Why does it say my photo quality is too low when I try to order prints?

“Why does it say my photo quality is too low when I try to order prints? It looks fine on the back of my camera.”

During a lesson a few days ago a student told me she is frustrated with her camera. Whenever she tries to order an 8×10 print, she gets a message that the quality of the image is poor, and that the print quality will be low.

I checked her camera, and her file size is set to large jpg, so that wouldn’t explain it. In fact, even if her camera’s file size was set to small, she could still probably print an 8×10 with no problem. Plus, I’ve never seen an ordering system that looks at your file and tells you that your image is not technically good enough to print. Unfortunately, they’ll just go ahead and print it no matter how crappy your focus, color or anything else is.

Then it hit me. I asked her if she crops her images before uploading them to be printed, and it turns out she was cropping way in on her images. For instance, she might have photographed cows in the field in the distance, and she was cropping out most of the field, and trying to print just the small section with the cows. And that’s where the problem is.

Today’s digital cameras have a fairly high resolution, and you can crop in a bit and still get a decent print. But if you crop in too much and try to print too small of a portion of an image, you’re going to get a very poor print because there aren’t enough pixels. It’s as if a postage stamp were printed on a piece of thin rubber, and you stretched it out to fit onto a piece of letter-sized paper. The detail would be gone, and the image wouldn’t be clear. For instance, if I were to crop in as shown on the fly in the image below and then try to order it as an 8×10, the ordering system is going to give me some sort of warning.

low resolution cropping example

Here’s what the screen looked like when I uploaded the cropped-in version to Costco’s online. The 4×6 print looks like it’s going to be okay, but the 8×10 size has a yellow triangle with an exclamation point, warning me that the resolution is too low to get a decent quality print. I could go ahead and print it, but I might not be happy with the results.

resolution warning trying to order pictures

It depends where you’re ordering from. You might get a message saying your photo’s resolution is too low, or you might get a message just saying that the quality is not sufficient. In either case, the issue is going to be that the file size is too small for the size of the print, and if you do choose to print it you’ll find your print is not sharp and just doesn’t look so hot.

So what’s the solution? It may just involve physically moving yourself closer to your subject. If you’re all about photographing animals in the distance, you might want to think about getting a longer lens so you can zoom in more closely, filling up more of the frame with your subject.

Or, if another lens isn’t currently in the budget, you could rethink how you’re composing your images, and include more of the setting in the image that you’re going to print so that you don’t have to crop in as much.

Yet another option, if you have your heart set on printing just a portion of an image you’ve already taken and you’re getting an error message that the resolution is too low, is to use software that will let you “res up” the image. You can find instructions online as to how to increase the resolution of an image with Photoshop or other photo editing apps, or you can get specialized software such as Blow Up from Alien Skin Software. Blow Up does cost $99, but does a lovely job of increasing the resolution of an image in a way that’ll give you a final file size large enough to print.




Author: Mary Lynne

Mary Lynne Ashley has been a professional photographer since 2001. She spends her time teaching photography, photographing dogs (primarily as a volunteer for a rescue organization), and operating her amazing photo booth inside a cute red 1971 VW bus -- the Photo Love Bus. The best way to get in touch is through email at marylynneashley@gmail.com.

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