Once you’ve taken a photo with a digital camera, it goes into the camera’s internal memory. From there, it will be necessary to transfer the photos to a computer or other processing device before much can be done with them. (That may change in the not-too-distant future, as data processing functions continue to be integrated. For now, though, it holds true.) The technical procedure for doing this will vary from camera to camera.

All of these procedures are intended to keep your hard work from getting lost or stolen. The great thing about digital photography is that it’s so much easier to do that with a digital file (everything but the stolen part anyway) than it is to make sure nothing happens to a negative – especially since bad things will happen to negatives purely through the passage of time. That isn’t the case, happily, with digital records. The equipment on which digital photos are stored can wear out, but the records themselves can’t. Here are the main formats that digital photos can be saved to. Your camera will only be able to handle a few of these, perhaps only one of them, but any good graphics program should be able to convert the files and save your photos in multiple formats. Computer processing has taken the place of the art of photo development that, in the days when analog photography dominated, was a crucial part of the photographer’s art. A word about photo compression: this is a technique (actually several techniques) for reducing the file size of digital photos so that they take up less memory space. Compression is generally divided into two categories, lossless and lossy. Lossless compression uses algorithms that perfectly represent the information in the digital photo so that none of that information is lost. Lossy compression discards some of the information but in a way that the eye usually can’t see; it preserves what the developers believed to be the “important” parts of the information. Here are some of the common formats for saving digital files, not including the ones that are proprietary with particular graphics programs. RAW – this is any of several file formats in which your camera can compress files for computer storage. It is a lossless compression method and usually a very good way to store information, but the bad part is that it is different for each camera manufacturer, so you may not be able to use a RAW file with much besides the camera itself or viewers produced by the manufacturer. TIFF – a versatile storage medium that is usually lossless and takes up a lot of memory space but preserves very high quality. In many cases, TIFF files use no compression at all. Most graphics programs will read TIFF files and often that is the default way that they save graphics files. However, TIFF isn’t as useful as some others for purposes of publication and transmission, simply because the files are too big to make that quick and practical. PNG – this is another lossless compression method that, unlike TIFF, does usually compress the files, although not as much as lossy compression methods do. It’s a good way to store files in an “intermediate” stage, because it preserves more information than a JPG file, even though it’s not as convenient for immediate publication. GIF – this is a normally lossy compression method that creates a pool of 256 colors and renders the picture, if possible, into those 256 colors. If the picture has more colors than this, some of its information will be lost in the compression. JPG – this is a lossy compression method that is designed and optimized for color photos, so that these compressed files preserve an enormous amount of the information from the photos. JPG has become the standard for most image files published online. All graphics programs will save to JPG format, and the better ones will all allow you to adjust the amount of compression, balancing file size against quality of image. For the most part, you’ll find yourself working with JPG and PNG files. It’s a good idea to save two original copies uncompressed, though, and copy these into compressed formats as needed. In almost all cases where you are publishing photos online or transmitting them by email, JPG files will be quite sufficient to preserve the image faithfully at the same time as the format allows a highly compressed file size for quick transmission and low-volume storage.