Throughout spring's grad season, I've seen many, many profile picture changes, but a common problem that seems to persist is low quality uploads. We all know Facebook compresses every image that's uploaded, but one can still get reasonably high quality photos up on the social media website by keeping several things in mind. I don't profess to be a Facebook expert, or have an extensive technical background, but for these tips I'll go off my personal experience in making sure my uploads are high quality.
Before uploading, know that the highest resolution that Facebook supports (as of mid 2016) is 2048 pixels, long edge. So make sure whatever image you upload is at least 2048 pixels on its longest side. A typical image with this dimension displays pretty much fully on a 1080p monitor, which has a long edge of 1920 pixels.
1. Enable High Quality Uploads
It sounds straightforward, but it's not easy to immediately understand what Facebook is actually doing with what we upload. One can upload an image and have the image be complete crap in terms of quality and resolution. Thankfully, we can have at least some degree of control with the quality of our uploads. One quick setting you could check is "High Quality" option when you're creating a new album. It really does make a difference when checked, you could try it out yourself by making two private albums to compare.
Another thing to know is that mobile devices also have this option. For the longest time, I never uploaded from the Facebook app because everything I uploaded turned out to be low resolution. Eventually, I found out that you could dig through your settings to find an option to enable high quality uploading. It's in Settings > Account Settings > Videos and Photos > Upload HD (check this). I use an iPhone, so it might be slightly different for Android users.
2. Avoid Cropping Profile Pictures
After making sure that high quality options are enabled, and when uploading a new profile picture, make sure not to crop. Cropping can reduce resolution depending on your image, and once cropped, you can never go back to the full image without re-uploading. A common reason to crop is to make sure the focus is on you, the main subject. However, you don't need to crop to achieve this, since you set a thumbnail crop anyways.
As you can see, skip cropping still gives you the freedom to choose the crop for your thumbnail while at the same time keeping the full image, which is what pops up on newsfeeds. A nice head crop plus retaining the full (Facebook) quality of the original image is a double plus right?
3. Optimize Your Files
This is a step for more advanced users, and is not really necessary unless you rely on social media for your business and need that maximum quality.
Facebook's maximum resolution is 2048 pixels long edge, and anything over that is resized to that dimension. Furthermore, typical image sizes of Facebook images are around 100KB. If you upload a full 10MB, 24 megapixel jpeg straight from your camera, you are still going to get a 100KB, 2048px image on Facebook (very compressed). If instead you make your images around 100KB or less, 2048px long edge, Facebook will use less of its compression, and you'll be left with a clearer image overall, since your compression method is likely to be better than Facebook's. I usually just work with jpegs, but I've heard that some photographers prefer using pngs, but I haven't experienced much difference between the two. In any case, just try it out yourself and see what works best for you! Honestly, it's not a huge difference from the upload tests that I've done, so don't expect miracles, but it still helps a bit.
Some resources that will pop up from a quick google search, straight from Facebook:
I hope this all helps! Let me know if you have any questions and I'll try my best to answer them :)