Every year personal computers get faster and more capable. Digital cameras are governed by a similar trend, with new models capable of taking photos made up of more and more pixels, the dots or squares a picture consists of. Even inexpensive cameras costing around $100 these days can capture images of five million pixels, or 5 megapixels.
Sometimes it makes sense to take advantage of the size afforded by new technology. But often it's overkill. If you've ever received an overlarge photo e-mailed to you, you know what I mean.
Because of limitations in the size of e-mails set by your Internet service provider -- or that you set through your e-mail program -- you may not even be able to receive such images. If you can receive them, your patience may be tested as you wait for the e-mail to arrive, as it paints itself on your computer screen, or as you scroll to the right or downward to see the entire image.
Large photos can make sense if you're printing them out and particularly if you're making mural-size enlargements, if you're creating slide shows that you'll be projecting onto a large screen, or if you're taking a small part of a photo and enlarging it, cropping out the rest.
But for viewing through e-mail or the Web, the byword is "appropriate" technology. Because of the limitations of computer monitors, smaller photos will be just as attractive as larger ones, and much more convenient for those viewing them.
Digital cameras give you the option of creating larger or smaller photos within certain boundaries, depending on the camera. Setting your camera for smaller photos will let you take more of them using the storage space that your camera provides. But taking larger photos gives you more options to crop out unwanted parts of the image afterward in a photo editing program.
Such programs often give you a host of other options for improving your photos, from brightening a muddy image and correcting its color to artistically combining different photos in a montage or imparting special effects to make the photo look like a watercolor or oil painting.
Popular programs range from Photoshop at the high end to Paint that comes free with Microsoft Windows PCs or iPhoto that comes free with Apple Macs.
A recommended mid-range program is Photoshop Elements, the smaller and less expensive sibling to Photoshop (the Windows version is at www.adobe.com/products/photoshopelwin, the Mac version at www.adobe.com/products/photoshopelmac).
Such programs also let you resize a photo. One rule of thumb is that photos intended to be viewed through e-mail or the Web should be 640 by 480 pixels or smaller. Another guideline, somewhat more liberal, is that the longest dimension, whether height or width, should be no more than 800 pixels.
Regardless of the program you use, make sure you resize both the height and width, and save the result using a new name to avoiding writing over the original in case you need to return to it.
Another option with Windows PCs, particularly convenient for e-mail, doesn't even require a photo editing program. Right-click on the photo's filename, choose Send To Mail Recipient, and select the size (medium or large are best). Windows will resize the photo and attach it to an e-mail message ready to be sent.
One of the most convenient PC innovations in photography is photo sharing Web sites. Instead of having to e-mail digital photos to multiple recipients, you can upload them to the site, create an online slide show with them, and invite people through e-mail to view them, all for free.
These sites make their money by giving viewers the option of buying prints they like as well as coffee mugs and
other items adorned with photos of their choice.
Recommended photo sharing sites include Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com) and Snapfish (www.snapfish.com). Such sites also provide basic photo editing tools that you can use with the photos you uploade, including adjusting size and sharpness and creating a collage.
If you do need to send large digital photos, or any large files, there are better ways of doing this than e-mail. The most convenient are Web sites specifically set up for this. With YouSendIt (www.yousendit.com) and Rapid File Share (www.rapidfileshare.net), you can send files up to 1 gigabyte in size for free.
To send more than one file at a time, you can combine multiple files into a single file using the ZIP file compression protocol included with many programs, including PowerDesk (www.v-com.com) and WinZip (www.winzip.com).
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at email@example.com or www.reidgoldsborough.com.