To frame or not to frame – not a famous quote but it can be a difficult question. Most of our personal photos are not going to be prominently displayed in our home. Most personal photos are family snapshots that will be shared on social networks. For those, snapshots are perfectly adequate.
But, what about those that we wish to frame and display prominently? That great shot of our newborn opening their eyes with a big smile – how do we frame that? How do we know if the thumbnail we view on our cell phone camera will look good when framed?
To be brutally honest, most of our snapshots will not look good in a moderate to large frame. Lots of nits we don’t notice when viewing the 2″ thumbnail are going to be clearly evident when we print to a larger size. And for that matter, what size is adequate? Do we have enough resolution (# of pixels) to create a moderately large print? Let’s take a look at some size comparisons.
This display will give you some idea of relative sizes.
Here we see a family portrait and a standard 8′ sofa. An 8×10 print may be sufficient for a desk frame but it’s clearly not going to cut it as a wall display. Even the 16×20 print (size of the photo – the frame is significantly larger) is going to seem inadequate when hung over your sofa.
Let’s start with that 16×20 print and see if our file has the resolution needed. If we upload our file to Costco for printing we may very well get a warning about picture size and pixel count. We’ve put together the table below to illustrate the issue with common photo sizes.
Most professional print shops will require 300 pixels per inch of print (ppi) to ensure sufficient resolution/clarity. Print with a significantly lower ppi and the picture will not look good. But let’s consider that the larger the print the further we stand to view it. In other words, large prints don’t need 300 ppi resolution at normal viewing distances. Just be sure to keep the pixel peepers at bay.
The table above has recommended pixel counts vs. picture size. Small prints up to 9×12 should support 300 ppi because we move closer to see a 9×12 than a 24×30. Larger prints, such as the 16×20 example above should support 240 ppi. without any perceived loss of clarity.
OK – enough about ppi. How do I know if my photo has enough ppi That’s what our table shows in the Photo Size (Mpix) columns. For those that care, here’s the math.
Let’s look at a 12×16 image. We need needs 12×240 = 2,880 pix; 16×240 = 3,840 pix for a total pixel count of 2,880×3,840 = 11.1Mpixels. Great – your camera has 12 Mpixels so we should be OK at 12×16. But anything larger than that starts to become an issue. The 16×20 is well beyond our cameras reach.
What do we do for large prints? Hire a professional is the best approach. You just can’t expect a cell phone camera to support large prints.
Next week we’ll continue this theme and give tips on how to choose frames for the professional quality photos that will become family heirlooms once they are framed. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically when we post Photo Excursions, Road Trips, Family Happenings or Photo Tips by “friending” our Facebook site. We also post favorite photos, along with an explanation of how it was captured, on our Pinterest page – follow us there and join in the fun.
PS - This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips that cover topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note. Also, if you think your friends or family members would enjoy these tips please pass them on by using any of the share buttons below.