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Lightroom plug-in helps avoid overlarge JPEGs

Jeffrey Friedl's photo-export tools have a new option: the ability to warn photographers when they set JPEG quality needlessly high.

Jeffrey Friedl created a tool to optimize JPEG photo quality in Lightroom and has incorporated the results into his Lightroom photo export software.
Jeffrey Friedl created a tool to optimize JPEG photo quality in Lightroom and has incorporated the results into his Lightroom photo export software. Jeffrey Friedl / screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

It's a fair question for photography enthusiasts uploading their latest shots to the Web or backing up an archive: where do you set the JPEG quality slider?

Sure, a higher setting means more quality but bigger files, but beyond that vagueness, it's a question without easy answers. Happily, at least for those using Adobe Systems' Lightroom software for photo editing and cataloging, there's an answer coming.

That's because Lightroom plug-in programmer Jeffrey Friedl is adding some quality automation tools to his image export software. Earlier this month he posted an analysis of Lightroom's JPEG photo quality that among other things showed Lightroom's 0-to-100 slider actually only has 13 settings.

More to the point, Friedl analyzed where the sweet spot is for JPEG compression in Lightroom under a variety of circumstances. And now he's building a bit of the knowledge gleaned from that exercise into some of his plug-ins.

"Added a warning that blocks export when the JPEG quality is set needlessly high," Friedl said on the update log for his Flickr export plug-in for Lightroom earlier this month. He's had to fiddle with it a bit to iron out problems, but overall, it's a useful idea to save on upload times and storage requirements if you're making JPEG backups for your raw photos. The new feature doesn't perform an analysis, but cautions about use of the highest quality setting.

He's also added the feature into his export plug-ins for Picasa, SmugMug, Zenfolio, Facebook, Photobucket, and Kodak Gallery.

I use two of Friedl's plug-ins, the Flickr exporter and one for geotagging photos. His tools can be pretty technical, as one might expect from the author of a book on regular expressions, but the options are often very useful for me. For example, tagging my photos with specific keywords can ensure their location is visible only to family members, and I like how I can automatically add EXIF information such as exposure time, ISO, and lens focal length into the photo caption. The profusion of options in the user interface can, however, be daunting.

The Flickr plug-in got a significant upgrade for Lightroom 3, integrating with the publishing system that essentially keeps a live link between the photos in Lightroom and those you've uploaded to Flickr. For example, when you add new keywords or crop a photo after you've uploaded it, the publishing service notices and can replace the old version.

Friedl's plug-ins are a constant work in progress, with no separation between slow-changing production versions and the newest tweak. That can cause occasional hiccups--perhaps why I'm unable to use Google Earth to manually geotag photos with a static location at present--but he usually irons the problems out promptly.

The plug-ins are free, but under the donationware model, he'll accept gifts via PayPal. To register the plug-in, which grants unlimited use after a six-week trial period, you must donate at least 1 cent. I for one have been happy to help fund Friedl's somewhat accidental new career.

Updated 11:08 p.m. PDT to clarify the donationware mechanism and how the JPEG quality alert works.