The Right Resolution: Managing Your Photo Library


My first digital camera was a Nikon Coolpix 2500 boasting two megapixels of image-capturing power and a flipping lens that tucked away neatly within the device’s profile for convenient storage. A novel side effect of this design was that one could flip the lens backwards to take a photo in their own direction while consulting the LCD preview screen on the back of the camera.

The year was 2002. The “Selfie” hadn’t been invented yet, but it was about to be. I always kept my Coolpix close, holstered next to my Nokia phone and Gen 2 iPod.

Today, all three of those technological bricks exist in one little smartphone, and most everybody has one. Snapping pictures and sharing them is an integral part of everyday life. Our photos are no longer banished to shelved volumes or unsorted desktop computer folders, and in the right hands, a smartphone can take one heck of a photo.

When developing marketing materials, these candid shots can add a little extra realness to a lineup of professional shots or stock photography provided they meet the quality requirements for print.

A designer working in print will be looking for an uncompressed image with a resolution of 300dpi at the placed size. If this doesn’t make sense to you, that’s okay! These tips can help you make sure your photos are print-ready when they’re needed.

When managing and building your photo library:

Always keep high-resolution copies of your photos. Don’t let social media sites manage your photo archive. Download photo files straight from your smartphone or camera to a folder on your computer for safekeeping at full quality.

Back up your digital photo files. Add these to your computer’s backup schedule, copy them to thumb drives (not CDs!), or save them to online-based storage tools like Google Drive or Dropbox.

Check your smartphone/camera photo settings. Smartphones and cameras have a limited amount of storage space. Some offer settings that allow you to take more photos at a lower quality. Always opt for less photos at a higher quality.

Be flexible if your images can’t be used in print. We designers love to use your photos in our work, but sometimes, even our best Photoshop tricks can’t bring an image to a printable place. In the event that it just doesn’t work out, we’re happy to work with you to help determine alternatives.

When it’s time to send photo assets for a print project:

Don’t provide photos downloaded from the internet, even if they are your own. Photos uploaded to social media sites like Facebook are compressed into a low-quality format that looks good on your screen but doesn’t meet printing requirements.

When sending photos through email, don’t let them get resized. Phone apps and desktop programs may offer to reduce the file size of your images for sending. To achieve this, they must reduce the image quality. If there’s an “Actual Size” option, always opt for that one to be safe.

Keep taking pictures! With these tips in mind, you can use your photo library to help tell your story for years to come, even after our smartphones have gone the way of my Coolpix and its belt companions.

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