Digital Focus: E-Mail Your Digital Photos

Feature: E-Mailing Your Digital Photos

E-mailing a digital photo sounds so simple. After all, few tasks are more elementary in this high-tech world than sending an e-mail. But e-mail can still confound. When my dad first got a PC, for instance, most of his attached images arrived in my in-box as digital gibberish--page after page of letters and numbers embedded in the e-mail message. After making a few phone calls to his personal tech support (that would be me), he now sends images without any glitches.

Size Is the Problem

If you ever have difficulty e-mailing images, the crux of the problem is almost always the size of the image files that you've attached. When I talk about size in this context, I don't mean the number of megapixels or the dimensions of the image. I mean the file size, usually measured in kilobytes or megabytes, which is how much space it takes to store the image.

Here's why file size matters: Most e-mail services support messages of up to a certain size, like 2MB or 5MB. If you send a message that's larger than the upper limit, then the message will be rejected by the server (resulting in an error message in your e-mail program) or will arrive at the recipient's PC looking like digital spaghetti, extruded into alphanumeric gobbledygook in the e-mail message.

Even if the message makes it all the way through--thanks to a very generous file size limit at your ISP--the results may not be pretty. If you send a huge 5MB image to someone with a dial-up connection to the Internet, it can take them an hour or more to receive your message, tying up the phone line the whole time. Your recipient won't be pleased.

XP Makes It Easy

If you have Microsoft Windows XP, preparing an image for the e-mail journey is pretty simple. Just open the folder with your images and select the ones you want to send. (I usually hold down Ctrl while clicking to make multiple selections.) Then, in the Task Pane on the left side of the screen, click "E-mail the selected items" from within the "File and Folder Tasks" section. You'll see a dialog box that asks if you want to make the pictures smaller or keep the original sizes. Choose to make them smaller if need be; the original images are unaffected when Windows makes e-mail-friendly smaller versions.

After a few moments, you should see miniaturized versions of the selected images appear in a blank message window. Just complete the message and click Send--that's all there is to it.

Resize Using Paint Shop Pro

You can also use your favorite image editor to resize images. To resize a photo in Jasc Paint Shop Pro, for instance, load the picture into the program and then choose Image, Resize from the menu. You'll see the original dimensions at the top of the Resize dialog box. Make sure that the "Lock aspect ratio" option is checked. Enter smaller dimensions in the Pixel Dimensions Width box; the height will adjust automatically if the aspect ratio is locked. (For e-mail I use about 800 by 600 pixels or less.) Save the image as a JPEG--and I suggest that you save it on the Windows desktop with a different file name so you won't accidentally overwrite the larger original. Then attach the file you just resized to your outgoing e-mail.

Of course, to shrink a bunch of photos you could use the batch editing technique I discussed recently.

And if you want to send a full-size image to someone, you can do that as well--just plan ahead so your recipient knows it's coming. And if it doesn't work, it's because one of the e-mail servers along the way balked at such a large file.

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