Why Your Facebook Photos Look So Bad (And What You Can Do About It)

Facebook is a popular platform for sharing photos, even though it’s not a very good one. They prioritize fast loading images over high quality ones. You can’t stop it from happening, but you can minimize the quality loss.

In the image above, you can see a side-by-side close up of the original photo and the version that’s on Facebook. The difference is noticeable. And Facebook is going to make some changes to pretty much any photo you upload in order to compress them so they load faster. There’s nothing you can do to totally stop this—if you want a high quality photo sharing site, check out something like 500px—but you can at least minimize the drop in quality when you upload pictures. Let’s look at how.

What Does Facebook Do to Your Photos?

In Facebook’s own words, when you upload an image, they “automatically resize and format your photos” so they’ll display properly on the site and in the apps. For example, if someone posts a single photo as a status update, that photo shows up on your News Feed with a resolution of 476 pixels wide by a maximum of 714px tall. Unless you upload your photo at that exact resolution, Facebook needs to do some scaling. And if you do upload your photo at that resolution, it’s going to look awful if someone clicks on it to see it zoomed in.

To give you an idea of the sort of thing that happens if you leave Facebook to it’s own devices, I uploaded the photo above which is 2.7MB and has a resolution of 5166 by 3444 pixels. When I downloaded it again from Timeline, it had a resolution of 960 by 640 pixels and was just 74 KB in size.

When I went into my Photos collection on Facebook, I was able to grab a 1938 by 1292 pixel version that was 348KB, but even that represents some seriously aggressive optimizing!

How to Make Your Photos Look Better on Facebook

Let’s make one thing clear; your photos are never going to look objectively great on Facebook. You can, however, take steps to make them look better.

First, you need to upload them in the right size. This minimizes how much resizing Facebook does. Plus, when you adjust your own photos, you have the option of doing a little cropping instead of resizing. Facebook recommends three sizes: 720 pixels, 960 pixels, and 2048 pixels wide. For photos, we can safely ignore the two smaller options; they’re just ludicrously small. That leaves us with one ideal size: 2048 pixels wide.

Next, you want to upload photos in the right color space. Facebook uses sRGB—the standard color profile for most displays. The good news is, you probably don’t have to change much here. sRGB is the color space used for 99% of JPEGs. If you take a photo with your smartphone or export one you take with your DSLR from Photoshop, Lightroom, or any major editing app, it’s going to be in the sRGB color space.

Realistically, if you have images that aren’t in the sRGB color space, you probably made a deliberate decision at some point to use something with a wider color gamut and know what you’re doing. You can check what color space a photo is using by viewing its metadata. You can see here that the selfie I shot with my iPhone is in sRGB, so I don’t need to change anything.

If you do have an image in a non-sRGB color space, you can either let Facebook take care of the conversion, or open the image in your image editor of choice and save it using the default JPEG settings. As you can see below, Photoshop’s defaults automatically convert the color profile to sRGB.

Through a bit of experimenting, I’ve found that Facebook compresses the highest quality versions of your images to just under 500 KB. Unfortunately, even when I uploaded photos that fell under this limit, Facebook still compressed the image. In fact, they compressed it even more than when I uploaded the 2.4 MB version. For this reason, rather than compress images yourself, we recommend uploading the highest quality JPEG you can.

Finally, Facebook has two separate qualities of uploads: Normal Quality and High Quality. Normal Quality is used for almost everything (posting an image as a Status Update or Profile Picture, for example). High Quality is only available when you upload images to a photo album.

RELATED: How to Stop Facebook from Uploading Low-Quality Photos and Videos from Your Phone

If you’re serious about having the highest quality images possible on Facebook, the best thing to do is upload your images to a photo album, and then share them from there. When you add images to an album, to upload them in High Quality, make sure the “High Quality” option is enabled. You can also set it to the default on your smartphone.

If you follow all these steps, while we can’t guarantee your photos will look good, they’ll at least look better than if you leave Facebook to its own devices.

A Note On Cover Photos

Cover photos (the image that appears at the top of your Timeline) are a bit of a special case. While all the tips above still apply, the exact values you should use change.

For the highest quality cover photo, you want to upload an image that is 851 pixels wide. If you don’t want it cropped on your profile, you need to have the image be 315 pixels tall as well.

Facebook also compresses cover photos to less than 100 KB. If you upload an image that’s less than 100 KB in size, it won’t be compressed at all.

Harry Guinness writes occasionally when he’s not busy skiing, sailing, partying, lifting weights, or otherwise dodging responsibility. His main areas of interest are himself, gin, and crazy people with interesting stories to tell. When people won’t pay him to write ill-thought-out opinion pieces, he covers photography, technology, and culture. You can follow him on Twitter.