Displaying and Sharing Digital Photos

Photographers today have many ways to display and share their digital photos. Which ones you use will depend on your taste, level of expertise with particular technologies and the ways in which you would like to present your images.

 In this article we will range across a wide variety of options, beginning with online image hosting and storage then moving to systems for displaying your images and video clips on your portable device (e.g. mobile phone), TV set or a digital photo frame and thence to ‘hard copy' products like prints, framed enlargements, photo books and gift items like cards, calendars, T-shirt transfers, mugs, key rings, clothing, coasters, magnets, jigsaw puzzles, mouse mats, ornaments, etc.

Online Display and Storage
For those who prefer to do everything online, there are plenty of social websites where you can upload your image files - and, in some cases, video clips. Flickr was one of the first but there's also MySpace and Facebook and video-specific sites such as YouTube. Commercial imagehosting sites include Snapfish, Shutterfly and Kodak EasyShare Gallery as well as softwarelinked sites like Picasa Web Albums.

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Photo Sharing websites like MySpace require you to create an account before you can post images.

Sites like these generally provide an upload interface containing a form in which you specify the location of an image file on your computer (using a browse button). After pressing a ‘Submit' button the file is uploaded to the site's server. Some sites allow you to specify multiple files while others let you upload one ZIP (compressed) file containing multiple images.

Once your images are uploaded, they are stored on the hosting site's server and become available on the internet. Most hosting sites let you specify who is permitted to look at your images. Many provide tools that let you create albums, galleries and photoblogs (containing text and images) or slideshows.

Image hosting sites generally put restrictions on the maximum size of images for uploading and some may also restrict the amount of space you can have for free on their server. Free services (which are normally supported by paid advertisements) usually offer relatively modest size limits per image when compared to paid services.

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Commercial websites like Snapfish enable you to have your photos printed professionally and offer a range of photo gifts in addition to hosting image storing facilities.

If you wish to rely on an image host to store and display your digital photos, it's worthwhile purchasing web-hosting services and establishing your own mini-website. Paid services often allow users to have password protected photo albums, customisable themes and other user-selectable features. 

Portable Photo Albums
Mobile phones, music/video players and other portable devices are a great way to share your photos because they're always close at hand. It's easy to fire-up the device and display an album of pictures that you have uploaded from your computer.

For Windows users Windows Media Player is the place to start (similar applications are provided for Macintosh users). Only JPEG images files can be used and these should be resized to the screen resolution of the device first, otherwise the device's memory will fill very quickly. Connect the device to your computer and start Windows Media Player.

Then switch on your portable device and begin by adding the pictures and video to the Library in the player. If you synch the device to your computer using the Device Setup Wizard each time the device is connected, the player will check for changes in your library and update its content so you'll always have the latest pictures for display.

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Portable devices like mobile phones can be synchronised with the image library on your computer so you can share the latest photos and videos you've taken.

Playback on TV
All digital cameras come with A/V (audio/video) cables that enable them to be connected to a TV set for viewing digital photos and video clips. In some cases, support is only provided for standard definition (SD) TV sets.

However, with a recent surge of interest in widescreen digital TV sets, many new cameras can record video clips in high definition (HD) and play them back on compatible TV sets via an HDMI interface. Few camera manufacturers provide the necessary HDMI cable, which will cost around $50 from a specialist computer, electronics of camera store.

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The latest widescreen HDTV sets can playback still pictures and video clips in high-resolution.

Once the camera is connected to the TV set, you should tune the TV to the video channel then switch the camera on and press the Play button. The images on the camera's memory card will be displayed. You can use the camera's controls to toggle from one picture to the next, play slideshows and video clips and fast forward and reverse through the latter. Video soundtracks are played automatically when clips are displayed.

The TV set may need to be adjusted to display the correct aspect ratio for displaying still images. This control is usually labelled ‘ASPECT' on the set's controller. Some recent HDTV sets from Panasonic and Sony have memory card slots that support direct playback of image and video files from cameras bearing the same brand - but may not work with other brands of camera.

Digital Photo Frames
These devices have become popular in recent years and there are many brands and styles to choose from. Unfortunately, most have relatively low resolution and some have limited memory for storing pictures. This means you must resize all image files before uploading them to the frame. (Instructions are provided in Basic Editing Functions.)

In addition, most frames will only display JPEG images and a limited range of video files (typically MOV, AVI, MPEG-1, and MPEG-4). If your camera supports other file formats they will need to be converted before they can be displayed.

Typical image sizes for photo frames range from 320 x 240 pixels to 1024 x 600 pixels, with a few offering higher resolution. A frame with a 4:3 aspect ratio (e.g. 800 x 600 pixels) will display photos taken with the default settings on most digicams (and also Four Thirds Format DSLRs) at full screen size.

If you have a DSLR camera, you may prefer a frame with a 3:2 aspect ratio (e.g. 600 x 400 pixels), while for 16:9 aspect ratio widescreen images, a frame resolution of 800 x 450 pixels will provide full-screen display. Where the aspect ratio of the image doesn't match that of the photo frame, the sides or top and bottom of the screen will appear black so there's nothing to draw your eyes away from the picture.

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Some frames can be rotated to display vertical pictures.

When choosing a digital photo frame, look for the highest available resolution and the deepest black in the screen background when the device is switched on. You can't expect high levels of image sharpness or fine detail to be displayed on low-resolution frames. But you can expect colours to be natural-looking and contrast to be constrained so that both highlight and shadow detail is shown in images where they are recorded. Video playback should also be as smooth as you see on a TV screen.

Most frames are designed to display pictures in landscape format so they will crop vertical shots to fit them on the screen. Some frames can be rotated to display vertical shots - although this only works when all shots in the memory are vertical. Some frames come with mounts that allow them to be attached to a wall but most are free-standing. The overwhelming majority of digital photo frames require mains power so access to a power point is vital when setting them up.

However, products like the Digital Foci Photo Book (Model PBK-080) provide a batterypowered frame in the form of a book with a leather-like cover that closes with an overlapping magnetic catch. A control panel is located right of the screen and interfaces are provided for memory cards and USB cables. The user interface is template-based but easy to operate. Display resolution is 800 x 600 pixels.

Memory card slots and a USB input (preferably both regular A and Mini-B sockets) allow you to connect a portable drive and/or digital camera to the frame for playback. Make sure there's enough internal memory to store a complete slideshow of your pictures - or a video presentation. (Protruding cards and USB drives detract from the neat appearance of a frame). Always check the device's specifications as some devices claim to provide more internal memory that is actually available to users.

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The Digital Foci Photo Book is a battery-powered digital photo frame presented in a smart-looking book style.

Controls should be straightforward and easy to operate. (Be careful when choosing frames with touch screens or borders and also wirelessequipped frames as both can be tricky to set up and use - and the latter may be vulnerable to viruses.) You should be able to select images manually, rotate and zoom in or out of pictures and play slideshows or video clips with just a few button presses. Remote controls should replicate the frame's functions. Check the distance over which the control will operate (more is better).

Photo Books
Presenting a set of images in a photo book is an attractive way to share photos covering a special event or a family history so it's no surprise to find this type of product readily available through camera and department stores as well as many online providers. Doing a Google search on Photo Books yielded 10 pages from Australia alone.

Most online suppliers provide step-by-step instructions for uploading images and templates for page designs. You simply drop the pictures into place, add any text you would like to include and provide your credit card details.

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Photo books are an attractive way to share your digital pictures and make great gifts for family members and friends.
The finished book(s) are usually delivered within two to three weeks. Prices range from less than $20 for a 20-page soft-cover book containing snapshot-sized prints to more than $1000 dollars for large A4 professionally bound books on long-lasting, high-quality paper. Discounts are often available when multiple copies of a book are ordered at the same time.

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A typical image uploading page from an online photo book printing provider.

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Photo book options provided by a typical online supplier.

When shopping for photo books, be aware that you generally get what you pay for. Soft covers are cheaper than hard covers and high-quality papers printed with long-lasting inks command a premium price - but usually represent better value when you're producing ‘heirloom' books.

You can also print your own books if you have a suitable printer that uses long-lasting inks. Double-sided matte papers are ideal for this application.

Laying out the pages of your book before printing requires a dedicated layout program like Microsoft's Publisher or Adobe's In-Design. You will also require an image editor to prepare the pictures beforehand (cropping and resizing of images will usually be required).

Framed Enlargements
Few things are more satisfying than seeing your own pictures framed and mounted on your walls. Fortunately, achieving this objective has never been easier - or cheaper - thanks to inkjet technology. Printers capable of making A3+ (329 x 483 mm) prints can be purchased for less than $700, allowing poster-sized enlargements to be produced for less than $10 - even when you print on premium-quality papers.

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An A3+ desktop printer will enable you to print your own poster-sized enlargements for framing and displaying.

Many camera stores and electronics resellers also offer printing services. Some can print your photos on canvas and will mount them so they can be hung on your wall. Prices range from around $50 for a 30 cm wide canvas print to just under $400 for a 150 cm wide enlargement on canvas. Some printers can be used for canvas printing.

You can save money with kits like Hahnemuhle's Gallerie Wrap system which provides an easy way to mount canvas prints and requires no special tools. Each kit contains one or two sheets of canvas media plus adhesive-coated stretcher bars and full instructions for printing and mounting the image for display.

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Hahnemuhle's Gallerie Wrap system provides an easy way to produce and mount canvas prints.

Prints that will be framed should be made on paper that is at least 170 gsm in weight. Look for paper that doesn't show the brand markings on the reverse side when it's held up to the light. When the paper the image is printed on is heavy enough to resist curling you don't need to mount the print on a cardboard backing before framing it. However, for panoramic prints longer than about a metre, this step may be necessary to keep the image flat.
All prints should be protected by a mat made from thick cardboard and both the mat and the backing should be made from acid-free materials. Avoid plywood or composite board backing when framing photo prints. Such materials may emit formaldehyde over time and this can attack the dyes in dye-based prints. Prints made with pigment inks are less vulnerable but many papers are affected by formaldehyde vapour, which can cause discolouring.

The mat should prevent the surface of the photo print from touching the covering material. Unless this is done, the print may stick to the glass and be impossible to remove without major damage to the picture. Prints on glossy paper are more vulnerable than prints on matte papers.

For framing photo prints, glass is preferable to acrylic sheeting.

Plastic scratches much more easily and so requires care when handling and cleaning. Acrylic sheets also tend to develop static charges over time and these can attract airborne dust, whereas glass has no static charge.
Always seal the back of each frame with tape to prevent dust, moisture and insects from entering and damaging the print. Paper tape is recommended but can be difficult to obtain. Masking tape is better than packaging tape.

Choose carefully when positioning your pictures in your home or office and avoid putting framed prints in places where they will receive direct sunlight. The colour and intensity of the light falling on inkjet prints can influence both how they appear and the longevity of their colours. A typical home environment has an average light intensity of between 100 and 200 Lux. In contrast, most commercial premises have light levels of 450 lux and higher.

Photo Gifts
An innovative way to share your photos is by having them printed on gift items and there are plenty of options to choose from, including greeting cards, calendars, mugs, jigsaw puzzles, mouse mats, T-shirts and mini frames for key rings. Some service providers will also print your photo on a pencil case or backpack and it's easy to slip an A4 print (or collage of prints) into the transparent pouch on the front or some folders and binders.

Most printer manufacturers also offer transfer paper for printing your photos on fabric items like T-shirts, library bags and other items. Full instructions are supplied with the paper, along with information on how to care for the fabric after it has been printed.

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Typical gift offerings that can be produced from digital photos.

USEFUL URLs
Visit the following websites for free software downloads and/or additional information on the topic covered in this chapter:
www.photoreview.com.au for reviews of printers and digital frames plus information on fine art printing.
www.hahnemuhledirect.com for a step-by-step demonstration of the Hahnemuhle's Gallerie Wrap system. Click on the Gallerie Wrap link.
www.momento.com.au is one of Australia's leading photo book producers. Full pricing details, a free layout software download and helpful design tips can be found here, along with links to design professionals.

This is an excerpt from Post Capture Pocket Guide.
Click here for more details on this and other titles in the Pocket Guide series.

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