Are Your iPhone Photos Upside-Down or Sideways?

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sj-izzyEver wonder why your iPhone photos show up sideways or upside-down on the Web or on friends’ computers?

If so, I have a solution.

A client texted me this morning with an urgent problem: some of the photos in her latest (minutes-old) WordPress blog post were rotated wrong when viewed on her iPhone and iPad — even though they looked fine on her desktop. Two photos were sideways; another was upside-down.

I checked. She was right.

All of the photos in question were taken with her iPhone 6s Plus, transferred to her Mac, and uploaded to her post via the “Add Media” function in her post edit screen. She then manually rotated the photos that had the wrong orientation.

Why are there orientation problems with some iPhone photos?

If you came here to learn why your iPhone photos look right sometimes (and on some devices) but not so much other times (or on other devices), you’re about to be disappointed.

Because I don’t know.

I mean, I kinda know, but I don’t really know. I don’t understand it enough to offer an authoritative explanation. (If anyone within the sound of my voice does, please comment below.)

What I do know is it has to do with EXIF, which is a standard for storing metadata in media files. Specifically, it has to do with the EXIF orientation values stored in the image.

Here’s a screen capture of an image with some of its EXIF data:

EXIF data for iPhone photo with Right Top orientation

EXIF data for iPhone photo with Right Top orientation

And here’s an illustration of the 8 different possible orientation values for an image (courtesy of VB Helper):


How to Read the EXIF Orientation value

The EXIF Orientation tag describes the orientation of the camera relative to the scene at the time the image was captured (see this).

  • The first component of the Orientation value (“Right”, in the case of my example) refers to the part of the original scene that corresponds to the first row of pixels in the stored image.
  • The second component of the Orientation value (“top”, in the case of my example) refers to the part of the original scene that corresponds to the first column of pixels in the stored image.

Let’s look at the sample photo again.
You can see that the first row of pixels of the stored image (signified by the green line, labeled “1”) is indeed the “Right” side of the the orignal scene.
Similarly, the first column of pixels of the stored image (signified by the purple line, labeled “2”) is indeed the “top” side of the original scene.


(How helpful is this information? I’m not sure. I’m just glad I finally figured out how to interpret the EXIF Orientation tag, and I thought you might, too.)

What’s happening to the image inside WordPress?

Honestly, I’m not sure.

Here are some deductions and other thoughts (but again, if you know better or can confirm or elaborate, please comment below):

  • Upon upload, WordPress maintains EXIF data for original images, but it strips EXIF data from the auto-resized versions (thumbnail, medium, large) of images. (At least this was the case a few years ago, according to an authoritative source).
  • When you edit an image in WordPress (to crop, rotate, etc. it), it appears that the new version is stripped of its EXIF data.
  • I imagine there are some plugins for this. Anyone know of any?

So that’s about all I can say about the “why” of iPhone photo orientation mishegas for nowYiddish for craziness.

The Solution, Using Irfanview

My solution is to rotate and re-save the image in IrfanView — a free Windows image-viewing and image-editing program. (IrfanView is easily one of the most marvelous free software programs I’ve ever encountered. Been using it for years.) While there is no Mac-specific version of the program, the FAQs suggest a way to use it on a Mac.

Although these instructions are for IrfanView, I assume they are translatable to PhotoShop and other image-editing programs. (If you can confirm or refute this, please comment below.)

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. Rotate (don’t flip) the image.
    For upside-down images, rotate twice in the same direction. It doesn’t matter whether you choose left/counter-clockwise or right/clockwise; just use the same direction both times.
    For sideways images with top of the scene at the left, rotate right/clockwise.
    For sideways images with top of the scene at the right, rotate left/counter-clockwise.
  2. Here’s the important part: Now save the image, and set the options as follows:
    Tick the “Keep original EXIF data” option
    Tick the “Reset EXIF orientation tag” option


Let me hear from you!

Obviously, I’m far from an expert on these iPhone photo orientation matters. If you know something I don’t, if you can confirm what I’ve put out there, or if you simply have questions to ask or experiences to share, I hope you will comment below.

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The nSiteful Tech Blog (the official blog of nSiteful Web Builders, Inc. since January of 2013) is where I (Jeff Cohan) and (occasionally) associates will be posting articles of potential interest to like-minded techies, nSiteful clients who are playing active roles in the maintenance of their own Web sites and blogs, and pretty much anyone interested in how Web strategies and tools can help them reach their goals.

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About Jeff Cohan

Jeff and his wife, Margie, are the proud parents of Sarah and Jake. Jeff is the founder, president and chief cook and bottle washer of nSiteful Web Builders, Inc., a Web development and Internet Consulting firm. In his spare time, Jeff builds Web sites and Web applications, plays guitar, putters around in his basement woodworking shop, mercilessly spoils his grandchildren, and creates videos from more than two decades of home movies. His current video project is an extended montage of people (mainly family members) asking him to stop filming them.

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