Selecting and Sizing Photos: Essential Graphic Design for Social Media Managers

Images are vital to a strong social presence for any brand, making understanding basic graphic design essential for all social media managers. But, how do you get started? How do you source and select images for use on your social channels? How do you make sure the photos are perfectly tailored to fit each network’s specific audience?

Finding Photos for Social Media

In a perfect world, you’d use original photos from your brand’s internal design team. Not only will you have the rights to use the photos, but you can be assured these images are high-quality, unique, and on-message. However, with the fast-paced nature of social media, you can’t always get your hands on an image internally. What’s a social media manager to do?

Definitely avoid the temptation to grab any image you can find on the web—or you could be in hot water. Whoever took that photo and will most definitely take issue with a brand using said image without permission. Not to mention it’s poor etiquette.

The savvy social media manager knows better, and uses these resources to source images for use on social networks:

  1. Stock Photos: The most straightforward way to get images is to pay for them. iStockphoto is widely reliable, but you can find an excellent breakdown of different stock photo offerings online. The key here is making sure you choose photos that don’t look like stock photos—meaning highly-posed, cliché, or just bad.
  2. Creative Commons: Many photographers will let you use images if you attribute them as the source. Creative Commons is an excellent way to find photos you can use, even commercially, as long as you credit the photographer. Keep in mind, attributions can be lengthy, especially if a copyright notice is included. This makes it less than ideal for use on some social channels (namely Twitter, due to character count limits).
  3. Google Image Advanced Search: Searching for photos on the Internet? Use Google! (Ever heard of it?) Kidding aside, Google’s advanced image search is a great way to find photos that you are “free to use, share, or modify, even commercially.”

Google Advanced Image Search

Make sure you click through to see if the images that turn up require attribution. Occasionally, your search will turn up images that are public domain, which means you are free to use them without attribution!

Posting Photos to Social Media

Now that you’ve got your hands on a photo, you can just upload it and post it, right? Well…not quite.

Each social network has distinct optimal image size specifications, and of course, what is perfect for Facebook’s feed isn’t the right size for Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+. If your photo doesn’t fit those specifications, it might be cropped or automatically scaled to fit.

Hangry Kitty Screenshot

Take the screenshot above, two photos in the Facebook Newsfeed. The photo on the left is too large for Facebook’s feed. The text is cut off and fans would have to click on the photo to view the whole image, which is not an ideal experience. The image on the right is perfectly sized for Facebook, and the whole photo is visible. This makes for a clean newsfeed and provides a more pleasing experience for fans.

Social Media Image Sizes

It’s a basic technique that makes such a big difference. Crop and resize images yourself with any photo-editing tool, or this free online resizing tool.

We’ve provided a handy cheat-sheet detailing the optimal image sizes for each social network’s feed so you can custom-create images for each network:

403×403 pixels
843×403 pixels (Highlighted Image)

375×375 pixels

600 x 800* pixels
*The height of images on Pinterest is flexible, but if an image is too tall it can become almost impossible to see. This height/width ratio seems to be the most flattering when scaled down to thumbnail size, too!

497 x 373 pixels

Do you think your social media feeds could benefit from perfectly sized photos?

5 Responses to Selecting and Sizing Photos: Essential Graphic Design for Social Media Managers

  1. Ayaz Malik says:

    wow thanks for the dimensions for each network. guess would have to write a little script to resize the images in all these sizes automatically instead of doing it over and over or perhaps a photoshop record would do it.

    And yes image perfect image dimensions will benefit, as i always hated the image hiding some portion in facebook page/feed need to click to view the entire thing. so yeah will help 🙂

  2. Amber Barnes says:

    Awesome article! Selecting and sizing photos are indeed very essential in graphic designing. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Victor McDonough says:

    I see. So it isn’t that easy to get images and present it as a graphic design. Besides, those images are properties of a certain photographer. Tampering it or changing it in any way without the owner knowing will have legal consequences.

    • astephan says:

      Yup, exactly. If you get permission to “modify” then you can edit the photo (with Photoshop or your preferred editing tool), but most that allow that require attribution, so keep that in mind!