I’d like to go over some really basic housekeeping items in this post. Far too often, people like me who write posts on blogs like this, tend to focus on the more exciting aspects of photography and photo and graphic editing inside of Adobe Lightroom, Camera Raw and Photoshop. While this is fine and while these topics certainly are popular, there are a whole slew of smaller questions that need answering. Questions such as, “What’s the best file format to save out a Photoshop file?” Of course, there are more, but these are the types of smaller topics that are challenging to write entire posts about. Simply put, the answer is too short.
In today’s post, I’d like to cover a variety of things. Things like using JPEG and RAW files to the number of bits you should set your editing application to. I’d also like to talk about the differences between Photoshop PSD files, JPEGS and TIFF files. Which maintain your working layers? Which should you use to save working documents in? To explain these topics semi-thoroughly, I’ll be exploring the preferences panel in Camera Raw and a few other settings areas in Photoshop.
I think this will be a good post that will contain some valuable information, so be sure to bookmark it to save it for later review.
8 Bit Color vs 16 Bit Color
When you’re new to image editing, this is probably the last thing you’ll think of. When I first started out, I was embossing letters and objects like it was nobody’s business. I was having far too much fun playing with drop shadows and warping lines than to concern myself with which bit depth would produce better looking and more vibrant photo outputs. Unfortunately, as it turns out, these hidden settings mean a lot.
Okay, I’m not going to get into the extremely long and mundane explanation of every single detail of how bit depth works. I will, however, tell you that 8 bit images can offer up to 16.8 millions colors. Conversely, 16 bit colors can offer up to 281 trillion possible colors. Which would you choose? At first glance, I think we’d all like to include trillions of colors in our images.
The issue we face with these types of settings has to do with how many colors the human eye can actually see (fewer than 10 million). If we can’t see all the colors that 8 bit images exhibit, why in the world do we need to set our preferences to 16 bit? This sort of goes back to the debate between which is better, JPEG files or RAW files.
If you shoot in JPEG mode on your camera, you’re already shooting at 8 bits. If you’re shooting in RAW, you’re shooting at 16 bits. If you take pictures to post to Facebook and Instagram (online) only, go ahead and keep using the JPEG format. There’s absolutely no reason to change from that. However, if you’re purposefully shooing in RAW mode because you edit the heck out of your files and use them for web, print and everything in between, you’re going to want to make sure your editor settings are set to the proper bit depth, which is 16.
For a great introduction into understanding the difference between 8 bit color and 16 bit color and why the two choices matter to your photography, I can offer some resources.
Read up on this topic to fully understand it. If you plan on spending any time in this field, it’ll be worth your while.
Changing the Bit Depth in Adobe Camera Raw
A common issue for many photographers and editors that they don’t even know is afflicting them is the fact that they have their cameras set to RAW mode, yet have their editing applications set to 8 bits. Basically, they are taking full spectrum photos and compressing them before they ever start editing them. This is not a good situation. If you shoot in RAW, then you should be editing with a 16 bit depth.
Earlier today, I went outside and took a few random photos for this post. I already opened one of them in Camera Raw and pushed a few sliders around. I figured that it would be a great opportunity to show you where you can change the depth from 8 bit to 16 bit.
See the red box at the bottom of the above screenshot? There’s a link inside of it. Basically, the link text shows what the current specs of the image are. If you click that link, the Workflow Options dialog box will appear.
In the screenshot above, you can see that I already clicked the Depth drop-down box. Inside this drop-down are the two choices; 8 Bits/Channel and 16 Bits/Channel. If you shoot in JPEG mode, keep the 8 bits. If you shoot in RAW mode, change this setting to 16 bits. When you’re ready, go ahead and click the OK button to apply your changes.
Changing Bit Depth in Photoshop
If you opened a RAW or other type of high quality, uncompressed, image straight into Photoshop, don’t worry, you can easily change the bit depth setting there too. All you need to do is to click the Image > Mode menu item and select the 16 Bits/Channel option. This will have the same effect of keeping as many colors as possible available in your image.
Which is Better, AdobeRGB or sRGB?
This is another area that’s fairly deep. Because of that, I’m going to lead you to some other awesome resources so you can get your fill. What I’d like to do is simply give you a brief overview and then inform you of the actual steps you’ll need to take to change the color space in Camera Raw and Photoshop.
Dealing with color space is sort of like dealing with bit depth. Both of these areas control how much information is available via a photograph. If you deal primarily with images for use on the web, you can stick with sRGB. If you’re shooting in RAW mode and are planning on printing whatever it is you produce, it’s best to use the Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB. Both of these latter choices have huge color spaces that use tons of information. Just remember, when dealing with larger bit depths and larger color spaces, your file sizes will end up substantially larger as well. If you have a slower computer and don’t have much storage space, stick with 8 bit and sRGB.
Changing the Color Space in Camera Raw
In order to change the color space while in Camera Raw, you’ll need to click the spec link under the image again. This is the same one I clicked earlier. When the Workflow Options dialog box opens, you’ll see a drop-down next to the word Space. Click this drop-down and choose either Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB. Then, click OK and you’ll be all set.
Changing the Color Space in Photoshop
Again, you can do the same thing in Photoshop. To accomplish this, simply click the Edit > Color Settings menu item.
Once you do that, the Color Settings dialog box will open.
Inside the Working Spaces area, there is a drop-down next to the word RGB. Click that and, again, make your selection. When you’re finished, click the OK button and you’ll be good to go.
I highly advise you to take a look at the resources I linked to. They will certainly give you a good and necessary background into making the correct decision for these options.
Saving as JPEG vs PSD vs TIFF
The second area I’d like to discuss today has to do with saving a working file. Let’s say you’ve opened a photograph into Photoshop by choosing one of the various methods for doing so. You added some text and made a couple of enhancements via adjustment layers. Basically, you now have a working file with layers within Photoshop that needs to be saved out so you can open it and work on it again at a later date. It’s essential to keep the layers intact because, like I just said, you’ll need the file in the future. Below, I’ll talk about three methods for going about doing this.
The first method is to save the file as a JPEG. You can access this option by heading up to the File > Save As menu item and clicking.
Once you do that, you’ll be presented with a window that will allow you to choose the file type you’d like to save as. Name the file and then click the Save As Type drop-down and choose JPEG.
After that’s finished, you’ll see the JPEG options dialog box pop up, giving you the opportunity to either save the file with full compressed JPEG quality or as a lower quality JPEG image. Push the slider to make your choice and click on the OK button.
Now, here’s my advice for using this method to save a Photoshop file. DO NOT DO THIS! Never save a working document as a JPEG file. JPEGs don’t have layers included in them and they are compressed, so the quality is diminished. This is not what you want. If you already have the file saved in another format and simply want a compressed JPEG file to email to someone or to use on the web, sure, go for it. Just remember, the next time you open this file, you’ll wonder where all your work went. It’ll be gone. All you’ll be left with is a flattened image.
The next option, and probably the most popular, is to save the working file as a PSD file. This is Photoshop’s own file format and it’s perfect for saving all your layers and quality. To access this option, head back up to the File > Save As menu and click. This time though, when choosing an option from the drop-down, click on PSD.
Once you do that, you’ll notice a few check boxes with commonly used options available.
The most important box to have checked here is the Layers one. By checking this box, you’re telling Photoshop to keep all created layers in the file for use later on. The file size will certainly be larger than the JPEG version, but it won’t be useless like that one will be.
When ready, click the Save button and you’ll be all set for future work.
If you’re looking for a really cool way to save and compress a Photoshop file with layers, you should take a look at the TIFF file format. To access TIFF, do the same exact thing you did for the previous two options. After you click the Save As Type drop-down and select the TIFF option, be sure to keep the Layers box checked, just as you did with the PSD version. After you do this, click the Save button.
Now, instead of immediately saving the file, as the PSD option did, you’ll be presented with some compression options inside of the TIFF Options dialog box.
Inside of this dialog, you can choose your preferred method of compression, such as None, LZW or ZIP. You can also choose which type of layer compression you want, such as RLE or ZIP. If you aren’t sure what each choice entails, roll your mouse over the option and wait. A yellow tool tip will appear, explaining that option. When finished, click on the OK button and your layered file will be saved and ready for its next use. Remember, saving your file as a TIFF will keep everything you did inside of Photoshop working perfectly, so it’s a good option.
Boy, that sure was a lot of typing just to explain a few simple areas of Photoshop. That’s just the way it goes, I guess. Anyway, I hope I clearly explained how to choose bit depth in both Camera Raw and Photoshop, choose a color space inside of those two applications as well and how to decide on and select the proper format to save your files as. As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!