Digital Photo Tip: Highest Quality

Published on Wed, Jun 5, 2013 by Mark Turner

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Friends and business associates frequently apologize to me about their photos, saying, “I just have a little digital camera.” There’s no need to apologize. Your digital camera, even the smallest pocket camera or cell phone camera, is capable of some pretty amazing things. I’ll share a tip to help you get the most from your camera.

Let’s start with a couple of simple technical settings that will give you the most options to use your photos later: file size and JPEG compression settings. Set your camera to record the largest file size it is capable of, with the least amount of compression. 

There’s no reason to throw away part of your camera’s quality at the moment you press the shutter. That’s a decision you can
 make later, depending on how you’re going to use your photos.

You never know when you’re going to encounter a scene that you want to print large and enjoy on the wall of your home. When your camera is set to save only a small file because you think you’re only going to e-mail them to family members or post to Facebook then you’re out of luck when you need higher quality.

Check how your camera is set and if you haven’t been shooting at the highest quality, change your camera’s settings today. Pull out your manual to see what the settings are called on your camera and how to change them. Unfortunately, each camera brand is different and I don’t have space here to give details for every camera. The quality setting will be a setup menu choice. On my Canon pocket camera the biggest file is represented by the letter “L” and the lowest compression is called “Superfine.” Some cameras will just have one setting, i.e. “Fine - Normal - Basic.” Compression settings are sometimes shown as icons: a smooth curve for high quality and a jagged stair step for lower quality.

As you look at menu choices, you may see pairs of numbers, i.e. 3648x2736, 2816x2112, 1600x1200, or 640x480. Those are the number of pixels (width x height). Pick the biggest numbers. If you bought a 10 mega-pixel camera you want to save all 10 million pixels. The native camera app on my iPhone 4S doesn’t offer quality choices. However, Camera+ on the same phone does let me change how photos are saved; I use “Normal” to save at the camera’s highest quality. 

You’ll fill memory cards faster when you save highest quality files. That’s OK because they’re cheap and small. Always carry a spare or two with you, along with spare batteries. When you get home, transfer your photos to your computer and make a backup on CD or DVD so you don’t accidentally erase a valuable photo.

Once you have your photos on your computer you can use software like Google Picasa, Adobe Lightroom, or Adobe Photoshop Elements to make a smaller copy to share online or by e-mail. And if you got a stunning image, you’ll have the biggest file your camera is capable of so you can make a nice big print to enjoy.

Have questions for a future issue? Put “digital question” in the subject line and e-mail them to

(Mark Turner is a Bellingham professional photographer who creates heirloom portraits of families, high school seniors, and pets. He is the photographer and co-author of Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, Bellingham Impre0ssions, and the smartphone app Washington Wildflowers. His photography has been published in national garden books and magazines for over 18 years.)