4, 6, 8 or higher megapixel cameras have terrific detail and can create some great prints but produce files far to large for general use online. A common 4 megapixel photo creates a file larger than 2200x1700, a good size for sharing online, especially on forums, is 640x480 or less. At that size there is enough resolution to appreciate most photos and still easily fit on most web pages and won’t take forever for people without broadband to download. Of course this will also vary depending on the subject of the photo. A single cartridge wouldn’t need to be anywhere near as large as a panorama of the Grand Canyon.

While editing and resizing your photos might seem intimidating until you’ve done it a time or two, with the right software it’s very easy to do. Fortunately there are many programs that make resizing your images very easy, you probably have one that came with you camera or scanner. If not there are many you can download. Some free, some with a free trial. Here are a few that I’ve used, this is not an exhaustive list by any means, there are hundreds if not thousands of free or inexpensive image editors available today, along with some very expensive software packages.

Free image editors:

  • GIMP completely free and full featured with both Windows and Linux versions available. This program will do pretty much anything you need to do with an image editor. It’s not the easiest program to learn, it has a fairly steep learning curve but it does work well. If you’re using Linux this is possibly the best image editor available.
  • irfanview is another free program, very small, only a 884 k download. This doesn’t have as many features as the larger programs, but is VERY fast. If you just need a basic editor to resize and flip or rotate your pictures this is a good choice.
  • Paint.NET 100% free and open source like GIMP. This is a very full featured and easy to use editor. I used Paint.NET to edit all of the images later in this article.
Free trial:
  • Paint Shop Pro X this editor isn’t free, but you can download it and try it for 30 days. It’s not small, the download is over 100 meg, and the full version runs $80-100 depending on where you get it. Not cheap but better than the several hundred dollars Photoshop costs with a very similar featureset. Paint Shop Pro is my favorite editor, I’ve been using Paint Shop Pro since their 1.0 version on Windows for Workgroups. It comes with some great filters for cleaning up digital images and you can do pretty much anything with it. For me it’s easier to use than GIMP or Photoshop.
  • Photoshop Elements Adobes replacement for Photoshop LE with all the features you’d want in an image editor and a host of plugins to do various tasks. Adobe has a free trial download, if you’re on dialup plan on being patient - it’s 364 meg. Price wise it’s similar to Paint Shop Pro, $90 from Adobe.
  • Photoshop CS2 the uncrowned king of image editing software, is the benchmark by which all other editors are measured. It’s been refined for many years, has a tremendous amount of third party filter support and can do anything you want to an image. Adobe has a 30 day trial of their latest version, at 329 meg it is not a small download and hang on to your wallet - it can run as high as $700 to buy.
While several of these programs are similar there are differences in the specific way they accomplish common tasks. You won’t know which will work best for you until you try it.

Here are some tips and examples of resizing large images down to something appropriate for sharing online. The first thing you want to do is make a copy of your original photo and work on the copy. You can work on the original if you want, but after you save there’s generally no going back if you don’t like the result. I started with this (opens in a new window)
2 megapixel image, 1600x1200 resolution, 752 k, your browser may resize this to fit your screen depending on which browser you’re using.

I’ll describe what I did using Paint.NET, while the exact menu or selection names will vary slightly from program to program the general steps will be the same for most image editors. The first thing I did was crop away the unwanted portions of the photo. I’m sure you’ve all seen and taken photos where the subject is only a small part of the entire image or you’ve gotten something in the frame that you didn’t want. In that case you can select just the part of the picture you want and cut (crop) away the rest. Open your image in Paint.NET, I like to use the "Rectangular Select" option to select the area I want to keep. Click "Tools" then "Rectangle Select" and draw a square or rectangle around the portion of the image you want to keep. After you have that area highlighted select the "Image" menu then "Crop to selection". That will remove all the unwanted parts of the image. That alone can reduce the size quite a bit and in this example it cut the file size by roughly 60%. (opens in a new window) Original image cropped to 809x1046, 292 k , once again your browser may resize this to fit your screen.

That was still larger than I wanted for use online so once again in Paint.NET I selected the "Image" menu and then "Resize" - again, these steps will be common in most image editors. Keeping the 640x480 size in mind I selected "Maintain aspect ratio" and changed the Height to 480. The width should automatically change for you at this point. Below is the photo resized to 371x480 which reduced the file size to 86.7 k

That’s a pretty good resolution, but I wanted the file size a bit smaller. To achieve that I experimented with increasing the JPEG compression level. When you increase the compression you will reduce the file size but you also reduce the detail in the picture. A little more compression can significantly cut the file size without sacrificing to much image quality. Go to far and you can get a tiny file but it will end up looking like a childs finger painting. To adjust the compression in Paint.NET click the Save button, or "File" "Save" menu items, that will open a dialog that lets you set the quality (aka compression) of the image. In this case decreasing the Quality increases the compression. This dialog also shows you a preview of what the image will look like and what the final file size will be. Very handy if you have a specific file size in mind. This is the same photo at 81% Quality, the file size is down to 49.2 k

Below is the same image with the Quality set all the way down to 1. The file is only 17.5k, but as you can see it has lost far to much detail to be of much use.

While 50k sounds like a very small size when you start with your original 1,000k or larger image you can easily reduce them, both resolution and file size, and still show off the content your photo.

One last tip. JPG is what is known as a lossy file format. What that means is every time you save and close the file you lose a little bit more data and the picture quality gets a little bit worse. The loss of quality is subtle and not really noticable until you’ve opened and resaved a JPG several times, but there is a very slight degredation with each save. If you plan on editing a single file many times you should consider saving it as something other than a JPG. BMP, TIFF and PNG are all lossless formats which means they don’t lose any detail or quality when the file is saved. The image size will be quite a bit larger than a JPG but you can edit and save the file as often as you’d like without degrading the image simply from saving the file. When you’re done editing save the final version you want to send out as a JPG.

Questions or comments? | Submit an article | Donate to Handloads.Com

Copyright © 2000-2008