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What Is Image Quality?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Image quality refers to various aspects of a photograph or other image with regard to how clear and sharp it appears in a given context. There are two major factors that determine this quality, which are those elements controlled by a camera taking an image and those that can be changed afterward. The camera used to take a picture often has a tremendous impact on image quality, with regard to sharpness, color accuracy, and pixel counts for digital photographs. Many factors can be controlled and changed after a picture is taken in post-processing, including contrast, color balance, and the removal or correction of errors captured in an image.

The term “image quality” can be used to refer to a wide range of different properties of an image, though it generally refers to how good a picture appears. This appearance can rely on quite a few different factors, including numerous qualities affected by the camera being used. Sharpness is usually greatly impacted by the camera a photographer uses, and this then is directly visible in a picture. Color accuracy is also integral to image quality through the ability of a camera to properly capture realistic colors.

Image quality often refers to the pixel count that a camera can capture.
Image quality often refers to the pixel count that a camera can capture.

Image quality is also directly impacted by the pixel count that a digital camera can capture. The total number of pixels is a measurement that relates to the size that a picture can be displayed at in a given resolution. Picture resolution is usually measured in terms of the Pixels Per Inch (PPI) of an image, and this impacts the maximum size for an image. A photograph that is 8 inches (20.32 centimeters) by 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) in size with a resolution of 300 pixels per inch, commonly used in commercial photography, would have 7.2 million pixels or 7.2 megapixels (MP) and require a camera capable of capturing that many pixels.

Better image quality results in crisper images.
Better image quality results in crisper images.

There are also a number of factors that impact image quality, which can be controlled or changed after a picture is taken. Contrast, for example, is the difference between the lights and dark tones within an image, which can impact clarity and shadow distinction. This can be changed and adjusted through post-processing methods and software for digital photographs. Color balance can also be altered after a picture is taken, to bring out the true colors in an image or change color information in a photograph.

Post-processing can also be used to improve image quality in a photograph by removing errors or flaws in the image. Such mistakes can be the result of a dirty lens, a strange object in an image, or other environmental conditions that may have produced undesired results in a photo. Removal or alteration of these flaws can be quite subtle or fairly dramatic, and may significantly increase or diminish the image quality of a picture.

Discussion Comments


@umbra21 - That's why I prefer to work with vectors. You don't have to worry about that kind of issue because they can be enlarged as much as you want without any distortion or blur.

And it's easy enough to put them into Photoshop and use filters and things on them if you need to do that.


@browncoat - I always end up accidentally saving the base image when I've shrunk it down for a particular purpose and then there's no way to get it back. So I've started making sure that every photograph I take is big and kept untouched and that if I'm going to make changes I will resave it as another file first and then start working on it. That way my compulsive habit of hitting "save" every five minutes won't erase the original.

This is particularly important if you intend commercial applications for your work. Most images look awful if they have to be stretched to fit on a shirt or something like that. And you don't realize how small they actually are when you're working on a standard computer screen.


I used to really struggle with this when I was starting out as a digital artist, but it's something I always try to consider before starting a work now. If you begin a raster image on a small page then it's always going to have to be small. If you try to make it bigger it's just going to look blurry or ragged because the pixels that make it up are being enlarged until they are visible.

There are ways to try and combat that, like using different filters or sharpening the image but the absolute best solution is to just make it big enough in the first place.

It's tough when you don't have a good work computer that can handle big images without slowing down to a crawl, but it's always better to be able to shrink an image if you need to, rather than get stuck without it being big enough.

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    • Image quality often refers to the pixel count that a camera can capture.
      By: olly
      Image quality often refers to the pixel count that a camera can capture.
    • Better image quality results in crisper images.
      By: Mat Hayward
      Better image quality results in crisper images.