Pixel: What You See Is Not What You Get!

Viewing the image contained inside a JPEG file is unlikely exactly as the digitized image originally created by your camera’s lens, sensor, and processor. What you see on your LCD screen has been grossly enlarged.  And, the image recreated by the display subsystem has been manipulated during the process to adapt the original onto its screen.

That image may have looked awesome on a smart-phone’s small LCD screen, but when that same file is viewed on a PC’s display-monitor, it somehow looks less appealing. Why?

My take: The primary reason may well be that the original image was captured using a tiny photo-sensor module. And, image quality is inversely proportional to the amount of enlargement (magnification) of the original image.

Digitization of the original capture temporarily held within the photo-sensor is where picture elements (pixels*) are created from a matrix of tens of millions of individual micro photo-sensors.  Some modules contain over 20 million individual micro-sensors; arranged horizontally and vertically in various aspect ratios.

The resultant matrix of of pixels produced and recorded into the JPEG file by the camera’s processing unit replicates an amazingly physically very small, thumbnail size 2-dimenional image matching the physical size and shape of the sensor module’s array of micro-sensors.   A smart-phone’s sensor module is much smaller than a typical digital camera.  The larger sensor modules found in full-sized DSLRs produce a more meaningful sized array, but even these represent an image just 1.5” x 1” in approximate size.

The digitized file from these small sensors hence represents that matrix of pixels at its original high density-resolution, often exceeding over 20,000 pixels per inch. I know of no displayable device that can replicate and view this image without some degree of pixel manipulation. I also doubt it can be directly printed on even the best photo papers at its original size and density. And besides, even if you could display it, you would likely need a powerful magnifying glass to examine any detail of the image.  The matrix of pixels must be altered to match the display subsystem’s  own matrix and to enlarge the the captured photo.

Smart phones have small flat display screens. The newest screens can boast as high as 500 pixels per inch. Hence, photos sourced from its own tiny camera sensor almost always look best when viewed on the same smart-phone’s screen. After all, the image has been enlarged the least, sometimes only (sic) ten times or so.

For example, my Galaxy’s digitized image file is 16MP specifically arranged 5312 x 2988 via its tiny CMOS sensor, which has a photo sensor density of over 25,000 photo sensors per inch.  Its LCD 5.7″ subsystem offers a resolution exceeding 500 pixels per inch arranged 2560 x 1440, the same aspect as its sensor module.  Hence, it’s pixel manipulation process to display the digitized image is the least obtrusive of almost any other display subsystem.

To fill the screen of my 23” PC LCD wide-screen PC monitor, the JPEG image needs to be enlarged 85 times. And, somehow the original’s pixels need to be manipulated because my monitor can only display 1920 x 1080 pixels.   If I tried to display that on my 55” HDTV screen, it needs to be enlarged over 200 times.   Rare to say the least, I’m lucky with this particular smartphone because no cropping, trimming, or stretching of the image is required when using my own external display subsystems.

No fret: Despite drastic enlargements and/or post processing pixel-manipulations, the resultant presentation by almost all flat-screen display systems is more than not, still quite impressive.  But, what is produced may just lack the punch experienced when first viewed on the small screen of the originating camera.

*   Click here for definition of “pixel.”



Editorial: Smartphone Photography

If one would be able to count the number of photo snapshots taken and shared daily by all types of cameras, smart-phones likely exceed all other types by magnitudes. After all, they have the advantage that millions are in the hands or pockets of humans that are ready, willing, and eager to snap-way. And, they do it with vigor and publish them on worldwide via social-media with ease.

Meanwhile, serious photographers, professional and/or hobbyists invest millions of dollars in top-end camera and photographic accessories. Always seeking to better the image quality and improve their yield of artwork to be more worthy to enlarge, display, and/or publish. Clearly, image quality is proportional the size of the photo-sensor and glass optics.

The smart-phone’s built-in camera technology and editing-archiving-sharing software has improved to where it begins to encroach into the realm of top-end camera photography, both stills and video.   Likewise, top-end camera technology has improved its own technology and even incorporated built-in image sharing capability that encroaches into the smart-phone’s realm.   High-end cameras with integrated fast zoom lens optics have been reduced in size and made easier to handle.

At this stage, the realm of the smart-phone’s camera will unlikely suppress the high-end camera realm, and visa versa. Here’s what I conclude:

Most people can live their life entirely with only the smart-phone camera. Home movies and sharable family snapshots will prevail.   Professional photographers will always be around for wall-worthy and commercial work. Movie making and the evolving virtual-imagery will likely remain a novelty in any smart-phone evolution but otherwise left to high-end equipment.   I suspect, however, the number of photographic “hobbyists” willing to invest in high-end photographic tools will be reduced. It’s a matter of diminishing returns; the price and learning investment in high-end photography is substantial in order to out perform what smart-phones are beginning to do.

In my case, the rate and number of my photos taken and archived has increased substantially. But, the numbers of photos taken with my top end photo equipment has been almost negligible in comparison.

I look less and less to upgrade my DSLR bodies and less in buying new optics. I bring the big gear out for purposeful cases, formal photoshoots, architectural commercial situations, etc.

I find that many smart-phone images can be tweaked and made into a terrific piece of art, some even wall-worthy. Built-n features like HDR, panoramic, selective-focus, photographic filters, special effects are easy to invoke and use. The latest smart-phones sometimes include OIS, fast optics, offer RAW, manual modes, even dual lens.  These photographer features will usually satisfy many hobbyists.   Sharing and printing can be done wirelessly and the free “Apps” can provide Photoshop-like editing and enhancing on images.  A hobbyist quick snapshot can be turned into a piece of art.

I am well aware that no matter how smart-phone camera technology advances, it cannot match the potential image and artistic capability of the large sensor/big glass photographic equipment when manned by experienced artisans.   Photographic equipment is a mere toolset of artists and craftsmen. The more sophisticated, flexible, and assorted the toolset, the better the artist can perform. A smart-phone is just another item to be added to an artist’s visionary toolset. Alone, a smart-phone is inadequate, for example: lacking a large glass-optic, “bokeh” is limited.

While smart-phone cameras have been a good addition to a photographer’s toolset, it has exposed a new issue. Just like most everyone, I now take so many photos that managing the collection has emerged as the single major drawback of smart-phone cameras. Similarly, all my friends and families have shared so many photos via social media like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. Hobbyist like to share their images with other hobbyists and now, it’s difficult to separate hobbyists from the masses for snapshot jockeys.

All in all, I am happy to be a smart-phone camera junkie and photography hobbyist..



Digitizing Old Color Film Negatives

Assuming you refuse to mail or take a few old color negatives to a film processor and pay for the service, you will need the right equipment and lots of patience. Likewise, you do not want to invest any money and learning time in film-scanner hardware and special software.   So, all you need is a digital camera, PC with a photo-editor.  Latest iterations of  smart-phones work too.   Negatives can be done manually digitized in just three easy steps:  1) Take a close-up/macro digital photo of the original negative, 2)  Invert the Colors on the digital Image within photo-editor and then,   3)  Crop and touch up the image using a photo-editor.  Here is a more detailed explanation:

Step 1 – You will need to be a bit creative in order for you to take a good close-up photo of your negative. It’s the most important step. It would be best that you have the proper “light-table” equipment to insure the negative is back-lit with the proper color-temperature lamp while being held uniformly flat. Lacking this, a primitive way is to tape the negative to a piece of glass with a piece of mat white translucent paper on the backside. Experimentation is suggested, the better the digital photo the better the result. I use a 100mm macro lens on my Canon EOS with a preset holding technique against a skylight with a plastic or paper diffuser. I use an even more primitive setup when I take a quick snap of a negative (or slide) using my Galaxy Note 5 smart-phone. I create RAW image files when using the Canon. Even though the newest smart-phone can create raw image, standard full-sized JPEG files work just fine.


Example Photo of negative taken by DSLR camera




20160405_161900_smartphone_orig   Example photo of negative taken by smart-phone

Step 2 – The colors of the image within the negative are the obviously opposite to what is normally viewed in a photograph (positive.)   The must be inverted. The full-sized original photo-file taken in Step 1 needs to get transported into a PC that has a photo-editing software application (program) installed. I use Photoshop CS and Elements but almost all editing software have a color “invert” function.   Even free editors (like Goggle’s “Picassa”) have this capability too. Smart-phone users can download free “apps” like Photoshop Express” that have the feature too so the image file can be processed on the same smart-phone as what took the photo.



Example of color inverted image via Photoshop editor:







Example of color inverted JPEG image via smart-phone ‘s built-in editor app:



Step 3 – Unfortunately, a simple color invert of the original photo seldom is ready to show, print, or archive. The colors are unlikely correct and the image needs cropping, straitening, and trimming.  A photo-editor will usually have tools to correct these and also have other functions to correct contrasts, exposure, etc.    Most likely, the original film negative was photographed in Step 1 using lighting unlike the lighting at the time that the original negative was snapped.  For example, it may have been taken in mid-day sunlight while the close-up of the negative was shot using a tungsten lamp bulb in a light-box. Hence the inverted image colors are unlikely correct.   Further, fifty year-old negatives may have lost or shifted its color profiles.  So, after “cropping/trimming” the original image into your desired size-shape, the primary work needed in Step 3 is to correct and/or enhance the resultant final photo colors.  A photo-editor must be used to color-balance the general color-temperature of the image and make any other corrections.  Some editors makes this easy and have “Auto-Color-Correct” functions and correcting tools.


Example: Final digitized photo via DSLR camera using Photoshop:


Example: Final digitized photo using a smart-phone:





Resizing, Cropping, and Trimming


For any off-camera photo image printing, editing, and general touch-up, it’s critical that one start by using the original* full-sized photo image file that is, the first possible un-corrupted digital file available from the camera.

An image contained in a JPEG file will display beautifully on any PC, Mac, Tablet, or smart phone screen and, will be automatically resized and/or cropped to fit and adapt to the device’s screen specs and/or the criteria of an application-program currently in control. This is completely transparent; For example: A JPEG file from a new DSLR camera may contain a 6000×4000 canvas**.   Despite a different shape and resolution, the image in this JPEG file displays perfectly on a Galaxy smart-phone’s 5” widescreen screen and also on my PC’s old VGA CRT monitor. …Amazing!

Before adjusting the file size, shape of image, or size of image, one must first ask: Is the image need resizing or does the file itself need to be resized?

File resizing: Sometimes the original JPEG file size is way too big, that is, is comprised of too many digital bytes and bits; typically too big for texting and/or, takes up too much disk space.   Unfortunately, you cannot, repeat, cannot reduce the size of the JPEG file without impacting (corrupting) the image file it contains. There are three ways to downsize a too-big JPEG file. The first is to increase the JPEG files bit compression. Do not lower the quality/compression level more than 50% of the original Image Quality option setting. Any reduction reduces the quality-purity level of the image but keeps the images original size/shape/resolution. Using Photoshop or other editing software, always use “save-as” with a new file-name.   The other ways to reduce file size is the impact the actual image size and/or shape contained within the file.

Resizing Image: Reduction of the image file in terms of pixel resolution is another way to reduce the file size. This is called “down-sampling.” Some photo editing software tools also allow one to increase size (resolution) too. Obviously any resolution increase will the also increase the new file size. Any resolution (ppi) changes do not impact image’s original shape/aspect ratio. Resizing by changing resolution (ppi) is in effect changing the canvas** size of the image. This is pixel manipulation and downsizing by photo-editing software tools is quite efficient, upsizing is not. In Photoshop, use the “image-size” function and specify a smaller (or larger) and “resample”. Again, it’s best to “save-as” with a new file name so you can salvage the “original” file.

For example: An original image inside a big JPEG file may have been 6000×4000 pixels. This would be capable of printing with excellent detail onto a big 20”x 13” canvas (photo-paper) at 300ppi. Cutting the canvas in half by reducing the resolution would result in an image file containing the same image albeit on a smaller canvas at 3000×2000 pixels. The lower resolution image would be limited to print onto a smaller 10”x 7”canvas in order to retain similar quality and detail.

Cropping for Printing: Cropping*** an original image inside a big JPEG file may have been 6000×4000 pixels and trimming is almost always required when preparing a photo file for printing. The shape of the camera’s sensor (as contained in the original photo-file) is more than likely unable to fit onto a standard photo-paper size.

For example: An image inside a smart-phone’s original JPEG file may have been 2500×2000 pixels. It must be cropped to a 2500×1667 image to fit onto a 6” x4” photo-paper. The resolution remains unchanged. The size of the JPEG file will be reduced.

Cropping for Composition: The original image may have a subject that is better viewed if centered or visa-versa. Or, there may be an annoying item on the sides in the image. Cropping (out) sections and/or enlarging a particular area are often desirable with or without cropping for a certain print-paper aspect ration. When done to the extreme and the original is at a high resolution, cropping is a way to substitute for a telephoto lens. I do it often. An original image inside a big JPEG file may have been 6000×4000 pixels. Cropping and trimming impacts the canvas, not the resolution. Image quality is not impacted albeit, cropping effectively is like magnifying the image.


Trimming: When only minor crops are performed and without any drastic shape changes, it’s called “trimming.”

* Original Full-Size Image File: All digital cameras create a digitized image in its full size and shape that matches the camera physical sensor. That image is digitized and saved within a photo-file that is formatted in an industry-standard way, most often a JPEG type. The first straight out-of-the-camera photo-file is considered the “original full-sized” photo. In reality, the camera’s on-board computer-processing unit likely modifies the original captured image information before it presents the JPEG.   Some of these modifications can be drastic, changing the size, and shape, as well as the image itself. Smart cameras even have post-processing and effects that a user can automatically apply and, this is really replaced the actual original. So, a tip to the wise: Check your camera’s settings.   Also note that professional cameras usually provide “RAW” files containing unformatted bit-by-bit photon data that matches exactly what was recorded in the physical sensor. This is the optimum “original” and can be viewed, edited, and converted into a JPEG file by using the camera manufacturer’s supplied custom software tools.

**  I use “canvas” to put “crop” terminology in perspective. A photographer places an image on a canvas just as an artist paints a creative image onto a real canvas.   The camera’s original canvas “size” is depicted/measured in “pixels” that is, picture-elements rather than in inches/centimeters. The canvas’ “aspect ratio” is the relationship to its horizontal & vertical dimensions. A camera’s canvas size is its starting dimensions conforming to its photocell arrangement in the camera’s sensor and contained in its original output photo-file.

*** Cropping” means a cutout of the canvas. This is akin to taking a scissors to the canvas and cutting out the part that one wishes to preserve.


Printing: How Big?

Printing: How Big? Aspect Ratios – Resolution – Size

After having discovered one of your photos looks awesome when shown on your smart-phone screen, consider printing it big and proudly display it on your wall.

Before you commit to printing, mounting, and framing, you best consider just how big can you make the enlargement-print?  Four topics should be considered before determining the maximum printing size that can be derived from your JPEG photo file:

Image Resolution*: In digital photography, a “pixel” is the tiniest element identified in an image. The higher the density (pixels per square inch) the better the detail and visa-versa. Image quality on enlargements is best when its diagonal pixel density exceeds 200 pixels per inch. For example: an advertised 8MP (mega-pixel) DSLR camera typically provides an image with pixels arranged horizontally and vertically in a standard 3:2 aspect-ratio, that is, an image pixel layout of 3600h x 2400v. When printed on a 6”x4” common photo print paper, it would have a diagonal pixel density exceeding 600ppi, way better than needed. However when enlarged/cropped and printed onto standard 20”x16” print paper, the density would drop to about 150ppi which may not be best for hanging on the wall. ….So, I suggest for an 8-12MP camera, one should not consider anything bigger** than 14”x11”.

Standard print-paper sizes: There are numerous photo printing, matting, mounting, and framing shops that will provide custom sizes that allow the shape of the print to match exactly that of the original camera sensor. However, normal printing shops mostly use industry-standard photo-paper, mat/mounting, and frame sizes. Anything other than the common/standard sizes can prove to be expensive. If your camera’s sensor shape/aspect-ratio matches your desired print/enlargement size, you are in luck.   But, more commonly, standard print paper sizes force most to “crop” or stretch/deform the original image to fit onto standard sized paper. In the USA, the most common print paper and frame sizes are: 6”x 4″, 7”x 5”, 10”x 8”, 14”x 11″, 20″x 16”.

Aspect Ratio: The shape (horizontal and vertical arrangement of the pixels) is determined by the camera’s sensor. When printing onto popular/standard sized media, one must consider if and how any cropping is required. Otherwise, you might be disappointed that the print looks so different then you envisioned. For example, quite a few smart-phones produce images shaped in a 4:5 aspect ratio. This is great for a 8×10 standard print but requires cropping for the 4”x 6 print. Some smart-phones output JPEG images in a 16:9 aspect and most always require cropping pre-processing consideration. Don’t be surprised in the results if you leave this to the printer.

Personal Image-Quality Tolerance: After you have determined your maximum print size, the expected image quality may or may not meet your expectations. If you chose the image to print because it looked fantastic when viewed on the 4” LCD screen of your smart-phone, an enlarged printed image may look fuzzy, noisy, blurry, off-colors, and overall dull. Any imperfection resulting from your camera’s tiny sensor will be exposed when enlarged. These are almost always hidden when displayed on a smart-phones tiny LCD screen. **So, assuming an 8-12MP camera can produce a good 11”x 14” print, if tiny sensors ( smart-phones) are involved, one might better be restricted to 8”x 10”.

* WARNING: Image Files produce/saved by smart-phones, point&shoot camera, even DSLRs should be set at their highest resolution, native size-shape, and at its highest “quality.”   The device’s factor default set-up/configuration should be periodically confirmed. Let’s avoid the common occurrence that a user modified these camera parameters and found their camera was taking only thumbnail-sized photos….


Color in Photos: Viewing & Printing

The Norm: Millennials mostly view photography on bright screens in smart-phones, tablets, PCs, or even on TVs. These back-lit devices use Red, Green and Blue lights directed onto a dark/blackish background. Most all of the colors that humans can see are created from combinations of these RGB primary lights being transmitted directly to our eyes. When processing/preparing or viewing a photo file for every-day purposes, Android, Windows, and iMac software perform best when operating under its default standard RGB color environment (sRGB.)  JPEG formatted photo files using this same sRGB 8-bit standard are the created by cameras, archived, and used in email and/or posting on web pages (internet.)   The file contains all the photo’s colors pixel-by-pixel in a standardized “sRGB” digitization so that everybody’s display/monitor can produce the same visual color impact as what was taken by the camera, processed and observed by the originator.

Printing: Unfortunately, colors and “punch” are different when printing that JPEG.  Photos that may have been awesome when viewed on your smart-phone sometimes look dull after you printed them.   The reason: When looking at a sheet of white paper, our eyes receive a balanced combination of colored light being reflected off the paper’s surface. White parts of paper reflect most of the white-light provided by the Sun (or by the lights in the room.) If the surface is covered by colored Ink, that part reflects a different color combo. So sRGB values embedded in a photo file must be cross-referenced to something that is “similar” when reflected off a white paper.  A locally attached ink-jet type printer product integrates conversion software that adapts the sRGB color info contained in the JPEG file into its own native ink formulas/pigmentation/dye to best match the photo-paper characteristics. Similarly, outside photo printer shops like Snapfish, Wallgreens, etc. also expect sRGB and JPEG files and tune their hard-copy printing Ink mix accordingly.

COMMERCIAL printing: When supplying press-ready photo or image files to commercial printing operations (for magazines, publishers, and/or printing by external photo/image connoisseurs,) different rules for processing and archiving apply, especially for color.   All printers may not use the identical ink formulations and paper types. Further their sRGB conversion algorithms may differ. Hence a JPEG photo may print in a magazine color-wise different than the photographer viewed on a display. Some printers may require the originator to provide something other than an sRGB JPEG file, specifically a format employing 16-bit color rather using an industrial standard CMYK color gamut, typically TIFF type and extremely large.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black). CMYK, or 4-color processing, is the industrial standard for printing. The idea is that white is the natural state of a sheet of print paper. Cyan, magenta and yellow (inks) combine to cover up the white in varying degrees and combinations, producing every possible intermediate color imaginable.

Some photo professionals opt to use special CMYK display monitors and have cameras that can take photos using the CMYK color gamut rather than sRGB.   CMYK 16-bit color photo files, when displayed on normal monitors and tablets produce colors that are quite subdued.

Smart-Phone Cameras

Can my smart-phone take professional-like publishable photos?

Simple answer; yes!


Built-in camera technology in the latest iPhone and Android devices has evolved dramatically. Optical image stabilization, dual-pixel focusing, fast lens, fast digital processing and noise control, and even in-camera post processing are impressive features. These newer devices can produce photographs way more substantial than selfies and vacation-trip snapshots. There are millions and millions of these images viewable via social media some that are breathtaking on the small LCD screens.

Professional photographers have been forced to up their game to offer better imagery. So, their equipment has also advanced in technology, and maybe their artistic and digital skills have been forced to improve too. Mastering the artistry of photography understanding bokeh, lighting, special optics, shooting angles, and post-processing craftsmanship separate the masters from the ordinary.

Professional or not, the best equipment (camera) that a photographer needs to capture a prize-winning image is always the one that he has in his hand. Now days, most of us carry a smart-phone 100% of the time. …. So use it.

It does not matter if it was by-accident or you spent hours in your composition and setup.When you see that you have captured a breathtaking photo with your smart-phone camera, I’m sure you want to do more than just texting it to your friends.

Warning: An image may look terrific when viewed on the small-LCD screen of your smart-phone but may or may not look great when viewed on a large PC or tablet screen and may look entirely different when printed on photo-paper.

No matter what your intended final disposition, the first thing is to locate and find the “fill-sized” original image file, likely in a JPEG file. If your smart-phone camera settings were improper, this item has been destroyed. The image viewed may be a modified reduced-size item that has little chance of being publishable. If your smart-phone claims to have an 8MP camera, the deliverable original image file should be 8MP.


T&C Digital Photography

Founded in 2004, T&C DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY is staffed by an award-winning New Hampshire based team with over fifty combined years in serious photography.

….Check our blog posts for photography tips.

Traditional & Creative photography and graphics-design hobbyists create imagery for Portraits, Events, Sports, Product, Architecture, Business, and Motorsports. Imagery combines photography, photojournalism, graphics-design, artistry, and digital expertise.  Photos held in this website bring focus to the natural beauty of the state of New Hampshire, its people, and lifestyle.  Phone us at 603-529-3574 or Contact us at info@tcdigital.net.