Archival File Format


Today’s Question: Over the decades I’ve created photographs that would be of potential interest to others in the future. An example of this would be photos of historic architecture. What would be the ideal form for the files to be formatted for this type of use? Would metadata fields transfer?

Tim’s Quick Answer: For an archival repository I suggest saving these photos as TIFF images. However, it is also a good idea to have additional copies as JPEG images for greater accessibility.

More Detail: When it comes to making images available for archival purposes, the two general goals are accessibility and image quality. To maintain maximum image quality, I recommend saving archival images as flattened images (no Photoshop layers, for example) in the TIFF file format.

However, while the TIFF file format is widely supported, it isn’t as ubiquitous as the JPEG file format, and the file sizes will be considerably larger for a TIFF image compared to a JPEG image. I therefore recommend also saving the images in the JPEG format to make them more accessible, recognizing that image quality will be degraded to some extent when saving the images as JPEG files.

Standard metadata fields such as caption, keywords, and more, can be included. You would obviously need to update the metadata in the source images, and then be sure that the metadata is included when creating the archival copies. For example, in Lightroom Classic you have options related to what metadata will be included when you export copies of the photos. Just note that not all updates you make to photos will be reflected in metadata. For example, in Lightroom Classic pick and reject flags and membership in collections are not preserved in metadata beyond the catalog.

For this type of photo archive, I recommend saving the TIFF images at full resolution. If you’re going to also prepare JPEG copies of the images, those could be at a reduced resolution if you want to keep the file sizes smaller, such as by sizing to perhaps 2,000 or 3,000 pixels on the long side.