File Degradation


Today’s Question: In all my years of reading your newsletters I’ve never heard you address the question of file degradation due to resizing for printing. If a person has a finished PSD image file and uses that file to print various size prints and at the end chooses to “not save” at any particular image size, will that process after a short number of times begin to degrade or muddy the pixels of that original PSD file?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Not at all. One of the great advantages of digital photography is that an image file will not degrade over time. As long as the actual image file remains intact, you can produce output from the same image file an unlimited number of times without degrading that image.

More Detail: In the days before digital photography, we didn’t have the ability to protect our images over the long term the way we can with digital photos. While many film images (or prints) were rather stable, there was still the risk of slow degradation or damage over time. With a digital file, as long as that file is preserved the contents of the file will not change.

There are other aspects of a photography workflow that can impact an image. For example, if you open a JPEG image, apply changes, and re-save the image file, you are degrading that image to some extent due to the updated processing of the image file for purposes of JPEG compression.

But in the context of a workflow that involves simply opening an existing image, processing that image to produce a print, but then not saving the changes to the original file, the original image file remains in its original state.

Naturally you need to be careful about backing up images, ensuring that the storage media on which your images is stored does not become obsolete, and other considerations. But in terms of the file itself, as long as it is preserved, so to are the contents of that file.