How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5

Having trouble finding the “resize” button in Lightroom? There’s a very good reason you can’t find it: there isn’t one. This isn’t some kind of head-slapping oversight on the part of Lightroom’s developers–far from it. Instead, Lightroom has more powerful, flexible, and safer way of dealing with image resizing. But it means a different way of thinking about the whole process.

The key is understanding the idea of non-destructive editing. Like other leading image management systems like Aperture, Capture One, PhotoMechanic, or Corel Aftershot Pro–or pretty much any photo software that knows what it’s doing–the idea is that the original image data itself is never edited or altered.1 That eliminates the risk of corrupting or degrading the original file. If you ever need to get back to the digital equivalent of a film negative, you can. Think of it like this: if you were using slide film and you wanted a small image, you wouldn’t go and attack your slide with scissors.

It also means that unless you try quite hard you shouldn’t be able to accidentally overwrite your original image with a lower resolution or somehow degraded version–your master version should always be preserved. You don’t want to accidentally replace with your original image with a resized thumbnail, for instance. Of course, there are other ways you can accidentally delete files, so always, always be sure to have a robust, redundant backup system humming away, a topic I’ll be dealing with here sometime soon.

So if you can’t actually resize in Lightroom, how do you get an image at the size you want it? This is where Lightroom’s powerful export functionality comes into play. But first, you have to know the difference between cropping and resizing. They’re not the same thing, and you can do both to an image.

Cropping is choosing which parts of an image you want in the finished image. You might zoom in to the center and eliminate some from all the sides, cut off just one side, create a square image, or create a long, thing panorama. For all of those, you use the crop tool in Lightroom’s Develop module. But with that, what you’re doing is telling Lightroom that that’s the part of the image you want to work with.

To get an image of a particular size, whether it’s a certain number of pixels wide or a particular number of inches tall, you approach things a bit differently. Rather than trying to resize the original image, a much better and safer practice is to export a new version of the file that has the dimensions you want. Once you have that resized copy, you can do what you want with the copy without any risk to your original master image. You can even reimport it back into Lightroom and stack it with the original image if you like, or you can create a special folder or category that holds just your resized images (one for thumbnail sizes, another for email sizes, etc).

Below are practical examples of the Image Sizing options in Lightroom’s export feature (select image/s in Library Module » File » Export » Image Sizing). The screenshot shows the setting that were used, and each image’s caption details the dimensions of the end result.

What Resolution Setting Should I Use?

The examples below all use pixels as the measuring system, in which case the Resolution setting (sometimes known as pixel density) doesn’t really matter. 2400 x 3000 pixels with a Resolution setting of 72 ppi will result in functionally the same image as 2400 x 3000 pixels with a Resolution setting of 600 ppi. 72 ppi has long been the default standard pixel density for screen display; anything from 240 ppi through 600 ppi or higher us standard for printing. Apple’s Retina displays use a higher pixel density–ranging from 220 to 326, depending on the device. But for digital display on a screen, the pixel density really isn’t relevant–you should only worry about the number of pixels wide and the number of pixels high. If you get a request from a graphic designer to deliver files that is something like 3000 pixels by 2400 pixels at 300 dpi, the “300 dpi” part is redundant.

The same is not true if you use a physical measure like centimeters or inches. In that case, the Resolution setting matters. 8 x 10 inches at a resolution of 72 ppi isn’t the same thing as 8 x 10 inches at 300 ppi. Physical measures are mostly used when you’re trying to create prints. The pixel densities used for print are traditionally 240 to 300 ppi (although some printers use higher measurements).

If I’m resizing for making prints, I generally find Lightroom’s built-in Print module a better option than using Lightroom’s export function. If you need even more flexibility for print resizing, third party software like Qimage, PhotoZoom, or Genuine Fractals might be what you need.

Width & Height

The key difference between using Width & Height as opposed to Dimensions is that orientation comes into play. Using this setting, regardless of the image orientation, the image will not be wider than the width setting you specify and not higher than the height setting you specify. Another way of putting it is that you’re specifying the horizontal measurement (width, across) and the vertical (height, up) measurements.

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 Screen shot 2010 10 22 at 8.02.12 PM

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 wxh 500x250 1 280x186

width 376 px | height 250 px

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 wxh 500x250 2

width 155 px | height 250 px

Dimensions

The Dimensions setting is similar to Width & Height but is agnostic of the image orientation. Rather than specifying horizontal and vertical measurements, you’re specifying both the long and short edges. Input the maximum image dimensions you’d like to fit within and it will automatically scale, ignoring whether it’s actually the horizontal or vertical sides. If you want both portrait and landscape oriented images to all come out the same size, this is the most useful setting to use. Also see below, Dimensions: Square.

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 Screen shot 2010 10 22 at 8.02.44 PM

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 dim 500x250 1 280x186

width 376 px | 250 px height

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 dim 500x250 2

width 250 px | height 376 px

Long Edge

Use this setting if you’re only concerned about the longest side, ignoring whether it’s the horizontal or vertical measurement. The shortest side will not be restricted. This setting can be very useful for resizing panoramas.

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 Screen shot 2010 10 22 at 8.03.09 PM

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 long 500 1 280x185

width 500 px | height 332 px

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 long 500 2 280x421

width 332 px | height 500 px

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 long 500 3 280x43

width 500 px | height 78 px

Short Edge

Use this setting if you’re only concerned about the shortest side, ignoring whether it’s the horizontal or vertical measurement. The longest side will not be restricted.

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 Screen shot 2010 10 22 at 8.03.23 PM

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 short 500 1 280x185

width 753 px | height 500 px

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 short 500 2 280x421

width 500 px | height 753 px

Megapixels

A newish addition to Lightroom’s export sizing options, the output to Megapixels has relatively specialized applications, including submitting to some stock agencies that set their royalty free prices by megapixel image size.

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 Screen shot 2010 10 22 at 8.04.43 PM

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 meg 1 1 280x185

width 1226 px | height 814 px

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 meg 1 2 280x421

width 815 px | height 1227 px

Dimensions: Square

This isn’t actually a separate Lightroom setting but rather a simple way of using the Dimensions option and specifying identical measurements for the long and short edges. This can be especially useful when creating thumbnails or resizing images for display for an onscreen slideshow or image gallery where the window for the actual image display is square.

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 Screen shot 2010 10 22 at 8.54.59 PM

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 dim 500x500 1 280x185

width 500 px | height 332 px

How to Resize Images in Photoshop Lightroom 5 dim 500x500 2 280x421

width 332 px | height 500 px

Some Sample Image Sizes

There’s obviously nearly an infinite number of image size settings that are possible that you can customize according to your own needs and preferences. But here are suggestions for places to start for common scenarios. All are again measured in pixels because I find that it’s generally a safer and more flexible way of doing it than constantly cross-calculating Resolution if using physical measures like inches and centimeters.

Sending an Image by Email / Uploading to Facebook

Setting: Width & Height | Width: 1000 | Height: 800 | Resolution: 72 ppi

This is a good compromise between having a large enough image to appreciate the details, will keep the filesize manageable for email even with several attachments, and will display the full image on most modern monitors. The reason I use the Width & Height rather than Dimensions is that monitors aren’t square and I know that I have more room to play with horizontally than vertically.

If you want more specific information on image and graphics dimensions for Facebook, check out this post.

Creating Thumbnails

Setting: Dimensions | Measurements: 100 x 100 | Resolution: 72 ppi

Using the Dimensions setting and specifying identical dimensions works well for thumbnail grids. Note that this doesn’t create square thumbnails (unless your original images are square, of course) because it’s set to fit the entire image without cropping inside the measurements you’ve specified. Creating square thumbnails isn’t possible with the standard Lightroom Export module–you have to use something else like the Print module, the Web module, or an external editor.

Printing an 8 x 10 inch print

Setting: Dimensions | Measurements: 2400 x 3000 | Resolution: 300 ppi

I generally prefer to use the more powerful Print module or external options for resizing for print because you have a lot more control over the output. But if I need to use the Export feature, these are the settings I’d start with. Some printers work best at a much higher print resolution of 600 ppi, 1200 ppi, or even higher, in which case you’re probably better off setting the Resolution at the desired output and using inches or centimeters as your measure rather than pixels. If you use the Print module, that’s all taken care of in a better way.

More Advanced Alternatives for Lightroom

LR/Mogrify 2: If you’re looking for more advanced controls to add to the Lightroom Export module, take a look at the excellent collection of tools offered in the LR/Mogrify 2 plugin by Timothy Armes. It allows much more control over your output, including a wide choice of resizing algorithms, and it can be used in combination with the plugin’s other powerful features like fine-grained watermarking control, adding text overlays, and adding borders and keylines.

Lightroom’s Print Module: Don’t be put off by the name–Lightroom’s Print Module can also be used to create jpegs and allows a lot of control over resizing options.

Other Software Options

Resizing for Print

Qimage: (Windows only) This does a lot more than image resizing. Qimage has long been leading the field on Windows systems in preparing images for print, whether you use your own printer or send to a photo lab. It also provides fine-grained control over all aspects of preparing images for print.

Going (Really) Big

Image upsizing / uprezzing is one of the many endlessly debated topics in digital imaging, and there are many “right” answers because so much of it comes down to the look you’re going for or how much detail you’ll be able to see in the end product. If you’re intending to frame a photo for the wall, for instance, will the viewer standing 6 feet away from it really be able to tell the difference between an image upsized with expensive extra software and an image upsized with standard Lightroom functions? Only you can decide what the “right” answer is. After all, it’s your work on display.

If you decide that you want more control than Lightroom’s built-in functionality offers, then there are many alternatives. Photoshop offers a range of resizing options, and you can also build a Photoshop action to do step resizing which involves incremental stages of only 10 percent for each increment.

If you plan on making very large prints on a regular basis, there are external editors that provide specialized functionality that might be worth investigating. You can use the “external editor” functionality to add a shortcut in Lightroom to these, but they don’t technically integrate directly into Lightroom and each involves first creating a TIF version and working on that.

Perfect Resize: (it used to be known as GenuineFractals) (Windows & Mac) By OnOne Software, Genuine Fractals specializes in image upsizing and enlargement.

PhotoZoom: (Windows & Mac) By BenVista Software, PhotoZoom specializes in image upsizing and enlargement.

Neither of these is inexpensive, so they might be overkill for occasional use. Both of these accomplish much the same thing but use different algorithms to get there. The results from both are excellent, but they do end up with a slightly different look if you look very closely. Before buying either of them, I’d recommend downloading the trial versions and seeing which you prefer.

Resizing to a Target File Size

This isn’t something that can be done in Lightroom’s standard Export module, but I’ve created a detailed guide on how it can be done on Mac systems here using Automator and Ben Long’s excellent Photoshop Actions.

Need Even More Options

If you need even more control over your export sizing than the baked in options offer, check out Rob Cole’s Exportant Lightroom Plugin that allows all sorts of other options like exporting to megapixels smaller than Lightroom’s 1.0 megapixel limit, exporting to PNG format, or resizing by percentage. It also does a lot more than just resizing. You can find it here.

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Comments

  1. Hello,
    Thanks for the tutorial, your writing style is very easy for me to understand. I’ll certainly try the LR Print function.

    My problems are that I’m new to LR and to photography and I am “numerically challenged,” meaning I have to admit that I struggle greatly trying to understand the relationships and effects that size, pixel count, dimensions, and aspect ratio have on the quality of a large, PRINTED photo.

    I am mostly interested in being able to have my photos printed on canvas in large sizes all the way up to 30×20 or even much larger, when possible. Most of my more recent photos are taken with my “beginner” DSLR (a Nikon D3200) which has 24 megapixels. For these, I’m shooting in RAW format. Some of my older photos were taken with an old 4.1MP digital camera, and some with my Samsung GS3 smart phone, at 8MP.

    I often need to crop or straighten my images (being new to photography) and find that I lose QUALITY at the larger sizes, ending up with images that begin to look pixelated or grainy when printed at the large sizes I want.

    Can you point me to a VERY SIMPLE tutorial that will help me understand these terms, how they affect my photos, and how best to use LR, GIMP, or other tools to achieve images that will stand up to these larger print sizes?

    I will be soooooo grateful!
    Thanks,
    Susan

  2. Hi David,

    Your tutorial is very well written..thank you.
    I have one question..i have noticed, many times, when I am converting color negatives to positives using Lightroom 5..and Lightroom 4…after applying noise reduction and processing and then exporting to a jpeg file, the jpeg file after export appears to have a lot of grains…and looks rather bad as compared to the final image seen in the Lightroom display.
    I tried all kinds of combination while resizing, resolution..etc..but the grains are very still there and don’t match the quality of picture that I see on the Lightroom display.
    Kindly advise.

    Thanks very much again.

    Jim

  3. Hi David,

    I have a CS5 Photoshop image of Image Size 3,600px * 5,400px & Document Size 12″ * 18″ (@ 300DPI). Image was captured on Canon 5D3 and cropped only fraction of an inch. After cropping to 12″* 18″, in Photoshop, I used NIK Output Sharpening plugin module to sharpen the image for Printer @ 300DPI. In Photoshop, I use ProPhoto color workspace.

    Then in LightRoom 5.2, I use the EXPORT function to export the 12″*18″ image as a JPEG image with sRGB colorspace (@ 100% quality setting).

    What I would like to achieve is a PROCESS where I can efficiently use the same one Photoshop file – with minor case-by-case changes – to generate different sized JPEG sRGB print images resampled uprezzed/downrezzed) (e.g. 16″ * 24″, 24″ * 36″). I have tried doing the different sized print file using Lightroom EXPORT\Image Sizing\Resize to Fit option. But becuase I carry out colour management and softproofing, I find softproof color adjustment in Lightroom, not as effective as Photoshop.

    Sorry for long story, but wanted to give u as much of the scenario facts as possible – for best ‘doctor’ recommendation on a good efficient, yet flexible process.

  4. I want to make a picture big enough file for a banner but im not sure really what number to do.

    • That really depends on the size of the banner and the hardware and software being used to print it. Your best bet is probably to provide the graphic designer or printer with the largest file you have and let their in-house processes handle the upsizing.

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