When a newspaper or magazine requests a photograph to accompany an article showcasing your organization, you won’t send them a wallet-size photo-booth snap, will you?
That happens at The Chronicle every week. Charities unwittingly send me dozens of photographs so small they would look terrible if published, so we cannot use them. Most photos start out large, but unless they have been saved in the original, raw size (or as large as possible), there’s a good chance they’re far too small to appear in any print publication. That photo you think is large enough may not be.
Photographic images are made up of tiny dots, and the quality of a photograph, or resolution, is measured in dots per inch (dpi). In a printed picture with extremely low dpi, you can easily see the individual dots (think of a comic-book image).
When a photo needs to have its dpi increased, the photo itself actually shrinks. What the layperson thinks is a large photo becomes too small when readied for print.
So let’s do the math: Say you have a beautiful 6- by 4-inch photo at a resolution of 72 dpi. It’s your best photo, and your organization plans to use it extensively across many platforms. And let’s say a newspaper art director wants that photo to appear on the front page as a 6- by 4-inch picture. It won’t happen.
Newsprint requires 200 dpi, so the only way a newspaper could use that 6- by 4-inch image is to reduce it to one-third of its size. Yes, it’s now a 2- by 1.3-inch photo. Ouch! That’s not going to appear on the front page of a newspaper.
If you think that’s bad, consider this: Magazines and other glossy print publications require 300 dpi, so to get that resolution, your 6- by 4-inch image would have to be reduced to one-fourth of its size—1.5-inch by 1-inch.
The 300 dpi rule also holds true for direct-mail pieces, annual reports, programs, etc. And it gets exponentially worse if you intend to use that image on a poster, banner, bus-shelter ad, or billboard.
The good news is that 72 dpi is the optimal resolution for Web images (any higher and the site will load too slowly). Therefore, if a photo is for your Web site or blog, it’s fine. But if you haven’t saved it in the original size, your absolute best photo won’t be seen anywhere but on the Internet.
To ensure that you have large photos that can be used in any medium, make sure all photos are initially taken at the largest size possible, and then saved at that size.
If your organization doesn’t have a staff photographer, or if employees are asked to snap event photos or photos from the field, it’s best to draw up guidelines for camera settings. Think like a professional and save all the originals; make digital copies as needed for different projects.
And when that publication calls asking for photos for a big cover story, send them those raw files. Leave the resizing to the professionals: Art directors will want to re-size photos themselves to ensure maximum quality. Too often, laypeople resize a photo improperly or size it down to 72 dpi so that it’s easier to send via e-mail. Or they mistakenly change the dpi and lock the size, which makes for a blurry and pixilated photograph—also unusable.
Don’t stymie your charity’s exposure! To ensure that your organization’s photographs are ready for maximum media coverage, save the original digital images and forward those to news professionals. Your organization deserves to be showcased, right?
Share your advice on how to get photos of your organization’s work that you can share beyond the Internet. Or detail your experience with a bad-quality photo.