What are JPEG artifacts and how do you fix them?

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Sometimes there are instances where images are smudged in the corners or there is too much grain in them or they come out tarnished. If this happens due to JPEG compression, then it is called JPEG artifacts.

What are JPEG artifacts?

A passionate and a professional photographer puts in a lot of thought and planning while taking a picture – the scenery, the placement of the camera, the exposure, the shutter speed, the IOS, etc. This thought process remains same for a big photo shoot or even leisure photography. The planning expresses his passion for photography, but the end product, the images; express his talent. None of the planning will matter if the images don’t come out clear and noise free.

It is said that “a picture speaks a 1000 words”, but for the picture to be able to speak these many words and be appealing to the viewers, it has to be as such.

What do JPEG artifacts look like?

Before we understand in depth what JPEG artifacts mean, let’s start easy and learn what an artifact actually means. An artifact is a term that defines an image that is degraded.

To elaborate, this is a picture that would have obvious signs of distortion, or blotchy spots or even off-color pixels. It can also be described as the unwanted side effects of image processing.

Now, back to the main topic, JPEG artifacts are visible indication of excessive JPEG compression, that may cause the image to appear unclear and blurry, horizontal and vertical patterns may be visible too at extremes.

This could also occur if that image is saved too many times; this can affect the quality of the image and not in a good way. It’s very obvious to notice these smudges if one has already observed it before and knows what to look for. Then accordingly a decision can be made if that particular image is acceptable or not.

Technically, JPEG has been most commonly used for image compression around the world and it is also widely used as a digital image format. However, if you tend to compress the image more than the ratio of 10:1, the image may lose its quality. This is what we need to stop from happening! These images need our saving! So let’s save them, but first, let’s understand how to identify them.

jpeg artifact example
Roger McLassus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How to identify a JPEG artifact?

The process is a little complicated, but we are going to try and make it as comprehensive and easy as we can.

So, if you are using a digital camera, shoot the same scenery twice. Shoot the first image of the scenery in your highest quality setting which could be either RAW, TIF or the best JPEG quality setting and then shoot the same scenery the second time, but use the lowest quality setting.

Use the same setting while saving the images too. Don’t forget to add compression to the image clicked with the lowest quality setting.

Once this is done, view the contents of both the images together by zooming in on them about 4 times the size of the actual image. When you zoom to this extent, you will notice the differences between the 2 images.

The difference you observe are the JPEG artifacts. The first time you may have to scroll around a bit, but once you notice one dissimilarity, others will come to you naturally.

The differences you may come across other than the image being blemished are “vague dark smudges” around the corner, some false color and color changes in some areas would be evident too.

Now that we can identify JPEG artifacts in the pictures, we should try and avoid these type of instances as much as possible. There is not much you can do in this area, but making sure that the image is not compressed too many times, not shared a 100 times, and clicked and saved in a high quality setting, would be a good place to start. It’s only logical!

Furthermore, we now are aware of what a JPEG artifact is and what does it do, but what is more important? That we have the knowledge of how to get rid of it.

No photographer would like their images to be blurred or discolored, until they were going for it as a part of some elaborated theme.

How to remove JPEG artifacts

For all the Photoshop users, there is a tool called JPEG artifact removal neural filter that helps in adding quality back into the photo and reducing pixilation. This feature works by trying to reverse the effects of compression to smooth the blur edges and bring back the charm of the original image.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Open the pixelated image in Photoshop.
  2. Go to the top and choose the option “Neural Filters” from the filter bar.
  3. Once you click on the neural filters, a tab will open up on the right side, from there choose the option of JPEG artifact removal.
  4. There are 3 levels present in which the removal would take place – low, medium and high. Depending on the impact of the JPEG artifact on your image, choose your level.
  5. After selecting your desired level, go to the right bottom corner and choose your output method for the neural filter. The options you would see in the output method are: smart filter, new layer, duplicate layer masked, duplicate layer, current layer. Out of these options, it is advised that you choose the “smart filter” option.

And that’s it. It takes 5 simple steps in Photoshop to reverse the unclear effects on the image. The point to remember is that this feature may not on all the JPEG artifacts. Basically, if the picture is too pixelated, this feature may not be able to remove all the pixels and noise, but it sure is worth to try!

This is all that you need to know about artifacts, JPEG artifacts and how to remove them if the time ever comes. We sincerely hope your photographs are always artifacts free.