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Photography 1.04: How Big Should My jpegs Be?

Updated on June 7, 2020
Photography Focus profile image

Here's another article in my series teaching the basics of photography. I have over 30 year professional photography experience to share.

How big should my jpegs be is a good question to ask when you are first setting up your camera. It’s important because the size of jpeg you choose affects the quality of your photos.

In this article, you’ll learn about setting the size and quality of the jpg files your camera saves. If you’ve chosen to save only RAW files you can still benefit from making learning how to set your jpeg file sizes. Knowing how to make thia adjustment will help you in the future if you ever do want to switch over and be saving jpg files.


Why Save Photos As JPG Files?

Choosing to save your photos only as jpegs and not as RAW files will save you a lot of space. When you’re shooting your cards will not fill up so fast because jpg files are much smaller than RAW files, no matter what size you set them to.

Your computer hard drive will also no fill up so fast when you save only jpegs. RAW files take up a lot more space because they are not compressed when they are saved.

When your camera saves a jpeg file it makes some adjustments to the photo so it will look okay when you see it. Your camera will tweak the sharpness, color, and contrast among other things. RAW files remain unadjusted by the camera and often look flat and dull until you post-process them.

JPG files look better as soon as you see them and don’t always need altering like RAW files do. So not only does saving your photos as jpegs save you space, but it also saves you time.


Why does JPG Size Matter?

All cameras give you options for the size and quality of the jpg files you can save. You get to choose the dimensions of the photo and also how much compression is applied. Both of these affect the quality of the photos and their size.

When your camera saves a jpeg file it compresses and resizes it to the settings you choose. The larger the file size, the less photo information is discarded. When you set small dimensions and high compression your photos will contain minimal information. This limits the size you can enlarge them too and how much you can post-process them.

You can choose to keep the most information by saving the largest file size and the highest quality. This means the photo dimensions will be the maximum your camera’s sensor can produce. The quality is related to the amount the jpeg file is compressed. Maximum quality means the least compression and largest files.

The larger files you save the bigger prints you’ll be able to make from them. If you same the smallest files possible they may look alright on your phone but will appear poor quality on a large computer screen or tv.


Set the JPG Size As High As Practical

Image quality should always be important to photographers. It will always be disappointing when you take a great photo using the smallest dimensions and highest compression. These settings limit your use of the photo because the quality will be very low. You will not be able to get a good size print to hang on your wall.

Storage cards for your camera are cheap and it’s always good practice to carry more than you think you will need. Running out of space on your cards is very frustrating when you’re partway through a photoshoot. Being tempted to save space by reducing your jpg size is not a good option. Think about that once in a lifetime photo you could take. Do you want it to be the lowest quality or the highest quality?

Every camera can be set to save various jpg file sizes. I don’t recommend using the settings for the smallest size and lowest quality. If you’re concerned about running our of space on your card, buy a spare or take fewer photos.

It’s a good idea to set your jpg size as high as you can. Doing this will ensure you are able to make the best use of your photos. You do not need to worry about loss of quality when you want to enlarge them.


Photography Challenge 1.04

Lens - Standard

Exposure Mode - aperture priority

Focus Mode – Any

Location – Outdoors

Time – Any time of day

This photography challenge will show you the differences between jpeg file sizes in terms of quality.

Locate the menu item on your camera that allows you to set the size and quality of the jpg images. Set the image dimensions to the highest possible. Then adjust the compression amount to least amount. The combination of these two settings will save the highest quality photos.

These settings will also produce the largest jpeg file size. It will still be significantly smaller than the size of a RAW file your camera saves.

Take a few photos of a scene with lots of detail using these settings.

Next adjust the dimensions to the middle option your camera has in the menu. Also, bring up the amount of compression to around the middle option. Take a few more photos of the same scene.

You are not likely to notice any difference at this stage. You’ll only see the effects of the changes you’re making when you look at the photos on your computer or have them printed.

For the last step, choose the smallest dimension settings your camera has. Set your compression to the maximum. These settings will result in the lowest technical quality images your camera can make. Remember to adjust these settings when you’re finished this photography challenge. Take a few more photos of the same scene.

Make some notes about what you are doing so you can consult them later.

Upload your photos to your computer. Zoom into each photo so you are at them at 100%. Make sure not to enlarge then beyond 100% otherwise, you will not get a clear idea of each photo’s true quality.

Do you see the differences in quality between photos taken at the different settings? Look at areas with contrast in the composition and at areas where there’s little or no detail. In the smallest jpegs, you’ll notice some weird looking deformities in your photos.

Now you can choose which size jpegs you want to save.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Photography Focus


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