FAQ: My client says their photos are too small or low resolution

This can happen to any photographer who sells digital files. In fact, if you sell digitals, you need to expect that it will happen occasionally. It’s the most common, but not the only, pitfall of digital photo sales. If you haven’t already done so, please read my warnings and advice article.

Read it? Great. So what do you do if your customer complains that the files you sold them are "small" or "low resolution"? The chances are about even that it is your fault, their fault, somebody else’s fault, or nobody’s fault. Let’s begin by exploring …

The ways that files can become too small:

  • You might have messed up and made them too small! Always provide full-resolution files, and remember you can't limit print size.
  • They might have been shrunk down when you sent them. This is very common if you send files by email, because some email providers automatically reduce large photos to limit the burden on their own servers.
  • Your customer might have accidentally shrunk them while transferring them or saving them to their computer, or to their cloud, or whatever.
  • Your customer might have tried to edit them. *groan*

Or, maybe that haven't become too small at all!

  • If you sent both high res and web res files, maybe your customer is trying to print the web res ones. Even when you label the folders really clearly … well … customers can be a bit dense.
  • They might be looking at the jpeg file size and just assuming that they should be bigger.
  • They might be looking at the PPI value and assuming that it’s too low.
  • They might be looking at the dimensions (in inches or centimetres) and think that’s the limit of the printable size.
  • Their dumb-ass print lab might have told them that the resolution is too low.

So your first step is to double-check the files at your end. They should be a bare minimum of six megapixels, but these days most likely larger than ten megapixels. Remember that PPI is completely irrelevant, only the megapixels matter. Read more information here.

  • If you discover that you did, in fact, mess up and make the files too small, export them again from your master files and re-send them with an apology.
  • But if the files are fine at your end, read on …

Next, ask your client to send you one of the files back to you, so you can check if it has changed size somehow. (To be really safe, it would be best if you could ask them to send it via a file transfer platform like Dropbox, in case email is the source of the problem. But if email is the only option, so be it.)

  • If you examine the file they send you and sure enough, it has shrunk, send them the whole set of files again. Don’t use email, use a file transfer platform. And tell your customer not to use any fancy import software at their end. Just simply copy the files onto their hard drive.
  • If it hasn’t shrunk, read on …

If the file they send you back is still the same size as the file you sent them in the first place, then you can breathe half a sigh of relief. There isn’t actually a problem. However, your customer still thinks there is a problem, and that’s a problem. So you need to delicately ask them what made them think that their files were too small.

  • If they’re trying to print web res files, this is an easy solution. Gently explain to them again that you’ve sent them two sets of files, and they must use the "high resolution" ones for printing.
  • If they’re concerned about the size of your jpeg files in megabytes or kilobytes, explain to them how jpeg compression works. It’s really important to clarify that smaller file sizes can actually mean better photo quality. information here.
  • If they’re worried about the PPI value, well, this is a hard one to explain, but you have to do your best. PPI is a completely meaningless, elastic, variable number which will change during printing anyway.
  • Likewise, if they’re worried about the dimensions in inches or centimetres, explain that this is an arbitrary value which has no real-world connection to actual printable size. Remind them how historically, all photos were captured on 35mm film and could be printed at any size. Reassure them that your files’ quality is sufficiently high to print any size they wish.
  • If their print shop has told them that the files are too low resolution … this is the most annoying scenario! Some stupid printers only look at the PPI or dimensions that I just mentioned in the previous points, and don’t actually look at the quality of the files. You really have no choice but to tell them that their printer is a dumb-ass, and again, reassure them about the quality of your files.

Of course, if you’re having trouble explaining these things to your customer, or even having trouble figuring out where the problem lies, please don’t hesitate to post in Ask Damien for my assistance.

This whole scenario will be a PITA for you. But you can use it as an opportunity to encourage your clients to go through you for their printing needs. Not only will this add to your profit margins, it will also ensure your customers get the best quality prints. Especially once you’ve taken my Print Sharpening Class.


If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.