Photographs have technical requirements that must be taken into account if they are to be used in your project. If you find a photo online or in a book that fits your story, it’s a straightforward matter to record all the important information about its source, reference number, copyright, description, and attribution using our Image Tracking PDF.
What virtually no one worries about is the image quality. There’s a tendency to assume that if it looks okay on your phone or laptop, “It’s gotta be good!”
It almost certainly isn’t. At least not if you want to use it in print, in a video, projected on a screen, or in an interactive display. Photos downloaded from the Internet or that you’ve posted to social media are all but unusable. Here’s an example. The first image is fairly clear…
But when a copy of it is downloaded from the Internet, you’ll only get a low-resolution copy that unusable for anything but a thumbnail reference. When the image is enlarged for printing, or projected onto a screen, here’s what happens to it:
Photos downloaded can deceptive. An image may look fine on your laptop’s screen. But the resolution (sharpness) needed to obtain a clear image in print or a projected image is about four times as great as a laptop screen requires.
Digital screens are measured in pixels. Here’s a way to look at it: a standard sheet of letter-size paper is 11” x 8.5”, and a laptop screen is pretty much the same. You can use a piece paper as a framework to calculate the size the images have to be. Download DMC’s Resolution Guide PDF to determine the appropriate image size for your needs. Where possible, always obtain a larger size image size than you think you need.
There are many ways of determining the pixel count of an image or a video; this is important for you to learn. Only by doing so will you be sure that your images appear the way that you want them to, and not as a blurry mess. Here’s an excellent online resolution calculator to help you work out what resolution you need.
Audio + Video
Using audio and video (AV) in your project presents special challenges, none of which are insurmountable, but all of which must be taken into consideration.
With video as with photographs, you want to get the best quality image possible. (The pixel chart for photos can be used for videos as well.) Audio has to be clear and strong or loud (enough), as well as free from unwanted background sounds (voices, air conditioning noise, fans) and reverberation (echo). Your ears will be an accurate judge of this, so make a point of listening to the audio wearing headphones to ensure that you are hearing everything, good and bad, and not just what you want to hear.
You must identify what format the AV files are in, and then determine if they will work properly within your story’s presentation format. It is also important to know how to transfer and store your AV files with your project’s other digital files in a Digital Assets folder on your computer.
Everything does not work with everything, and each of the various formats have their advantages and disadvantages. The format appears as a suffix to a file’s name or reference number, e.g. sunset.jpg, dog_barking.mp3, ski_trip.mov. Here are some formats to watch for:
- Photo formats: .jpg, .png, .tiff, .gif, .psd, .raw
- Audio formats: .wav, .mp3, .aiff, .aac, .mov
- Video formats: .mov, .m4v, .mp4, .flv, .mkv, .avi, .wmv
It is not necessary for you to understand all the pros and cons of each of these formats, but you are strongly advised to check with someone who can advise you if they will work for your story’s presentation.
It’s important to remember that you are responsible for ensuring all the elements of your story are in place and ready for use. Make sure you have considered all of these points for each of your digital assets:
- The photos, videos, and audio meet or exceed the technical requirements for the medium in which your story will be presented;
- All photos, videos, and audio have been copyright cleared for use in your project, and you have the proper acknowledgement or citation required for the use of those digital assets;
- The photos, videos, and audio copies that you intend on using have been collected for easy reference in a Digital Assets folder on your computer.
- Establish a backup routine. Back everything up. At some point, you will have computer or hard drive problems. Do it now.
- A record of those assets has been created, with names and information for each item, making it a simple matter for someone unfamiliar with the details of your project to identify. Use the Image Tracking PDF to do this.
Fill out an Image Tracking sheet for every photo, image, video, or audio clip that you plan on using. Here’s a quick introduction to some of the key information you’ll be watching for:
- File Reference/ID
The original file name of the photo/video/audio file (for example, “Sunset_0319.jpg”).
Where did the file come from? Identify as much as necessary to accurately locate the item. In addition to the reference/ID number, identifying the file’s source (book, website, archive, etc.) will make it simple for anyone to locate that image in future;
What is the original caption attached to the image or video? You do not have to use the original caption, but it will be essential in properly understanding the contents of the file, and extremely useful when the time comes to write your caption;
What are the restrictions or permissions of use for the asset;
Make exact notes of how the copyright holder wishes to be identified and acknowledged;
Make a note of the file’s size in pixels, as well as in KBs (kilobytes), MBs (megabytes), or GBs (gigabytes). Learn how to locate and identify this information. It is essential.
This information can be useful if you need to accurately retrace your steps to find a specific digital asset online.
When in doubt about any of this information, talk to a librarian or archivist. They are invaluable resources in your work.
Finally, remember to keep copies of all of your images, videos, and audio clips in the Digital Assets folder on your computer. Be vigilant about organization beginning now. It will save you hours and hours of stress and heartache as the deadline for your story approaches.