Why Facebook Photos Look so Bad, and the DIY Solution to Fix It

Why Facebook Photos Look so Bad, and the DIY Solution to Fix It

With the largest public repository of photos on the Web, it’s not surprising that Facebook has and continues to employ heavy compression to all of the 250 billion images they store. Facebook never intended to be a high quality archiving service of photos, but rather, photos act as social glue for the social media giant.

But seriously, why do your photos look so bad?

File compression up to 90%
JPG, the dominant photo file format, uses a form of “lossy” compression, which means it throws out picture data to reduce the file size. If you’ve ever played with the “Quality” slider in Photoshop, you probably understand the trade-off in file size and image fidelity.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi. Quality = 10

Photo by Allen Murabayashi. Quality = 10. Notice the blockiness around the arms.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi. Quality = 100

Photo by Allen Murabayashi. Quality = 100

 

“Blocky” looking sections of a photo particularly around edge detail or gradients in color are the telltale signs of JPG compression.

The compression is particularly noticeable when a graphic has hard edges like this white type against a graded background.

80

When you save a JPG, then resave a JPG (as is the case when Facebook converts your image on their servers), these compression artifacts become all the more pronounced.

So what’s the solution? There are a few ways to optimize your images:

Upload 2048px images.
This is the maximum width that Facebook will display. Assuming you’re unconcerned about people downloading your images, the larger image will suffer less compression artifacts.

2048

In this first example, there isn’t much difference between the two images despite the fact that the second image has been compressed to nearly 1/10th the original file size.

1200

 

In the second example where the source image started as a 1200px image, the compression is much more pronounced in the macaron filling (highlighted by the red circle), even though on a percentage basis, the compression is less. In general, all the fine detail has a grittier texture because the Facebook sharpening algorithm is a bit aggressive when the source image is smaller.

Don’t add sharpening to your photos
Sharpening is a matter of taste, but double sharpening is never good. Like most online photo services (including PhotoShelter), when an image is processed by Facebook, the image conversion algorithm adds a little bit of sharpening. This is intended to help the images “pop” a little more. But if you’ve sharpened prior to upload, the image is going to be oversharpened, which can accentuate the compression artifact. If you’re shooting at high ISO, the “grain” will also suffer from the oversharpening.

usmblog

 

Save your images in the PNG format instead of JPG.
PNG is a lossless format, and images converted by Facebook suffer less compression. This is particularly true when you have lots of edge detail as in the quotation graphic above, or uploading a photo with smaller dimensions. Strangely, Facebook will sometimes maintain the PNG format,while other times it will resave as a JPG. In this example, I started with a 6000×4000 RAW file, and converted it to a 600px JPG and PNG. Each image was uploaded to Facebook and then downloaded for analysis.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

As you can see, the edge detail and fine detail in the face and hair exhibit pretty drastic compression in the JPG file. But the PNG file looks surprisingly good, while strangely increasing in file size. The uploaded PNG was downloaded as a PNG, so Facebook maintained the file format at this size.

Bottom Line
The easiest and most obvious benefit is derived by uploading PNGs at any size. The PNG files will inevitably be larger than JPGs, so if you have a slow upload connection, you’ll be waiting a little longer. But if you care about how your images look, it’s worth the wait.

Ready to learn how to use Facebook to its fullest existent for your photo business? Download one of our newest guides The Photographer’s Guide to Facebook.

get-theguide-cta

 

 

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There are 28 comments for this article
  1. Robert at 12:00 pm

    I’m not sure if this matters given that it seems FB strips most EXIF data anyway, but it may be worth pointing out that PNG does not easily support EXIF or IPTC data.

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  3. Jose Delgado at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for all the tips!
    I once tried using this trick and work wonders with my picture and text (no artefact at all). In Photoshop, right after I created my new blank canvas I changed the image settings from 8 to 16 bits RGB (do you think this could help the final result?). Then I used an image “double the normal size”, so if you’re creating a new Facebook cover page make it 1702 px wide instead of 851 px. When saving it I can’t remember if I went for a 100% Quality JPG or a 24 PNG. I guess PNG is a better choice after what I read in your article.
    What do you think?

    Jose Delgado

  4. Shariq at 3:25 pm

    I’d figured most of these out for myself, but it’s good to be reminded. My major gripe though is that they strip all EXIF / IPTC data out, and that sharing can’t be turned off completely.

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  7. bp at 12:53 pm

    It’s odd that the article tells you to upload 2048 pixel images for best results, but they only give you 600 pixel size images as examples of the quality of the final image. It’s an unfortunate comparison, and not helpful.

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  10. Eric at 12:18 pm

    Yeah, as Maryfer pointed out, this only works for photo posts on pages. Posting a photo as a user, or in a group, you get compression and lousy quality. What’s worse is if you have an image that’s predominantly the color red. Red gets really blurry and pixalated for some reason and really looks terrible. I wish facebook would fix this issue. It drivs me insane when I post pics of my artwork.

  11. farebalk at 12:42 pm

    Hi, I´d like to share the procedure that I found to solve a very annoying problem that I had with the image of my cover on Facebook. When I upload my picture lost quality and I lost some time trying to find a good resolution to solve my problem but I don´t find any good answer so I hope that this help to another people . First need to open your image in Illustrator and second you need to save your picture select the option to ¨save for Microsoft Office¨ then Facebook won’t butcher your image I hope this helps you

  12. Andrew at 4:40 pm

    FYI, unfortunately NONE of these tips work anymore. It would seem Facebook’s devs have stopped at nothing to minimize the amount of space taken up by images stored on their servers. I spent the entire afternoon uploading test images, downloading the result, and comparing them.

    My apologies if there are typos in this, I’m just sitting down and hammering it out stream-of-consciousness style.

    Just to run down all the things people have claimed would work to give you high quality Facebook images:

    1) “Upload 720px, 960px, 2048px wide images”

    This made zero difference in terms of the presentation of artifacts around edges, as well as harsh and blocky banding in gradient areas, like the sky, shadowed areas, etc. Uploading a 2048px image looked just as bad as uploading 1920px, 1600px, 1500px, 1280px wide images. 720px and 960px images looked just as bad, despite being two smaller “recommended” sizes on Facebook’s own help page.

    2) “Don’t add sharpening to your photos”

    Horrible artifacts around edges still appear now despite disabling ALL sharpening. Beginning in Lightroom (where RAW files default to 25 sharpening) I turned the sharpening down to zero. I also disabled sharpening on export. Made no difference — facebook still butchered it with blocky oversharpening artifacts. I even exported it to Photoshop and did a “save for web,” no increase in sharpening there, still gave horrible oversharpening artifacts.

    3) “Save your images as PNG instead of JPG”

    This apparently USED to work. Apparently Facebook actually used the original PNG at one point for display, so it would produce a very nice lossless image. This is no longer true. Facebook now treats the PNG files as input to their compression algorithm, and they spit out a JPG file that is identical (in terms of noise) to a JPG file that was uploaded similarly. That is to say that there is no advantage in terms of avoiding oversharpening or jpeg artifacts to uploading a PNG because first thing Facebook will convert your PNG to a JPG and apply its crap compression algorithms. This makes sense because Facebook is trying to reduce their storage burden and bandwidth usage. PNG files are huge compared to super compressed JPGs so it seems like a no brainer to implement a PNG to mega-compressed-JPG conversion.

    4) “Make sure the file you upload is less than 100kB and Facebook will not compress it further”

    Totally false. I tested this with a number of different image dimensions — 640px, 720px, 960px (the ones I could “save for web” in Photoshop to get below 100kB) and in every case there was a massive reduction in file size and image quality. For instance, my 960px jpeg was 92kB in size. After going through Facebook, it was a mere 29kB and horribly afflicted with jpeg and oversharpening artifacts.

    5) “Upload it to an album and tick off ‘high quality photos’ while it goes, then you can link the individual photo on your timeline”

    This makes zero difference in terms of compression. Perhaps this used to enable you to upload 2048px dimensioned images, but it certainly makes no difference in terms of file compression and artifacts (not anymore anyway).

    6) “Files uploaded to a page rather than a profile are higher quality”

    False. I tried it out on my photography page and my timeline, both files came out identical.

    I think that just about covers the main claims I found people making over the past 6 months. Suffice it to say, as of today, September 16, 2014, there is not a way to avoid the overbearing compression algorithms Facebook has implemented for all image uploads. The only way to make files BIGGER (in terms of file size) is to have files with more stuff in them. For instance, a smooth gradient sky will be compressed to a smaller file than that same sky covered with Lightroom faux-film grain. Facebook’s compression algorithm attempts to describe those extra features, so the file size gets bigger. It does not improve quality, however. The jpeg and oversharpening artifacts are still there, they’re just EVERYWHERE because they manifest at every grain boundary. The file size is bigger because it needs more space to describe (in a crappy fashion) the grain you’ve added.

    The only advantage of introducing a lot of grain to the image is that it can conceal the blocky banding that occurs in gradient areas, like the sky. It’s really just camouflage, though.

    An alternative is to host the file on another server; imgur, OneDrive, Dropbox, your own webspace, etc.

    The problem with this is that Facebook will rank your post of a link much much lower than it would if it was an image hosted on Facebook’s servers. They do not count the clickthroughs in gauging how popular your post is, so the ONLY metric that Facebook uses to decide if other people should see it or not is how many likes and comments it receives. Thus, you could have 100s of people who click your link, and if only 2-3 of them can be bothered to click “like,” then your post will die right then and there, and no one will see it. As far as Facebook is concerned, only 2-3 people looked at your photo. On the other hand, if you upload the photo directly to Facebook, they’ll count the 100s people who looked at it and gave no likes or comments.

    Very frustrating!

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