Senior Citizens Most Asked Questions: How do I work with Digital Pictures?


Digital Picture Fundamentals

We get a lot questions from senior citizens about pictures.  It seems one of the more enjoyable aspects of computers, sharing pictures with your loved one, is also the most frustrating!  No wonder, though it is pretty easy to see a picture, there is quite a bit of technology under the covers.  Fortunately, you don’t need to know it all;  we will clarify some of the mystery.

In the next couple of posts we will answer questions such as:

  • What are digital photographs?
  • How do you move and store pictures?
  • What is an easy way to organize photographs?
  • How do you edit digital pictures?

What are digital photographs?

You can think of pictures as a mosaic.  Essentially a digital picture is just a grid of colored dots, that when viewed from afar, appear as a single image; your TV works this way.  In fine art this is known as pointillism.  Seurat’s Un Dimanche a la Grande Jatte (AKA “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”) is an excellent example of this concept.  Each of these dots is known as a pixel.   These are the same pixels camera manufacturers talk about when they refer to their cameras as “5.0 mega pixel” cameras.  What they are saying is their camera’s photos  are made up of five million dots.

Since digital photos consist of so many dots, there are different formats to help make them smaller.  When you first take a picture with your camera, the picture is stored in “raw” format.  Every dot is stored, which takes up a lot of space.

The most common format is JPEG (Joint Photo Experts Group)  ; this format compresses your picture so it is much smaller.  Instead of storing each individual pixel the camera captured, a compressed picture approximates pixels.  It combines pixels together, slightly changes the color, and at normal compression settings, leaves the picture’s general appearance unaltered.  The big benefit to using JPEG is that photo sizes are dramatically reduced, making it much faster to transfer pictures and taking up much less space.

In addition to JPEG and Raw, there are some other pictures formats you may come across.  Listed below are some of those formats and their main purpose:

  • BMP – Windows Bitmap – These files are uncompressed and very large.  The simplicity of this format makes it useful across many programs.
  • GIF – Graphics Interface Format – This format can only store 256 colors.  It isn’t good for color photographs, but suitable for diagrams, or simple graphics.  You’ll mostly come across this file format on website elements. It is also used for clipart.
  • PNG – Portable Network Graphics format is a successor to the GIF format.  It is good at compressing pictures containing large areas of the same color.  Also it doesn’t have the color constraint you see with GIF.
  • TIFF – Tagged Image File Format – Your scanner may save a scanned photo in this format.

If you want to know even more, then check out the Image File Formats Wikipedia article.  Again, I think you’ll mostly use JPEG, so don’t get too concerned about the many formats.

In our next article we’ll delve into the mechanics of moving pictures to and from your computer and our recommended way to organize your photos.  In the meantime, if you have questions, please let us know.  We are always happy to assist.

Previous post:

Next post: