6 min read

Social media – if you’re a photographer your images are sure to end up there.  You’re either trying to pimp yourself out to the masses or your customer wants to show off their new mug shot.  How do you optimize images for social media?  Let’s cover a common scenario that we see all too often.

You deliver a new image on a grey background and looks great on your computer.  The client posts the image on Facebook and tags you in it.  The likes start rolling in.  You finally get time to check the image and you see it… BANDING in the background!  What!?  How!?  You did what everyone said to do and applied noise to the image in Photoshop to negate this very thing.  Sure the client looks great – that background tho.  It’s killing the whole vibe!  That’s what this article is about – from a headshot photographer’s perspective.  I’m going to show you the best ways that I’ve found to optimize images for social media.  Facebook is the channel I’ll cover in this article but I’ll go over other social media networks in a future article.

What is banding?  Take a quick look at this slice of a recent image I posted to Facebook.  This was taken directly from Facebook’s web site.  Do you see those circular lines radiating outward from the subject?  It looks like I dropped her in a pond of grey water and those are the nasty pixelated ripples radiating outward from the incident.

Image banding on Facebook


Here is a screenshot of the full image from Facebook so you can see how it affects the quality of the entire viewing experience.

Image banding on Facebook

Not only is the banding affecting the feel of the photo – I posted this image to Facebook via Instagram.  That whole process chews those pixels up even more.  Her skin even looks sharpened, but I didn’t apply any sharpening to it.

How To Optimize Images for Social Media

Facebook Edition

Let’s take a look at what I’ve found to be the best way to optimize images for social media –  Facebook is the network we’re looking at in this article.  Will this add time to my workflow?  A tiny bit.  However, it’s really minimal in terms of the return.  Your images WILL be viewed on Facebook and they will represent your brand there.  CONTROL it.  OWN it.  Your customers will be happy and your brand will benefit.  Your customers pay you a lot of money for these pictures, the output should reflect that.

What causes this banding?  It’s going to be there when you have a gradient on your background.  Subtle gradient – extreme gradient – doesn’t matter.  The gradient on my example photo above is subtle.  When you’re viewing the image in 16-bit (most of us edit in 16-bit) there are a lot more colors available for viewing and the gradients look smooth.  In 8-bit there are fewer colors to work with.  Your computer might display them just fine but the Internet will shit on ’em.  Why does this happen?  I don’t have a scientific explanation – do I look like Bill Nye to you?  I see myself as more of a Bob Ross.

General Principles

  • I won’t post to Facebook from Instagram, IFTTT, or other similar programs anymore.  Who knows what they’re doing to your images in transit.  I might try a platform like Buffer in the future but I’m not really in a hurry to do so.
  • Don’t add noise in your 16-bit working file.  The effort here is futile.  It’ll look great in 16-bit but that shit’ll still show up after you output to 8-bit for viewing on Facebook.  Maybe not on your computer but it’ll be there on Facebook.  Ok – maybe not the banding but you might notice some 8-bit looking pixelation in that background.
  • Other than general cleanup do NOT jack with your background in your 16-bit edit.  I was getting lazy and blurring the hell out of the background to make it more even.  That introduces crazy wicked banding.  It’s alright though, right?  I just add a little noise and it goes away!  See my previous point on this.  No adding noise in your 16-bit layered file.
  • Export your images from Lightroom with the recommended settings.  This will keep Facebook’s compression algorithm from fucking with your photos – or at least minimize the impact.  The settings I’ll show you in just a second work for me (for now).  If you’re using a program other than Lightroom that’s ok; these options will be available in whatever application you use.

Keeping the above principles in mind let’s get twerk!

Lightroom Exporting

I get it – you don’t have Lightroom.  As I’ve stated, these settings will be available in any image editing program.  Here is the important section in the Lightroom export dialogue box.  Most people get this part right but I’m going to provide my settings in the interest of providing a complete picture.

Lightroom Export Settings for Facebook

If you have questions on any of the output variables above just ask them in the comments below.  This article is already getting too long.

Now that our images are exported into an 8-bit sRGB format we’ll apply our noise.  This step is really fast once you do it a time or two.  I just drag and drop the image onto my Photoshop icon to open it up.  When you do this you’ll see that it’s an 8-bit sRGB file with a base layer and no other layers.  That’s perfect.  Add a 50% grey layer above the base layer, set the blend mode to overlay, and add 1% gaussian monochromatic noise to the grey layer.  Flatten the image and save it out (overwriting the original export).  I don’t worry about masking the noise off the subject because 1% is so low that it really isn’t noticeable.

Sound like a lot of work?  Well, there’s an action for this.  I created it just for you and with it your process will shift to this:

  1. Drag and drop the exported file onto your Photoshop icon to open it up.
  2. Run the action.
  3. Close the file in Photoshop – DONE.
  4. Upload directly to Facebook.

You can download my Add Noise action by clicking on the link.

Warning – this action will replace the original export but that’s ok.  This fits in fine with my overall workflow.  I’ll detail that more in a future article.

JPEGmini – we’ve gotta use JPEGmini!  I agree that JPEGmini is a great product, and I want to use it.  However, when it comes to Facebook I found that JPEG mini introduced that 8-bit artifacting into my background – even after going through the process I’ve outlined in this article.  Remember, the goal is to have our images look their best – so that our customers look their best.  If you’re shooting on a pure white background then none of this is an issue.  Use JPEGmini on those images if you want.

My observations:

  • When I view the image from my computer on Facebook in the web browser it looks great when I click to view.  The “thumbnail” that facebook shows in the newsfeed still has a tiny, tiny bit of funky background but I have to be looking close.  I don’t think the clients will look that close.
  • When I view the image via the Facebook app on my phone there is a tiny bit of artifacting on the background but it isn’t distracting.
  • The image looks a million times better using this workflow and NOT posting via Instagram.

Overall I feel that it’s worth the extra effort to optimize images for social media.  Your brand deserves the effort.

Here is the new file viewed on Facebook

Below is the original upload using the old method and posted to Facebook via Instagram.


Old shot with banding and yuck

Everything about the new upload is just better.  Stay tuned for future articles addressing other social networks.

Follow me on Instagram @leecrowcreative

Did this article help you out?  Could I have simplified things a bit?  Leave a comment below to let me know how I did!

Lee Crow

Lee Crow

Creative Bedou at Lee Crow [CREATIVE]
Profesional headshot and creative portrait photographer in Bahrain.Check out www.bahrainheadshots.com and www.leecrow.com for more information about me.
Lee Crow