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How Professional Photographers Sharpen Their Images For Facebook

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Why don’t your Facebook photos “pop” off the page like the photos from the pro-photographers you follow?

Well, there’s a simple sharpening technique that pro-photographers use when they want to share high resolution images on Facebook. And today we’re going to share it with you.

This same technique is the one we use for the photos you see on our website discoveryphototours.com. This technique will also work on other social media and image sites as well, however for this article we will focus specifically on preparing your images for Facebook. We will teach you how we sharpen our images, how to prepare your images to post online and how compression and resizing can affect your image’s quality.

 

So grab your notepad, buckle up, and get ready to learn some valuable tips!

 

This article will assume you understand the difference between RAW and JPG files (Here’s a short post that explains their differences), and that you understand how pixels relate to an image’s size. To follow along you will need Adobe Photoshop CC (older versions will work however there may be minor differences) and also the free Photoshop plugin “Web Sharpener” from Andreas Reach which can be downloaded here.

Before diving into the techniques we use to sharpen our images for online use, it’s important to understand how images can lose their clarity and sharpness after you upload them to Facebook, Instagram or other online image sharing sites and services.

When you post an image online, to Facebook, Instagram or other image hosting web sites, 2 things happen after you click the upload button. First, your image is resized to fit the requirements of the site.  Facebook for example has a maximum image width of 2048 pixels. And second, your image is JPG compressed to a smaller file size, allowing it to load faster and not take up unnecessary space on a server.

Let me explain this in an example.

I take a photo with my Nikon D750 and load the RAW file into Photoshop to do some post processing. This file loads in from my camera at a 6016×4016 resolution. I make my adjustments in photoshop and when I’m done I export it as a JPG so I can post it online. In the export options I tell it I want my JPG to be at 100% quality (I want it to look the best!) and I do not want to change the resolution, so it will give me a 6016×4016 JPG file. (That’s a large file!) I then take that JPG and post it on Facebook to show my friends and family. Facebook however does not want this huge file on their server, it is much too large and will not load quickly. So they resize it to 2048×1367 (the largest width they allow is 2048) and they also lower the JPG quality to around 40. (yes they compress it that much!)

Our image started at:
6016×4016 JPG 100% quality and was 22.5mb

After Facebook Resize and Compression:
2048×1367 JPG 30% quality and is 600kb. (37X smaller file size!)

As you can see, there is a tremendous size difference after resizing and compression.

Now that we understand image resizing, on to image compression!

Let’s talk a little about JPG compression, how online services utilize JPG compression and how this can affect your images. Compressing images is nothing more than a way to reduce the image’s file size, however the tradeoff of compressing images is loss of quality. The higher the compression added,  the lower the image quality.

When you export your image as a JPG, your software will allow you to choose the quality you would like to use on a scale of 1-100. The higher the number, the higher the quality, and the lower the compression you are applying. The lower the number, the lower the quality and the more compression you are applying.  At 100 quality your image will be very clear and will retain detail and subtle color differences. At 1 quality your image will be blurry and will contain JPG artifacts. (See example below)

As you lower the quality the clarity and subtle color differences will begin to show, often called JPG artifacts.

The above image compares a 100% quality JPG to a 20% quality JPG. As you can see there is a lot of quality loss, specifically in the hills behind the church.

Typically you cannot see the difference between a 100 quality JPG and a 70 quality JPG, however the file size is reduced drastically.

Social media platforms host millions of images, so they want to make sure they will load fast and not take up an unnecessary space on their server. A JPG image is the most commonly used file type for compressed images. JPG compression provides a good balance of image quality and lower file size. In comparison, RAW files from a DSLR camera (and some mobile phones) is an uncompressed image. It does not sacrifice any quality, however images are quite large, much too large for sharing online.

Now that we understand a little about image resolution and JPG compression we can teach you the process we use to sharpen our images and prepare them for sharing online.

Let’s Resize and Sharpen!

When you’re done performing your post processing and preparing your image in Photoshop you can apply the web sharpener plugin to prepare your image for sharing on Facebook.

In Photoshop, with your image open,  go to File>Scripts>Web Sharpener V1.0d

A new window will appear with lots of options and checkboxes, however we will only worry about 3 of these.

Step 1: Choose your Sharpened Image Size
Here you will choose what size you want your new web sharpened image to be. You should choose the size based on where you will be sharing it.  For Facebook you will want the longest edge to be 2048. You only have to enter the longest edge, Web Sharpener will calculate what the other edge should be automatically. The first box is the image width, the second box is for height. For landscape (wide) images, adjust the first box, for portrait (tall) images, adjust the second box.

Not sure what size your image should be?  Use this awesome social media cheat sheet!

Step 2: Adjust Options
Select the “Duplicate Image” and “Create Edge Mark” checkboxes if they are not already checked. Leave all other options as they are. Click the “Produce Less Noise” Button and Web Sharpener will do it’s thing. Depending on the speed of your computer, this could take anywhere from seconds to a minute or two.  Once it is done, you will be looking at a new photoshop file that has been resized and sharpened for you to post online.

Step 3: Export as a JPG
Our final step is to export this new resized image as a jpg so we can upload it online for the world to see. To do this, go to File>Export>Export As…

 

Export As will present you with some options. From the top right down choose the following:
Format: JPG
Quality: 44
Image Size: Make sure your scale is set to 100%
I also always select “Convert to sRGB” and “Embed Color Profile
Click “Export All” at the bottom and you will be prompted to choose where to save your sharpened JPG and what to name it.

That’s it, you’re done! You can now post your sharpened image to Facebook for the world to see!

Now I’m sure you’re asking, why would you choose only 44% for the JPG Quality?  A very valid question, and here’s my explanation.  Before writing this article I tested uploading several images to Facebook and then downloading them from Facebook to see how much compression Facebook applies to them. Each image I uploaded was the same resolution, I simply applied different amounts of JPG compression to see what Facebook would return to me after it was done doing it’s dark magic behind the scenes. What I found was that regardless of what I uploaded (100% quality or a very low quality like 25%) Facebook seemed to compress my images so they were between 650kb to 710kb in size. This tells me that they are compressing the images to around 40-45% JPG quality. So, rather than depend on Facebook’s compression algorithms, which I have no idea what they are, I would rather give them an image that I know Photoshop compressed for me, hopefully leaving little for Facebook’s compression to deal with.  Basically, I give them an image they will not have to do much to, and I know Photoshop did a good job compressing it for me and retaining image quality.

Another note about uploading to Facebook:
I also performed a test and uploaded the same exact image from my iPhone, and also from my laptop.  Surprisingly I found that Facebook compressed  the image I uploaded from my phone 13% more than the image I uploaded from my laptop! That’s right, the same image uploaded from my phone came back at 623kb, compared to the one I uploaded from my laptop which came back at 714kb in size.  Facebook compresses images you upload via their mobile app more than images you upload from the web. I assume their Facebook app uses a different algorithm to compress the images. What does this all mean?  It means if you want the absolute best image quality on Facebook, upload your images from a web browser on a laptop or desktop computer, not a mobile device.

I hope you learned a little about image compression and how to sharpen your photos before sharing them online.  If you enjoyed this article and think others might too, please share it!

Until next time

-Brian Fabiano

Brian Fabiano is a travel photographer and co-founder of Discovery Photo Tours. When he’s not leading photography tours to exotic destinations he enjoys expanding his post processing knowledge and developing new styles and techniques.  You can learn more about Brian’s photography work on his official bio page.

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