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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

Most of us know our camera’s resolution the decimal place. But when it comes to using those megapixels, we sometimes fall short.

This article has everything you need to know about megapixels and photo resolution. From what they are, to how to use them for better photos.

An atmospheric black and white photo looking into a a classroom or office full of people at desks. What Is a Megapixel and How Many Do You Really Need?

What Is a Megapixel?

A digital camera captures images through what we know as pixel elements. Better known as pixels.

A megapixel is one million (1,048,576 pixels) of these pixels.

Digital images come from thousands of tiny tiles capturing light and colour. The more pixels, the better the photo resolution.

A diagram explaining what is a megapixel

What Is Photo Resolution?

Photo resolution is best thought of as image quality. Higher resolution photography means higher image quality. The sharpness, definition and detail go up alongside the photo resolution.

More megapixels means a higher photo resolution for printing. It holds more information.

Photo resolution relates to the images’ print size. It also refers to the amount of detail the photograph or image has when viewed at 100% on a computer monitor.

The megapixel size of the image is one aspect of quality. The camera sensor, processor and even the quality of the lens you are using play a part.

A good quality photograph also comes from many other factors. These are good lighting of the subject and a correct exposure.

A clear, well-focused image at the best resolution is key.

An office desk with a desktop company and a laptop - what is image resolution?

Do More Megapixels Mean a Better Image?

A while ago, you had to really think about the photo resolution. And what you could do with a two-megapixel image.

Nowadays, we have enough resolution to print bus-sized images; more than we will ever need.

A 6-megapixel camera will give you enough resolution to create a 4×5″ print.

You will need a higher photo resolution for printing photos. Otherwise, the lack of quality will be noticeable.

Billboards will look perfect at a distance. But they’ll have poor quality when viewed from up close and personal.

A man running down an alleyway towards the camera, a string of Chinese lanterns above him.

If you would like to work out the pixel size of your camera, or the resolution of your images, you can look at the information from one of your images. I use a Canon 7D, and that gives me an image of 5,184 x 3,456 pixels.

This means the max resolution of my camera is just under 18 megapixels.

There are a few reasons why you would want an image with a higher resolution. The most important reason is cropping. Most of the time, you will find you do not capture exactly what you wanted.

By cropping the image, the composition looks much better. Having a higher photo resolution gives you a little playroom, and helps in not creating a drop in quality.

screenshot of editing and cropping an architectural image - the importance of megapixels.

Exporting, Editing, Sharing and Printing

When exporting, you may find that your 20+megapixel image becomes redundant.

If your images are for a website, or sharing platform such as Flickr, don’t use the highest resolution. You’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Sure, it makes your images look great, but if it takes a few seconds to load an image (due to the size) viewers will move on.

Facebook resizes any images you share. It compresses them to be able to store millions added each week. This has the potential to turn a great image into one with a poor resolution.

A man holding up a large printed photograph in an office setting - examining megapixels and how much do you need.

There is a difference between screen resolution and photo resolution for printing.

Your image may look great on the screen, but when it comes to printing, it is a whole different ballgame.

If your knowledge in this area is limited, it may be best to leave this to the professionals, until you get up to speed.

Printing your images at a high resolution on the wrong paper will cause inks to bleed. This will result in a blurry effect.

You need to make sure the ink and materials you use are for digital photography printing.

A man holding up a large printed photograph in an outdoor, forest setting - examining megapixels and how much do you need.

Resolution for printing tends to be bigger than screen resolution. This is due to the dots being closer together when printed than they are on a monitor. You can fit more pixels in a printed image than you can on a screen.

Because of this, you should never print your images at the same resolution of your screen. These are typically 72 dpi (dots per inch), so you want to aim for anything between 300 and 1,800 dpi when printing.

For images at 300 dpi, follow this table for an idea on how big you can print your photographs.

Max Print Size Minimum MP Resolution
4 x 6″ 2 megapixels 1600 x 1200
5 x 7″ 3 megapixels 2048 x 1536
8 x 10″ 5 megapixels 2560 x 1920
11 x 14″ 6 megapixels 2816 x 2112
16 x 20″ 8 megapixels 3264 x 2468
16 x 24″ 12 megapixels 4200×2800

Conclusion

There is a megapixel myth that states that you need more and more megapixels for your images to look great.

This is a great way to sell cameras. And some photographers will need them for advertising, fashion or editorial purposes.

But the everyday photographer isn’t taking images for huge multi-million dollar campaigns. Nor are they printing their images to the size of small buildings.

New cameras these days are never below 10 megapixels, which is more than enough to produce a 16 x 20″ print.

Perfect for sharing online, and great for building up a portfolio. It will be enough for 99% of your photographic work.

If you are cropping into the image, then you will not be able to print so high, so take it into account.

For the highest quality images, make sure you are taking good photographs. Do not overlook capturing images in RAW. Or keeping your ISO low, using a fast lens (preferably a prime lens) and working in well-lit areas.

These will help your images a lot more than having the latest 30+ megapixel camera.

Check out this cool video before you go.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

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You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!

Thanks again for reading our articles!

Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer currently based in Budapest. His favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at craighullphotography.co.uk and Instagram/craighullphoto

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