Sending your travel shots home (or how to not drive your friends & relatives crazy)

There was a time, not long ago, when sharing a visual image of where you were was expressed in a post card. You picked a card or alternatively grabbed a free one from the hotel stationary kit and wrote a few choice lines, perhaps with a scribble or two from the kids and a hearty “Wish you were here!” on the back and off it went, into the mail and hopefully arriving to your loved ones before you returned home.

These days, with digital photos, videos, the internet and smartphones, things have changed quite a bit and we often want to send a quick photo home to share where we’ve been or what we’ve been up to. Let’s go over a few of the methods used to do that and how it can (and in some cases should be done!).

Let’s begin with one of the easiest, yet most misused methods of sending home a picture, the e-mail. Many times people will take a photo, pop the card into their laptop or a hotel computer and send the email with the photo attached straight out of the camera. Noooo, no, no no 🙂 You really don’t want to do that…unless of course you’re shooting under 2 (and even then!). The problem with doing that is that the file size of your photo is HUGE! To give an example, a point and shoot digital camera, shooting at common settings can lead to a photo that has an overly large file size. What that does is make the e-mail you’re sending fat and bloated and take longer over (often slow) hotel internet connections as well as take longer for your recipient to download. What happens is they download a picture that may be 2816 x 2112 pixels (real example of what comes out of one of my point and shoot cameras), several times the resolution of their monitor. What that means is viewing at full size, they will see a tiny portion of your photo instead of the whole thing. Now, most up to date e-mail programs will re-size the photo if it’s too large for the screen, but I think you see where I’m going with this. You have inadvertently sent an e-mail with a huge file in it, they received the overly large file, and then the computer has to re-size it for them to see it. There’s a lot of waste there and you probably already had to answer Grandma or Aunt Betty’s e-mail about why is your picture not showing up or going so slow 🙂

A better way to do that is to  (continued after the jump) re size the picture first and then send a much smaller file. For most purposes either 800 pixels or 1024 pixels is plenty big. If you’re not familiar with pixel sizes a simple way of thinking about it is 800 pixels is like sending a 5×7 photo in the old days, and 1024 is like sending someone an 8×10. (caveat, it’s not really exactly 8×10 and dimensions vary depending on their monitor resolution, the proportions of the picture, etc…).

Once the picture has been re-sized it can be sent and you’ll find it to be much faster sending and the recipient will appreciate it as well.

To re-size pictures there are two avenues to take. One is local, meaning a program on your computer. The other is online. I recommend that if you are using a laptop, to get one of the free programs described below when traveling. Otherwise, if it is an internet based program, you will need to upload the large file, have it re-sized, then download the reduced photo, making a lot of work for you and not saving any time or internet bandwidth.

There are some great programs you can use. The one I use the most when doing quick resizing is Google’s free Picasa. It is a great picture organizer, can do a fair amount of touch up and even allow you to crop your photos. You can also re-size in just a couple clicks. To re-size a photo in Picasa, just select one photo or a whole folder of photos from within Picasa and click the export button on the bottom center of the window. A pop up will appear and you can select “Resize to” and select the number of pixels. For e-mail, I use 800 pixels. Click export and select where you want the photos saved (preferably not in the same folder). That’s it! You’re done!

Another great tool is Xemico’s Photo Gadget. I used to use this a lot. I think I only stopped using it because I upgraded computers and forgot to reinstall it. This gives you an option in your context menu (your right-click menu) to re-size a picture or several pictures on the fly. It’s very straightforward and even has size recommendations to choose from.

I have also used the Faststone Photo Resizer, which works well and is also simple and easy to use.

If you want to share a set of photos with a large number of people, then consider using a service like flickr, facebook, myspace, xanga or a paid account like smugmug. That way you upload the pictures just once and can then send an album link for them to enjoy.

If you are using a smartphone, your choices will be limited, but often that’s because the smartphone has a way to deal with sending photos and the cameras are often (caveat: there are more exceptions every day as phone cameras become more sophisticated) lower pixel than digital cameras. There are a multitude of iPhone photography apps and some are must haves (They’re covered in a separate post).

If you’re working with video, you may fall into one of these two broad categories. The editor, who will shoot, clean up, edit, and assemble a finished video and will upload it to a site like youtube, flikr, vimeo or the like. The other is the casual shooter who wants to shoot something and upload directly without editing to facebook or youtube. In either case, be aware that on the potentially slower connections, like internet shops or hotel internet, you may have varying levels of success. One way to get the message home, while on a slower connection is to edit at a higher resolution and then render it at a lower resolution (youtube 240 or 32o anyone?). You don’t need to fight to try to upload 720 or 1080 HD video if you’re on a slow network. Since you’ve edited at a higher resolution, you can then also render at 720 or 1080 (or whatever you like) and be ready to upload those and replace or supplement your lower res videos when you go home.

Remember that if you’re going to e-mail, keep it light, you can always go big when you get to a faster connection. Anything that is going to be sent to a lot of people is best uploaded to a sharing site, so you only have to send it once.

And don’t forget, enjoy taking your pictures and videos, but don’t forget to travel and live “in the moment”.