As you put together a virtual memorial, a gallery or slideshow for an online obituary, a memorial Pinterest board, a family tree, or any other memorial or genealogy project, image optimization is important. One aspect of image optimization is image orientation. If this info is old hat to you, no problem. Move on to some more challenging technology. But if you’re just learning how to source and post content, it’s something you might not have thought about.

Image file formats and sizes can be tricky, but it’s really important to pay attention to them. Every baby picture or wedding certificate or draft card you upload to your virtual memorial or online obituary should be optimized to ensure that your pages load quickly and display correctly. Even those of us with experience building websites don’t think about image orientation enough sometimes, myself included. My blog posts look best if the featured image has a landscape orientation. But I can get so focused on finding an attractive, relevant image for the content that I don’t pay enough attention to finding the best image for the space.

In addition to horizontal (landscape) and vertical (portrait) images, there are square images and panoramic sizes to fit into banner (header) spaces. Square images don’t always look square, but it’s the file size, not the shape of the item shown, that matters. This file is 400 x 400 pixels.
In a Google Advanced Image Search, click “Aspect Ratio” to filter the orientation. Choose “Tall” for portrait mode and “Wide” for landscape. Many stock photo agencies, such as iStock, also let you filter search results by orientation. In this search, for instance, I’m looking only for horizontal and square images:
To find out what you need, check the Help section of your platform—virtual memorial, social media site, mood board, whatever. If it’s a decent platform, it’ll include instructions for image optimization. (If the platform you chose doesn’t have a Help section, it probably won’t be around long. Find a different venue to showcase your memorial.) The instructions might give only a size, but the size tells you the orientation: if the width is greater than the height, a horizontal image is needed, and if the height is greater than the width, a vertical image is the ticket. To find the size of a given image, check the image properties, which you can usually find by right-clicking the image.

Portrait images generally work best for one or two people—hence the name. Small groups tend to fit a square or landscape orientation (which is also good for landscapes, incidentally). If your format accommodates any image orientation, don’t filter your search. Make your selection based on content alone.

If you’re building a memorial Instagram Layout (a 9-image collage), the first image you post determines the orientation of all the remaining images. It’s likely that any memorial will showcase photos of people. In that case, a portrait orientation is the best choice. Any horizontal or square images you post to a vertically oriented layout must be cropped to fit the space.

Note that the phrase “portrait orientation” applies even if the image is a full-length shot of a person. Likewise, the term “landscape” can be used to refer to, say, an extreme close-up of someone’s smile, which would have wider horizontal than vertical dimensions. The subject matter is irrelevant to the terminology.

If you’re digitizing a collection of family photos, include the image orientation as part of the metadata you record for each item, along with subject of the photo, date taken, location, photographer if known, and so on. That way, you can search through your own image collection more efficiently. Recording metadata always takes more time up front—it’s a pain in the ass, frankly, and I don’t always do it properly myself. But you’ll save yourself a lot of future hassles if you take the time to record accurate and complete metadata, and future generations will thank you.