How to Export Sharp Photos for Instagram

Instagram has become the primary avenue for photographers to share their work, but if not appropriately handled, Instagram can ruin the look of your images. Here is the best way to export your photos from Lightroom if you want your pictures to stay as sharp as possible.

Recently, a local wedding venue shared one of my images on their Instagram page. I don’t mind sharing my photos with other local vendors, but in this case, it looked so terrible that I called the company and asked them to take the image down. I honestly felt that it was bad enough that it would have hurt my brand for potential clients to see the picture. Now, I deliver correctly sized files to vendors for social media use to take out the potential error of others uploading my photos. If you want to know the best way to do this, this video from Becki Peckham of Becki and Chris will show you how.

As Peckham says in her video, the key to keeping your photos sharp on Instagram is to do all the cropping and resizing work before the upload instead of letting Instagram do it for you. For example, if you are posting a vertical image, you need to crop it in Lightroom to Instagram’s 4:5 ratio restriction. The second step is to export to the maximum size that the social media platform allows to prevent the dreaded compressed look that can happen to large images. Both of these steps are easy if you know what settings to use for your photos. To see the exact specifications and export settings that Peckham uses, take a look at the video above.

Lead image by Pixabay user FirmBee, used under Creative Commons.

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24 Comments

Nick Rains's picture

Interesting, but one mistake - should be Long Edge 1080px not Short Edge. That is, assuming it's a 4:5 horizontal image, or 1:1 square. Also ppi makes no difference - 72 is a legacy number and has no relevance for web delivery.

BTW, same technique works for FaceBook, but 2048px on the long edge instead.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

To my knowledge, Instagram can do 1350px on the long edge if you have a photo in portrait orientation.

I resize square images to 1080 x 1080, and if it's not square, I float it into a 1080 x 1080 square. But they still lose a ton of their clarity once they show up on Instagram.

Evan Guttman's picture

Yeah.. I'm a bit confused now. Every other export guide for IG says to use Long Edge, not Short Edge. Additionally, they say the most important thing is to degrade quality to 70% as if you upload at 100% as this guide shows, then IG will degrade your picture themselves, which is worse.

Nick Rains's picture

70% is fine, it's not really a 'degrade' just a compression factor which relates to file size. It's hard to tell the difference between anything over about 60% and 100%, but the larger file size will possibly push it over some threshold and trigger a re-compression at the IG end - this is to be avoided.

Short Edge?

Laughing Cow's picture

Instagram?

Bill Wells's picture

I think Instagram may compresses 100% of the images.

In other words, the process is
IF image uploaded --> THEN send to image processing.
IF image compress is successful --> THEN post to account.

Since compression is more that just image dimensions the image must be processed to insure image meets standards.

I have always sent my images at twice the final size. So a square image (1080x1080) would be 2160x2160. It seems to work. But then I don't know.

https://instagram.com/billjessphoto

Marc Perino's picture

I agree with you. I made several tests a while ago. I don't know if they changed something in the algorithms in the meantime.
BUT I got the best results by uploading 2500px on the longest side and the results were waay better when I tried to output it to 1080px. Of course always in the exact ratio.

I do it ever since and they look crisp on all devices.

Bill Wells's picture

It has worked for me. If there is better way, I'll change my ways. Ha Ha

Yan Pekar's picture

The more social networks, the more confusion, the more time goes into preparing the same image for upload to different platforms. Can you afford spending time on resizing the same image for several platforms? From your experience, is the amount of work / paid jobs you get from social networks so significant to invest time into preparing the same image for upload to different (or even the same) platform? How do you keep track of different resized versions of the same image?

Bill Wells's picture

The quick answer is yes.

Yan Pekar's picture

Thank you for a detailed reply. I did refer to images you prepare for online upload, not prints. Obviously, you would put more efforts into preparing image for print. My web site is not my advertisement?? Very subjective, and it depends. As I shoot mostly corporate events, most of my clients are not on social networks, hence my site is the platform they look at. Sorry, but I disagree that for "almost all" photographers paid work originate from social media. For some - yes, for most - not. Simply not true. I get 80% of my clients from word of mouth, local advertisement and web site, not from social media. Thank you for sharing your opinion and workflow.

Bill Wells's picture

I think you may have misunderstood. I was making a comparison between print ads and social media. They are the same. One is just digital.

Do a google search on this "is social media good for photographers" . If social media is not critical, then why is every advanced and beginner training, The Wedding School, KelbyOne, Creative Live, Master Class, teaching class on effective use of social media.

Yan Pekar's picture

Sorry, Bill, but if you do a Google search on "if social media is good for photographers", you will get variety of answers, most of them will probably be "yes it is good", as they want us to spend more time on social networks. They teach it because it is a trend of today's society. It does not mean that using social networks is a "must have", or "necessary". I never said that our work does not need marketing. I said that what kind of platforms you use depends on what do you shoot, and who are your clients. Thank you for looking at my work, appreciate it. No need to challenge me with a question "why do you do it?". As I said, I get maybe 20% of work from social media. If you have heard of principle "80/20", I do diversify, but I spend most of my efforts developing channels that bring me most of my work, and these are not from social media. I am not angry at all. You made a wrong assumption. I am just sharing my experience (based on personal experience rather than on "industry publications"). Have a great day.

Bill Wells's picture

I hear you. Everybody has their own way of doing things. I wish you would tell me how you determine the amount of business that originated from social media. Because I can't figure it out.

If they go from a social media platform to my website I can track that. Come to my website on a different date or from different site then I can't tell what influence social media had on them. That is the reason I said "originated" from social media. Just like if you put up a billboard. You can't really tell about that either. That is just getting my name in their brain. So if they ever do look, my name pops in their head. If you ask how did you find us. The answer will be web search, but that was not what originated it.

I know that 47% of my traffic is coming from mobile. Yours will be similar. I can tell where they they came from. The page they landed on. How long they stayed What page the last viewed. What time it was and o/s they were using. what country and what browser.

Yan Pekar's picture

"I wish you would tell me how you determine the amount of business the originated from social media."

Do a simple stats of total amount of jobs you get per month (booked and potential), and categorise them by channels: word of mouth, social media, local advertisement, web site, etc.. I am sure you are not getting hundreds of jobs per month, so the stats should be easy to put. I am aware of how site loading speed affects traffic. Thank you for your advice. All the best.

Bill Wells's picture

I'm not being rude. But you said 20% of your business is coming from social media.

Social media numbers are increasing daily. Those numbers are huge. In my case pintrest and Instagram. They see our images and see our name.

So at this point they found us on social media.

3 weeks later they are searching for a wedding photographer, web search for us, book us, the lead shows it came from web search. But social media started the whole thing.

Look you are on social media, so I don't really understand your position. Not only are you on social media, you post frequently, have many post and tag them for user search.

You started out "Is it worth your time to prep images?" and "how to catalog or keep track of all of them?" and "isn't it a waste of time" So your position and biggest problem, was it takes too much time and there is no way to organize the files. Spend time doing something else.

I explained my workflow of doing all of that with one click. Well you didn't mention that again and moved to something else. Then it was all my business comes from my website. I can assure you all your traffic did not come from organic search. But that is another issue.

The point I'm making no matter what your question, when you get the answer, you move to something else or dismiss it as a BIG CONSPIRACY by the photography and social media elites. It's like trying to herd cats.

Yan Pekar's picture

Bill, I do not have time for such long messages. I do not have time to argue with you. And - any advice is good when people ask you for it. I am aware of how site loading speed affects traffic. But - I did not ask your advice on it. And I did not ask you to review and criticise my site publicly. And yes - you start being rude. All the best.

Bill Wells's picture

I understand so please do not respond to this.

First I apologize about what I said about your website. You had made a statement that your were getting all this business because of it. That was the only thing that made it an issue. I again apologize.

I just wanted to let everyone know that I managed to grab the ear of Rob Greer. (https://robgreer.com)

He is one of the nations utmost SEO experts. He teaches (rather pricey) SEO classes across the nation He is also the expert SEO speaker at PPA (Imaging USA) and WPPI (Expo) conventions. He is a judge for album design at PPA. and WPPI. Here is what he said about the link we are talking about.

He said, and I quote, "An Instagram link isn't going to have any impact on a website's SEO."

Bill Wells's picture

We may agree or disagree about specifics of this video. But bringing to light the importance of social media and the impact it has on photographers is very welcomed. At least by me.

There is no question, that is one place where your images need to stand out. Thanks again for the article.

GI PAMPERIEN's picture

I'm frick'n tired of self-gratifying, wordy tutorials, but this is spot on and extremely helpful in as few words as possible. Excellent!

D R's picture

Didn't watch the video but if they didn't mention it, another tip is to create another instagram account, make it private and then upload a test image to see how it looks, you don't need any tags or even discription. Instagram makes it easy to switch between accounts. 2048 should be the maximum pixels in my testing.