Working with digital pictures

Photo printing once required a darkroom or a professional photo lab—not to mention advanced training. But in the last decade, digital cameras and computers have revolutionized the field of photography, making it possible for anyone to print photos at home. In this article, you'll learn how the tools in Windows can help you view, organize, and print your digital pictures.

Getting pictures from your camera into your computer

Most digital cameras store pictures on a CompactFlash memory card or a Secure Digital (SD) card. When you're ready to view, organize, or print your pictures, you'll need to import the pictures to your computer. Then you can erase the pictures on the memory card and use it to take a new batch of pictures.

There are two main ways to import pictures:

  • Connect the camera directly. You can import pictures by connecting the camera directly to your computer using a universal serial bus (USB) cable. With this method, your camera must be turned on, so importing pictures will use up some battery power. You'll also need to keep the cable handy if you import pictures regularly.

    Illustration of a USB cable
    USB cable
  • Use a memory card reader. The fastest way to import pictures is to use a memory card reader. Remove the memory card from your camera, slide it into the card reader, and then plug the card reader into your computer's USB port. Many computers have built-in card readers, allowing you to slide memory cards directly into the computer.

    Illustration of a memory card reader
    Memory card reader

Whichever method you choose, Windows should automatically recognize your camera or card reader when you plug it into your computer. Then, follow these steps:

  1. In the AutoPlay dialog box, click Import pictures and videos using Windows. Windows will locate the pictures (and any video files) on your memory card.

    Picture of the AutoPlay dialog box
    This dialog box appears when you plug a camera into your computer or insert a memory card into a card reader.
  2. After Windows locates your pictures, you're asked if you want to create a tag (a word or a short phrase that describes the group) for the pictures you're importing. If you do, type the tag name in the Tag these pictures (optional) box. If the pictures being imported don't have any single characteristic in common, skip this step. You can always add tags to individual pictures later (see "Organizing and finding your pictures" in this article).

    Picture of the Importing Pictures and Videos dialog box
    You can add a tag to pictures when you import them.
  3. Click Import.

  4. As Windows begins importing your pictures and video files, select the Erase after importing check box if you want to delete the pictures and videos from your memory card after importing is finished. That clears space on the card so that you can take a new batch of pictures.

    Picture of the Importing Pictures and Videos dialog box
    Select the check box to erase the imported pictures from your memory card.

After your pictures are imported, they'll appear in Windows Photo Viewer.


  • You can use a device called a scanner to convert regular photographs into digital pictures.

The Pictures library and Windows Photo Viewer

The Pictures library is the main way to find and organize pictures on your computer. To open the Pictures library, click the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then click Pictures.
Picture of the Pictures library
The Pictures library

Windows Photo Viewer is a feature in Windows that you can use to view and print your digital pictures. Double-click a picture in the Pictures library to open it in Windows Photo Viewer.

Windows Photo Viewer and the Pictures library can do some of the same things. For example, you can view pictures, print pictures, and see a slide show of your pictures from either the Pictures library or Photo Viewer. So, which one should you use?

In general, the Pictures library is the place to find and organize your pictures. The Pictures library lets you see all of your pictures in one place and makes it easy to view them by date, tag, and other criteria. Using Windows Photo Viewer, you can rotate pictures, zoom in, view pictures at full size and view your pictures as a slide show.

Working with your pictures

After your pictures are in your computer, you will probably want to work with them. You can view several pictures on a single screen, view a single picture at full size, rotate your pictures, and see them in a slide show.

Using thumbnails

The Pictures library lets you display your pictures as thumbnails—small versions of the full-sized pictures. To display as many thumbnails as possible, make the Pictures library window fill your screen by clicking its Maximize button Picture of the Maximize button.
To change the size of thumbnails, click the Views button Picture of the Views button in the Picture library, and then move the slider up or down. You can make thumbnails smaller to quickly browse a large picture collection. Or, make thumbnails larger to see more detail in each picture. Changing the thumbnail size does not affect the full-sized version of the picture.

To return to medium-sized thumbnails, click the Views button, and then click Medium Icons.

Rotate a picture

Vertical pictures might appear sideways in Windows Photo Viewer. You can rotate these pictures to the correct orientation by clicking the Rotate counterclockwise button Picture of the Rotate Counterclockwise button in Windows Photo Viewer or Rotate clockwise button Picture of the Rotate Clockwise button in Windows Photo Viewer.

View a picture at full size

To view a picture so that it fills most of the Photo Viewer window, double-click the picture in the Pictures library.

To see the largest possible view of the picture, maximize the Photo Viewer window.

To zoom in on part the picture, click the Zoom button and move the slider up. While you're zoomed in, you can drag any part of the picture with the hand pointer Picture of the hand pointer to move the picture around. To return to the regular view, click the Fit to window button Picture of the Fit to Window button in Windows Photo Viewer.

See a slide show of your pictures

You can view your digital pictures as a full-screen slide show that runs automatically.

To start a slide show, double-click a picture to open it in Photo Viewer, and then click the Play slide show button at the bottom of Photo Viewer. The slide show will include all of the pictures in the current view.

Picture of the Play slide show button
The Play slide show button

While a slide show is running, you can pause it, adjust the speed, go forward or backward, and choose whether pictures are shown randomly or sequentially. To display the slide show controls, right-click the slide show.

To end a slide show, press Esc, or click Exit on the slide show shortcut menu.

Organizing and finding your pictures

If you use your digital camera regularly, you'll soon accumulate hundreds or thousands of pictures on your computer. When you need to find a specific picture in your collection, the tools in the Pictures library can help you.

Find pictures by date

Your digital camera labels pictures with the date they were taken. In the Pictures library you can browse or find your pictures by the year, month, or day they were taken.

To find pictures by date, click the search box in the Pictures library, click Date taken, and then choose a certain date, month, year, or other time period.

Picture of the search box
The search box

Add tags to pictures

You can use the Pictures library to add tags to your pictures—meaningful words or phrases that describe who or what is in the picture and where the picture was taken. Tagging your pictures makes them much easier to find in the future, because you can easily display all pictures that have a particular tag.

If adding tags to every picture sounds time-consuming, don't worry—you can add tags to a whole batch of pictures at once. For example, you could add a "Birthdays" tag to 20 or 30 pictures of a birthday party. To add tags to pictures, follow these steps:

  1. In the Pictures library, select the pictures that you want to tag. To select more than one picture, hold down the Ctrl key while you click the pictures.

  2. In the details pane at the bottom of the Pictures library, click Add a tag, type the name of the tag in the box, and then press Enter. The tag is added to all of the selected pictures. You can add as many tags as you want.

Try to get in the habit of tagging your pictures immediately after you import them. That way, you won't end up with a backlog of pictures that need to be tagged. For more information, see Tag pictures so they're easier to find.

Find pictures by tag

Once you've tagged pictures in the Pictures library, it's easy to find them again. Just type the tag in the search box. All of the pictures with that tag appear. For instance, in the example below, typing Animals finds all of the pictures with a tag containing the word "Animals." If any pictures have the word "animals" in their file names, they'll also appear.

Picture showing how to find pictures by typing in the search box
Type in the search box to find pictures you've tagged.

If you can't remember which tags you've created, click the search box, click Tags, and then click a tag to see a list of the pictures with that tag.

Picture of the Tags list
The Tags list

For more information, see Managing your pictures.

Sharing pictures

Sharing your digital pictures means making them available for other people to view on their computers. The most common sharing methods are posting pictures on a website and sending pictures in e‑mail.

Photo-sharing websites

One way to share your digital pictures with others is to upload (copy) them to a photo-sharing website. Friends and family members whom you invite can visit the website and view your photo albums. Most photo-sharing sites allow you to share and store pictures for free. Note, however, that some sites will delete your pictures if you don't purchase prints or gifts from the site within a certain period of time. Be sure to check the website's policies.

Sharing pictures by e‑mail

Another way to share your pictures is by e‑mail. You can begin to send pictures by e-mail in the Pictures library or in Windows Photo Viewer. If you start in the Pictures library, you can resize multiple pictures at once. If you start in Photo Viewer, only the current picture can be resized. Regardless of where you start, Windows Photo Viewer can automatically compress them (reduce their file size) so that the e‑mail arrives more quickly and the pictures take up less space on the recipient's computer. The original pictures are not affected.

To send pictures in an e‑mail message, select the pictures in the Pictures library, and then click the E‑mail button on the toolbar. In the Attach Files dialog box, select a picture size (the default size, medium, is usually okay), and then click Attach.

Picture of the Attach Files dialog box
Choose the picture size

Windows opens a new e‑mail message in your e‑mail program. The pictures you selected are attached to the message.

Picture of a file attached to an e‑mail message
Picture attached to an e‑mail message

To send the picture, enter the e‑mail addresses of the recipients, type a subject, and write a brief message. Then click Send. For more information, see Getting started with e-mail and Send pictures in e-mail.

Printing pictures

This section discusses three main printing methods. For general information about printing, see Getting started with printing.

Using a home printer

If you have a printer at home, you can print your own photos. Inkjet printers and dye-sublimation printers can both produce high-quality color photographs when used with special paper. Many have built-in memory card readers and small LCD screens so that you can print pictures without using your computer.

Illustration of an inkjet printer
Inkjet printer

You can print pictures from your computer in several ways. You can print a single picture, print multiple pictures on one page, or print a contact sheet (a grid of thumbnail pictures for easy reference).

To print pictures, select the pictures that you want to print in the Pictures library, and then click Print on the toolbar. In the Print Pictures dialog box, choose your print options, and then click Print.

Picture of the Print Pictures dialog box
The Print Pictures dialog box

Ordering prints online

Home printers are convenient and allow you to make prints quickly. But if you want to save the expense and hassle of buying ink and paper, consider using an online photo printing service. These services allow you to upload (copy) your pictures to a website. From there, you can order prints in a variety of sizes and pay for them with a credit card. The completed prints are then mailed to your home or office.

One advantage of using online photo printing services is the variety of products they offer. Besides regular prints, you can order personalized T-shirts, greeting cards, calendars, mugs, posters, mouse pads, and more—all bearing pictures that you choose. In addition, these sites usually offer photo-sharing services (see "Sharing pictures" above).

Getting prints from a retailer

If you want prints quickly and don't have a printer, you can take your camera's memory card to a store that offers digital photo printing services. Stores that offer these services include camera stores, large retail stores, and even some grocery stores and pharmacies. Some stores offer self-serve photo kiosks that let you edit, crop, and print your pictures in just a few minutes.

Backing up your pictures

If you use a digital camera, you'll probably accumulate a collection of thousands of digital pictures in just a few years. These pictures hold precious memories and can't be replaced should your computer's hard disk fail. Therefore, it's important to back up your pictures by storing copies of them somewhere else. You could copy them to recordable DVDs or CDs, or to an external hard disk, or use an Internet-based file storage service.

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