Limiting File Size

Simple Photoshop example. File size is 22x larger.

In a previous article I talked about the “bloat” that happens when we edit in Photoshop. Is there anything we can do about it? Should we be concerned about limiting file size?

RAW vs Tiff

RAW files are fundamentally different from Photoshop files. A RAW file captures and preserves the data directly from the camera sensor. This data still contains the artifacts from the Bayer filter technology, that is, each pixel represents 1 value of red, green, or blue. Data in this form cannot be shown on your computer monitor until it is processed and expanded by a RAW converter like Lightroom Classic.

It is very important to realize that this data is unaltered, no matter what fancy processing you do in your RAW editor. The adjustments you make are kept as a collection of “processing instructions”. These are applied in real time whenever you view your RAW file.

Because of this design, Lightroom can only change the look of pixels. It cannot in any way add or remove or alter individual pixels. No matter what it looks like on screen.

For instance, even if you use the Healing tool to completely remove a person or object from the picture, the original data is always still there. What it saves is instructions telling it what region to select and what region to copy from. This processing is applied, again, each time you view the image in the editor. Actually, it usually just keeps an edited preview of the image to show quickly, but that is getting too deep.

Photoshop manipulates pixels

Photoshop, though, is the heavy duty pixel pusher. It has no moral imperative to prevent you from doing anything to image data. You can freely add or remove or alter or stretch or shrink or copy over anything. Unless you take steps to edit non-destructively (more on that later), you can remove something from the image by simply copying other pixels over the area you want to remove. The original data is permanently gone. Photoshop doesn’t care.

To do this level of manipulation requires Photoshop to expand the original RAW data to a pixel structure. The pixel data has 3 values, red, green, and blue, for each pixel and each of the values is probably 16 bits if you are editing in one of the “safer” color spaces. I recommend it. This expansion automatically makes Photoshop’s file size at least 3 times larger than the RAW file.

Once the file has been expanded to pixels and edited, there is no going back. It cannot be reprocessed back into a RAW file. You can’t put the genie back into the bottle.

Even RAW files can get big

I am presenting this in a rather black & white (metaphorically) contrast. RAW file editing is no longer immune from growing quite large. The “culprit” is masks.

It used to be that RAW processing was rather coarse and simple. If I adjusted the exposure of the image it applied to the entire image. And the processing instruction was small and simple. This is the literal data that is saved for that adjustment:


Don’t worry about the exact meaning of all of it, That is for the Engineers. The point is that only these literal 24 characters are stored to change the exposure of the entire image.

But then the designers at Adobe and others created very useful and necessary magic. We can mask areas and selectively adjust them! This is an awesome and very welcome change. It pushes back the boundary where we have to go to Photoshop to finish our files. These masks and edits are stored as text with the other processing instructions. As you might guess, it can get large.

After doing a lot of masking and editing I have seen some of these “sidecar” files grow into 10 megabytes or more. So if my original RAW file is 50 MBytes and the editing instructions add another 20 MBytes, that is quite a lot bigger. Still nothing like going to Photoshop, but I needed to point out that RAW processing is not entirely free.

Non-destructive editing

Please give me a moment to plug a non-destructive editing style in Photoshop. Photoshop can do amazing and totally un-undoable things. I know that I often change my mind or have new insights about an image after it ages a while. So weeks of months or more after an initial edit, I may look at an image again and see a different direction to be taken. If the Photoshop edit has gone down a path of no return, this can be hard.

Sure, I could go all the way back to the original RAW file and start over, but this is usually not what I want to do. I don’t want to repeat the hours of detailed work I already did. Typically there was a branch, a fork in the road while I was editing. I chose one path and later I decide I would like to explore the other one.

With discipline, Photoshop edits can be almost totally non-destructive. This means you can undo any decision later. Or perhaps strengthen or reduce the effects of an edit.

Probably 2 techniques serve for about 80% of the goal of non-destructive editing. The first is to use a new blank layer for pixel changing edits. So if I want to remove an element from the image, I will typically create a blank layer, then use stamp or move to overlay changes onto the image. the original information is still there is I later want to expose it or do a better job of removing it.

The second powerful technique is adjustment layers. Use adjustment layers rather than doing adjustment directly to the image layers. This allows the adjustments to be changed in the future. It also allows for masking to limit the effects to selected areas.

Steps to limit Photoshop file size

It is a tradeoff: do all your processing in Lightroom or go into Photoshop. Adobe and others are constantly pushing out the boundary by giving us more and more power and capability in our RAW editors. This is very welcome.

But there comes a point when we may have to do things Lightroom cannot do. There are things we can do to limit the overall Photoshop growth to the minimum, about 3 times the original RAW size. Basically, these destroy the non-destructive edits I recommended before. So all of those edit layers can be flattened down before saving the file.

This commits the edits permanently. They can’t be undone in the future. But the file size will be smaller. And rasterizing smart layers will save a lot of space. Also making changes permanent.

If it sounds like I am negative on doing this, I am. Once I invest a lot of time editing an image in Photoshop it becomes the “master” image. I usually want to keep the freedom to change my mind.

Why bother?

Maybe it’s the wrong attitude, but I try to act as if the file size does not matter. A large file is just a price to pay for the ability to craft an image I am pleased with. Disks are relatively cheap.

It’s a pain when I out grow the 4GByte limit for Tiff files and have to go to a .psb file. Lightroom does a bad job of the user experience. But I put up with it because I want to hold all that work in an editable state.

So officially my attitude is “why bother?”. Don’t sweat the file size growth. You went to Photoshop for a reason. Use it. Do your work. Files get large, It’s just a cost of doing business.

Today’s image

This is an example of a very simple looking file that grew dramatically. The final Photoshop file is 22 times larger than the edited RAW file!. From 61.5 MBytes to 1.34 GBytes. It sure doesn’t look that complex. It was necessary and I would still do it the same way again.

Don’t Rush

Unsuccessful Panorama. I decided on reflection that I do not like it.

It seems most people rush to share results of any photo outing on social media immediately. But why? Does that make sense? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until you have a few great images ready? Let your work and vision mature.

Don’t be a slave to social media

I am freely admitting my prejudice here. I am not a fan of social media and I don’t participate in much of it.

A lot of people I see feel compelled to post some of everything they do to social media as soon as they are within cell phone range. They put themselves under a lot of pressure. If you are dependent on the “likes” and upvotes you get online, you serve a very capricious master. And what if several people don’t like your work? What do you do? Change? Abandon what you are doing? Who is deciding your style and artistic interests?

It’s not collaboration

Is your art a group process or are you, the artist, solely responsible for your creations? “Collaboration” is one of those powerful sounding words thrown around in corporations these days. I’ve been there. I know there is a place for it in corporations where they’re trying to achieve at least an average result and wanting to make several special interest groups feel included. But I claim it is not appropriate for our art.

Our art should be a highly personal expression. To a degree, it should not matter if it is not universally popular. Maybe we should not try to be universally popular. If it appeals to the masses and looks like “everybody else’s” art, is it a creative expression? My work is going to be my own total responsibiity.

Ask why you are sharing

If you are sharing on social media, I think it is important to ask why you are doing it. Likes feel good, but do these people actually buy your art? Sorry to be crude and talk about money, but isn’t that the grease that lets things run?

If your social media strategy is well tuned and you have a good mailing list of people who are real customers and eager to buy your work, good for you. That is a reason to publish on social media.

But, how fast should you do it? Conventional wisdom on social media is that you should show work in progress. This is where I tend to disagree. I believe we should never show our work until it is ready.

Curating takes time

A lot of my art has to mature. I may have an idea of something I want to pursue, but my first attempts are usually not representative of where I will end up. It is typical for me to have to work with an idea or a subject for a while to refine my view, to understand my underlying feelings about it. The ideas have to age, to mature some. This can take from days to years.

So if I’m shooting a project, the first images I shoot may be scatter shots all around the idea I haven’t really “discovered” yet. After dong work on the project a while I begin to understand what I really want to say and what will make the best visual presentation. It could be that one or more of those original images actually work for the final project, but that is almost an accident. It usually means I shot an image instinctively even though I did not consciously understand where I wanted to go. But projects can last from weeks to years, so my vision likely evolves over that time.

In a similar way, it is sometimes the case that I shoot an image, I like it, but something tells me it is not complete yet. Maybe it needs to be worked as a low key black & white image. Maybe I need to do some serious cropping to isolate the part that really interests me. Perhaps I need to composite it with some texture or other elements to complete the look. Or maybe it just isn’t as good as I originally thought.

Be patient

If you’re like a lot of photographers, you shoot a lot of images when working a scene. Sometimes it is not immediately clear to me which is the pick of the group. I often have to live with them a while to understand what I was really drawn to. It may take days or weeks before I can look at the set and say “this one” is the one that captures what I was feeling at the time.

If I am under pressure to get a quick look out to social media, I would find that what I am publishing is not really representative of what I end up with. Maybe that is OK for you. But I do not want anyone to see what I would consider inferior work. A secret of most photographers is that they seem very good because you only see about 1% or less of what they shoot. They throw away or rework what doesn’t work before it ever gets out of their studio. What you do see is good.

A line from a famous old Paul Mason ad said “We will sell no wine before its time.” I don’t know if this is still true or if it ever was, but the idea has merit. Don’t be in such a rush to get things out. Wait for them to mature. A few great images is more impactful than a bunch of mediocre ones.

Today’s image

This is a pano I shot earlier this year. At first it was a pick of the day. I really like the clouds and mountain shapes. After living with it for a while, though, I realized I do not like the foreground or the middle ground (the lower forests are too dark). And there is more visual clutter to remove than I wanted to do. So this went into the “eliminated” pile. There was another one that I liked much better.


Paint swirls with water drops. Not real, but close.

Is reality objective? Is there one reality that we all share? Do our perceptions and experiences and values form a reality for us? How do we know?

Objective reality

Is there an objective reality? Sorry to disappoint you, but I will leave most of this discussion to the philosophers. I have know some of them and listened to them discuss this, and I know I cannot follow the twists of their arguments. It’s above my pay grade as some would say.

I believe most of us wish for an objective truth. It would seem like it would make this chaotic and confusing world make more sense. While I can’t help much with arguments for objectivity, I can give some perspective against it.

It’s personal

Even though there may ultimately be a “true” reality, doesn’t it seem like we each perceive our own version of it? Why else could we have a society so polarized? In America these days, if an event happens about half the people see it one way and the other half see it the opposite way.

Are half the people at any time totally foolish? More likely nearly all of us are wrong. We have lost sight of the societal norms we used to share. When we collectively believed in certain rights and wrongs, in shared goals, in expectations of behavior, it was much easier to share a common view. To see roughly the same reality.

I cannot solve this problem and it would be foolish to waste effort here trying. My point being that each person’s reality seems to be based on their values and perceptions, on their beliefs, and on who they listen to and talk to.

Do we form it?

I think I can safely say we form our own reality to a large degree. The conclusions we come to may be false. There may be objective reality we completely miss. But our own reality is what we perceive. The way we choose to react to what happens to us.

There is an old story, completely made up I”m sure, about a psychologist studying kids to understand their perceptions. They made 2 identical rooms piled high with horse manure. One boy was put in each one with a shovel. In the first one, the boy cleared out a little space and sat down and did nothing. When they interviewed him and asked him why he did that, he said the place was filthy and smelly and there was nothing of interest there and he couldn’t wait to get out. But they found the other boy gleefully digging through the piles of manure and throwing it all over. When they asked him why he was having so much fun he said with all this manure , there must be a pony around.

Reality is based on perception and our choices of what to believe. Each of us can look at the same facts and perceive a different reality. We do it every day without even realizing it.

There are, of course, limits to this. Objective reality often intrudes on us. You may truly believe you can levitate, so you step off a cliff to prove it. Objective reality wins.

Just because we believe something strongly does not necessarily make it true. Even so, it could form our personal reality. At least until objective reality crushes us.

Seeing through our own lens

But this isn’t a blog about philosophy. It is about art. Where does that come in to this discussion?

I have touched on this before, but I believe a photographer can either think they are capturing and presenting objective reality or they can realize they have a subjective viewpoint.

I know I have been on both sides of this dilemma. Way back as a young photographer and engineer, I thought the goal was to be impartial and objective. Being an engineer pushed me strongly toward the objective side. “Pure” photography. Think Mr. Spock.

Now I realize it is almost impossible to be truly objective. Even if I attempt to present a scene “just the way it is”, I am making subjective decisions of framing and composition and lighting and timing. These selectively view only parts of the scene and strongly influence the perception of the viewer. Any scene I photograph is influenced by my point of view and feelings.

As I push further and further into fine art, I realize strongly that my point of view and subjective judgement are a primary component of the image. It is the reason for the image. One of the mantras is “is the image I made the same as what anyone else there at the time would have made?” If it is, then why did I bother? I am not adding anything. I am not sharing my experience or my perception.

A work of art which isn’t based on feeling isn’t art at all.

Paul Cézanne

Photography as seeking reality

But let me come back for a moment to the perception of reality in a photograph. I think this is a trap most people fall into because we don’t really examine our perceptions.

I believe most people consider a photograph to be reality for 2 reasons. First, they know the sensor records the live scene it was exposed to, so therefore this must be real. But second and more subtle, I believe most people are wishing for truth.

We want confirmation that there is truth and absolutes, even if we do not really know what they are. So we invest photographs as a symbol of truth.

This is one reason why people love pictures of beautiful landscapes, sunsets, waterfalls, forests, etc. It is a reality to grab onto. We wish it to be real, so we believe it. We want truth.

I confess that I love to take these beautiful pictures, too. It is good for the soul sometimes. Please take pictures of beauty when you find it. But remind yourself it is a subjective view of reality.

Whose reality?

So do not be too quick to accept a picture as truth, an objective reality. It can be beautiful. We may love to hang it on our wall and look at it every day, but it does not necessarily represent reality.

The reality we see is the artist’s reality. It is the sum of their perceptions and feelings and values. Do not lose sight of the fact that, if you were standing next to them at that time, you might have perceived something different. You might have pointed your camera in a different direction or framed it different. Your reality could differ from this other artist.

A photograph is reality, but it is the artist’s reality.

No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, then he would cease to be an artist.

Oscar Wilde

The Magic of the Frame – 2

Sailboat in Maine. Illustrates how framing makes the image more dynamic.

All 2 dimensional art exists within a frame. It is a constraint imposed on us. It can also be beneficial, because it requires choices. This is the magic of the frame. This article is an expansion on a discussion of the frame I did several years ago.


I do 2 dimensional art. Most paintings or photographs are. But besides being flat, 2 dimensional works are also bounded. They cannot extend to infinity, although they may capture images of near infinity.

So a print may be 20×30 inches, or maybe 6×9 feet, but there is a limit. A print of a landscape scene is not the size of the original scene.

And because the print is bounded, there are edges. The edges create the frame, or more precisely the bounding rectangle of the image. I am assuming rectangular prints for the discussion. So in simple physical terms, the frame is the box that encloses the print.

Why rectangular?

Most paintings and photographs, and therefore their frames, are traditionally rectangular. Have you wondered why? And why and how a round lens makes a rectangular image?

I have looked into this and have found technical reasons and pragmatic reasons, but no real answer. Lenses are round for a good reason – they are easier to make and making them rectangular would introduce lots of distortion. The lens throws a circular image on the focal plane of the camera. The the light that falls outside of the sensor is cropped. We never see those parts.

Sensors are rectangular for technical and pragmatic reasons. Sensors are very large silicon chips made by normal semiconductor processes. Rectangular chips pack efficiently on a wafer. If they were, say, round, there would be lots of wasted space between chips. Since they are very expensive to make, the manufacturers are anxious to minimize costs. Also, digital cameras mimicked film cameras which exposed rectangular patches on film. Again for efficiency to maximize the film use.

And finally we expect prints and images to be rectangular. It is the convention developed over centuries of painting. And it is less expensive to make and frame rectangular prints and canvases.

So rectangular prints are conventional and the path of least resistance.

A window

The frame, though, is much more than the constraint of the shape of the sensor or print. Something magical happens when we look through the viewfinder or crop our image in our processing software.

What we see through the viewfinder becomes our window onto the world. This window in where we pour much of our creativity. As we move and zoom and continue to examine our subject through this window we decide how we want to present it. What is important to bring out. What should be excluded.

We may realize the interest is not the whole scene, but only certain parts of it., and they should be presented from a certain point of view. So we adjust our window and keep searching for the magic.

After all, if we are an artist we want to bring something to our viewers that is more than just what anyone would have shot if they walked up on the scene. We bring our own interpretation. Part of this is what we chose to have in our window.


Over the centuries many “rules” of composition have been formed. I put it in quotes because there are no real rules. The “rules” are observations of patterns that have been found to be generally pleasing to viewers.

It was very interesting to me to realize that most of these “rules” are relative to the frame. Let’s take a look at a few.

The rule of thirds helps to increase dynamic tension by placing the subject along the intersection points of dividing the window into 3 groups horizontally and 3 groups vertically. This is totally relative to the frame.

Along with that is the oft quoted “do not put the subject in the center” – of the frame.

The horizon should be level – relative to the frame.

Diagonals can add a lot of interest to many compositions. The diagonals exist because of their relation to the frame.

Leading lines are often recommended. They help encourage the viewer’s eye to lead from the frame to the subject and keep them exploring.

We need to be careful to not have distracting elements at the edges of the frame.

Unless it is really your intent, we must be careful to not cut the subject off at the edge of the frame.

This could go on a long time. Go examine your favorite composition rules and see if they are not mostly describing relationships to the frame.

Artist’s judgement

So really, at one level, the work of an artist is to arrange the elements within the frame in the most pleasing or impactful way. This is the magic of the frame. It is the canvas where we compose. It is the crucible where our creativity is tested.

Since the camera sensor captures everything in the frame, it is not only critical to arrange the elements as we wish, but it may be as important to know what to exclude. That is one of the tricks of photography. What is in view of the sensor will be in our image unless we consciously figure out how to eliminate it.

I think Henri Cartier-Bresson had great insight when he said “A photograph is neither taken nor seized by force. It offers itself up.” There are amazing scenes all around us. We have to see them then be able to compose them to create a great image.

Much of the artistry is in working the frame: figuring out what is significant and how to present it within the frame. It is the stage where we work our magic. The frame is more important in our work than we usually express. This is what, to me, is the magic of the frame.

This image

This illustrates framing. The diagonals and leading lines make it much more dynamic. I was intentional about what to include and exclude and how to frame it. At least, as much as I could on a tossing sailboat in a strong wind.

Eliminate Scale

Pseudo-aerial image. It seams to be an angry sea breaking on the shore.

Photography makes it easy to visualize the world differently. By using various lenses and changing our position we can get closer to or further from the subject and we can change the composition dramatically. A technique I like to use sometimes is to eliminate scale to give a fresh view of a subject.

Not intimate landscapes

Intimate landscapes are popular and common. This is simply getting in close to a section of a landscape. It allows us to call attention to shapes and colors and relationships that would be lost in the immensity of a wide landscape scene. It is a classic technique and I use it a lot. I love it.

But this is not what i am talking about today. Most often in an intimate landscape, it is clear that the scene is a segment of a landscape or nature view. We get in closer to isolate the part we want to call attention to, but we keep the context of the overall landscape. If I make a close view of a rapidly flowing stream, it is clear that the context is a cascade in the mountains.

Aerial Photography

It is popular to make abstract aerial landscape shots. They can be beautiful and compelling. The shapes are organic and pleasing yet the scene is somewhat abstract because we can’t place what it is. Some well known photographers like Peter Eastway and Tony Hewitt are known for this technique.

Drone photography is also increasingly popular and available to more photographers because it is a lot cheaper. Drone photography is typically done at a few hundred feet elevation, as opposed to conventional aerial photography that is typically up to a few thousand feet.

The common characteristic of these is that the views are looking down, usually straight down, to a relatively flat plane. Scale references are usually missing, so the viewer is left to imagine the size of what is being seen. That is part of the fun of viewing them.


Jumping much further down the scale, another technique to eliminate scale is macro photography. This usually refers to images that are life size or closer. A life size shot is termed 1to1. This signifies that the image is the same size on the sensor as it was in real life. For a full frame sensor that means shooting a scene that is 24mmx36mm. That is getting close. Macro photographers routinely get much closer than this.

This type of shooting tends to get very technology-heavy. There are special optical techniques with extension tubes and bellows and reversing lenses to give the required magnification. Special tripod fittings are used for focusing, because the whole camera system has to be moved to focus. No auto focus here.

Lighting is another consideration that gets difficult. Macro photographers use multiple flash setups with bounces or ring lights or even light tubes to direct the lighting to the very small area being shot and eliminate glare.

On top of that, macro shots have extremely small depth of field. It is more and more common to use focus stacking techniques to record many, sometimes hundreds, of “slices” at different focal points. Special softwar combines it all to produce a final result. I have a friend who designed and built a robot system to automate macro and micro photography with steps of microns.

I am not saying these things as a negative against macro photography, I am just trying to place it in context of what I am discussing. Macro images are often great and intriguing because they show a realm we do not see with our eye. But I don’t have the patience to do it seriously. I prefer a more spontaneous style.


The particular kind of scale elimination I am talking about today I call pseudo-aerial. I haven’t seen the term anywhere. As far as I know, I coined it.

I do not lay out the big bucks to book a plane or a helicopter for a shoot. And I have not gotten a drone yet. I already said I don’t have the patience to do serious macro work. So I figured out a way to do my own brand of simulated scale-less images that mimic aerial photography.

I find small scenes with interesting shape or texture or color and with few if any clues for size and typically shoot straight down from a standing position, basically about 2-3 ft above the scene. The results are my own brand of abstract aerial photography that I call pseudo-aerial. It is sort of the macro version of aerial photography.

One advantage over true aerial photography is that subjects I shoot are often static. I can spend more time composing and moving freely, compared to being in an airplane. And I can spend longer on a scene, maybe waiting for the light to become “right”. Of course, the subject does not actually have to be horizontal, as long as I can get perpendicular to it.


There are some challenges, but they are pretty minor. Making sure my feet or the tripod feet are not in the frame is something to always check for. Likewise, being careful not to let my shadow intrude in the scene.

I often shoot these without a tripod. Without a tripod there is the balancing act of leaning out far enough to be perpendicular to the plane of the image and get my feet out of the frame and not fall over while making sure the shutter speed is fast enough to stop and motion. Yes, I have been off balance. Embarrassing but not yet damaging.

A bigger challenge is to visualize a small scene as if it were an aerial shot. Making sure there are no clues of scale, like grass or twigs or leaves to de-mystify it. Imagining the final image printed to check the impact and interest. Dare I say “pre-visualizing” it?


I will make it concrete with an example. The image presented today is one of these pseudo-aerials. It reminds me of an angry sea breaking on the beach, changing color over the sand and diminishing the violence.

In “reality”I shot it at my local car wash. The camera is upside down on the center console of my car, pointed up through the sunroof. In that position I had to use the camera’s app on my phone to view and control it and take pictures. Very little was done to the actual image data except to color it to match the effect as I visualize it.

A lot of experimenting (and luck) was needed to get the timing of the water and soap and brush movement to get an effect I liked. Plan to throw a lot away. But when it works, it can create a unique and interesting scene.

After describing my pseudo-aerials as shots looking down at a small static scene, I turned it upside down to show an example shooting up at my sunroof at a dynamic scene. I wanted to emphasize that the original orientation and details don’t matter. What matters is if the final result will be accepted as an abstract aerial shot. To me this does.

I like pushing the boundaries of the medium. This technique to eliminate scale seems to me to be a rich area for exploration. I intend to pursue it a lot more.

What do you think?