My wife is a photographer (Nikon D700, edits in Win7 Adobe CS5 suite) and mentioned yesterday that she's out of hard drive space. When I inspected, I found GIGANTIC .TIF files on her drive, ranging anywhere in size from 100MB to 4 GIGABYTES.

I told her to save her final edits off as JPEGS and delete the .TIFs, but she said she can't do that for two reasons:

  • Her printing companies require TIF format
  • If her clients want a picture redone or resized, she can't go back to the JPEG as effectively as she could have with the tif format.

Both of these reasons seem more like the product of workflow issues to me, but I don't know enough about the art to make that call. As the financier of her operation, I have a few questions for the community:

1) Are file sizes like this normal? Is there a more friendly format that she can work in that doesn't require me to buy a new hard drive every few weeks?

2) Is it possible that there is a knowledge gap somewhere and that she's missing a crucial step in her workflow? She demonstrated for me, and I watched in disbelief as a brand new 10 MB raw file without any edits turned into a 105 MB TIF file.

I ask because these file sizes seem absolutely ridiculous to me. At this rate, she'll practically have to add a hard drive surcharge to every one of her shoots from now on...

Thanks in advance!


4 Answers 4


It sounds like she's saving uncompressed TIFs. Ps will give you various options such as LZW or ZIP compression when you save. Since TIFF is lossless you can safely choose any of them. JPEG is not a good alternative as it is lossy; you will lose image quality.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I noticed those options and tested a few last night: NEF -> LZW actually created a bigger file than without LZW (about 105 mb, as opposed to 100mb without LZW). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Should also note that I tried it with Zip compression, too -- it helped, but only resized the file by about 10mb. Do you suppose that these values are low because I performed the test on unedited files? Will they scale as she makes more edits and adds more layers to the image? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 15:11
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Is your wife saving the layers? If she is, that will add to the file size considerably. Flattening the image should help. Also saving as an 8 bit file will save a lot of space. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, she is saving in layers. I will suggest the flattening to her, but I suspect she won't like that because she won't be able to go back and edit individual layers... :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 15:13
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ She should be saving as a PSD for layer preservation and ultimate editability anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 17:23

The only thing that stands out to me is to ensure the final exported TIFFs are flattened--unless the customer or printer specifically requested layers for further processing.

Non-destructive editing is usually a necessity and thus preserving originals and/or intermediate work products in lossless formats. Working with high resolution images means you're going to need a lot of space. Just count yourself lucky your wife isn't into video production!

JPEG, even in the highest quality setting is only 8 bit and lossy, so by repeatedly importing and exporting JPEGs will result in increasingly visible artifacts and reduced flexibility due to the lower dynamic range of the 8-bit information versus the original 12-bit from the camera.

Software like Lightroom and Aperture has excellent features for managing and archiving large volumes of photos. If preserving backups of past projects is a must, then learn to use these tools, and accept that buying external hard drives now and then is par for the course in this business.

Personally, I go through three retention phases:

  1. Back up all originals to DVD immediately upon importing the photos.
  2. Mark all potential keepers and delete the rest.
  3. After a while (a month, half a year, whenever I run out of space), delete all the potential keepers that didn't end up being used and archive the keepers on an external hard drive.

USB 2.0 is probably going to be around for yet another decade or two. With the current prices, external hard drives seems to be the most cost efficient solution for flexible long-term storage of large photo libraries.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As a sysadmin, that last part makes me cringe. Using hard drives can be part of a storage solution, but you'll eventually be sad if you don't have other backups. Amazon's "Glacier" service looks interesting here — a penny a month a gigabyte as long as you don't need to restore more than 5% every month. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I use an online backup service too, but so far I've limited this to the final images due to bandwidth and storage rates. I agree the newly announced Amazon Glacier service sounds very interesting. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2559
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 18:50

Saving TIFF files doesn't make sense to me. The original RAW is more space-efficient, and of course contains all the inforation to be had. I save the original RAW file and one or more post-processed JPG results. If I want to go back and make a version that's a little darker, more snappy contrast, more detail in the clouds, or whatever, I do that by going back to the RAW file and then making another JPG with the desired tradeoffs.

I'm guessing she is saving the data in 16 bit TIFF files. That is going to be a lot bigger than the RAW for two reasons. First, the RAW contains only one color per pixel. TIFF contains all three with the other two invented somehow from the RAW information. They don't contain any more information, but do take up at least 3x the space. Second, 16 bits is more per color per pixel than RAW data, at least currently. The Nikon D3S produces 14 bits/pixel raw, and I don't think other common cameras do more than that, most less. You don't gain any information by expanding the 14 or 12 bits of raw data into 16 bits, just more wasted space.

So basically a 16 bit TIFF file expands the raw 12 or 14 bits/pixel into 48 bits/pixel without any advantage in information content.

If the printer insists on TIFF file, probably to avoid JPG compression artifacts, send them a 8 bit TIFF file after the post processing. Personally I find JPG files with lossless compression disabled to the extent possible (often done with something like a "quality" setting at 100%) don't have visible compression artifact even when pixel peeping. That is how I store my post-processed images. If someone wanted a TIFF version of one of my pictures, I'd probably just make a TIFF version from the high quality JPG file.

I just checked one of my pictures at random. D025-1756 (for my reference) is 4288 x 2844 (12.2 Mpix) pixels in size. The RAW file is 25.9 Mbytes. The post-processed JPG is 4266 x 2844 pixels and 8.1 Mbytes. A 8 bit TIFF version with forward differencing and LZW compression of the JPG, which contains exactly the same information, is 18.9 Mbyte on the disk.

The details will vary from picture to picture, but the statistics for the above picture seem to be typical in my experience.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ When processing the RAW image you don't gain anything from converting to a 16bit tiff, but you lose something converting to an 8 bit tiff. What you really want is a 12bit tiff but that doesn't exist... 8bits is plenty for finished artwork, but if you ever intend to make changes, especially to colours or contrast it's much better to have a 16bit file. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 17:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There is more to post-processing a file than just processing the raw, though Lightroom aficionados would have you believe otherwise. For those of us who add extra panache in Photoshop, TIFF is the best option for exporting to print. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 17:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, as long as you stay in LR all is fine and you could even delete the TIFFs after sending them off, since LRs history allows you to easily restore it and export again. However if you do changes in Photoshop, you will not be able to save them in any other way than TIFF or PSD (right?). Assuming of course you want to stay non-destructive with the ability to go back at any point in time to make changes. \$\endgroup\$
    – mivilar
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matt: I agree, but that is covered by keeping the original RAW file. You wouldn't be making changes from a previously post-processed image anyway, you'd apply different changes to the original RAW to get the new post-processed result. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even though sensors are only capable of 12-14 bits per pixel, is the monochromatic raw data not encoded in 16-bit per pixel 'words'? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 10:46

TIFF files saved with Perfectly Clear plugin for Lightroom in 16-bit format are 140 MB (from ~20-24 MB RAW files). Will definitely use 8-bit conversion in future!


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.