Why Do My Pictures Show up Sideways (And How Do I Fix Them)?

The Root Cause

The root cause of the problem is that there’s a (relatively) new feature in image files from digital cameras which not all software supports. So an image can look just fine when you preview it (because that program supports the feature), yet when you upload it to the Web, suddenly it appears sideways (because many web browsers don’t)!

The Details

Modern cameras contain sensors that tell their on-board computers which way the camera is being held. When it captures an image, the camera records which way it was oriented (portrait or landscape) in the resulting file, but it always writes the image data itself in landscape (larger dimension horizontal) format.

It is considered the responsibility of any program that displays images to read the orientation information and use it to display the image properly, by rotating things if needed. Unfortunately, many web browsers in particular don’t read the orientation information; they simply assume that the horizontal dimension will always be horizontal (because, prior to the new feature, it was).

The Workaround

The workaround is to rotate the file if needed, so that the horizontal dimension of the image data is always the dimension that should display horizontally.

To do this, I use the free image-manipulation program GIMP. It can read the orientation information, and if it encounters a portrait-mode file, will always ask on reading it if it should be automatically rotated. Always answer no to this question! (This automatic rotation is the feature you want to get the image to display properly with without, after all.)

The result will, of course, be a file that displays sideways. Use the rotation options under the Image… Transform menu to fix the orientation. Then use File… Export As to re-save the result as a new file. The result will be a file that always displays correctly.

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