Why does my iPhone take upside-down photos?

If you're a Windows user, you may have discovered that some photos--and videos--appear inverted, and fixing them can be a hassle.

What's wrong with this picture? (No, seriously.) The upside-down photos were snapped with the the iPhone's volume buttons pointing up.
What's wrong with this picture? (No, seriously.) The upside-down photos were snapped with the the iPhone's volume buttons pointing up. Screenshot by Rick Broida

Before iOS 5, the only way to snap a photo with your iPhone was to tap the onscreen shutter button--always a somewhat awkward maneuver. But with iOS 5, Apple transformed the volume-up button into a shutter release, thereby making iPhone photography feel a bit more natural.

Just one problem: when you flip your phone around so the volume-up button is facing, well, up, you end up with upside-down photos and videos.

Sort of. As many Windows users have discovered, images captured using the volume-up button often appear upside down when viewed using traditional methods like Windows Explorer and Windows Media Player.

But why? Those same pictures and videos have the proper orientation when viewed on your iPhone--or on a Mac. What's going on here?

Turn that frown upside down
My dad was the one who first brought this to my attention; I'd e-mailed him a photo from my iPhone, and he wrote back that it had arrived upside-down (in his mail client)--and sent it back to me as proof.

Use this handy iOS 5 feature and your snapshots may appear upside down when viewed in Windows.
Use this handy iOS 5 feature and your snapshots may appear upside-down when viewed in Windows. Apple

I then conducted some tests of my own, starting with connecting my iPhone to my Windows 7 PC and opening Windows Explorer to view my Camera Roll. Sure enough, the thumbnails for many of the photos were upside down. (Ever since I installed iOS 5, I routinely use the volume-up button as my shutter release--though not every time.)

When I copied those photos to my desktop and loaded them into IrfanView (my photo viewer/editor of choice), they looked fine.

As for videos, their thumbnails all appeared right-side up, even after I copied them to my desktop. But when I played them in Windows Media Player, sure enough, I had to stand on my head to watch them.

There's no doubt about it: when you capture images with the volume buttons facing up--even if you use the onscreen shutter button--they can end up upside-down. It all depends on how you view them.

Windows Explorer, Windows Live Photo Gallery, and Windows Media Player, for example, can't seem to get the orientation right. But photos imported into, say, IrfanView or Picasa are oriented as they should be.

There's a fairly substantial thread devoted to this topic in Apple's discussion forums, and it dates back to October 24, 2011--barely two weeks after Apple released iOS 5. Lots and lots of users have reported the issue, and there's little consensus on what causes it or how to remedy it.

The fix is in(verted)
Actually, the remedy is fairly straightforward: keep the iPhone "right-side up" when snapping photos or recording videos--meaning with the volume buttons pointed down. (I think that's how most users rolled before iOS 5 came along). You can still use the volume-up button as a shutter release, you'll just have to trigger it with your left thumb. (It's awkward, but doable.)

As for the cause, there's much debate over whether it's Apple's fault for setting the images' EXIF flags incorrectly or Windows' fault for failing to read them properly. Like most users, I really don't care--I just want it dealt with. And, let's face it, the onus is on Apple to implement the fix in the next iOS update.

If you already have a lot of upside-down media, there are plenty of image utilities (like Advanced Batch Converter) that can batch-rotate photos. As for videos, that's quite a bit more challenging. The old version of Windows Movie Maker had a rotate-180 option, but that's gone in the latest version. If anyone knows of a good utility for flipping videos, preferably a free one, please name it in the comments.

Also, if you've been turned upside down (figuratively speaking, of course) by iPhone photography, I'd like to hear from you on that as well.

 

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