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When working with modern digital files, there are some important options. One of those is bit depth. Now, if you're shooting JPEG, chances are, you're shooting an 8-bit image. Now, what this means is just a fancy way of describing how much information is in the file; 8 bits per channel basically means that there's two to the eighth power, which equals 256. Well, that's 256 levels of detail for the red channel, the green channel, and the blue channel; 256 times 256 times 256 equals a really big number, but we usually call it millions of colors.
But that's not the best quality there is. If you're working with RAW photos, your camera might be shooting 10, 12, or even 14 bits of information. This gives you much greater detail, and wider ranges of exposure and contrast. Now, iPhoto has the ability to work with this if you're using RAW photos, but when you go to export, you're going to want to include that in the 16-bit file. To do this, you need to tweak your export settings. I'll press Command+Comma to bring up the preferences.
Under Advanced, I'm going to choose two options. First, if I'm using an external editor, such as Adobe Photoshop, or Aperture, or Photoshop Elements, I'll make sure that the RAW files get sent over. Secondly, this one is very important; when you export your file, make sure that you're using the 16-bit TIFF file. Now, as you develop the RAW images, higher quality 16-bit TIFFs are being stored in your iPhoto library.
This means, when you go to Export, you just want to make sure you choose TIFF. In this way, the highest quality file will export out of iPhoto. Unless you intend to go to the Web, stick with TIFF. It's a much better format, and much higher quality.
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