Dean M. Chriss
Photography

Camera Resolution and Maximum Print Size
How Many Pixels Do You Really Need?
February 11, 2016

Immature Bald Eagle, On the Hunt
Immature Bald Eagle, On the Hunt

At some point most photographers wonder how many pixels they need in order to print an image file at a given size. This is actually an incredibly complex question with no precise answer, even though the mathematics required to figure it out are simple. On the most basic level, a print that is perfectly acceptable to one person may fall short of someone else's standards. Beyond that the combined factors of camera and subject movement, lens quality, the aperture used to capture the image, and image noise can make huge differences in the quality of the original RAW file, and lower quality means smaller maximum print sizes. Through bad technique and other factors like shoddy lenses a person using a 40 MP camera can produce files that can barely make good 8x10 inch prints. Conversely, using excellent equipment and technique a person using an 18 MP camera can sometimes produce files capable of making good 20x30 inch prints. Clearly this has more to do with image quality than pixles, though pixels certainly play a role in the answer.

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History shows the qualities that draw us to great photographs are timeless. Good photographs produced long ago with equipment that is crude by today's standards are as wonderful, desirable, and appreciated now as they ever were. In fact, some of today's artistic photographers revive old photographic processes for use in their work. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of modern technical excellence, but switching from old or mediocre camera equipment to the best and most modern equipment on earth will not in itself make your photographs more appealing. Conversely, learning how to use camera settings, composition, color, and post-processing techniques in ways that convey your vision to others will get you a long way toward creating more appealing and more distinctive photographs.

The next time you practice the art of photography try putting more of yourself into the results. Think about why you are taking the photo and how you can visually show those reasons to others through the photograph. Think about your vision for the finished photograph before taking the picture and follow through accordingly. This is harder than it sounds, but you may find it makes your photography more satisfying.

Happy interpreting!

Dean