Common Formatting Choices

By this I’m referring to the type of computer file that will be used to save your images. Every image must use a recognizable file standard that can be used to recreate the image. General this is the same file format that was used to create it in the first place. This is the ideal circumstance which provides the least headache. The premiere standard by the quantity is JPEG (joint photographic experts group). This is not because of quality, it is so popular because of two things, it creates a file that is generally 1/10 the size of normal files, and the format is “open source”, meaning that you don’t have to pay a fee for license. That’s why all the apps love JPEG.

Don’t get me wrong, for common use it is very good quality. But let me give a simple explanation of what is happening. Imagine a photo taken by camera/scanner. At the time of taking, the full file is captured by the digital sender. When it is saved by the computer, the first bit is recorded as normal, the next nine bits are an average the next real bit. That’s how the file is reduced. The computer generated bits between the real bits are much smaller to record.

So technically 9/10s of the jpeg file is not what the camera/scanner actually saw. There are other “free” formats that actually capture all the information, but they do not not compress as much. These are called “loss-less” compression. The most popular is TIFF (tagged information format file). This is a museum quality format file, museums all over the whole have scanned or photographed their collections and saved them as TIFFs in order to have all of the subtle original data. Some early digital cameras actually had TIFF as a format choice. Keep those cameras if you have them!

In truth, for 90% of the uses of digital imagery, JPEG is perfect. There is one other fact that can be disappointing. There are several different levels of JPEG compression. Some free digital libraries on-line save your JPEG fileswith further compression in order to save room. For images that are full screen at 72 dpi the files look perfect, but they may not print as well when they are 8x10s. Everything is a compromise. If your future plans will always be digital on screen then it doesn’t matter that much.

Personally I have saved all my important images on hard drives as a tiff. Some are also saved as PhotoShop files. I have assumed that PhotoShop will still exist in the future. You can also save as .PNG, it’s free and will probably be in the future.

The issue of saving digital images is keeping up with the future. I have saved images on floppies (no longer exist), I have saved on 800k/1,4 mg disks (no longer exist), I have saved on Zip/Jazz drives (no longer exist), I have saved on CDs (being fazed out), I have saved on mechanical hard drives (being fazed out). I have saved on solid state RAM drives. I will continue to update my saving methods.

I’m happy with most of my snapshots to be saved as JPEGs. My camera saves image as RAW and JPEG automatically. The important shots are converted from RAW to TIFF, but I must do this in a timely manner, because the RAW format can change, it is not standard, it is not wise to just save the RAW files as archival.

Technology is wonderful, it can be very simple, it can be very complicated. Always know your final intention and keep that as your goal.