Making Sense of Megapixels

I know I said I was planning to continue the lighting discussion, and I still am, but that’s going to have to wait until next time.  I’ve seen a lot of misinformation lately about digital camera sensor capabilities, and folks routinely throwing around the ole “you need a 10 MP camera or else” gibberish without really understanding what’s needed to get decent Etsy product photos.  I find that quite annoying, so here’s my take on the issue.

First things first – a quote from the Etsy help pages:

The minimum size for your photo should be 570 pixels wide. We retain the aspect ratio of your original, so the height is variable.

We recommend using an image that is around 800-1000 pixels wide. Using an original image of this size lets shoppers use the Zoom button to see the larger image.

We do not recommend using images that are much larger than 1000 pixels square, as files this large can be difficult to upload.

Now that we have a starting point, let’s go backwards to get there again and see if we can make sense out of these numbers, especially when it comes to how your photos might look online.  I’m going to use a shot I took at Biltmore Gardens in Asheville, NC as an example.

The first image below is the original size as it came out of my camera.  It’s 4,288 pixels wide and 2,848 pixels high.  If you have a calculator handy, multiply those two numbers together.  What do you get?  You should come up with 12,212,224 (that’s a little over 12 million pixels, or a little over 12 megapixels, or a little over 12 MP).  That is one very large photo, something that could easily be printed poster-size and still look remarkable.  Go ahead, click on the first image.  You should get a magnifying glass.  Click again.  Now you should get some scroll bars that let you see the entire image at its full resolution.

Well, for the purposes of my Etsy shop, there were two things that I needed to do.  First, I really didn’t need all those pixels to get a good image on my (or your) computer monitor.  Second, I wasn’t all that crazy about the overall photo anyway, so I wanted to get rid of some of the uninteresting junk.

So for my next step,  I cropped the original so it could be printed as an 8 x 10.  What I got as a result is shown below.  The only thing I did by cropping was get rid of unwanted parts of the photo, and my remaining image was 2,143 pixels wide x 1,714 pixels high.  Okay, time for more fun math — Multiply these two numbers together, and you get (hopefully) 3,673,102 pixels (about 3.7 MP).  Right?  But let’s say that this is the image I want to use in my shop.  Well, if we look up above at what the Etsy folks tell us, it’s still too big.  But what if I don’t want to crop anymore because I like the way it looks?  Well, I’ll just have to resize it, just like you can do with whatever photo editing software you happen to be using.  But I’m going to ignore the Etsy rules (just a little) and resize the image to a width 1,500 pixels instead of the recommended 1,000 pixels.  Keeping the aspect ratio the same (still 8 x 10, or more accurately 10 x 8), my height now comes out to be 1,200.  More math — 1,500 x 1,200 equals 1,800,000 (1.8 MP), right?  Right!  Now take a look at the image below.  Click on it and then use the magnifier to zoom.  Now really take a close look.  See any problems with the resolution?  I hope not, or this could be really embarrassing!  And what was the resolution of this one?  1.8 MP?  Do they even make cameras with resolutions that low anymore?

Okay, let’s do one more.  I cropped again, but didn’t resize, and ended up with what you see below.  This time, I was left with an image 954 pixels wide x 763 pixels high.  One last time, do the math and what do you get?  Hint — 727,902 pixels.  That’s less than 1 Megapixel!  And one last time click on the image and take a close look?  Decent photo?  You bet, and not even 1 MP in size.

So what does all that mean to you.  Well, a few things…

  1. You don’t need a 12 MP camera to get great Etsy shots.
  2. But if you happen to have a 6, or 8, or 10 MP or larger camera, use it to your advantage.  Take large photos from a little farther back or with a little less zoom (unless you’re trying a special technique), crop judiciously and resize if necessary.
  3. Look at your Etsy listing photos the way a shopper might.  Click and zoom.  Make sure you’re happy with the way they look, and if not, try again.
  4. And finally… the next time a big box store salesperson tells you you need the next-generation 16 MB camera, you can now confidently and politely tell him that he’s full of crap.

Next post about indoor lighting (I promise).  Until then…

Happy Shooting!

8 thoughts on “Making Sense of Megapixels

  1. Wonderful lesson, thank you very much!

    Taking photos for my Etsy shop is quite stressful since I’m a perfectionist and my photos are far from best. But I’m learning and clearly see that current photos are much better than the first ones, when I just opened the shop.

    Indoor lighting would be a dream come true lesson, as well as Setting the Scene (I see the link above, going to read).

    Thank you again, now I’m your new reader if you don’t mind.

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  5. Hi, I’m in the process of learning all I can about Etsy before setting up my shop. Right now I’m researching photo uploading. I use Photoshop, but am veerry farrrrrr from being even a semi-expert with PS. I think I will put a watermark on my photos. All I have to do is figure out how to do that. Hopefully, when I open PS it will have thattool right there waiting for me.
    I am very impressed with your blog. You are answering complicated questions in terminology and directions that are very easily understood.

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