If you use Facebook, you've probably uploaded a picture at some point. While Facebook is great for sharing, it also uses some pretty ruthless compression that makes your pictures look like crap. Here's how to prevent that from happening.
Disgusted picture from Shutterstock
How Facebook ruins your images
Facebook is huge. An estimated 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day. That's a lot of data for them to store, so to lighten the load, Facebook compresses your images. This makes them smaller in size, but it can also ruin image quality. Generally, this isn't a huge deal, but when an image gets passed around the internet, downloaded, shared, and reuploaded to a bunch of different services, it can get pretty nasty.
For example, let's take a look at this Strong Bad email screenshot. To get a sense of how bad the image compression can be, I uploaded the screenshot, downloaded the resulting file, and then re-uploaded the already compressed version. After five times through the upload process, this is what we got:
As you can see, it doesn't take much for the image to start looking crappy. Strong Bad's whole head looks blocky, and the ketchup all over his computer is even messier than it was before. In my testing, I found that this was around the threshold that Facebook's compression alone didn't make much of a difference.
You can also see how this compression affects text as well. In the image below, you can see that any area around text starts becoming blocky, noisy, and faded:
Of course, the problem compounds when an already crummy image is taken out of Facebook, modified slightly, and re-uploaded to go through the whole process again. This happens on the internet all the time. Person A says something funny on Twitter. Person B takes a screenshot and uploads it to Facebook. Person C then downloads that image, shares it to Tumblr and adds a comment. Person D takes a new screenshot of the image including the comment and sends it through Facebook Messenger to Person E, who then saves the picture, uploads it to their own Facebook timeline. At this point, it's gone through Facebook's compression three times, with a screenshot of a screenshot thrown in. It will likely look like crap.
Of course, Facebook isn't the only site that compresses images. Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and virtually any other site where you can upload pictures will apply some level of compression. However, Facebook's compression seems to be more ruthless than most sites. And once an image is compressed to Facebook's level, it may be too small to trigger another site's compression. However, things like Instagram filters or screenshots can make the image bigger, while including the old imperfections, introduce new ones, and start the process all over again.
When everyone is doing this every time they want to move a picture from one place to another, pictures can start to look like garbage really quickly. When you upload your own photos, they might look okay the first time, but the more a picture gets passed around the internet, the more its quality can deteriorate.
What you can do about it
Unfortunately, you can't turn off Facebook's compression. However, there are a few ways to minimise the effect. In some cases, you can tweak your photos before uploading them to Facebook. You can also use separate hosting to share photos without ever touching Facebook's servers.
Learn how to use Facebook's own tools
While Facebook will always apply compression to your uploaded photos, there are some ways to limit the effect. Here are some of the key tips if you decide to upload to Facebook directly:
- Upload pictures that are at least 2048 pixels wide: According to Facebook's guidelines, 2048px is the ideal width for high resolution images. Your images will still be compressed, but if they're uploaded at a higher resolution to begin with, the effect may not be as noticeable. This is best used for photographs.
- Create "High Quality" albums when uploading: Facebook has a high quality option, but it's buried. To enable it, create a new photo album. While you're creating the album, check the box that says "High Quality." Now, any photos that are uploaded to this album will be stored in larger, less compress file sizes.
- Crop cover photos to 851px by 315px: Also per Facebook's own recommendations, cover photos should ideally be 851px by 315px. Anything smaller than this and your cover photo will look stretched and pixelated.
You can't eliminate Facebook's compression entirely, but if you're taking the time to upload your own photos, you may as well make the best of them.
Share the best version of the photo you can
Not every photo you share will be a photo you edit on your own. Sometimes you just want to share something funny or interesting you found online. If you're going to do that, do yourself (and everyone else) a favour and share the best version you can. Here are some ways to do that:
- Share direct links: If you found an image elsewhere online, share a link to the image itself, rather than uploading it to your page. Not only is this faster and easier, but it will likely be better quality, and in most cases Facebook will embed the image at full size anyway. You can quickly get a link to nearly any photo online by right-clicking it and selecting "Copy image URL."
- Use alternative hosting: If you want to share a photo you've taken yourself without compressing it, you can upload it to a third-party hosting site like Imgur. Imgur uses lossless compression for any photo smaller than 5MB. When you share the link to that photo, Facebook will embed the higher-resolution version.
- Search Google for a better version: If you come across a version of an image on Facebook that already looks compressed to hell, try a Google Image Search to see if you can find a less crappy version. You can either link out to that one, or at least upload one that hasn't been compressed quite as much.
- Use the Share button: If you find a photo on Facebook and it has a Share button, use it instead of re-uploading the photo. This will share the version Facebook has already uploaded. Even if it has already been compressed a bit, you can at least avoid compressing it even more.
As long as you're uploading photos to Facebook, you're always going to get hit with at least a little compression. However, not everything has to be uploaded to Facebook, and even when they are, it's usually pretty easy to find a better version of the picture somewhere else.
Avoid bad habits that ruin pictures
There are some habits that, while technically possible, shouldn't be encouraged (like vertical videos). Similarly, there are some things you should avoid when sharing photos to Facebook to prevent ugly, compressed images:
- Don't download and re-upload from Facebook: If an image is already on Facebook, try not to download and then re-upload it to Facebook. Once may be fine, but everyone doing this over and over is like the telephone game for images. Except instead of getting a hilariously misinterpreted message at the end, you just have a garbled, gross mess of a picture. Instead, download the original, or share the existing one using the Share button.
- Don't share photos by taking screenshots on your phone: Unless the thing you're sharing originated on your phone, it's probably not a great idea to share something by taking a screenshot of it and posting the screenshot to Facebook. Not only will it get compressed, but it looks tacky.
- Don't take low-res screenshots of high-res images: Taking screenshots on a computer can be a handy way to share an image. If you're going to do it, though, at least try to get the highest quality you can. If you're taking a screenshot of text, zoom in a bit. If you're screenshotting a frame from a video, switch to the highest quality setting first. Remember, the bigger the better.
Most of this will have a dramatic effect on the quality of the images you share to begin with. However, some of these tips are also little courtesies that can make the internet look a bit less crap for everyone. Sure, downloading and re-uploading to Facebook once may not hurt, but if no one did it, we'd have fewer pictures that look like this on our feeds.