I took several pictures of my family’s Christmas gathering this year, and put them on Facebook. They looked good in darktable, so I exported them as 2048×1390 pixel JPEGs, not worrying about the best resolution to upload to Facebook.
And they did look good… on my phone.
A week later, I looked back at the album while using a desktop computer. On a full size monitor the photos looked terrible.
Whatever algorithm Facebook processes images with had distorted and mangled the images, introducing blotchy noise all over my cousins faces. Although this is not visible on a tiny mobile screen it becomes painful to look at when the photos are viewed full size. Just look at the smeared signs in the cheeses shown above.
So, what is the best resolution to upload to Facebook to minimize this distortion? I carried out a few experiments to find the answer.
(Spoiler: for those in a hurry, 2048 pixel wide PNG files are the best option. Read on to find out why.)
What happened to the original images?
Facebook allows users to download pictures hosted on the site. I downloaded the original Christmas pictures, and found an immediate culprit.
My 2048 pixels-wide JPEGs had been compressed to 1024 pixels-wide JPEGs by Facebook.
We can’t judge Facebook too harshly for this. In 2011, we were uploading 200 million photos to Facebook every day, and Facebook stores four versions of each image at different sizes. We can only assume that the number of pictures has gone up in the intervening 5 years. That’s a lot of storage space.
On the otherhand, as photographers, we often want our work to be appreciated at higher-quality than 1024 pixels, even on Facebook. So what can we do?
What happens to different resolution JPEGs uploaded to Facebook?
I went back to the RAW version of the cheese picture shown above and created three different sized versions: 4419 pixels (the maximum resolution), 2048 pixels, and 1024 pixels. (How to export photos at different sizes in darktable.)
I uploaded each to Facebook, and then downloaded them. Every single one came back with a width of 1024 pixels! And each one showed the same compression artefacts that I found in my Christmas snaps.
What about other file formats?
Next I created the same three sizes of image but saved them as PNG files. PNG files are a lot larger than JPEGs, so they aren’t used as frequently (the 4419 pixel-wide PNG was 20 MB compared to 6 MB for the same resolution as a JPEG).
However, using a PNG makes a big difference on Facebook. Although Facebook converts them to JPEGs during the upload process, they are not limited to 1024 pixels. Both the 4419 and 2048 pixel PNGs got converted into 2048 pixel JPEGs.
This resulted in a huge improvement in quality:
Because the PNG files get shrunk to 2048 pixels, there’s not much advantage to uploading a file larger than this.
In addition, a PNG 1024 pixels across results in similar quality Facebook pictures to a JPEG of the same size.
What is the best resolution to upload to Facebook?
If your photo is smaller that 1024 pixels across, go ahead and upload a JPEG – it will be quicker.
But if your photo is wider than 1024 pixels and you want to preserve the details, then at the end of your RAW workflow you should export it as a PNG instead before uploading to Facebook.
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