What are the Best Settings for Displaying Photos Online?

Most photographers nowadays will be posting their photos on the web, but it is a constant tossup between keeping your images safe from copyright infringement and making them look good online. If you’re wondering what file size you should upload for displaying your photos online, then you’re in the right place. In this article, I’m going to look at some of the best settings for uploading your images on the internet.

Never upload a high-resolution file

You’d be surprised how many people upload their full-resolution photos online. This is a bad idea.

Uploading a full resolution file (whether to Facebook, Flickr, or even your own website) causes a number of potential problems. Firstly, the files are often huge and that makes for slow loading speeds on your own website. This turns off visitors and will cause people to give up when browsing your work online. Plus, many image-sharing platforms and social media networks will reduce the quality of the file themselves, often making it look bad in the process.

Read more: How to Upload Photos to Facebook at the Best Quality

best settings for uploading photos online

Some image-sharing platforms encourage the uploading of a high-resolution file. This is particularly true if there is also a marketplace feature attached where you can sell your images, and the high-resolution file is used to fulfil orders whilst showing a smaller version on the webpage itself. This can be fine, but it’s worth noting that Flickr can allow the downloading of your full resolution image by the public if you do not disable that option.

Should someone get hold of your high-resolution file, they can easily print and reproduce the image themselves. Why would someone buy your photo if they can just take your high-resolution file and make a great print from it themselves?

It can also make it more difficult to prove that you are the original creator of an image. Should someone ever dispute the ownership of your image, being able to pull out the original file is your trump card. But if you upload the high res file online, anyone could have it.

How many pixels should photos be that you upload online?

This is the big question. What actually is the optimum size for uploading images online? You want your photos to look good, but you don’t want people lifting large copies of your photos that they can do anything substantial with.

I used to opt for 800px on the longest side. However, most computer screens are now high definition “retina” screens, meaning for increased pixel density and therefore requiring larger file sizes.

For example, the space occupied by 800 pixels on a “normal” screen would typically describe 1600 pixels on a retina screen. Photos will show at the expected size on websites, but an 800px file will be stretched over 1600 actual pixels. This means photos don’t look as good.

Consequently, I now always upload a 1600px file online. In fact, all of the images on Nature TTL are 1600px on the longest side. This means that photos look good to everyone on retina screens, yet we are not uploading such large sizes that the file can be useful to anyone for printing.

Reducing the file size and quality

So you’re ready to export a 1600px file for uploading online, but what else can you do to your photo to reduce any temptation for it to be printed by dishonest people?

Read more: What to Do When Your Photos are ‘Stolen’

The next thing you should do is to reduce the file’s size. This is done easily using Lightroom’s export window, where you can specify the maximum number of kilobytes that a file should be. However, it’s also possible in Photoshop and other editing software.


Using clever algorithms, image-editing software will make the file smaller in size whilst still retaining its pixel width and ensuring it looks good (up to a point).

I find that the best balance between how good a photo looks and reducing the size sufficiently is at around 250-300kb in size. This ensures quick loading speeds, good looking images, and files that are pretty much useless when it comes to printing them.

Watermarking your photos

It’s always good practice to watermark your images when putting them online. It’s not going to stop someone who is determined to remove it as even fairly basic editing skills are good enough to remove the majority of watermarks.

I do see a lot of people falling to the temptation to splash a gigantic watermark across an image. However, this completely detracts from the shot and renders the initial reason for uploading almost pointless.

Instead, keep things subtle. Watermarks are mainly there to provide some sort of credit line for your images, and to dissuade casual copyright infringement.

Further reading

We’ve covered a number of other topics around using images online. Take a look at the following articles for more information:

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