Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Digital Camera Photo Formats

As a photographer you most likely shoot in Raw or Jpeg, or sometimes both. Then you edit. You may start in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, many photographers will end up in Photoshop, Paintshop Pro etc.. doing more detailed editing of their photographs.  In time, you come up with the “perfect” edit. Now it is time to save.
What do you do? Do you save as a PSD, Tiff, Jpeg, Gif, Png or something else?
This article is not meant to address how you save Raw files to formats like DNG (Digital Negatives). It is meant to focus on how you save to share photos on the web and for print.
Here are a few of the most common formats and why you may or may not want to use them


  • This file format is the highest quality and is excellent for print as there is no loss in quality.
  • Retains information in layers, depending how you save it.
  • The downsides are the extremely large file size and you cannot display on the web in this format.
  • Lossless format so you will retain information from your images as you re-open and re-save

JPEG or jpg.

  • The Joint Photographic Experts Group format is the most common type. It is viewable by all and can be used for print and the web.
  • When saving as a jpg, you decide what quality you desire (In Photoshop for example a level 1 is the lowest quality or a 12 which is the highest quality)
  • The biggest downsize is that the jpeg format is lossy.  Each time you open and save, the image compresses and you lose a small amount of information.
  • Another downside is that layers are flattened upon saving so you lose the ability to go back to past edits to tweak.

  • The Portable Network Graphics format also creates smaller file size but without the quality loss of a GIF.
  • Useful if you need to maintain transparency.
  • Often used for graphics instead of GIF.
  • Lossless format so you will retain information from your images as you re-open and re-save.
  • You can share these files on the web.
  • The Graphics Interchange Format is good for web graphics with animation but NOT recommended for photos.
  • The file size is very small so these files load fast on the web.
  • The downsides are limited colours and do not handle photographs well.
  • Lossless format so you will retain information from your images as you re-open and re-save.
Hopefully after reading this you have a better understanding on which format suits your style. There is no right or wrong way, though many will feel strongly about how they manage their workflow.
I prefer to simplify my workflow. While there is a compression and loss of information editing jpeg images, the difference is so minor unless you are re-opening dozens of times. For that reason, I save my images as PSD (Adobe Photoshop file) if I know I will need to come back to it to alter adjustment layers, masks, or layer opacity. Once I am done editing, I save my images as JPEGs.

Most photo editing software can be expensive, luckily there are also free editing software programs available on the net. Examples of these are,  Photoscape, Picasa 3, & Photo Pos Pro.


  1. Mine never look that great when I load them up onto the Web. Maybe this is why?

    Thanks another great post.

    Always Wendy

  2. Hi Wendy,it can be a little confusing deciding which format to save in, glad it helped you,