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How to Use Digital Compression for Photos

By Hanna Welch | August 5, 2019 |

greater than 3 minutes

Need to understand compression? From this article, you will know exactly what compression in photography is, its essence and how to compress your digital photos.

Part of a photographer’s job is to keep their clients’ pictures safe and backed up for as long as possible. One of the ways to do so is backing them up on external hard drives or using USB sticks. To increase the storage space on your computer and store as many photos as possible, it might be necessary to compress your images. However, unfortunately, compressing might easily ruin an otherwise great image.

Reading this is an indication that you need to understand compression. At the end of this read, you will know exactly what compression in photography is, its essence and how to compress your digital photos.

What is Compression in Photography?

In digital photography, compression is used in reducing the size of images, which makes them easier to share on the internet. As far as photography goes, compression is not an excellent idea as there are high chances it will affect image quality. This is where you need to learn the basics of compression in digital photography and fully apply them.

On DSLR cameras and computers, different photography file formats have their own specific levels of compression – meaning compression differs across various gadgets. With image compression comes a reduction in the compressed image’s contrast, sharpness, color and spectrum, etc., which means lower quality altogether. For example, a compression format used when working on a JPEG file gives out images that occupy less space while reducing their quality. Basically, it is a matter of sacrificing quality for quantity, which isn’t something that will thrill most photographers.

After understanding how digital compression works, you might follow suit and start shooting  RAW files that don’t have any compression applied to them. For general photography, the compression found in JPEGs doesn’t present a significant drawback.

Digital compression is not rocket science. Compression is done by a digital sensor which reads the finest details. It identifies any large sections with repetitive color and ambience and then removes some of the repeated sections. When the file is expanded, the sections are reconstructed in the image.

There are two types of compression, namely lossless and lossy compression, and each means exactly what the name suggests.

Lossless compression

This type of compression resembles creating a ZIP file on a computer. Data is compressed to reduce the size without losing the quality during file extraction and when the file is opened at full size. An image compressed through lossless compression remains closely similar to the original image. For this type of compression, TIFF is the most popular format.

Lossy Compression

Compressing photos this way means you’re prepared to face reduced quality. The most commonly used file format when using this type of compression is JPEG. During compression, information is discarded, and the amount of compression applied depends on the compressor’s choice. These smaller files save space on memory cards and can be conveniently sent and posted online. “Lossy” is the best compression method if you don’t have enough storage or backup space.

Identifying Compression

Noticing compression depends on the type of compression used. Also, when viewing an image on an LCD screen, it might be difficult to notice the difference in compression formats. Even after learning how to use digital compression for photos, on an LCD screen, you might not notice it. It’s fully visible on a printed image. On a printed image, you can even notice poor quality on an 8×10-inch print. Images shared on social media don’t fully show the reduced quality.

Digital photography has significantly improved over the years. There are a lot of tools available, and you can choose to shoot quality RAW images. Also, some cameras might need adjusting to avoid automatic image compression. Therefore, photographers need to pay attention to compression when capturing and editing images and even at post-production. Care must also be taken during storage as some methods compress images and store their lower-quality versions.

Tips for Avoiding Compression Complications

Photographers can use compression techniques, but at the same time, they need to be cautious enough to avoid issues that might arise with compressing images. The basic tips include:

  • All work-in-progress and finished image files can be saved as TIFFs.
  • Invest in proper storage so that you can shoot in RAW according to your camera specs without worrying about clearing photos during a session.
  • Avoid saving pictures over JPG files because the compression ratio applied leads to loss of image quality.
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