The problem with Cover Photos – grainy images
When we hacked our way into being able to use the new Facebook timeline features last fall, we experimented with various types of photos, sizes and resolutions and have seen most users attempt to use a very small image and stretch it for their cover photo which instantly makes it fuzzy and grainy.
While we have noticed that almost all images (even extremely high resolution images) are degraded by Facebook and all users have a slight fuzziness to their cover photos, there are some tricks to make sure your photo is the most clear it can possibly be without looking like a picture of a fax of a photo.
Step one: selecting an image
We suggest using a photo you have taken or own, or using a creative commons image that is royalty free. We suggest going to flickr.com/search/advanced and entering the search term, scrolling to the bottom and selecting the three boxes, “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content,” “find content to use commercially,” and “Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon,” as a starting point. Just use creative commons-licensed photos, do not steal images – it is illegal.
Step Two: editing your photo
Open Photoshop or Picnik, whichever you desire, and either crop the image to be 851 x 315 pixels or resize the image to 851 pixels wide and crop the image to 315 pixels tall. Avoiding resizing an image will help keep the integrity of the photo in tact, so cropping is ideal, especially on a high resolution image. Expanding an image will make the photo fuzzy, which defeats the purpose of this entire article.
There are now websites that offer to generate a cover photo, but thousands of others will have the same image as you, so we suggest using your own photo.
A before and after
Below is a before photo of a profile with a smaller picture that was enlarged after being lifted (with permission) from the photographer’s website (kind of a “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” situation). The second image is a cover photo using a very high resolution image from flickr. Click either to enlarge, noting that when enlarged, they are far less fuzzy, yet the second remains a tad fuzzy as Facebook degrades the images slightly upon upload.