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These days, we’re all photographers. We take digital photos with cameras, phones and even computers. And some of us love to share them in printed form or on websites. But getting the most out of digital images means understanding how they work.
Neil just started learning about photography and for now, he’s just using the camera on his phone. Recently he took a photo that was his best work. He envisioned a big version of it on his wall for all to see. So, he saved it and took it to a photo center to have it printed. After taking a look, the photo guy showed him the options. The largest size he could print for this photo was 4X6. Six feet wide seemed big enough to Neil. But the photo guy apologized with a chuckle, he meant 4 by 6 inches.
Neill was crushed. The photo looked so good on his phone. He didn’t understand why this photo couldn’t be enlarged. Seeing his despair, the photo guy gave him a little lesson in digital images.
Strangely, he started with blankets, just like at grandma’s house. He said to imagine a blanket that’s 4 feet by 4 feet. When someone knitted that blanket, they used 8 packs of yarn. When the blanket is this size it looks great and keeps you warm because the yarn is packed tightly together. But when you stretch it out to 6 feet by 6 feet, you can see the holes and it stops looking so warm. Stretch it even more and it looks more like a net than a blanket.
His point was that yarn matters. Only blankets made from a lot of yarn can be stretched without becoming useless. He then explained that Neil’s photo is like a blanket with too-little yarn. He could stretch the image and make it bigger, but it would start to look blurry. This is because, like blankets made of yarn, digital photos are made of pixels. These are tiny bits of color that make up the image. When the pixels are stretched, the image quality suffers.
After a bit of research, Neil found that his cameraphone has 1 megapixel camera, which means it captures 1 million pixels in an image. The image may look good on a small screen, but this number of pixels is only enough to print a small picture. For large prints, he would need a camera that captures millions more pixels. For example, a 5 or 10 megapixel camera, even on a smartphone, could capture more than enough pixels, especially if he learns the basics of lighting and composition.
The only problem? Cameras and devices are expensive for Neil. For now he’ll just stick with his cameraphone and even print photos at home. Who knows, one day soon his wall may become a statement after all.
What it teaches
This video follows the story of Neil, who learns why he can’t enlarge and print a photo that was taken with his phone. Using an analogy of a blanket, the video illustrates what happens when a small image is enlarged and what’s needed for printing larger photos. It teaches:
- The basics of pixels in digital images
- Why the number of pixels can limit a photo’s size
- Why a photo with a small number of pixels can’t be enlarged
- How megapixels and resolution affect print size