What exactly is a JPEG file?

Aug 22, 2022 | 0 comments

The most popular file format that is used by product photographers and packshot studios. The JPEG file type has become the go-to option but for those new to the industry, it can be confusing to know why and when to use alternatives.

Ultimately, the JPEG became the file type of choice because of the need to make image file sizes smaller when storage and the internet were in their infancy. With modern technology, this has become less of a concern but people still often prefer the JPEG.

Let’s jump into this topic in a little more detail and explore what exactly a JPEG file is.

What is it and how does it work?

JPEG files use a type of compression that loses a certain amount of data when converting an original file, such as a RAW file to JPEG. What is truly impressive is that the compression process was designed to minimise the differences between how the files are perceived, despite losing data.

The underlying technology behind JPEGs focuses on the concept that light and sound exist as waveforms in nature. Compressing a file in this way, the JPEG focuses on the frequencies that the human eyes rely on the most.

There are other common ways to compress files, such as when we zip files to send them via email or online. This does reduce the amount of data without any loss but isn’t a good choice for a product photographer to use because images have so much data within them.

Does it really save a lot of space?

The short answer is yes! Using a JPEG will genuinely save a packshot studio or product photographer a significant amount of space. It is often advised to operate with RAW files when undertaking photoshoots because you can make copies in post-production and make changes without altering the base image.

However, JPEGs can reduce the amount of storage needed by up to 90% and this really does make it the favourite file type of so many professionals out there. This can speed up the workflow, uploads and also the way clients can access images.

What are the challenges JPEGs cause?

It is important not to be blinded by the fact JPEGs are so popular and do save a significant amount of space. There are some downsides to using this file type and every product photographer should think about how they wish to approach their photography services.

One of the significant downsides of using JPEGs or similar files that compress an image is that editing the image can cause noticeable flaws or changes that aren’t seen in the original image. To counter this, many choose to use RAW files as the software they use will then create a copy of this base file to edit, without affecting the original image.

When editing a JPEG, you change the fundamental image being used and this means you build up flaws and changes on top of each other. This gradual reduction in the quality of the image can massively impact the final result. This concept of quality loss each time the JPEG ends up being recompressed is referred is know as the term digital generation loss.

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