File Types Every Photographer should know

With the advent of digital photography, today’s working photographer has had to adapt to a lot of changes. Where a Film photographer had a set routine of buying a pack of film rolls, capturing images, developing the film negatives and finally printing the captured images, a digital photographer’s path is full of intricacies. Right from choosing a decent enough ‘memory card’ to match the nature of his photographic field to visualizing the output after post processing, the journey is quite a long one.

Thus, to make this journey easier and have a full understanding of the extent to which one can take one’s photographic vision in today’s digital world, the following file types are essential to study.

  1. JPEG

 JPEG is an acronym for Joint Photography Expert Group. This file format is the most used format on web as it is compact and easier to share across various platforms. Be it uploading an image from your smartphone on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter to submitting images to clients after a photography shoot, JPEGs are used by amateurs and professionals alike.

However, this ‘universal’ file format does not result in the best output for photography purposes as JPEGs are heavily compressed files and are notoriously ‘Lossy’ type of files.

**JPEG 2000 – This is a new type of JPEG which supports loss less compression.

  1. RAW

RAW file format is a format used by all the DSLRs and high-end digital cameras today. RAW files are essentially what the name suggests, capturing raw data of an image without adding any in-camera processing like as applied to JPEGs. Thus, essentially a RAW file gives a Photographer/Retoucher full control to edit or manipulate an image non destructively while maintaining the highest image quality. Different camera companies have their own native raw file formats, for example Nikon cameras produce .NEF files, Canon cameras produce .CR2 files and Sony cameras produce .ARW files. In addition to capturing a raw data containing the look of an image during capture time, RAW files also store additional information like date, time, location, copyright information etc. of an image. Thus it is not possible to tamper a RAW file easily.

Almost all Professional Photographers prefer using the RAW format at the time of image capture due to its flexibility and the advantages mentioned above. One of the biggest advantage of RAW format in comparison to JPEGs is its ability to capture a wide range of brightness levels in a particular scene. For example, JPEGs are essentially 8 bit files that can capture only 256 levels of brightness, whereas a RAW format can produce 12 bit to 14 bit files capturing 4,096 to 16,384 levels of brightness in a scene.


Having said that, RAW file formats also have their drawbacks. RAW files take up a lot of space. In comparison to JPEGs, they are 2-3 times larger, thus RAW files fill up memory cards resulting in less number of images in a given storage. Due to their large file size, a digital camera takes more time to store a RAW file making the camera slower. This negatively impacts continuous shooting mode. As RAW files do undergo any in-camera processing during the time of capture, one needs to have special softwares to view and edit RAW files. 

  1. PSD

PSD is an acronym for Photoshop Document. It is essentially a native file format used by a vast majority of ‘Digital retouchers’ for Image Manipulation across the globe. PSDs unlike JPEGs are extremely high quality files. They are often referred to as Work In Progress(W.I.P) files as they contain layers of information. A digital photographer/retoucher can always chose to modify the layers of PSDs at any interval during the process of editing images, without hampering the image quality. The same can’t be said about JPEGs, as every time one edits a JPEG over and again, the image quality degrades further.

With all the above advantages, PSDs also come with their own set of limitations. A Photoshop Document is proprietary file, and not a universal file type like JPEG. They are also not easy to share online as they are extremely large file formats.

  1. TIFF

TIFF is an acronym for Tagged Image File Format. TIFFs are extremely High quality files and can produce lossless compression. Just like PSDs, TIFFs allow Photographers/Retouchers to work in Layers and Transparency.

**Transparency – When we delete the background from in a image with layers, it fills up the background with white on export.

A lot of Photographers/Retouchers prefer saving their images in TIFF, as TIFFs are publicly documented, meaning they are widely supported by different Softwares.

Talking about the disadvantages of TIFF, the first thing that comes to mind is their enormous size. Uncompressed TIFFs are extremely large files and will require good storage and a efficient computer processor. Sharing TIFFs online is taxing as most online image galleries and websites do not accept this file type.

  1. DNG

DNG is an acronym for Digital Negative. It is considered to be Adobe’s proprietary raw file format. Thus a camera native RAW file and a DNG file compare closely. DNG files are comparatively smaller than the native RAW files. Any editing applied to an image is directly written on a DNG file without creating a sidecar XMP file, thus simplifying data management. The best part about DNGs is that one can manually extract an original RAW file at any given time from a DNG file. One can easily convert a RAW file into a DNG file with the help Adobe software’s like Lightroom.


With all its advantages in place, DNG files also have a few drawbacks. DNGs do not work on many image-processing softwares. A DNG limits itself from extra metadata information like D-lighting(in Nikon cameras) and Picture control. Due to its nature of not generating a sidecar XMP, one needs to backup an entire DNG file.

To conclude, there are many more file formats that will be invented as technology advances. However the basic principle of maintaining a good ratio between image compression to the desired output and provision of control over the output of an image will be deciding factor for a Photographer before pressing the button to capture a scene and creating a satisfying image.

Article by Chanakya Wable

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