Every time you screenshot a photo so you can share it on your Instagram, a kitten dies. Not a real kitten, a digital kitten, which is probably worse because that kitten had hundreds of likes and now it’s photo and the likes are all gone!

This tutorial has two goals: to explain why you shouldn’t screenshot then share images on your social media, and also to show you how to do it a better way. It’s also open to all visitors to the blog, not just members, so share around!

I really wanted to explain the why behind the what in this article, but if you don’t care click here to move to the TL:DR (too long, didn’t read) explanation. And if you really want the gist of it, there’s a second TL;DR for those really short on time,

There’s a better way

The magical combination of power button plus home button at the same time on your iPhone is quite possibly a more used feature the last five letters of the product’s name. It’s perfect – there’s something on your screen right now and you think “I wish I could share this with EVERYONE”. So you screenshot, and share. Which is great if it’s just for fun – but what if your wage depended on it?

Screenshotting is not good enough.

Why does screenshotting suck?

It’s all about resolution and image compression. Before we go to resolutions you need to know the difference between bitmap and vector.

Bitmap vs Vector

This little part is foundational stuff, feel free to skip if you’re bored already.

All photos ever are bitmap images. Another word for bitmap is raster. If you’ve ever spent time in Adobe software they will “rasterise” an image which means it paints it.

A bitmap file is one where every single pixel is “painted” and once it’s painted that is the highest quality it will ever be. A pixel is a single thing that can be painted, a pixel can only be one colour. So the screen you’re reading this on has many thousands of pixels, and because they’ve all been painted different you can read these words and differentiate between the white background and the grey words.

Once a pixel is painted (rasterised) the only direction it’s quality can go is down. That bitmap is never getting better, it can either stay the same or get less quality. vector-conversions.com explain it really well.

A vector image can go up and down in size without losing quality, because pixels aren’t being painted (rasterised) instead they are being drawn and re-drawn every time you view it.

My brain understands it this way: a vector image isn’t a drawing, it’s actually a series of commands, like an Ikea instruction set or a paint by numbers and every time you see a vector it has been redrawn and repainted. You don’t need to worry too much about vectors in this tutorial because unless you’re a graphic designer or working with logos etc you won’t really touch them. You’ll know it’s
(possibly) a vector if the file extension is .ai, .pdf, .svg, .eps and it’s definitely a bitmap (or raster) file if the file extension is .jpg, .jpeg, .gif, .png, .psd, .tif.

A bitmap image is an intricate image while a vector looks computer generated. Vectors are great for logos and things like drafting designs.

A binding resolution

Once you screenshot an image – that’s the largest it can be, which might be fine for you, but it will most likely be not-so-good for other people. So you hit the power and home buttons at the same time and you end up with a png file (high resolution bitmap file) that is exactly the same size of your screen,

[Note: the following resolution data is from iosres.com]

It’s all in the numbers. An iPhone 5, or 5S, or SE has a screen resolution of 640 pixels wide and 1136 pixels high. The bigger the phone, the bigger the size, up to iPhone 7 Plus which has a resolution of 1242 pixels wide and 2208 pixels high.

The two problems with a screenshot

Size and compression.

On the size side of the issue, if you screenshot an image on your iPhone 5s, it is 640 pixels wide, but Instagram images are 1080 pixels wide, so the image is stretched out and in the industry we call that: pixelised. Which pretty much means the boxes that are pixels become visible.

Then there’s the issue with compression. The regular image taken by a professional camera is in the range of about 20 megabytes. If all social networks were sharing 20 megabyte images the whole internet would grind to a halt trying to transfer that much information. So compression is a mathematical solution to sharing images at smaller sizes.

Compression figures out what parts of the original file aren’t really needed then deletes them and simply put at the end, a 20 megabyte photo file can be 1 megabyte and still be fine to the human eye. In different contexts you can even get the file down to 1/10th of a megabyte and it’s still very useable.

But as I explained earlier in the piece, once a bitmap file is re-edited or compressed or resized, that’s as big as it’s ever going to be.

Here’s an example with the help of xda-developers.com:

A photo taken on a smaller 9.6 megapixel camera creates a 4.3 megabyte jpeg file. If you crop that file to a square size ready for Instagram then resize it to 1080 pixels high and 1080 pixels wide on your computer you have a 1.6 megabyte file. Upload that photo to Instagram and then download it again,. it’s 0.1 megabytes.

Put simply – from birth to Instagram that file has had 4.2 megabytes of image data stolen from it that will never come back.

Then you screenshot a file that is a shadow of it’s former self, and re-upload it to your Instagram account and the process happens again.

Are images always being compressed?

Every time you upload an image to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all other services, the image is being re-compressed.

Here’s a video by Vimeo user hadto showing over 20 seconds what it looks like when the same file is opened and saved as a jpeg (recompressed) 600 times


TL:DR on the why screenshotting sucks?

When you screenshot an image you resize and recompress that image, and that means you’re sharing crap images.

How to share better images

There are three steps here – the getting, the storing, and the sharing.

1) The Getting

The best and easiest way to get high quality images is to simply ask for them. If you didn’t take the image then you don’t already have the best quality images and you also (this is important) don’t own the images. Photos automatically become copyright of the photographer the second they click the shutter button (unless there’s a contractual thing that changes that). Just because you want them doesn’t mean you get them. I’m personally really lucky to have great relationships with many photographers I work with as a celebrant and because we’re mates they don’t mind me sharing as long as I share in the best quality possible and credit them. Sharing in the best quality possible usually means I’m not editing the file or applying a filter.

Dropbox

My favourite way to get images is via Dropbox, or if not via Dropbox then via Pixieset or email. If you don’t have a Dropbox account already, get one, they’re free for the first few gigabytes and it’s a great place to store images. And when someone sends me a Dropbox link it can be opened and shared directly into my Dropbox.

Pixieset (or other photo galleries)

You’ll need download permission from the photographer, that possibly includes a PIN and/or a password. In Pixieset you can download a whole set of photos as a zip file, which is pretty useless on a phone unless you have a zip file manager installed. But if you’re on mobile look for the download button on single images so you can grab that single image ready for Instagram.

If I’m delivered a ZIP file of images I’ll open that on my laptop and move it to my Dropbox so the files are easily accessible on mobile.

Once the single image is displayed in your mobile web browser – click and hold (not 3D Touch hold, just regular hold – which I understand is confusing) and you’ll be presented with the share sheet which allows you to share that image to your Dropbox or even just save the file to your camera roll.

Email

If you’re super tricky you’ve got a Zapier zap automatically saving email attachments to a Dropbox folder – if you’re not so tricky, figure out how to download original image attachments from your email application of choice.

On iOS Mail you click and hold on the image and once the share sheet appears you can send the image to your Dropbox or save it to the camera roll.

Downloading from web pages

If the photographer has shared the photos on their website that isn’t explicit permission for you to grab them and share them, but if you have permission there are a few ways of grabbing images from their website.

The Right Click (or tap and hold): right click or tap and hold on the image and your web browser may allow you to download the image straight from the web browser. If this isn’t possible it’s because they have javascript security on.

The Developer Tools: In your web browser enable developer tools, in Safari this is in Preferences under the Advanced tab. Once enabled you can right click on your page and choose “Inspect Element”. Head to the resources section and click on images and you can view all of the images on the website.

Workflow: If you’re using Workflow on iOS then download this workflow that allows you to send a website from Safari to the share sheet, where you choose Workflow and choose this Workflow – all of the images from the website will be downloaded and you can choose the one you want and download it from there.

Facebook or Instagram: This is a last ditch attempt, but downloading from the source is still better than screenshotting. I’d use Workflow on iOS and grab this workflow to download Instagram images. On Facebook tap and hold to bring up the native save photo option. Displayed beneath on mobile and desktop.

2) The storing

This is the easy part – on your phone all images live in your Photos app in your camera roll which gets really busy real soon. I personally use Dropbox but you can use Google Drive or Box, or another cloud storage service of your choosing, and create folder called Photo Library.

Under Photo Library make folders for your different categories of images, mine are our four brands, then under each brand I have year folders, and under the year folders I have “Couple name – Photographer name” as the folder each couples’ photos go in.

I store photos now so that in four years I can look back and still know what I was doing. Computer programmers call it documentation, I call it sanity.

3) The sharing

You probably think this is the easy part – and it is – but there are three settings I need you to check first.

Instagram’s high quality photos option

As of time of writing a former setting called “Upload high quality photos” has been removed because Instagram itself changed it’s resolution settings from 640 pixels high and 640 pixels wide to 1080×1080. But that’s not to say this won’t change in the future. In fact as phone cameras get better, and data plans get better, and screens get better, I would be betting on Instagram increasing it’s resolution soon. Before that happens I’d bet on this option reappearing. Keep an eye out for it.

One other thing – don’t auto share posts from Instagram to Facebook. Two reasons: no-one understands your @mentions and hashtags, but more importantly: Instagram is sharing a 1080 x 1080 pixel image, Facebook allows you to upload a 2048 pixel by 20489 pixel image. So you’re ripping yourself off with half image quality.

Facebook’s “Upload HD” option

There are two places to enable HD (high definition) photo uploads in Facebook.

In the original Facebook app, ads the personal app, go to your menu via the three line menu, aka the burger icon, click on Settings and Account Settings. Open “Videos and Photos” and enable HD uploads.

In the Facebook Pages app go to the menu via the three line burger menu and choose App Settings and enable HD uploads there.

TL;DR

Don’t screenshot photos for sharing – upload original images from the photographer. It’s good for you and good for them.