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Optimising images for social media

Optimising images for social media

I’ve had a lot of people reach out to ask when the next blog was coming and to share their ideas for topics they would like me to write about. So, thank-you for your patience. All of the ideas and requests on topics have been most welcome and I’ll certainly do my best to cover off as many of them as possible over time. 

Okay, here we go. One of the recurring themes in the questions I’m asked is how I optimise my images for social media. That is certainly reasonable, as it’s a problem I’ve broken a light sweat over from time to time, so that’s the topic I’ll try and focus on in this piece. 

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First things first though, let’s say hi to the elephant in the room - the Instagram crop which doesn’t matter, yet somehow really matters a lot.

When I joined IG a few years ago, it hurled a big pineapple in my entire workflow. Why? Because of the stupid low res 1:1. 

Then in July ’15, Zuckerberg gave us a warm “we’re listening to you” with an upgrade to the pitiful 640pixel square to a heartier 1080.

 

 

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A few weeks later, it was announced that IG would support non-square uploads. A peak into the fine-print affirmed we could now post landscape images in a 1.91 to 1 ratio which was wonderful. I assume this was an exercise towards cross platform compatibility for FB and IG ads because 1.91:1 is exactly the same as a Facebook link preview image but, it solved my issue. 

The truth I’ve learnt though is posting a landscape image on IG is of little value. All images will be cropped to a square on your grid so only the 1:1 mid-section of your beautifully wide shot will be shown, which generally looks a bit naf.

What’s more, they don’t present well on vertical mobile devices which is exactly what IG is designed for. That’s not a big deal to some but it discourages others from re-sharing your images which will really curb the breadth of your exposure, if that matters to you, then this matters to you. Sorry. 

 

 

WHO, WHAT, WHERE

As with any process, we can’t decide the best steps to take unless we first nail what it is we want to achieve.

Who are the audience, what is the format, where will it be seen? An image should be finished very differently for presentation on a wall at an exhibition than it should for Facebook or Instagram.

My process is exclusively geared towards online viewers and I’ll keep a full resolution tiff file saved in the event I need to re-visit the image for printing purposes later.

My primary online audience is Instagram and my secondary audience is Facebook and Flickr. All the others fall a distant third. My images are optimised for these audiences to view on their mobile devices but also on a larger desktop screen, so I need a balance between file size and resolution.

 

IN THE FIELD

As recently as a few years ago I was shooting almost, exclusively, panoramic. I had a camera and lens set-up dedicated to this style of shooting and my images were all finished at at-least a 3:1 if not wider.

I loved that look, and I still do, but it was more work. Today I shoot single frames. I find myself choosing a vertical frame more often. This has been a hard transition, as the purist landscaper in me just doesn’t see the same aesthetic character in a tall and thin image as I do in a more grandiose wide scene, but I’m mindful of how my images are most commonly presented and what’s most satisfying for the viewer. 

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IN POST

Once I’ve edited my RAW file (I just use Adobe Camera Raw) I’ll open it in Photoshop. By this point, I have an idea of what proportion the end result will be. For example, 3:2, 5:4, 1:1 and if it’ll be vertical or landscape. In the rare instance where I’ve taken multiple frames for a panoramic, I’ll place the stitched image on a blank canvas and literally skew and scale parts of it to fit the canvas using the transform tools in photoshop (Edit > Transform > Scale / Skew / Warp / Perspective shift).

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Once I’ve finished editing the image to my liking, I’ll flatten all of the layers and save it as a high res file (there’s a bit to this so make sure you see my dedicated section on Saving below). Now that I have a high res version of the file safely tucked away it’s time to go to town on it.

If the image is a portrait, I’ll crop it to a 5:4 vertical – that’s the max vertical proportion I’ll use for Instagram, resize and save as low res. Note, I would happily share a 3:2 jpeg online and a second 5:4 version of it for Instagram only. If the image is a landscape I'll save it in its native aspect ratio and then create a second IG-specific 1:1 version of it.

 

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Getting a 5:4 or 3:2 down to a 1:1 can be a calamitous and heartbreaking ordeal, slicing away mountain peaks hurts. Where possible I’ll try to scale in sections of the image and that works but I STRESS caution - an overly shrunken image catches the eye like 80’s workout clothing, it's function and, for a fleeting moment it’s a good idea but everyone will notice right away, and no-one will think it’s cool.

I recommend only doing this to selected portions of the image without any identifiable shape to them. Sky, water etc. 

 

SAVING

This isn’t the place or time for an in-depth analysis on file formats and compression but understanding the basics of how to properly save an image is important. Photoshop (and most other editing applications) offer an abundance of file formats and options so here’s what I know.

Image quality is a product of two variables; resolution and compression, both of which can be cryptic business.

The easiest convention for resolution is the one that’s used to describe the width x height in pixels.

Compression is a little more complex and used to manage the file size of an image. If you’ve heard the terms lossy and lossless in a conversation than chances are you were inadvertently talking compression (nerd alert). Compressing an image reduces file size which is great for getting a big file to a small enough size for uploading online.

Lossy and lossless compression are characterisations of explicating data from an image file. Saving an image using lossy compression discards information from the image which drastically reduces the file size. The problem comes when we need to re-save the file. Each time a lossy file is re-saved it’s recompressing, compression on compression, and each time, the quality of the image is reduced.

Lossless compression is akin to vacuum sealing a suitcase. Sucking out the air reduces the size for storage, but the air can be let back when it’s unpacked, and everything returns to normal.

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The reason I’m talking about this is because I do both. I’ll save a full resolution version of my image as a TIFF (Lossless). I’ll then reduce the image size (File > Image Size) to 1080 pixels on the longest side and re-save it as a JPEG (Lossy). If I need to create a second version of the image for Instagram (5:4 or 1:1) I’ll revert to the original image size, crop and scale as necessary then re-size to 1080 again and save as a second JPEG. All files will be saved at 300dpi using an RGB colour mode. 

I will never re-open either jpeg and re-save it. Any changes or copies I need to make will be done from the TIFF and then saved as another JPEG from it. 

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THE FINISHING TOUCHES.

My TIFFS are saved on two separate hard-drives (usually) and backed up to the cloud. My JPEGS are saved on one hard drive.

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I have two dedicated folders on my phone, IMAGE UPLOADS and IMAGE UPLOADS – IG. I’ll airdrop both JPEGS from my laptop to my phone (Airdrop = Apple, just, do it) and store them accordingly.

I’ll upload my jpegs to Facebook and Flickr separately, I don’t automate this, then upload to IG. I generate half my hashtags using an app called Focalmark and then take a punt on the other half. 

For anyone who has seen my IG stories, I use an app called LumaFusion which is an iOS video editing app and super capable. I’ve made a standard project template in it for IG stories and set to 1080 x 1920 resolution (the standard IG story size) at 30fps and saved as an MPEG4. I’ll then open the saved video file in a second app called HypeType to add the animated text, re-save and upload. 

 

WATERMARKING

Last but not least is this old chestnut. I’ve seen some heated debates on this topic and there isn’t a right or wrong approach, but I haven’t put a watermark on an image in two years now.

This all comes down to your objectives and use cases for social media. If you want your images to get shared and drive traffic back to you then don’t watermark them. They’ll still get shared, just a lot less and IMO watermarking just cheapens a classy shot.

I know many people will argue that they need to prevent theft and that’s fair enough, but I’d ask who you are afraid is going to steal your image? If a scoundrel is bold enough to pass off your image as their own, chances are they’re probably bold enough to remove your watermark as well. If you’re worried about the opportunity cost of someone downloading your image for commercial use, then I’d recommend making sure the version you publish online is no bigger than 1080pixels. Whilst this size looks good for social media, it’s rather ineffectual or inoperative for any other purpose.

Well that’s about it folks. I hope this has been helpful and please keep the questions coming. I don’t have an awful lot of time to churn out blogs, but I’ll make a better effort at keeping them a little more frequent.

Muchas gracias. 

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Growing on Instagram?

HOW TO GROW AN ORGANIC FOLLOWING ON INSTAGRAM AS A LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER (OR WHY YOU ARE FAILING AT IT)

A post shared by Felix Inden (@felixinden) on

If you are a landscape photograpers trying to get his work out there, you have surely heard about that one big imaging platform called Instagram. 

So you made yourself a profile and started dropping all your gorgeous work that you worked hard for and suddenly you wonder: Why is nobody liking my images and why do I have 50 followers while others have thousands and just keep growing?

There reason for it isn´t one- it´s actually many and I´ll try to cover some of them here in this article, giving some tips along the way that have worked for me in the past. 

I´ll also cover why this isn´t exactly working super effectively for myself anymore at the end of the article.

The idea for this article came to my mind after receiving many direct messages about the topic on my Instagram account, so I thought my answers might be interesting for others as well.

 

If you aren´t doing what i´ll talk about now, that is surely part of why Instagram isn´t working for you (so far)

Using Instagram with the expectation to have a growing following isn´t an easygoing thing. For most people at least, unless you are already a superstar in the worldwide photography business. 

BUT we are not one of those right (at least not me). So for us it will be a decision that more than anything else will involve time spent on the platform and some changes to our imagery done especially to post them effectively on Instagram. 

A post shared by Felix Inden (@felixinden) on

Spend the needed time

You might have read this often, but because it´s true you´ll read it again here: You need to spend time on Instagram in order to grow- „post and run“ does not work! 

So prepare to have at least an hour, better two or more per day to spend „working“ on Instagram. 

Engage with people that have similar interests and well running accounts. While it might be effective to simply like and comment whatever stuff you see, don´t do it and choose images and photographers whos work you really cherish and like. 

After all you are trying to build a name for yourself and it´s important to stay true to quality. Once you have some kind of „name“ you want people to appreciate a like given by you, because they know it´s honestly telling them that they did something right. 

Who you should follow

Same applies for following people, so watch out that you don´t fall in the follow/unfollow trap and instead curate the list of people you follow. I also follow friends that aren´t photographers at all and some people i also follow because they are just fun people. In those cases i don´t care about the imagery they post, but for those photographers that i have been following: I follow you because i appreciate your work. 

Optimize your images for Instagram

Different to other imaging platforms, on Instagram you know 100% that people will be seeing your work only on a very small screen. And your image will compete with bazillions of others beeing posted at the same time. You only have a fraction of a second to capture the viewers interest to get him to double tap and maybe even drop a comment. 

So your images need to stand out in some way. 

Ignoring this might be the biggest mistake causing people to not grow on Instagram. They process the images like they always do and then upload. Most likely it will be looking quite dull on the phone, because the size factor that other platforms offer get´s lost. The image won´t just stand out because of a neat composition and when very subtle colors can totally work seen on a big screen, on a little phone screen they might look less interesting.

Crop your images to vertical format or 1:1

Square 1x1 Crop

Square 1x1 Crop

4x5 Vertical (Portrait orientation) Crop

4x5 Vertical (Portrait orientation) Crop

Now comes the hardest part for us landscapers that often tend to shoot landscape formats or even panoramic work. 

Landscape format does not work well on Instagram. Why? Because only a small part of the screen is used to display the image. Your phone screen is the canvas that you have to display your image, so make sure to use it to the fullest. 

So you´ll have to shoot vertical format (I use this format very often because I love portrait format landscapes, i was lucky there) or if you shoot wide, crop the images to square or portrait format in order to fill the screen with them. 

At this point i got some reactions from people that didn´t want to follow the tip of keeping the aspect ratio of posts in mind. They made a principle about not adjusting/applying changes to their work just because of a social network. But in my opinion one can totally do that without loosing the realness factor- if you spend time on platform then do it effectively. At least that´s my view on it.

Instagram is not your real portfolio- that one should be on your homepage or somewhere else where people can really appreciate your shots in full size with all the important details that you worked out carefully in the field and afterwards on your postprocessing system. 

Instagram is a valuable tool for self promotion of your work and it doesn´t make you less of a landscaper if you adapt to it a little bit. It will instead only improve your Insta experience.

How I actually shot this image

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Pimp the images with the inbuilt processing tools

It´s a good idea to post the images with a little higher saturation and contrast than you would normally do. Also enhance sharpness and structures slightly in the app. 

Don´t go too far, but something like dialing in something in between of +5 and maximum +15 will do your images a favor as they will look more crisp. 

Optimizing an image for upload in the app 

Use Hashtags

While it might seem obvious to most of you reading this, there are still some that post on Instagram expecting people to see their work, but have never really spent thoughts about why people keep tagging their images. 

A post shared by Felix Inden (@felixinden) on

In this huge ocean of posted images, hashtags are a way of getting your image seen by people with certain interests. But to use them to their full potential you need to understand how they work. 

There are very popular tags that are used very often and others that don´t get used much. Using #landscape (87 million tagged images), #sunset (176 million) or #nature (328 million) is not effective unless you are already getting thousands of likes on your shots in rather short amount of time. Your tagged image will dissappear from the tag list in seconds as so many images get posted with these tags. 

Drop them in every now and then, but don´t make it a strategy to use them. Better look out for tags that have between 30k and a million tagged images- there you have the biggest chance of getting your image seen because of the used tag. 

Also it´s not the smartest thing to use tags with very low tagged images, because it´s most likely that noone is interested in them (unless a promising new hub or company has just invented the tag- then try it). 

While you can use up to 30 hashtags per post, lately it seems to be better to use between 10 to 20 max- don´t ask me why this is the case. I just noticed it in the last year. Same applies to where you drop the tags. I personally prefer to put them in the comments as my captions look more clean this way, but i don´t think that it has an effect on how the mighty algorythm ranks the image.

Conclusion

If you really want to use Instagram as a landscaper, tripod warrior or whatever you wanna call us, realize that it´s not the best idea to ignore the key factors that can make your work function on the app. Traditional landscape photography is not the ideal kind of imagery for this app- you see it when you look at other photographers that chose the way of a rather documentary style of landscape photography that many call adventure/lifestyle photography. Here they often place humans doing something or interacting with the scene in the frame.

I really love this kind of work by many artists out there when they achieve to create that strong feeling of wanting to get out into nature and gaze at the elements. Often I also find it rather boring when I notice that it was just done to have a potentially popular image.

While this style of imagery is definitly more likely to quickly gain traction I have never considered changing my style just for this fact and i think you shouldn´t do this neither unless that is what inspires you the most. 

We only live once- follow your own passion!


Now we come to the point where maybe some of you may think: OK, Felix, thanks for the tips, but if we look closely you haven’t really been killing it yourself on Instagram anymore. And yeah… that’s true.

The days when I spent the needed time for this app are long gone. There are many different reasons for this fact, the biggest and most important of all being my wife and my two sons. They deserve my attention more than my phone, and this alone is already a disadvantage if I still wanted to keep my account growing as it once did.

I also don’t feel as inspired by the app as I once was anymore. I don’t want to start circle jerking just exchanging likes and comments with others just for the sake of it.

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The 7 Wonders Of The World (according to Instagram).

We all know about the 7 wonders of the world. We also know that there are many different versions. The 7 ancient wonders of the world, the 7 natural wonders of the world, the 7 modern wonders of the world.. The list goes on.

With Instagram being a huge source of travel inspiration for millions of people around the world, I think it is about time someone took note of the most shared and most desirable locations around the world based on what we see on Instagram as a platform.

So here are The 7 Wonders of the World: according to Instagram.

Coming in at Number 7

We have the The Faroe Islands

This beautiful and remote archipelago is the home to many iconic viewpoints filled with geographical drama and humble living situations. Whilst the weather may toughen you up, if you can push through you will certainly get some shots to amaze and inspire.

Photos from @giuligartner

Number 6 Lake Bled - Slovenia

Often referred to as Fairytale Lake, when you see shots like these it is easy to see why. The church on the island makes for a intriguing shots in almost any condition and the forests and mountains provide a perfect frame for these serene location.

Photos from @Jordhammond

For Number 5 Horseshoe Bend - USA

A must see road-side stop for anyone in northern Arizona, just a short walk over a sandy hill and you could be in another planet, the sound of the highway disappears and in-front of you it this visually stunning canyon formation. No photo will ever do justice to the sheer scale of it.

Horseshoe Bend Web.jpg

Photos from @oliver_wheeldon

Going back to the cold for Number 4... Iceland

The true land of ice and fire has been growing increasingly popular over the past few years, as an island packed with waterfalls, volcanic beaches and great opportunities for the Northern lights it makes sense that so many photographers are flocking here.

Photos from @henry.nathan

Into the final three we’re staying up north for Number 3 with The Lofoten Islands - Norway

Again as a location combining dramatic mountainous coastline with small abodes, Lofoten has been a photographer favourite for a long time, competition tightly with Iceland as a northern lights hotspot it just inches ahead because so many shots are seen from a smaller specific region.

Photos from @henry.nathan

This spot had to be on the list and so high because the same shot is so common, for Number 2 its St Johann Church/ The Dolomites - Italy

Bringing back the fairytale vibes of Slovenia, this spot combines a beautiful church in a pristine rolling field with a dense forest and one of the most exciting mountain ridges in the world. A spot that works in every season and time of day, it was a no-brainer for it to feature so highly. 

Photos from @guerelsahin

Finally, the big one. The US takes it with Yosemite National Park - California.

Yosemite has been iconic for decades, with several viewpoints that provide their own unique photography opportunities there are so many unique spots with their own natural wonders, from the incredibly high waterfalls that to half-dome and mirror lake. Yosemite is also home to the John Muir trail which takes you up the valley even more waterfalls. Yosemite had to be number one because of its endless possibilities, its timeless presence on everyones feeds as one of the greatest natural environments that people visit year round giving people such different experiences. 

Photos from @oliver_wheeldon

Runners Up

Ubud Light Rays - Bali

These shots always crop up in our feeds as they are featured time and time again, whilst it might not be one of the most popular destinations, when instagrammers go, they get so many killer shots it had to get a special mention.

Photos from @Jordhammond

Moraine Lake - Canada

This was originally an old favourite for number one, but the reality is it just isn’t as popular as it used to be, whilst still an iconic destination, it clearly isn’t attracting the instagram crowd like it used to.

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Painted Mountain - Peru

Similar to the Ubud light rays, as a more remote destination it isn’t as popular, but when people do go the photography opportunities are incredible. 

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Dubai - UAE

I wanted to give this city credit not only as a hub for photographers so often passing through from Europe and the USA to asia, it has become a favourite destination in itself for not only its truly unique cityscapes, but the wilderness adventures that can be had just an hour outside the insane metropolis.

Photos from @henry.nathan

That Wanaka Tree - NZ

Again originally a clear favourite for the list as such an iconic and recurring view but again it just isn’t being seen as much as it used to be. 

Photos from @ianharper

Have any questions? Do you agree with our list? Want to add something? Leave a comment below ↓