that image big enough?
of a photo on your computer screen is not the best guide of size and resolution,
but it can offer hints, if you know what you’re looking for.”
— Sonya Senkowsky
By Sonya Senkowsky
You’re no photographer. But your editor wants you to help dredge
up photos from your sources. And, as is the case so often these days,
what your sources have got is digital.
If you don’t know the difference between a pick-ax
and a pixel, you could be in for hours of back and forth with a designer
who keeps telling your editor that the picture you sent is “too
small” (even though you can clearly see that it looks OK on your
computer).and a subject who keeps asking “Well, what size do you
Here’s just enough photo lingo to get you through
most such situations.
You need to know three things:
• What size do your editors want to run the image?
• What resolution do they need?
• What file type do they want?
Resolution is often expressed in “dots
per inch,” or dpi, and literally means “how many dots per
inch” will make up your image in the printout.
For newspapers and small images in magazines, a common size
requirement is 300 dpi at a size of 5x7 inches. (If you need to guess,
this is a good guess for most situations.) This means that a printout
of your photo that is 5x7 inches will contain 300 dots per inch of ink.
Imagine the same picture with half the ink dots taken away, and you can
start to understand why 150 dpi would provide a lower-quality print at
the same size.
For a Web site, you can get away with lower resolutions
(though designers sometimes want to start out with the highest-resolution
image possible and reduce the size themselves).
Then you will need to tell your subject what file type the
designer wants. The most common file types are J-pegs, gifs or tifs —
files ending with either .jpg or .jpeg, .gif, or .tif. Generally, photos
for most purposes should come to you as j-pegs, which are high enough
resolution for print, but compressed for easier transmission over the
Internet. Tifs may also be desirable.
Ideally, you can arrange for your subject to e-mail the
image directly to the designer. That way, any problems can be ironed out
between them — and you won’t run the risk of your mailbox
being filled up with a HUGE file. But if the image does come to you, one
last tip may be helpful:
How do you know if it’s big enough? If
you don’t have photo imaging software, you may not have an easy
way to tell the resolution of a given image.Appearance on your computer
screen is not the best guide, but it can offer hints, if you know what
you’re looking for.
Here’s a cheat: Open the image using a browser such
as Netscape or Internet Explorer. If the image fills up the entire page
and takes a few moments to open, you have a higher resolution image that
is likely usable in print. (Remember: Its final print size will be a fraction
of whatever it looks like on your computer.)
If it takes up anything less than a full screen, you may
want to ask the editor/designer to take a peek to make sure the image
Coming soon: How to prepare images for
Web — or “Is that image small enough?”
Sonya Senkowsky is a freelance writer
(and sometimes photographer) and founder of AlaskaWriters Homestead, which
offers advice and a home on the Web to Alaska writers of all kinds.