Thursday, January 23, 2014

Great Looking Photos for Print and Web

From the images you see on screens to the things you read every day, photographs play an important role in conveying emotion, illustrating a point or explaining a concept. Photographs improve comprehension and add to our enjoyment. They are an integral part of printed material and websites.

Our job is to reproduce those photographs in websites, printed brochures, email blasts, marketing material, newsletters, signs, banners, and business cards. We want the photographs to reproduce in the best possible quality. So, we offer you some technical tips on digital photos for printing and web applications. These are tips on what to do once the images are captured and you’re ready to send the photos to us.

What is a pixel?

A pixel is a contraction of the words picture element. A pixel is a square that contains a series of numbers that describe its color (for color photographs) or intensity (for black and white photographs).

The greater the number of pixels in an area, the smaller each one is, the more tightly they are packed, and the better our eyes can blend the edges together to create a complete image. As the number of pixels decreases, the larger each one must be to fill the area, the more space there is between them, and the more evident the square shape becomes. If there are too few pixels in too large an area, we will see the individual squares just as we see the individual tiles in a mosaic. One telltale sign of a low resolution photo print is pixelation, known informally as the jaggies – a curved or diagonal line made up of stair-stepped squares.

Pixels and resolution

Resolution is the term for the amount of detail in an image file. You can think of resolution as pixel density. One specification of a digital camera is the resolution it is capable of, expressed in megapixels (one million pixels). A smart phone’s 1.5 megapixel camera can capture roughly one-and-a-half million pixels of information per inch, while an 8 megapixel digital camera can capture eight million pixels per inch. The amount of detail is directly related to photo quality. The higher the mega-pixels, the better the quality.

Likewise, the resolution of a photo file or print, whether offset, digital or inkjet, is the amount of detail it contains. Photo file resolution is expressed as pixels per inch (ppi), while print resolution is expressed as dots per inch (dpi). In general, the higher the value, the more detail in the file and the higher the image quality.

For printing, the recommended resolution is 300 dpi when the photograph is at the desired size on the page. By multiplying the size in inches that you want the printed photograph to measure by 300, you’ll be able to determine the resolution in pixels you’ll need for the photo file. For example, if you want to print an 8x10 photograph, multiply 8 x 300 and 10 x 300, yielding 2400 x 3000 pixels in the photo file.

To determine whether your camera has sufficient resolution for this size of file, multiply the two pixel dimensions (2400 x 3000 = 7,200,000). To translate into megapixels, divide by 1 million, which in this case yields 7.2 megapixels.

Resolution for web-based photographs

Like digital cameras, image files and photo prints, computer screens have a resolution, expressed as the number of pixels wide and high in the viewing area. As a standard, most computer screens are set to display at between 72 and 96 ppi. This means that image files displayed on a computer screen do not need as high a resolution as files for print. The resolution standard for photographs on the web is 72 ppi since any additional information contained in extra pixels is ignored. One benefit of the lower resolution requirement is that photo files are smaller, meaning they load faster on the website.

Using web-based photos for print

If your business uses product shots in its advertising and marketing materials, you may be tempted to download product photos from the manufacturer’s or distributor’s website. Considering the resolution requirements for web (72 ppi) and print (300 ppi), it becomes clear that using a web-based photo will not result in a high quality photo in the printed piece when the two photos are of identical size. In fact, you’re likely to see the individual pixels and the jaggies on curves and diagonal lines.

What may be possible, however, is to reduce the size of the web-based photo until the resolution nears 300 ppi. In general, web-based images print with acceptable quality (for most purposes) at about half the size they appear on screen. So a photograph that measures 2x2 inches on screen can be printed as 1x1 inches with acceptable quality (for most purposes).

File formats for photographs

File formats for photographs are a means of organizing and storing an image. The data may be stored in compressed or uncompressed format, then rasterized into a grid of pixels whose bits define color and depth. Images can be cropped, colorized, converted to grayscale or monochrome by using an image editing program such as Adobe Photoshop.

File compression is a way to reduce file size. There are two types of image file compression. One, called lossless, keeps all the pixels of the original image but finds more efficient ways to represent recurring patterns of pixels in the file. Another, called lossy, eliminates pixels that aren’t needed to maintain quality. Lossy compression results in smaller file sizes than lossless, but trades that for lower image quality.

For photographs, the preferred file format is Tagged Image File Format (TIFF). TIFFs can be either lossy or lossless, and some digital cameras can save in TIFF format using Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) compression.

Another format for photographs is Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG). JPEG compression is lossy and produces a significant reduction in file size. Repeated opening and saving of JPEG files results in continual loss of pixels which degrades file resolution over time.

Using photographs in print

Our aim is to give you the highest quality photographs possible in all your printed materials. If you are uncertain as to what resolution or file format to use when taking photographs for print, give us a call. We’ll give you advice based on what you are trying to accomplish, balancing photo quality and file size. For more information, call Jason or Marya at (215) 923-2679 at your convenience.

Permission Granted

If you are taking a picture of a person to use in your promotional materials or on a website, it is a good idea to have the person sign a model release. A model release, sometimes called a liability release, grants permission to publish the photograph and is always recommended, even if the person is not a professional model.

Other situations where you might want a model release include entering the photograph in a contest, posting the photograph on Facebook, or on photo sharing sites. Generally speaking, a model release is not needed if the person in the photograph is not recognizable, if the face is hidden in shadow, or for editorial use (for instance, a picture of bystanders at a traffic accident or a photograph from a public event such as a parade). Photographing architecture is usually permitted provided you are on publicly accessible land at the time the shot is taken.

When obtaining photos from a third party, be sure that there is a model release to cover the image. Most reputable stock photography sources have model releases for their images. Be aware that a model release does not cover use that is intended to defame, libel or humiliate the subject.

Q&A: Photos & Copyrights

“Will I be infringing on copyrights if I download images from the web for use in my product brochure?”

You might be. You are free to use images in the public domain or those published under a Creative Commons license. You can also obtain permission from the photographer, artist or copyright holder.

But if you download an image created by someone else and use it, you may be committing image theft. There is a misconception that images available on websites are in the public domain; usually they are not.

Intellectual property, including photographs, belong to the person who created it. After a certain amount of time, intellectual property passes into the public domain and may freely be used by anyone. Unpublished works created before 1978 began to pass into the public domain on December 31, 2002. A work published before March 1, 1989 without a copyright notice is, with some exceptions, in the public domain.

Tips for Better Product Photos

If you are photographing products for a brochure or website, here are a few tips to produce better results.
  • Pay attention to lighting. Both the quality of the light and the uniformity of distribution matter. A small light source compared to the size of the product creates a hard shadow, while a large light source creates a soft shadow. For product shots, a soft shadow is preferable. You can also use a light diffuser on the flash to distribute the light more evenly.

  • Use a plain white background. This makes the product stand out and makes shadows more effective. A cluttered or messy background takes the focus away from the product. Professional photographers use an infinity curve, made from a piece of white paper or fabric bent to create a curve, to eliminate any horizon and provide a clean view.
  • Use props to show scale and environment. Props help viewers identify the product, show its scale, and emphasize its features.
  • Take photos from multiple angles. You can emphasize special features with close ups and unique perspectives.

Picture Perfect

Digital cameras are making it easier to take photographs for brochures, newsletters, product sell sheets and other printed material.

Do-it-yourself photography eliminates the cost associated with using a professional photographer. But it also puts the burden of understanding the technical aspects of photography and file handling on the do-it-yourselfer.

Our job is to give you the best quality photographs possible in your printed materials. We keep our equipment and software current, train our staff, and enforce quality control standards to support this goal. What we need from you are photo files that adhere to graphics industry standards for file type and resolution.It isn’t hard and it doesn’t take a lot of extra work.

Give me a call at (215) 923-2679 or email me at for details, to ask questions, or to request a PDF of the current graphic industry standards for photographs.