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I have a library of 20,000+ JPG images and I've now decided it is time to clean up the collection: sort, edit, crop, straighten, delete etc.

So I have a few questions:

  1. By editing a JPG and exporting the version, will I be losing image quality/data?

  2. I don't want to keep two sets of JPGs – the original + version – for all images. Is there a proper way to overwrite JPGs? Is this meaningful to do?

  3. I'm using Aperture 3. The problem I encounter is that when I create a version of the original and export it as a JPG, the metadata is not exported. If I understand correctly, the whole idea is to keep the original and therefore when I create a version it becomes a new image with no metadata. Is there a way to export the metadata into the versions I have created?

How do you handle your JPG images? Say you've been on vacation and taken a few hundred images. All images need a few alterations. Do you just keep the photos and create versions of those you like plus keep the originals or do you edit away and create 'new' images? Thanks!

  • JPG is generally a 'lossy' format, that means every edit and save, you lose information. Many (but not all) tools allow you to set the amount in the save dialog (or the options dialog), and there you could reduce it to 1%; the default is mostly 20%. Without changing this, the clear recommendation is to not overwrite the original - two or three edits and you lost 60%... [not a full answer, so just a comment] – Aganju Aug 6 '16 at 14:42
  • Your 3rd question is specific to Aperture, so would probably be better asking as a separate question. Separate from the more generic questions of how to manage JPEGs. – vclaw Aug 6 '16 at 15:29
  • Deleting your originals is in general a bad idea. – Rafael Oct 6 '16 at 2:55
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Any 'exports' of a JPG image will result in a loss of data. This is because the JPG format is a 'lossy format'. So, every time you 'save' a change, the image quality will be impacted.

You can certainly overwrite JPG with an edited version, but bear in mind that doing so will likely result in less quality vs your 'original'. If you wish to preserve the 'original' detail, you should keep the original JPG. A better solution, if you have the ability to do so, is to shoot in RAW format, and then export as a JPG. The RAW will always be higher quality, often providing the ability to extract details not available in the JPG.

Note that Aperture has been discontinued. My understanding is that you need to have Aperture write the metadata to the originals by selecting "Write IPTC Data to Masters' in the Metadata menu. You can also choose this option on Export by selecting 'Include IPTC' in the popup menu.

In both Aperture, as well as Lightroom (the recommended alternative to Aperture), any edits made are non-destructive. Therefore, one can always return to the 'original', whether that original is a JPG or RAW file, by simply 'undoing'.

I use Lightroom, and I make all my edits, and then export for whatever use I intend (web, email, whatever). I do not save any JPG. There is no need to save or archive the JPG, simply because I can create another by simply exporting again. The edits I made to the original remain available, and these edits are non-destructive. In Lightroom, edits are simply a 'recipe' that the program follows to create a JPG whenever you choose 'Export'. It does not change the original file in any way. If I wish to edit in a different manner, I create a virtual copy and edit away.

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I had a similar catalogue situation earlier this year. I solved my photo mess by using Lightroom. Lightroom does cost a few bucks, but I think it is worth it. It supports grouping of photos and you can easily weed out the duplicates, and it also has the option to keep or modify the metadata from the source file. And yes, JPEG is a "lossy" format, but you would be hard pressed to notice any artifacts. I would recommend you to go the extra mile and get into RAW because it i just that much useful. Going the extra mile would mean getting a few fast memory cards that your camera supports.

As for me, I usually import all my photos into Lightroom and then edit almost all of them, because I normally shoot with a neutral color profile, because of which my friends have dubbed my camera, "Why does it not look instagrammy?!"-camera. And yes, I normally keep both the original RAWS and the edited JPEGS, but not on the same space. I keep the RAWs in storage drives, i.e., cheap external HDDs, or DVDs and label them meticulously, while almost all the JPEGS find their way into a cloud storage service, for easy sharing and it's ilk.

Hope my answer helped!

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