Correct Camera Resolution Setting for Wedding Photos

One of the most widely bandied terms in photography circles is resolution. Everyone seems to be obsessed with how much resolution a camera has, or how big any image file size is.

What’s the right resolution for wedding photography?

Wedding photographers camera settings vary by as much s individuals’ photography styles. Some shoot in RAW format, some shoot jpeg and others shoot TIFF.

Each format has benefits- but the winner is the RAW format. The camera RAW file contains all the captured data- as seen by the camera sensor during the fleeting moment of exposure. Wedding photography in RAW format enables post capture manipulation to a greater extent than the other two formats, with the beauty that the adjustments are non-destructive to the original data.
Non-destructive because unlike a JPG file, which is overwritten and saved, or “saved as” a copy, all you are doing with a RAW file is writing another set of instructions for the imaging application, describing how you want the file data rendered, next time the file is open.
The original RAW file data is never altered- the variable is the .xml file which delivers instructions to the photo application, next time the RAW file is opened.

So where does resolution fit into all of this?

Recently a friend forwarded me a link that she had seen on a forum- one of those wedding directory sites designed to make life easy for the bride. Someone was speaking about file size, enlargement potential and resolution. There was so much conjecture there it made me worried. One answer to the girl’s question about resolution was correct- 300dpi is high resolution. The setting of 72 dpi is considered low resolution.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and the resolution debate takes on a very interesting twist.

An image at 72 dpi will yield an excellent quality enlargement, provided that the total number of pixels along the height and width of the image match the number of pixels required by the output device. Alarming but true!

Wedding photographers discuss pixel dimensions at length, yet very little attention is paid to what is really needed in terms of file size.

If the output device requires 360 dpi and the desired print size is 10×10 inches, then we need 3600 pixels along the width of the image, and 3600 pixels along the length. It doesn’t matter whether they are at 72dpi, 200 dpi or 300 dpi.
What’s important is that the number of pixels along each axis is the number required by the output device.

For our 72 dpi image to print well on this imaginary printer, the file size needs to be 50 inches by 50 inches, at 72 dpi. With all other factors being equal, the print quality will match that of a 360 dpi, 10 inch by 10 inch file printed on the same device.

Wedding photography is so much more than camera resolution. Output resolution of processed images plays a part in file quality too- the jpeg format is a lossy, compressed format. Different levels of compression can be applied by the output device producing the jpeg files to media, and irrespective of pixel dimansions, image quality can suffer because of too much compression, which introduces artefacts, banding and posterisation.

The same girl on the wedding photography forum in question, was concerned that her image files were only 1 meg.

Without seeing the files, it would be hard to judge the quality because an image file converted to jpeg can be saved at 10 different levels, so we don’t know the compression ratio applied by the computer operator. The informaton present in the scene might require more data to be preserved in the compression, or the opposite may be true.

The sad thing is, that people were giving all sorts of highly unqualified opinions, without having all the information to needed to make an accurate assessment.
Seeking answers on an online forum, where people hide behind anonymity can’t be good either- especially as the answers I read were clearly from the keyboards of guessers.

Wedding photography is not about guessing. Although it has never been an exact science, camera settings, and quality levels should never be set haphazardly. Irrecoverable image damage could be the end result.