It can be complicated

If you do something often enough it becomes second nature and in almost all walks of life jargon develops that those you work with or interact with speak and understand as fluently as you do.

It’s not until you step outside of that cosy environment that problems start and like any other photographer I’m as guilty as the next for lapsing into techno speak thinking that clients know what I’m talking about – that’s always assuming that I know what I’m talking about!

Consider the following terms, definitions and descriptions and see how easily it can be to confuse the issue or leave someone in the dark:

Format – we reel off terms like JPEG, TIFF, pdf, GIF, PNG or Bitmap as if the whole world understands what we mean. They all refer to digital images of one form or another but which one is right for a specific application? In most cases a JPEG file will do the job but it’s too much for a simple application and not enough for a big print application.

Mode – is a digital file saved in RGB or CMYK? Or is it Greyscale? Put very simply it’s the difference between projected light (computer monitor) or reflected light (printed page) and the process for making that image look right whatever it’s intended use. A printer can always convert an RGB file to CMYK but there is a chance that some colours may be look different from the original.

Size – if someone asks how big a picture is, do they mean it’s physical dimensions when printed? The number of pixels contained in it or how much memory it will take up on your hard drive? It’s too easy to talk at cross purposes and it’s worth checking who is referring to what.

Compression – nothing to do with trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans after Christmas that used to be a comfortable fit but everything to do with how easy it is to transmit an image via email or ftp. Imaging software will give you the option of compressing a large image file so that it takes up less space without compromising on quality.

Aspect Ratio – not just a matter or square or rectangle but as can be seen on most new widescreen TVs, pictures have to be corrected to fit, sometimes leaving a black space at the top and bottom of the screen. Traditional film cameras would produce an image at a ration of 3:2 (e.g. 9″ x 6″) whereas the new breed of digital camera will produce an image at 4:3 (e.g. 9″ x 6.75″) and a widescreen TV image could be 16:9 or sometimes even wider. Again it’s worth checking what aspect ratio an image will be produced in, with a view to its intended application.

Copyright – the bugbear of most professional photographers who hate to see their work reproduced without licence. Some photographers insist that images can only be used for a specific period of time, in named geographical areas and in certain publications or outlets. They may also insist that they are credited as the author of the image.

Copyright law is almost impossible to enforce and as the internet makes it so easy to transmit, copy and use digital images, trying to enforce it would be a fruitless task. Photographs should be supplied with a licence to use them, while the photographer retains the copyright, certainly this applies to business and commercial applications. The only real exceptions are when photographs are produced as a work of art.

Resolution – this is linked back to size and compression and much depends on what an image will be used for. Online images for websites, blogs, newsletters etc should be saved at 72 dpi and compressed to shorten download time. Pictures for the printed press should be saved at at least 150 dpi but preferably at 300 dpi. This will make them much too big for email transmission but will provide the quality needed for print media.

It isn’t really complicated – but it can easily end up being complicated. Armed with some of the facts from above, hopefully a little communication between all parties will prevent it becoming so.

It can be complicated

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