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Publishing Digital Photos

By Dan Allen

Table of Contents

Step # 1: Download photos
Step # 2: Pick the photos you want to use
Step # 3: Work on a copy of the images
Step # 4: Prepare the images for the web
Step # 5: Email images
Step # 6: Create a web page
Step # 7: Write the text
Step # 8: Link the page to the website
Step # 9: Test the web site
Step #10: Upload files to the web server
Step #11: Email, cleanup, and archive
Step #12: Relax and take a trip
More Details

How Do I Publish My Photos?

It is an involved process. It should be easier, and it will be easier as more and more people get digital cameras and want to share their photos with others because that will mean a larger market and more people will try and solve this problem.

There are many online services already trying to tackle this problem. I know that Yahoo and Kodak and Apple and most likely Microsoft all offer services. They may be right for you, but in my brief experience with them they have not been compelling enough to get me to investigate them further.

The steps listed below typically take about an hour for 20 photos.

Step #1 - Download photos

This is the easy part. Plug in a USB cable from the digital camera into a computer, and then get the photos onto the computer. For Mac OS 9.1 and Windows the digital camera is treated like a hard disk: it pops up on the desktop on the Mac or look for a new drive on a PC, and I simply copy the images as files from the digital camera to the computer by dragging.

Mac OS X makes it even easier by automatically detecting the digital camera being plugged in and it can, if you choose, automatically begin downloading the photos to a preselected folder on your computer. Neat!

I also scan photos using a flatbed scanner or a slide scanner, and these can both be logically thought of as other kinds of digital cameras. These scanner often have their own software which messes things up — but fortunately most digital cameras just deliver JPEG or TIFF files and do little processing of their own.

Step #2 - Pick the photos you want to use

The next step is to browse through your photos and see which ones you want to publish. Delete duplicates or poor images. You will find that digital photo collections grow quickly and it is best to prune early.

Pick the ones with the best facial expressions, etc. Remember that you can crop out what you want later, so this is where you want to look for promising photos. The handiest way to look at the photos for me is to use Windows Explorer on Windows 2000. It is on Windows ME as well but do yourself a big favor and use Windows 2000, not ME. Open the folder of photos and select from the View menu the Thumbnails view. This is slick: it gives 120 by 120 pixel thumbnails of each photo, very quickly. It doesn't modify the files. I select a group of photos to publish by simply control-clicking the files I want.

I haven't found a good program for this on the Mac. The Mac application called GraphicsConverter shows the photos using thumbnails, but it often adds previews to the resource forks of the files and I don't want my files modified at all for a variety of other reasons. You can turn this option off but then you have to keep jumping back and forth between the view of the files in GraphicsConverter and the files themselves on the Mac desktop. The Windows solution is so nice because the thumbnails are the files. "The medium is the message." - Marshall McLuhan

Step #3 - Work on a copy of the images

Once a set of files/photos are chosen, make a copy of the files. Always do this! I often need to go back to an original file and make another copy because of something I have done after the fact that I do not like.

On Windows 2000 with the photos chosen, select Copy from the File menu and create a new folder, and go into that folder and do a Paste. By the way, this is my favorite feature of Windows Explorer, being able to cut and paste files. It is so Mac-like, except the Mac doesn't do it!

On the Mac you can do a drag of the files with the option key down and they will be copied.

You can now work with impunity on the new set of files knowing that if you mess anything up you still have your originals.

Step #4 - Prepare the images for the web

This step takes a long time because there are many parts to it, and it occupies about half the time of this whole process. This is the "digital darkroom" part of the process. One by one plow through the photos and get them in shape. This is all done in Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1 at this time (June 2001). You do this on the Mac or PC since Photoshop runs well on both. I am sure that there are other image editing programs that would work, but the ones that I have tried are all inferior to Photoshop. I only use a small part of Photoshop, but no other program can resize a photograph as well. The Photoshop graphics algorithms are very good. It is an expensive program, but Adobe Photoshop Elements is a $99 scaled down version of the full $600 version of Photoshop and it has the same good interpolation algorithms, etc.
Note: Do not under any circumstances edit your photos with any kind of Microsoft software. Do not let a photo ever get pasted into Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher or Microsoft FrontPage. They are great programs for writing books, printing greeting cards, and well, the first two are great programs but I digress; oh yes, all of these programs will destroy image quality in a number of ways. They change color tables. They make JPEGs into GIFs without asking, their graphics algorithms for dithering and interpolation are poor. If you work for Microsoft and think otherwise, send me a program that you think is great and I'll see if this still holds true. I do not want to make such stern recommendations, but I have tried a lot of these applications over the years and I am appalled at how horrible they are. You have been warned.
Here is what I do to each photo:
  1. Rotate - if the photo was taken vertically in the camera, the photo needs to be rotated 90 degrees so it appears normal on the computer. This is done using the Photoshop command Rotate Canvas found in the Image menu.
  2. Crop - sometimes the best photos are cropped a lot, simplifying the photo and paring it down to the most basic elements. Othertimes all you need to do is remove the date/time stamp I like to have printed by the digital camera, or sometimes the whole picture seems about right in which case I skip this step.
  3. Sharpen - many photos need a bit of sharpening. The amount varies with your digital camera. I either use the Photoshop filter Sharpen or Unsharp Mask to do what I need done. Some photos look better with the slightly softer images that come out of the camera, so I do not do this to every photo, but to most I do.
  4. Color balance - a rare photo perhaps taken under a strange mixture of florescent and incandescent lighting needs color balancing. I will use the color correction controls of Photoshop to do this. They are found in the Image menu, the Adjust submenu. The manual Levels dialog is great for photos that have had their color balance change a lot. We had a ten year old wedding photo that had faded very blue. By using the Levels dialog the photo's color balance was completely restored by simply clicking on the image with 3 tools: a black, a gray, and a white tool. Pick a spot in the photo that should be black and click on it with the black tool, and likewise for 18% gray and for pure white. Voila! Color balance restored in 15 seconds work! Photoshop is great.
  5. Levels and contrast - most photos can stand to have their brightness and contrast adjusted a bit. The Auto Levels tool in Photoshop can do amazing things. Less of a change can be accomplished using the Auto Contrast tool, both also found in the Image menu, the Adjust submenu. Occasionally these are not an improvement and I leave the photo's brightness unchanged — about 1 in 5 photos fall into this category.
  6. Reduce size - up till this point you have been working with the full-sized image so that you can take advantage of all of those megapixels of resolution that you paid for with your slick 3 megapixel camera. These photos are typically 2160 x 1440 pixels in size and are about 1 MB in size as high quality JPEGs, not very friendly for people to download. Here I use the Image Size command from the Image menu in Photoshop. I typically scale landscape-style photos to a width of 640 pixels and let the height be whatever it needs to be to maintain the image proportions. You do not want to squish the photo at this point, so the Constrain Proportions checkbox should always be checked in the Image Size dialog box. A 2160 x 1440 pixel photo thus scales down to 640 x 427 pixels if horizontal in format, and if vertical I make the tall dimension 640 pixels and thus the width comes out to 427 pixels.
  7. Save - finally you are ready the save the photo, usually as a JPEG. If a photo is very small, say 128 x 128 pixels or less, a GIF may be appropriate, especially if you have a lot of little pictures on a page. This is because of the color tables used to show all of the millions of possible colors, but I will not try and explain all of that here. The GIF format is also useful for any graphic (like the flowchart on this page) or for simple artwork. Complex images and all larger photographs are all best saved as JPEG files. A final decision is made at this point: what quality level do you save them as? You have a choice between 1 and 12 with Photoshop, and I use 3-7 and 12 the most. Photoshop shows a preview of how much detail will be lost so I usually just check out each picture individually and depending upon how proud I am of the photo, choose accordingly.
The resulting JPEG files are crisp and sharp and usually are between 25K and 100K in size. They vary because of the content of the images and how the JPEG compression algorithm handles things. Whew!

Step #5 - Email images

At this point the resulting JPEGs are ready to email. This is a great way to distribute a few photos to a few people. Email systems typically limit single email messages to 1 MB in size. JPEG images are sometimes encoded into text and they can double in size behind your back using certain email programs. This means that you can send maybe up to 4 or 5 of our 640x427 pixel JPEG photos in a single email. Anything more than this and you can have problems at a number of points along the email chain.

Emailing an image is easy: create an email and then attach a file using something like the File... item of the Insert menu found in many Microsoft email programs, address the mail, always add a subject as a nice courtesy for your readers, and then SEND! Expect your internet pipe to be clogged for a bit if you have a modem as the large file leaves your computer and finds its way to friends and family.

Step #6 - Create a web page

Why a web site?

Unless your photos are very private and you want to restrict their access, a web site is a better way to distribute photos than email. Why? A web page wraps the photos with a nice format called HTML that allows you to have a nice background, links to other sites, and so on. It is a richer, nicer medium in which to present photos. A more important reason is because of this common scenario: somebody asks you for some photos of an event that you took pictures at. You email them the photos, sending a few MB of stuff out through your slow modem. Someone else hears that you took some photos and they want them: you send another few MB of photos. And so on, until you have sent the very same photos a zillion times to a zillion people, tying up your internet connection for a long time if you have a slow connection, but also contributing to a lot more internet traffic that slows everything down. If everyone did this all the time, the internet would come to a stop. It just does not scale up to large groups of people, hence web sites.

Learn HTML

Creating a web page is pretty easy, and there are many ways to do it. I would recommend not creating web pages using Microsoft Word or AppleWorks or Publisher or FrontPage or other canned programs. Learn HTML, the HyperText Markup Language. You will need it sooner or later. Learn HTML.
The best starter book in 2001 was HTML 4 for the World Wide Web Visual Quickstart Guide by Elizabeth Castro, available at for a mere $12.00! (price as of 13 June 2001). By 2016 it has been expanded and renamed to HTML and CSS: Visual QuickStart Guide (8th Edition) and now is $28 at Amazon.
HTML is a set of codes that specify where pictures go, what web page to go to when you click someplace, and how text is to appear (bold, italic, tables, etc.). HTML is just text, so any text editor can be used. When the web was first won back in '95, people used the Windows Notepad program and put this cute logo on their web pages:

On the PC I still sometimes use Windows Notepad, but because I am also programming a lot I now mainly use a program called TextPad. On the Mac I used to use the single best piece of software ever created, the MPW Shell, but it has been abandoned by Apple for Xcode. I now use Eddie on the Mac to do my web page writing. Check out my Text Editors page for more info.

My HTML Tool

After I had created a few dozen web pages I realized how I liked my web pages setup and I realized that I was doing a lot of manual editing of web pages, so I wrote a software tool to automatically create a single HTML web page that uses my folder of photographs. This tool, which I so originally named html was written using the C programming language and runs on Windows, Macs, and Unix machine, (hence Mac OS X as well since it is really now a Unix more than a Mac). It looks at the actual dimensions of each GIF or JPEG by opening the photo files and then creates a custom HTML text file that has the appropriate IMG SRC tags. This program thus creates pages based on a hardwired template of how I like web pages to look.

Step #7 - Write the text

Now we have a web page with beautiful photos, but no descriptive text. It is time to fill in the text. My html tool puts placeholder text in so I know where to write my prose. For this I have one window up with Safari showing the web page we just created, and I have another window up with the text editor (Eddie) showing the HTML text. I then edit the text like I was writing a book, frequently saving and then clicking over to the web browser and doing a refresh to see how it looks. I go through the photos, usually presented in chronological order, and write those things that I want to about the photos. I bring up an HP-42 calculator to figure out numbers, use Excel to sort through data, use Wikipedia or Google to check facts, and use Apple's built-in Dictionary to look up definitions. At this stage I have a lot of windows on the screen, so a large monitor with at least 1280 x 1024 pixels really helps here. (That was written in 2001. Now in 2016 I have 1920 x 1080 pixels everywhere, and on some machines 3360 x 2100 pixels.) Of course I listen to music using iTunes while I do this. (My Mac and PC are inches apart.)

Writing text takes about half the time of this whole process, but of course it is one of the most fun!

Step #8 - Link the page to the website

Now you have a new web page, complete with text and photos. It looks great and now needs to be incorporated into the rest of the site. For simple sites all you need to do here is to place a link on your home page to the new content. Once the page is "in context", you may think of other links to add in your site. Other pages may need to now point to the new page, like my trip summary page needs to add a link to the new page, or the new trip needs to be added to the trip summary page, or both!

This step may also require the new page and photos to be moved into your local copy of the web site. A website only needs one file, a file named index.html. This file is simply the starting point for your web. Adding a link to your new page is as simple as adding a line something like this to index.html:

<A HREF="NewPage.htm">Click here</A>

The "Click here" will be the only thing shown, and it will have a line under it that when clicked will take you to NewPage.htm, a possible name for the new file that we created in step #6.

Step #9 - Test the web site

Your site is done, or so you think. Test the site for the following items: There is more testing to come later.

Step #10 - Upload files to the web server

Now you can see the web site on your computer, but you want to move the photos to your web site so other people can see it too. I must be a bit vague on how to do this because each ISP differs, but I'll tell you how this proceeds for me.

First, connect to the internet in your usual way. This is the first time we have had to connect to the internet in this process, unless you used Google along the way.. Next bring up a command prompt on a PC running Windows 2000 and type the following:

  1. cd Docs\DKAWeb\ - sets the source directory on our local computer (your path will be different)
  2. ftp - the venerable File Transfer Protocol file copy tool, part of Unix, Windows 2000, and Mac OS X
  3. prompt - turns off prompts
  4. binary - essential for transferring JPEGs
  5. cd public_html - sets the target directory on the other computer.
  6. mput NewPage* - copies all files that start with NewPage (your names will be different)
  7. bye - end the file transfer session. You're done!
There are graphical solutions to do this file copy, with programs like Interarchy on the Mac, and CuteFTP on the PC, but I am used to the old command line format.

It is time to test once again by bringing up the actual web site (as opposed to my local copy of the site) and check to see that all of the files made it there and display correctly. This is also a good time to get an idea how long it will take other people to view your page. It is a lot slower than using the local copy.

Step #11 - Email, cleanup, and archive

Okay, you are done! If you stop here, you will have a great site and nobody will know about it. If a website falls in a forest will anybody hear it? You better email people. Here is the big win with a website: you can email a tiny (under 1K) email to a zillion people with a short pointer to the website. When somebody else wants to see your photos, just mail them the URL of the site and they can see things.

The best way to send URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) is to type them on a line by themself in an email. The URL of this page is:

Email programs all wrap text at 72 to 76 characters for historical reasons and they will assuredly cut your URL in half and then people cannot click on it easily.

Cleanup temporary files or versions of files that are no longer part of the final site, so as to not get confused as to what is good and what is unneeded.

Remember to burn a CD-ROM of your site to keep for posterity. CDs are $0.30 apiece, and remember, a burn a day keeps the disk doctor away.

Step #12 - Relax and take a trip!

Whew. It is time to take a break and what better way than to go on a trip and take more photos!

There are too many steps to the current process. I am working on software that will streamline the process.

More Details

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about building web sites, check out, a great web community of photographers. If you like a blend of nice pictures and details about computers, databases, and website programming, check out the book Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing by Philip Greenspun, the creator of

Or browse the internet using the best search engine around, Google.

Or read Digital Camera Recommendations by Dan Allen.

Or go back to Dan Allen's home page.

Thanks to Anne Madsen for asking me how I got my photos on the web. I think this answer was more than she wanted, but I learned a lot from writing it up.

Back to Dan's Home Page

Created:  13 Jun 2001
Modified: 27 Aug 2016