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What are the Lightroom export settings for Instagram in 2021?

Instagram has over 1 billion monthly users and exceeds 500 million mark for daily users and these numbers alone justify the dominance of Instagram. Although, it was originally launched as a mobile photo-sharing platform, but because of the large user base, all of the professional photographers had dubbed it as the best platform for their work as well. Since it was designed for mobile it struggles against those high-quality DSLR pictures. If you have ever spent a lot of time in Lightroom perfecting your picture but when you uploaded it on Instagram, it came out duller, desaturated, and pixelated, you are not alone. It happens to everybody, and is called compression but worry not, this guide is the answer to all your woes. This article explores all the workarounds and guides you about the best Lightroom export settings for Instagram in 2020 not only for simple portraits but for print-ready, large online medium and website optimized images.

Before We Begin:

All of the settings that we mention in our article are general for all types, print ready, online or web optimized but where the differences are huge, we have mentioned them by name for each type respectively.

Compression Artifact

If you have come here, you already know that Instagram has an Image Reduction/Compression Algorithm in place. As to why this is done, it’s simple. The main idea is to reduce the image size so that it takes less space in their server and hence, saves costs. The other thing is that small sizes help in increasing the loading speed of the image which makes the platform more efficient.

But we are not here to learn about the advantages of compression because the fact remains that it makes our pictures look ugly, so let’s talk about workarounds to avoid that happening. There’s a group of people that make a point that no matter what you do, there are no ways to escape the algorithm designed to crunch your images and that you should upload your images in double resolution than specified by Instagram so that when compression happens, you retain a nice enough picture. Although, it sounds good on paper but is not a sure method.

You need to know that the compression algorithm is propriety and kept under secure locks so there’s no way anybody can figure out its real working and process but experts have reverse engineered it by uploading pictures in different resolutions and formats to understand what output you get by uploading an image of particular size and quality. Using these insights, we have been able to compile the best Lightroom Export Settings for Instagram in 2020.

Ratios or Crops for Your Pictures

Before 2017, Instagram only allowed users to upload pictures in a 1:1 aspect ratio which is a square. But as of Aug 2017, that restriction has been removed and users are now given the option to choose from four different native aspect ratios. All of the added ratios or crops lie between the range of 1.91:1 and 4:5.

Here’s an overview of all the aspect ratios supported by Instagram;

Square (1: 1)

Portrait (4: 5)

Landscape (1.91: 1)

Versatile (4: 3/3: 4)

Almost all of these aspects can be found directly in the Lightroom’s crop functionality but the landscape needs to be entered manually. It is pretty simple to do that as well. Just head into ‘Aspect’ control in Lightroom, then you have to select ‘Enter Custom’ and put in the aspect ratio for a landscape which is 1.91:1.

Now that you understand different aspect ratios and how to get them directly from Lightroom, it’s time that we talk about the best one of all four. Mostly, Portrait is recommended just because of the screen real estate that it offers. Most of the users of Instagram are on mobile and since we hold our phones in portrait mode, it is natural that the Portrait Crop will cover most of the screen and get the viewers to really focus on it. Square is also fine is this regard but the crop that occupies the least amount of screen in Portrait Orientation of phones is landscape. So, unless you shoot your content exclusively in the landscape, the portrait will give you the most size.

Resolution of Pictures

Now, pay attention, because this is the main factor which if not controlled will result in your pictures be caught by the image compression algorithm. There are two ways that you can utilize to work around the algorithm but before that, we need to know the maximum resolution allowed by Instagram.

As per the guidelines by Instagram, they have given the maximum number of pixels the longest side of a picture can have. So, if you are using the portrait aspect, the vertical length of the picture should not be more than 1200 pixels. Similarly, if you are going to use the landscape aspect, the horizontal length of the picture should not be more than 1080 pixels. You will always have to remember not to exceed this mark or else get your picture compressed.

The above is our recommended method regarding the resolution of the images but here is the method that some people believe works as well. They argue that every picture no matter what resolution above 1080 by 1080 pixels is going to get compressed so to be safe and sure, they always upload in double the amount specified by Instagram so that when the compression happens, the picture still retains 1080px. It is not a sure method but you are free to experiment and try as much as you wish.

On the export screen in Lightroom, you should also check ‘Don’t Enlarge’. It will help if your image is under the specified resolution of Instagram to not get upscaled and lose quality.

Another important that must be discussed here is the DPI/PPI. For web and online mediums, it does not really matter but for print, it does matter a lot. It is because a pixel can appear as any size on a print as you may want and even depending on the printer, so it is better to leave it at 72, which is the default value.

Color Spaces

It is a dreaded topic for most photographers but to get a great-looking picture on Instagram, you must understand it. Most would say that this is considered for print settings but let us correct you, Color Spaces affect both print-ready and Instagram pictures.

Color space basically means the range of colors that can be represented in an image and their number is always in millions. The concept is much more than just this, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s leave it at this. When you are exporting images in Lightroom, it gives you a number of different options such as sRGB, AdobeRGB, ProPhoto RGB or P3 color gamut. You are going to choose the color space depending on your medium.

For digital, website, online, and mobile mediums, sRGB is the preferred choice. P3 color gamut is also supported by Instagram and some devices, but unlike sRGB, most devices do not support P3. P3 color space is wider than sRGB so when it is viewed on an sRGB device, it gets compressed and color does not look as pleasing. So, to be safe for your digital needs, sRGB is always preferred for exporting and editing.

Now, let us talk about the color space that you are going to need for your printing needs. Both the AdobeRGB and the ProPhoto RGB can be used for printing but not the other two. If you want to be on the safe side here as well, printing never goes wrong with AdobeRGB but we would recommend that both options be explored. The reason being that you need more wide and varied color space for printing than showing on a screen and because the tonality of the printer’s ink can also affect the output. Keeping all this in mind, images should not be exported in sRGB for printing.

Sharpening

Basically, sharpening means details, and the sharper the image, the more details you are going to be able to see whether on print or web medium. But, the value of sharpening differs from the medium that you will be using and it depends on a lot of factors such as the size of your display or print? The pixel density of your screen and the tonality and color space of your printer. It is also going to depend on the distance between the viewer and your medium whether it be print or digital.

For print, we would not recommend ‘Output Sharpening’ but for digital, online, and website medium it is highly recommended. For digital, selecting ‘Screen’ and ‘Standard Amount’ will give you the best results. Now, you may also add an extra layer of sharpening over your images, what happens is that even if your images are compressed, that extra layer of sharpening will still help keep the image at the desired level of sharpening. You can also create a secondary account for the sole purpose of figuring out what amount of sharpening you prefer for your images.

The difference in sharpening for digital and print media is that your phone has around 270-300 PPI and that is not a lot when compared to print sizes. So, you must make sure to apply more sharpening for print than digital to keep the details rather than botchy.

Image Quality

Image quality is selected by adjusting the quality slider in Lightroom. It basically adjusts the file size of your image. That means the higher the quality that you set it to, the larger the file will be and vice versa. Everybody has a personal preference for this setting and although you should also try to develop your own as you spend more time exploring the best export settings, we will give you a guideline to start with some good settings. To maintain a balance between quality and file size, you should remain near 75% for uploading on Instagram. For online mediums and website optimized images, you can set it to about 85%. But, remember to only use the 100% setting for print because for print we need not worry about the file size but just getting the best image possible, so why not just crank the dial full up.

Metadata

Metadata of an image may contain the information about the image itself and even its production which may include the owner’s info and even location data. Lightroom offers you a great number of options to customize that such as the ‘Copyright and Contact Info Only’ which is self-explanatory. These options are only useful for website and online optimized images because Instagram strips all of the metadata off the picture. It is done to keep the user secure and their privacy intact so if you worry about your digital privacy, you can at least rest assured regarding this.

Format

There are a lot of formats available for pictures in 2020, but the two of the most famous and widely used are JPEG and PNG. At first glance, the human eye might not be able to tell much of a difference between the two but there are a lot of underlying processes that define the line between them. Both of the formats have their respective pros and cons, so we will be discussing them in detail. We must also add here that none of the formats is superior to the other but it all depends on your preference and the medium that you will be choosing.

JPEG:

JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group and it has become so popular because of the great balance that it provides between file size and high resolution which is almost 10:1. What makes it so efficient is its algorithm which figures out which pixels are similar and then it merges them and reduces the file size. But the disadvantage is that if you edit a JPEG picture more than once, its quality will drastically reduce. So, you will have to make sure you get the best results in the first editing session. Lightroom, however, will help to keep this quality destruction at a minimum. For digital use, we recommend JPEG because the low size with high-resolution photos will make it less likely to be compressed by the algorithm.

PNG:

PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics but, unlike, JPEG, it is a lossless file format. Although it was designed for GIFs, it has also become widely popular for exporting images as well. It does provide better quality than JPEG but at a bigger file size so it should be used for websites and print. Now, websites might also prefer JPEG for quick loading times but to make them more pleasing and higher in resolution, PNG is a much better choice because it also provides transparency support.

Save Your Settings

After going through all these export settings, you must be pretty sure which medium and which settings will work best for you. So, here’s just a sweet add-on for you. When you have selected your preferred settings for all your images, you do not have to individually go through all the settings for every picture, but Lightroom offers you a Preset feature which will save all your settings and by just one click, they can be applied on your other photos as well. You can do this by just clicking on the ‘Add’ button under the Preset box and then select ‘New Folder’. You have to name it and remember that you can save presets for all your needs. You can save a preset for print and one for digital as well.

Conclusion

Now, just to cover it all up for you;

We recommended the portrait aspect for digital and also advised that you stay within the resolution limits set up by Instagram which came out to be 1200px for the max length of the Portrait aspect and 1080px for the max length of the Landscape aspect.

For digital, sRGB must always be used and for print, you can either use the AdobeRGB or ProPhoto RGB. Sharpening was told to be kept a little above normal for printer whereas, for digital, you must choose what appeals to your eye. The image quality for print must be kept at 100%, for digital at 75%, and for online purposes at 85%. You do not have to worry about the metadata while exporting for Instagram because it automatically gets rid of all of that itself. The format for digital must be kept JPEG, no other, but PNG will work for print website optimized images.

We have talked about each and every aspect and described only the best export settings for Instagram in 2020. But, as we have said earlier, we can only point you in the right direction in the beginning, but every photographer has his own personal tastes and preferences. Learn from this guide, apply the knowledge, experiment in Lightroom, and grow.

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