The PNG delusion

Whenever I visit photographers’ websites, I’m often appalled at how slowly they load. It’s a terrible first impression for a visitor to your site, and maybe catastrophic to your chances of snaring them as a customer. I have a lovely fast cable internet connection here, and if I want to see a web page, I’m accustomed to seeing it immediately. As a consumer, I can tell you that I have very little patience for looking at blank space or a progress bar as a slideshow loads.

I beg you, assess the speed at which your site loads, and consider if it is user-friendly enough. It might be damaging your business. (Remember that because it’s your own website, it’s already cached in your browser. When you visit it yourself, it loads fast, because you’ve been there before. So you get complacent. Make sure you clear your browser cache, or at least force-refresh the page, to see its true load speed.)

I’ve seen enough evidence to firmly believe that the PNG file format is a common culprit on many slow photography websites. Too many photographers have been told that PNG files are the best for websites. This myth causes so many problems!

I’m here to tell you that JPEG files remain the best option for most web images, despite what you might have read to the contrary. JPEG files are smaller, and therefore much faster to load.

The PNG delusion stems from three sources, I think:

  1. Facebook. It is true, but only to a degree, that PNG files look better on Facebook business pages. There is as much fallacy as fact surrounding this issue too, and I touched on it in this article. I believe that people have heard that PNG files are best for Facebook business pages, and have assumed that this is true for other websites too. It’s not.
  2. Transparency. Since JPEG files can’t have transparent backgrounds, it’s necessary to use PNG files (or GIF files in some cases) for logos and some cut-out product photos. But for the vast majority of images, which are just normal rectangular- or square-shaped photos, transparency is a non-issue, so a transparency-capable format like PNG simply isn’t necessary.
  3. Compression. Photographers are needlessly frightened of JPEG compression. They’ve heard the words "compression damage" and are frightened of inflicting it on their photos. Yes, it’s true that if you apply too much compression to a JPEG file, it will be visibly damaged, and that’s bad. But high-quality JPEG files are visually excellent. As long as you save with care, your photos will look beautiful in JPEG format. And they’ll be small, and fast-loading. Everybody wins.

So if you’re saving your photos as PNG files for web use, I urge you to reconsider. You’re creating large files which are slower for you to upload, and slower for people to view, and they don’t look any better than JPEG photos (except in some cases on Facebook business pages).

Additional notes

  • There is also a prevailing myth that you need to save a logo as a PNG in order to watermark your photos in Photoshop or Elements. This is completely unnecessary. Your logo file should be a layered PSD, which you can Place directly onto your photos. More information here, and a wonderful time-saving action for Photoshop users here. And general information about PSD files here.
  • Some more information about JPEG files here and here.
  • General advice about images for websites here. Please remember that JPEG images will slow a website too, if you forget to downsize their pixel dimensions before saving.


If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.