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When we use a phone to take a picture, often there is no obvious right side up, especially if you're holding it sideways in landscape mode.

A very experienced photographer who is tech savvy sent a smartphone picture to someone who is on SBC. It arrived upside down. Any explanation please?

In this excerpt from Answercast #65, I look at various ways that smartphone pictures can end up sideways or upside down when viewed on a computer.

Upside down pictures?

Yea, there's a couple.

For the most part, smartphones often have what they consider to be a "right-side up." In other words, they expect the camera to be held a certain way or the phone to be held a certain way when taking a photograph. That then becomes "up and down."

The problem is that for many phones, what you and I might consider to be "right side up" - isn't - or it's arbitrary.

Which way is up?

When you take a look at a phone (other than the scenario where you're actually using it as a phone), very often there is no obvious right side up, especially if you're holding it in what I would call "landscape mode" - sideways.

Whether you twist it to the right or to the left makes no difference to you or me - and quite often no difference to the software in the phone. But, the phone may still have a concept of:

  • Twist it this way and you're right side up;

  • Twist it the other way and you're upside down.

Many phones (and I believe most actually these days) try and automatically sense which way you're holding the phone.

They have a little accelerometer in there that actually will tell whether the phone is being held twisted right ways, or left way. They'll automatically sense that down is down and they'll adjust the photograph accordingly.

So, the chances are it will be right side up when it gets to you.

Unfortunately, that doesn't always work. It doesn't always work correctly. And it gets further complicated because very often the software on the receiving side (whatever software is being used to display the photograph) may not interpret the photograph correctly. It may in fact try to do its own version of "I think this is the way it should be." And it could be wrong.

Sideways phone pictures

We see this a lot.

You see this all the time, actually, with smartphone pictures that have been uploaded to Facebook (or some place like that) and they'll be uploaded sideways - because the software assumes that all photographs are done sideways, in landscape mode, and not in portrait mode.

So you end up having to twist your head to actually see the photograph.

Rotate graphically

The good news is that most viewing software has quick ways to actually rotate the photograph: either 90 degrees (right or left), or 180 degrees (to turn it all upside down.)

The software that I use is FastStone Image Viewer. But, like I said, most viewers have some kind of an option for this: it's a keystroke or two to turn it or adjust it.

I think in FastStone's case, just typing "R" or "L" will rotate the photograph 90 degrees right or left - and it will actually allow you to then save the result of that if you want to or leave the photograph unmodified; leave it however FastStone found it.

It is a common problem. There's no common thread to it.

Different phones and different cameras treat things different ways. That's sort of unfortunate - and kind of the nature of the fact that cell phones, smartphones, can be held any number of different ways.

So, the best I can offer to you is to make sure that whatever software you're using to view the photograph has the ability to rotate it appropriately (so that it makes sense to you). Then consider saving that rotated copy as a copy (so that you're not disturbing the original) and then use that rotated copy, that looks correct, for whatever it is you are wanting to do with the photograph.

Article C5964 - October 28, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

October 30, 2012 10:14 AM

And they call them Smartphones??!! Good info, Leo, about photo correction software such as FastStone. I use it regularly when editing my pics.The answer to the "wrong way" uploads is to check and edit before sending!

October 30, 2012 11:53 AM

Also happens on any camera equipped iPod.

Colin Gillie
October 31, 2012 11:30 AM

Great answer for Photos but what about videos on a Smartphone?

Good question, and I'm not sure of a good answer. I know that there is video editing software that will rotate a video, but it's not something I'd expect the average consumer to use. I guess I'd recommend learning the nuances of your phone and shooting in whatever position works properly for it.

Billy Bob
October 31, 2012 2:02 PM

I had a video rotation problem, and was able to solve it with a free program called AVIDemux. It is an open source (read geek) video editing program that I would not describe as user friendly. It took a lot of patience to figure it out. But it can rotate videos, the only reason I keep it.

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