Join Tim Grey for an in-depth discussion in this video File formats, part of Photoshop CS6 Quick Start for Photographers.
Pretty soon after you start working with an image in Photoshop, you're going to be faced with the issue of file formats. And there are many file formats available to you. I'll go ahead and choose File > Save As from the menu, and then I'll click the Format popup so that we can see the wide variety of image file formats we can choose from. It's a long list but you don't have to worry about most of these options and in fact, generally speaking they are only may be three or four File Formats that you even need to be aware of when working with your photographic images.
The first of these File Formats is the raw File Format which is actually not a single File format but a collection of various File formats. A Raw Capture is a file that contains the information actually gathered by your image sensor. When the picture was taken. Many cameras include a raw capture mode, and those raw captures must then be translated effectively to produce pixel information. What that means is that you really only need to think about the raw capture at the time you capture an image, and at the time that you're converting that image so that you can actually work on it, in Photoshop for example.
After converting that raw capture and optimizing the image in a variety of ways, you'll more than likely have created some layers along the way, and that requires that you save the image in a file format that supports layers. Generally speaking, that means saving the image in the Photoshop PSD file ormat, or in the TIFF file format. Both of these files support all of the features you can use in Photoshop. So, you really don't need to think about one or the other. I'm in the habit of using the Photoshop PSD file format for my master image. The image that contains all of my layers.
But that's largely because, when I first got started with Photoshop, the TIFF file format didn't support layers. So I knew my Photoshop file was the master image with all layers intact, and any TIFF images were derivative images that I used to send an image to a printer, for example. Generally speaking, if you take advantage of the LZW compression option for .TIFF files, then you'll get a little bit smaller file size. So, if I were making the decision today, I would probably stick with .TIFF. But now, I have it in my mind that a Photoshop .PSD file is my master and the .TIFF file is my derivative image, and so I continue saving my master image as a .PSD.
The other file format you'll likely use on a somewhat regular basis. Is the JPEG file format. JPEG files are always compress and that always causes some loss of quality. But it also means the file size will be considerably smaller. So, JPEG is great when you're sending an image via email, or sharing an image online, for example. Most cameras allow you to capture in JPEG, but I don't recommend that because it means you're compromising right from the start. You're not able to take advantage of high bit depth, you don't have the conversion options that a RAW capture has, and you have some compression applied that will reduce the overall image quality. So, think of a raw capture as your original starting point. It's your original capture out of the camera.
Think of the Photoshop or the TIFF file formats as a file format appropriate for a master image, or one that's intended to be printed. And think of the JPEG file format as a great option when you're going to share images online. That makes three or four file formats that you need to be aware of. The rest of them here you can really forget about, at least for the time being. As you're getting started in Photoshop, you might as well keep things as simple as possible, and restricting the number of file formats you actually put to use is certainly one way to do that.
- A guided tour of Photoshop
- Setting up your environment
- Color modes, bit depth, and image resolution
- The Histogram
- File formats
- Basic adjustments
- Output workflow