Outlook’s flipping image problem


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Why does the same picture appear sideways in Outlook but right side up elsewhere?

Recent versions of Outlook let you preview a picture by clicking on the attachment icon.

Outlook image preview with no orientation fix image from Outlook

Sometimes the picture appears sideways in the preview pane with no rotate control to fix that.

Even more mysterious, if you open the same image in another program (double-click on the attachment icon) the picture might appear right side up.

Same photo in Windows 8 Photo viewer image from Outlook

You might strike the same problem with Insert Picture into any Office application.  The image looks OK in the Insert dialog but gets turned around when it’s inserted into Word, Excel etc.

What’s going on?

When the JPEG format was developed, the only way to rotate an image was to move all the pixels around and then rewrite the entire image. That was time consuming and more prone to failure or loss of quality if done incorrectly.

More recently, an addition to JPEG was implemented – the EXIF orientation setting. With this setting you don’t have to rewrite the entire image, instead just add a small detail to tell programs which way to display the image. It’s like a ‘This way up’ sign on a painting.

This orientation/rotate setting means only a small change has to be written to a JPG image and that’s faster and less likely to mess up the entire image. Here’s a more detailed description.

Some modern cameras have a little gyroscope inside and will use the rotate setting to indicate which orientation to display the picture. The above image was taken with a Sony camera turned 90 degrees, so the JPG was saved in the camera with the rotate setting set to display the image in portrait mode.

Because the orientation setting wasn’t part of the original JPG format, not all programs make use of it. Even within Microsoft implementation of the orientation setting is erratic.

Outlook’s inbuilt JPG preview doesn’t check orientation but the Office Picture Manager (available up to Office 2010 but not Office 2013) does. The Microsoft supplied Picture app in Windows 8 obeys the rotate setting but the Windows 7 Photo Viewer does not.

Worst of all, Office applications via Insert Picture don’t obey the orientation setting so you can get the reverse problem. The Insert Picture dialog uses the Windows Explorer preview feature which does ‘see’ the orientation and previews the image correctly. But the inserted image can appear differently in the documents because Office which ignores the orientation setting.

Don’t you love the consistency across Microsoft products?

Some programs have an option to obey the rotate setting or not.

What about Outlook and Office? There’s no sign that Microsoft will fix this. The Outlook 2013 preview has the same image preview that’s long overdue for improvement. Some simple tools to rotate and zoom would be nice for starters. The above screen shot is from Outlook 2013 which, in the preview, still ignores the rotate orientation.

If you somehow think that’s reasonable, check out the PDF preview for Outlook provided by Adobe. It comes with the free Adobe Reader and includes a simple zoom plus rotate options. Adobe can do it, so Microsoft should be able to update the image preview too.

The photo of Tofi and Tahi Gray used with kind permission of their parents

 

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