The Best Way To Export From Lightroom For Web

If you had to choose between reducing the file size of a photo to the point where it did not look like your original.  Or displaying a photo on your website that is large and beautiful, but will slow down your website.  Which would you choose?

Hopefully, you said neither, and prefer a solid method for obtaining a combination of both.

I have done a lot of testing of image quality for delivering to clients as well as uploading to a website. And I don’t mean Facebook either. I mean your photography website.

The problem

The more you compress your photos during output of Lightroom, the more you will notice the shifting of things. For example, highlights or skin-tones, shadows and pixelation and noise. If you’re like me, then you won’t put up with that. You want the best output with a respectable file size.

Typically you want a file size no more than 256kb when uploading to your website. But that is hard to obtain.  And that is why I recommend having a mixture of output configurations just in case some images are larger in file size than others.

When a photographer has a slower website without images showing, I recommend exporting with a smaller pixel length (at the longest side).  Maybe 1080px at most. But if the website is fast already, then there you could potentially export up to 2048px at the longest length, with no problems.

But bigger dimensions do come with the trade-off of a bigger file size.

The test

I recommend doing this test with your photos as well, but here is a way to test what is best for you.

  1. Create five virtual copies of one of your RAW photos.
  2. Title the virtual copies as Quality 100, Quality 80, Quality 60, Limit File Size 256 and JPEGmini.
  3. Click on the first VC and configure the export with renaming to the image title, resize to 1600px at the longest length, and keep metadata but turn off output sharpening.
  4. Now export Quality 100 with the compression quality set to 100.
  5. Export Quality 80 with the compression quality set to 80
  6. Export Quality 60 with the compression quality set to 60
  7. Export Limit File Size 256 with the file size limit to 256kb.
  8. Export JPEGmini with the image compression quality set to 100 and the JPEGmini module added.

The result

What you will find by doing this test is the mix of subtle and major differences between each exported file. The file sizes will vary dramatically, pixelation will be visible on the smaller file sizes, and colors, highlights, and shadows shift.

What you will also notice is that the JPEGmini export has a smaller file size than the Quality 100, and looks equal.

Here were my results:

  • Quality 100: 1.1 MB
  • Quality 80: 496 KB
  • Quality 60: 229 KB
  • Limit File Size 256: 194 KB
  • JPEGmini: 319 KB

As you can see, the JPEGmini export sits between the file size of the Quality 80 and Quality 60.  And yet, the actual look of the image is like the original. No changing of colors or anything else.

I also found that the Limit File Size 256 version would be unusable in my portfolio. So although it would save a lot of space, I was unhappy with the quality of the photo.

The fine line

Like so much in photography and business, there is a fine line between site speed, image quality, and acceptance.

And it’s a matter of trial and error, and a lot of testing, to see what works best for you.

For me, JPEGmini is the winner and will remain in my Lightroom workflow until the end of time.

If you would like to see, my preferred presets for exporting from Lightroom, head over to my store and download the Export for Website pack free.

Scott Wyden Kivowitz is the Community & Blog Wrangler at Imagely, father, photographer blogger, and educator. Scott is also the author of multiple photography ebooks including the topics of long exposures, panoramics, and street photography. Get his free Lightroom video series, Fundamentally Lightroom, to help you simplify your Lightroom workflow, and also receive his free photography guides collection as a thank you.