How to Fix a Digital Photo Turned Sideways

Rotate pictures that display sideways online

Do your pictures display sideways on your computer or online? One way to avoid this is to turn the camera properly when taking the shot and use current photo software. Most digital cameras have a rotation sensor which writes an orientation EXIF tag into the file that tells the software how to turn the photo for display. If you use Photoshop, open the File preferences to see if it the EXIF profile tag is being ignored. Here are some other reasons why photos don't display properly.

Photo editor working on computer.
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The Software May Affect Picture Orientation

Some software does not use the orientation tag written by the camera. If you suspect this is the case, don't rotate the photos. Instead, view the photos straight out of the camera with an up-to-date free program such as XnView or FastStone Image Viewer. These programs display photos according to the embedded orientation flag. If these programs display the photo at the proper orientation, then the software is at fault and the software should be updated or replaced.

Ideally, choose a program that uses the orientation tag for display only, and doesn't alter the data of the file. However, if you want to ensure that your image is always shown at the correct orientation, no matter what software you use, use a program that rotates the actual content losslessly based on the orientation tag, an example is the free Microsoft Windows Live Photo Gallery. Then, update the orientation tag to reflect the new orientation. This ensures that programs which use the orientation tag display the image properly, as well as those that do not utilize the orientation tag.

Here's how some popular programs handle rotation issues:

  • Windows Explorer does not utilize the orientation flag to show thumbnails, even in Windows 7.
  • Windows Picture and Fax Viewer (included with Windows XP) doesn't honor the orientation flag. Additionally, it removes the existing orientation flag, along with other metadata, as soon as you rotate a photo using this software.
  • Windows Live Photo Gallery re-orients pictures based on the orientation flag in the file, but only when you import photos directly from the camera. This import option is enabled by default. Windows Live Photo Gallery doesn't use the orientation flag stored in the image file to display photos properly when they are on your computer. Additionally, if you rotate a photo, the actual content is rotated and a new orientation tag is saved into the file by Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Orientation Sensors in Older Cameras

Older cameras may not have an orientation sensor. Instead, use a program to view the EXIF data of the photos before doing any editing in another program. Be sure that the program you use shows all the EXIF information and not just the fields it thinks are important. Use a dedicated EXIF viewer for this such as the free XnView.

Once you have established that your camera is not writing the orientation tag, you can safely rotate the pictures in your preferred photo software. If the software is current, it should add the proper orientation tag to the metadata and the picture won't display sideways if you edit in another program later or if you post the photos online.

Rotation for Scanned Photos 

Scanners do not write EXIF information. Rotate the image during the scanning process or use a photo editor or viewer to rotate the picture after scanning the image.

Multiple Programs Could Rotate Pictures Differently

If you use multiple programs to process photos, one or more of them could be reading or writing the orientation information incorrectly, causing the photo to display sideways, upside-down, or otherwise incorrectly.

If you suspect this is the case, use the process of elimination and test each program to see how it handles rotation. When you find the one causing the problem, check for an update, eliminate it from your workflow, or be careful to use it only after properly setting the orientation in another program.

Uploaded Photos May Need Manual Rotation

When you upload photos online, most sites read the orientation EXIF tag and display the photos properly. In those cases where it does not, find a rotation button or icon to turn the photo to the proper orientation without having to correct the rotation locally and upload the photo again. Look for a pair of arrows or a page icon with an arrow over it.

Using desktop software that handles orientation properly should eliminate any issues of photos displaying sideways after you post them online.

A Do-It-Yourself Approach

Most image editing applications have a feature that rotates a photo to the correct orientation. On a Mac, use Photos or iPhoto to edit the image. On the PC, use Photo Editor.

You can also use Photoshop Transform to rotate or flip the image (go to Edit > Transform). Flipping an image containing words may cause the text to appear backward. In this case, rotate the image 180 degrees either in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. If the image appears tilted, and you use the latest version of Photoshop, use the Content Aware Cropping feature to straighten the image.