Learn an Excel Feature: Picture Links (or Camera Snapshots)

Posted on October 19th, 2010 in Excel Howtos , Learn Excel - 34 comments

Learn about Picture Link feature in ExcelToday I want to introduce a new excel feature to you, called as Picture link.

Well, picture links are not really new, they are called as camera snapshots in earlier versions. They provide a live snapshot of a range of cells to you in an image. So that you can move the image, resize it, position it wherever you want and when the source cells change, the picture gets updated, immediately.

What is the use of Picture Links or Camera Snapshots?

At the outset picture links may seem like a useless feature. But they are pretty powerful. Here are few sample uses for picture links:

  • In dashboards & reports: Usually in dashboards, we need to combine charts, tables of data, conditional formatting etc., all in one sheet. When the size of these are not uniform, aligning them on output sheet could be a huge pain. This is when you can use picture links. First create the individual portions of dashboard in separate worksheets. Then, embed picture links to these portions in final dashboard. Re-size them and align as you see fit.

    See this in action: Project management dashboard in excel.

  • In micro-charts & sparklines: While Excel 2010 has native support for sparklines and other micro-charts, if you want to create a micro-chart in earlier versions of excel you have to use trickery. This is where picture links can help. You can make a regular chart and take a picture link of that. Then resize the picture so that it fits in to a small area.

    See this in action: Micro-charts using camera tool.

  • In Dynamic Charts: Since picture links are nothing but images with a formula assigned to them, you can easily construct dynamic charts & dynamic dashboards using these.

    See this in action: Dynamic chart using camera tool, Dynamic dashboard using camera tool

  • In shared workbooks: When you share a workbook with a colleague or boss, a common worry is what if they change formulas or edit something. This is where picture links can be of great use. You can embed a picture link of actual data so that no one can edit it.

How to insert a picture link in Excel – 3 step tutorial:

To insert a picture link to your data, just follow these 3 steps:

  1. Select the cells. Press CTRL+C
  2. Go to a target cell. From home ribbon select Paste > As picture > Picture link option (see image below)
  3. That is all. Your picture link is live. Move it or play with it by changing source cells.

How to paste a picture link in Excel - tutorial

Do you use Picture Link / Camera Snapshot ?

I have been a fan of picture links / camera snapshots ever since I learned about them. I have used them in various dashboards, reports, workbooks to wow my clients, bosses and colleagues. However, one problem with picture links / camera snapshots is that, they do not print well. So I avoid using them for workbooks that get printed alot.

What about you? Do you use picture links often? Share your experience, tips and ideas using comments.

Read more quick tips to become awesome in excel, in less than a minute.

PS: Donut to Hui for telling me about Picture links feature.

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34 Responses to “Learn an Excel Feature: Picture Links (or Camera Snapshots)”

  1. Squiggler says:

    I love picture links, great for overlaying on graphs, I also find them great for building thermometer graphs by combining shapes, text, conditional formatting, sparklines in creative ways!

    Its also a great way to shrink items into a smaller space or even change the aspect ratio of tables!

  2. Tom says:

    Nice tip. Thanks, Chandoo. I’m starting to run into some file size issues with my dashboard project (it’s actually a series of dashboards, with one for each department). Do the picture links use more or less data than actual cell contents? It would be nice if you could do this with charts as well.

  3. Hui... says:

    @Tom
    Remember you can save files as an Excel Binary Workbook
    They are generally a lot smaller than .xlsx/m files
    goto: File, Save As, Excel Binary Workbook

  4. Tom says:

    @Hui…
    Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to give this a try. What is the tradeoff for saving as an Excel Binary Workbook? What do you lose?

  5. Rich says:

    I use these frequently in my workbooks, but I often end up with a flicker effect. Is there a way to eliminate that?

  6. cALi says:

    As Rich says, I drop using picture links due to the poor quality of the image, is there any way to choose .bmp to generate them?

  7. Gregory says:

    I’ve never really used picture links, but your suggestion about putting them in a dashboard could be useful. Especially if they aren’t printed regularly.

  8. Hui... says:

    @Tom
    You lose size and load time
    my .xlsb file is 70% of original size in my test file and opens in about 70% of time

  9. Tom says:

    @Hui…Thanks!

  10. Mark says:

    This is an awesome feature. Most of my dashboards are just a series of camera snapshots. I move and re-size them to fit space. It is like having all of the best features of publisher or powerpoint in an excel presentation.

  11. Roger says:

    I use pictures a lot in spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentation, but everytime I update or refresh the original date I have to go through the machinations of special copy, pasting and resizing to fit. How can I get the pictures to update automatically once the original data/information has changed? This would help me and my crew of 32 here so much if we could solve this without doing a macro or special gyrations. Help please kind Masters of Excel.

  12. Rohit Jindal says:

    Hi Chandoo,
    I have been using this feature till now succesfullly in all my dashboard reports as well as sending snapshots through email (we use Lotus).

    Just wanted to share a quick way to take a snapshot as an alternative..Hope you will find it useful-

    Excel- 2007
    1- Go to customization of Quick access toolbar
    2- Go to ‘All Commands’
    3- Search and select ‘Camera’
    4- Click Add>>
    This should add Camera tool to the quick access toolbar. Feel free to use just like any other tool on the quick access toolbar from there on!!

    Excel- 2003. This feature is also available in 2003 through quick access toolbar customization.

    Do let me know your inputs.
    Rohit Jindal (Rj)

  13. [...] was reading Chandoo’s article on Picture Links in Excel and was quite impressed, as I hadn’t come across them [...]

  14. [...] used: The click to select as described in on-demand charts article, conditional formatting, picture links, more picture links, LARGE formula. The most difficult part of this was to get a moving arrow that [...]

  15. Dianne says:

    Hi Chandoo,

    I use this quite regularly, but I can’t seem to figure out how to get my project related snapshot/s to show up when specific project is selected from drop down list. I use the index function for all the other information, but the snapshot/s puzzle me.

    Dianne

  16. Nick says:

    Hi I am new to the site and doing dashboards. I have 4 sets of tables, formated as tables, with monthly totals for each subsidiary. When I copy and try to paste as a picture link it is greyed out. When I remove the Table format i can create picture links for the tables individually but not as a group.
    I am using Excel 07. Any reason why this is happening?

  17. Marian Whitcomb says:

    Hi, thank you for this wonderful site! I am a garden designer and want to have a plant order on one worksheet, and photos in the second with a hyperlink from each plant name on page 1 go to the photo of it on page 2. Any thoughts? Thanks

  18. Hui... says:

    @Marian
    Do you want to just jump to the Photo or Show the Photo on the Order?

  19. Marian Whitcomb says:

    Hello Hui, thanks for the quick response, and sorry not to be clearer…I want the hyperlink for, say, day lily (blue writing) on sheet 1 to be clicked and to highlight or select a photo on sheet 2. Eexcel wants a cell address, but the photo “floats,” and I cannot select it. Is this because the photo is an object, maybe? Can I anchor or embed the formatted photo to a cell address, or better, a range? Alternatively, could a hyperlink select just a page tab and I can put one photo per page (less elegant). Thanks, am really excited about the possibilities for Excel.

    Thank you so much! (using 2010)

  20. René says:

    All a feature which I use is the snipping tool rather than the camera tool. Just my two cents :)

  21. Rob says:

    I have the same problem mentioned by Rich. Is there a way to stop the excel from flickering when using the camera/paste picture link function?

  22. Jeevan says:

    The picture does not appear in the print preview..is there any solution to this??

  23. [...] though we see dynamic chart in our dashboard, it is actually a picture link. This is how the chart [...]

  24. joris says:

    Dear all, 
     
    for a while I have gratefully been making use of the camera tool, within workbooks. 
    Now i would like to use it to show graphs from a source workbook (containing data) in a ‘display workbook’, without having the source workbook opened. 
    Every time i open the display workbook, a prompt pops up with the question to update links. Then i got a message that ‘this workbooks contains links that cannot be updated’. 
    is there any way i can solve this problem, or is it per definition not possible to refer to a closed workbook with the camera tool?
     
    thank you in advance,
     
    Joris

  25. I have read so many posts on the topic of the blogger lovers
    but this piece of writing is actually a fastidious post, keep it up.

  26. Adityan KB says:

    Hi Chandoo,

    I make dashboards for my firm and I took a crash course in dashboard making from your online shop.

    Recently I am facing problem in picture link. I am finding that when I am pasting the linked picture to the dashboard, the adjacent cell from the copied range is also getting pasted. This happened only in one of the particular picture. Any idea why this is happening.

    Regards,
    Adityan KB

  27. Ruth Kettering says:

    This is Awesome! I’ve always thought that the pasted image link would be static. Who knew that it automatically updates when the source changes. I have ideas on applying it to my charts now…

  28. Teja says:

    Hi, I have been using this paste as link for quite a while in excel2007. I have recently upgraded to excel 2013. and the paste special doesn’t show up the paste as link feature. can anyone help with a workaround?

    • Hui... says:

      @Teja
      In Excel 2013
      Copy the cell
      Move to destination
      Right Click
      On the menu that pops up there is a Paste Link option at the far right (it has two little chain links)

      • Teja says:

        @Hui..Thank you. The problem was with the file. All the options were disabled some how. Its working now. Thanks the reply though!

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