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Basic Digital Photo Preparation (with MS Paint)

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While some forum participants take basic image editing skills for granted, there's actually no means by which a person just naturally knows this stuff.  Furthermore, smartphones have brought us a proliferation of easy but "wrong" ways to edit photos, resulting in low-quality, slow-loading, and/or poorly framed images shared on social media platforms such as this forum.  So I've prepared a basic guide, a how-to with some don'ts thrown in.

Step 1: take the picture
Using your digital camera (which may or may not be a smartphone), take a picture of your subject matter.  Don't be afraid to turn the device sideways if it frames the subject better.  Most modern digital cameras / smartphones can detect when they are held sideways when taking a photo, and process the image accordingly; if not, fixing it later is almost trivial.  If your camera has optical zoom, use it as appropriate.  Most smartphones don't have optical zoom, but if the lens protrudes slightly from your iPhone, I think you can buy zoom lenses that attach to that protrusion.  In my experience, a camera's default field of view is much wider than necessary to contain the road features I'm trying to capture, so zooming in is warranted.  If all you have available is digital zoom, that may be appropriate as well; while it won't generally give you a clearer view of the subject, it will eliminate extraneous background area, probably reduce the file size, and possibly save some of the finer details from degradation due to JPEG compression artifacts.  If your device actually tells you the amount of digital zoom you're using, try to use a whole number (such as 1×, 2×, 3×, 4×) rather than a fractional number (such as 1.4×) to avoid issues with uneven rescaling.

Step 2: (don't) edit the photo on your camera or smartphone
Do not edit the photo on your camera or smartphone.  Do not zoom in, rescale, crop, or rotate the photo using any device that fits in your hand.  Do not add text or draw on the photo using any smartphone app.  Do not take a screenshot of your photo for any reason.  Most of these actions will degrade the quality of the photo in ways you can't see on that tiny screen.

Step 3: transfer the photo to your computer
In most cases, this is done by connecting your camera / smartphone to the computer using a USB cable.  Alternatively, if the camera / smartphone uses a removable memory card (such as a micro-SD card) for storage, you can remove that card and access its contents with your computer and a device designed to read whatever kind of memory card you're dealing with.  If your camera / smartphone supports WiFi, there are countless ways to transfer the photo to your computer with various apps (such as AndSMB or DropBox) which in most cases put your photo somewhere in "the cloud" first.

Step 4: edit the photo on your computer
As it turns out, the version of Microsoft Paint that came with my Windows 7 computer is adequately capable of preparing digital photos for sharing on this forum.  I'm assuming the process will look basically the same in Windows 8 and Windows 10.

4a) Open the photo in Paint.  You can probably do this by right-clicking on the file and selecting "Edit".

4b) Use the magnifier tool, and right-click in the image to zoom out until you can actually see the interesting parts of the photo.  You're not really changing the image itself here; you're just changing your view of it.

4c) Use the select tool, and draw a box around the area of interest in the photo.

4d) Click the crop tool.  Everything outside the box your drew is discarded.

4e) Optionally, you can resize the image for convenient viewing on the forum.  This will, in most cases, make the image load faster when people read your thread.  However, it will remove the ability for people to zoom in and see finer detail in your picture*.  On the other hand, if you're going to upload the photo to Flickr, that service will take care of resizing the photo for you.  Most other photo hosting services can resize the photo for you as well.  These sites usually do a good job of resizing photos without aliasing.  If you choose to resize your photo in Paint, it actually does a minimally adequate job of it with very little aliasing.  (It seems to use the Box Filter method, for anyone who knows what that means.)  In the Resize dialog, make sure the "Maintain Aspect Ratio" box is checked, and specify the new image size in pixels.  The standard photo size on this forum is 800×600, so set the new image width to 800, then see what the height changes to.  If the height is more than 600, change it to 600 and let the width change to whatever it wants to be.  Then click the OK button to actually resize your image.  Note, if your image, after cropping, is already smaller than 800×600, this whole step is pointless.  Using the resize tool to enlarge a photo is generally not a good idea.  *If you want a compromise between loading speed and availability of detail, you can instead resize your image to something like 1600×1200.  It will be displayed on the forum at the default size of 800×600, but then users can click on it to display it at the larger size you chose – unless your post makes the image into a link to the photo hosting site.

4f) Finally, save a new copy of your photo to share on the forum.  Make sure to give it a different name, because it's a good idea to retain the original image file for various reasons.

Step 5: upload the photo and share it on the forum
Do I need to cover this?  There ought to already be a sticky post somewhere detailing how to do this, but I'll add this info if people think it's necessary.

The example photo seen above was taken by Mergingtraffic with an iPhone 6s and belongs to him.  It is used here for illustrative purposes only.

Although I'm a Mac user, that's a very informative post vtk.  Thanks for posting this!

Have you experimented with PNG vs JPG?  For images like my sign drawings, using PNG results in smaller file sizes compared to JPG.  Is there a similar savings with photos?


--- Quote from: myosh_tino on September 01, 2016, 02:41:34 PM ---Have you experimented with PNG vs JPG?  For images like my sign drawings, using PNG results in smaller file sizes compared to JPG.  Is there a similar savings with photos?

--- End quote ---

A sign drawing should certainly use PNG format, both for image clarity and file size. Unless it's a drawing on paper and scanned, then the file size advantage of PNG depends on how well you can clean up the image with contrast adjustment.

Photos should usually use JPEG format. There's a quality / file size tradeoff, but a JPEG saved at a program's highest quality setting is often still a little smaller than a PNG version of the same photo, with almost invisible compression artifacts.

The screenshots I posted above contain a mix of textual and photographic content, so the choice between JPEG and PNG wasn't easy. The full size images with a lot of photo content visible make for big PNG files, but I found the compression artifacts around text and icons to be unsatisfactorily distracting in the JPEG versions with significantly smaller file sizes.  I figure the kinds of people who don't know these basic photo editing tips probably aren't the kinds of people who tend to notice the delay in loading a half-megabyte image, so PNG is what I went with.

Thanks VTK....I just read this.  Cool that you used my photo.  :)  I have noticed too much aliasing on my pictures and it drives me nuts. 
Is there a way to post photos without Flickr?


--- Quote from: Mergingtraffic on November 30, 2016, 06:27:16 PM ---Thanks VTK....I just read this.  Cool that you used my photo.  :)  I have noticed too much aliasing on my pictures and it drives me nuts. 
Is there a way to post photos without Flickr?

--- End quote ---

You can use the gallery option on the forum, but you have to resize the photos down manually.


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