Worlds Colliding: Convert a Digital Photo into an Excel Spreadsheet

By David Ringstrom, CPA
 
In an unlikely mash-up, Matt Parker of Think Maths offers a free tool that converts a digital photo of your choice into an Excel spreadsheet. According to the website, "digital photographs are actually just spreadsheets. When you take a photo, your camera measures the amount of red, green, and blue light hitting each pixel, ranks them on a scale of 0 to 255, and then records those values as a spreadsheet." Parker's website is able to extract said values from a digital photo, record the numeric values in worksheet cells, and then use Excel's Conditional Formatting feature to recreate the photograph.
 
If you have Excel 2007 or later, you can try the technique yourself:
 

Figure 1: Any digital photo can be converted into an Excel spreadsheet.
 
Note: The resulting spreadsheet is an XLSX file, which can be opened in Excel 2003 and earlier if you have the Office Compatibility Pack installed. Don't bother doing so, as all you'll see is a bunch of numbers  no photograph.  Parker relies on a feature only available in Excel 2007 and later.
 
At first, your photo will look much like Figure 2, but if you zoom out, you'll be able to see your photo, as shown in Figure 3. There are several ways to zoom an Excel spreadsheet:
  • If you use a mouse with a scroll wheel, hold down the Ctrl key while you spin the scroll wheel. 
  • Choose Zoom on the View tab and then specify 10 in the custom field.
  • Use the Zoom Slider in the lower right-hand corner of your screen, as shown in Figure 4. You can toggle the Zoom Slider on or off by first right-clicking on Excel's Status bar at the bottom of the screen.
 

Figure 2: You'll only see a tiny portion of your photo until you zoom out.
 
Figure 3: The author's headshot in Excel spreadsheet form.
 
Figure 4: The Zoom slider appears in the lower right-hand corner of most Excel screens.
 
Once the numeric data from a digital file has been written to a spreadsheet, recreating the photograph is a simple matter of using Excel's Conditional formatting feature to color the cells. To see how this works:
  • Click on any cell within your photo.
  • Choose Conditional Formatting from the Home tab and then choose Manage Rules.
As shown in Figure 5, you'll see the technique relies on the Graded Color Scale, where numbers between 0 and 255 correspond to specific shades of color. Thus, by writing the numerical data from a digital photograph, Parker is able to reconstruct any digital photo within an Excel spreadsheet. 
 
Figure 5: A conditional formatting feature in Excel converts numbers between 0 and 255 to shades of color.
 
Hat tip to Bill Jelen, aka Mr. Excel, for bringing the Think Math website to my attention.
 
Read more articles by David Ringstrom. 
 
About the author:

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at david@acctadv.com or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, and presents webcasts for several CPE providers, including AccountingWEB partner CPE Link.

 

You may like these other stories...

Whenever I speak to accountants about creating a cloud practice, the most common question is, “How do I charge my clients?” Ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, if I would’ve posed this question...
While reputational risk is the No. 1 nonfinancial concern among corporate directors, cybersecurity/IT risk is gaining steam. In fact, both private companies and organizations with more than $1 billion in revenue felt they...
Accountants who specialize in forensic and valuation services point to electronic data analysis, or big data, as the most pressing issue they’ll face in the coming months, according to results of a new survey released...

Upcoming CPE Webinars

Jul 31
In this session Excel expert David Ringstrom helps beginners get up to speed in Microsoft Excel. However, even experienced Excel users will learn some new tricks, particularly when David discusses under-utilized aspects of Excel.
Aug 5
This webcast will focus on accounting and disclosure policies for various types of consolidations and business combinations.
Aug 20
In this session we'll review best practices for how to generate interest in your firm’s services.
Aug 21
Meet budgets and client expectations using project management skills geared toward the unique challenges faced by CPAs. Kristen Rampe will share how knowing the keys to structuring and executing a successful project can make the difference between success and repeated failures.