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Image Style Guide

The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) wants to make sure that its online digital image library includes media-ready photos for all designated byways. In particular, NSBP needs photos that:

This document provides guidelines for providing NSBP with electronic images and tips for creating media-ready photos.

If you are nominating a byway for designation consideration, please note that photos play a very important role in the application process by visually supporting your byway's Intrinsic Quality(s) and conveying the overall visitor experience to persons reviewing your application. Because the number of photos you can provide in the application is limited, it is important to choose high-quality photos that tell your byway's story and set travelers' expectations.

In general, travelers look for engaging photos that are pleasing to the eye and illustrate the character of a byway. As they browse the photos on the NSBP travelers' website at America's Byways, they can download their favorites, save them as background images, add them to their screen savers, and use them for a variety of other purposes. They can even send photos as electronic postcards to friends and family. However, since travelers typically only view photos on a computer monitor, they don't require extremely large, high-resolution images.

Guidelines for Electronic Images

The following guidelines will help you prepare your photos in an electronic format to submit as part of your nomination application so they can be easily added to the NSBP digital media library.

Image Format and Compression

  1. Use a JPEG format - Although the NSBP digital library can accept images in virtually any format, most media professionals prefer JPEG. It is a very common format that every web browser can display and virtually every publication software tool can import. It uses compression so the files are not as bulky as TIFF, BMP, or RAW files, and it can compress images according to user-selected quality settings. So, unlike other formats that use compression, JPEG files don't necessarily lessen the image quality.
  2. Use a High-Quality Compression Setting - When using a JPEG format, select the highest possible quality setting, ensuring that the picture's quality is not degraded during compression. For example, in Photoshop, this is a compression setting of "12."

IMPORTANT: Once an image is compressed with something less than the highest possible quality setting, data is lost and cannot be recovered. The image's sharpness and colors could be permanently damaged making it useless to media professionals.

Image Size, Sharpness, and Color

  1. Create high-resolution images - The size of the image should be at least 7" in the longest dimension when printed at 300 DPI. In other words, the longest dimension should be about 2100 pixels. If you take a beautiful picture at the low 640x480 resolution, it will only be about 3" x 1.5" when printed at 300 DPI - which is less than half the size of a common snapshot.

    Resolution: The quality of any digital image, whether printed or displayed on a screen, depends in part on its resolution - the number of dots of color used to create the image. The higher the resolution; the better the detail and the sharper the edges.

    Dots Per Inch (DPI): DPI is a measurement used to control the printing or display of an electronic image. As the name suggests, it is how many dots are in a linear inch. It is independent of the total number of dots of color used to make of the image and doesn't directly affect the image's quality. Images printed at anything less than 300 DPI can look grainy.

  2. Use a high-quality digital camera or scanner - In terms of total pixels, a 5"x7" picture at 300 DPI would be approximately 3.1 million pixels. So, a 3.1 mega-pixel digital camera is capable of taking a 5"x7" picture with significant detail. Anything less usually can't.

    In terms of storage space, a typical JPEG image of this size, saved at the highest-quality/lowest-compression setting could easily be 2.5-4.0 Megabytes (MB). Note: do not confuse pixels with megabytes. Although the two are related, they don't mean the same thing.

  3. Don't adjust the image - Most media professionals prefer photos that have not been touched up. Specifically, do not "sharpen" or "color-adjust" the image. Often such alterations degrade the original features of the image and prevent media professionals from using the image. Editors will do alterations themselves, if necessary.

Electronic Use

  1. Provide accurate captions - Make sure that all the photos you submit have both captions and accurate descriptions. In the caption remember to identify the byway name, state and name of the place, building, event or activity. An editor using your photos can shorten the caption, if necessary, but can't easily add information if it's missing.
  2. Provide clear, concise descriptions - This short description may be referred to as "alternative text." Photos that reside on America's Byways must contain an alternative text element that provides a screen-readable description of the photo. Please review the section "Guidelines for Composing Alternative Text Descriptions" below.
  3. Obtain a release form from recognizable people - If pictures include people that are recognizable, have them sign a release form if at all feasible.
  4. Put images in the public domain - The NSBP prefers that the images submitted to the Digital Media Library be in the public domain. Traveler writers and media professionals look for pictures in the public domain for so they can use them readily without a lot of extra work. If you submit copyrighted photographs, please make sure that:

    • the copyright information is accurate
    • you have permission to put the picture online
    • the copyright holder is willing to grant permission for use by travel writers, media professionals, and the public in general

Guidelines for Composing Alternative Text Descriptions

A common mistake in writing alternative text is to describe the image itself. It's not important to your listeners that you put an image in the visual version of the page; for any number of reasons, they can't see it. Instead, they want to hear what you were trying to convey by putting it there.

Composing meaningful alternative text descriptions for your photos can be difficult as it will be used as a replacement for an image, unlike a caption, which always accompanies an image. Please do not use captions as a substitute.

Here are some tips from Wikipedia for composing alternative text descriptions, an example of a photo with an alternative text description, and some examples of how they may be used.


  1. Alternative text should communicate the same information that the image communicates. If the image is there to convey information about a landscape, historical site, or cultural event, then mention that in the alternative text. Don't try to describe every detail, but do summarize the image's intent in a way that will make sense to someone who cannot see the image.
  2. Don't describe the image as much as the meaning conveyed by the image. It's not there to describe what the image looks like, or to tell us information about the image format. In choosing a phrase to use for alternative text, think about what the image expresses.
  3. Use appropriate punctuation to make your alternative text sound sensible. Don't forget to start them with a capital letter, finish them with a full stop, and include a verb.
  4. Assume readers will never have access to the image. Therefore, don't mention the file name, size of the file, dimensions of the file, the file type, or how to view a bigger version of the image, as it will be similarly inaccessible.

Here's an example:

A photographer stands poised on a rocky overlook in Utah to capture a perfect view of the Escalante Canyons

A traditional caption for this photo would be "An Intrepid Photographer at Boynton Overlook." However, an alternative text description might read, "A photographer stands poised on a rocky overlook in Utah to capture a perfect view of the Escalante Canyons."

Some examples of how alternative text is used:

Updated: 9/3/2013
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