Releasing original digital images online is the equivalent of making thousands of negatives, giving one to each person you come across, and then saying, "Now don't you use that negative for any personal gain, ok?" Obviously, at some point, someone will use that negative for personal gain if the image is worthwhile. That someone might not even know it was copyrighted because it had gone through several hands by that point and just about everyone and their grandmother has one. If you were the one who took the original, how are you going to prove it? Wouldn't it have just been easier to keep the negative for yourself and only given out a small print?
Size matters when it comes to photography. It's impossible to go from a small image to a large image without any degradation in quality. The original image is always going to have higher quality as compared to a resized smaller image. You will notice pixelation (or graininess) in an image that was enlarged, and you will see other issues if filters (or their equivalent) were used in post-production.
|A small image that was enlarged. Notice the pixelation/blur.|
|The same portion of the original. Notice the clarity.|
My camera takes photos that are far too large (3888x2592) to be reasonably viewable on the vast majority of computer monitors, and so there's no point in putting the original online because it's just not very viewable. I don't even find it very helpful for most of my own viewing purposes. Most cameras nowadays take photos that are too large for most computer monitors. Additionally, the automatic resizing on websites and browsers isn't always the prettiest. Digital image manipulation programs (e.g., GIMP) do a much nicer job of resizing.
Sometimes I'll resize the entire image and save it as a separate image, and then I return to the original and create a separate, cropped (and potentially resized) image to show the detail such as in the above snail example. However, I still haven't released the original. There might be a portion of the original but not the entire image, and that portion will fit nicely back into the original and show what was left out.
Click on the images and see if the original really makes a difference for you as a reader. Be sure to view the images at their "original" size:
My originals are also quite large when it comes to file size with an average of more than 3 MB. Not everyone has a high-speed broadband internet connection (e.g., RoadRunner or AT&T U-Verse), and huge files are a pain when working on dialup or even broadband. Basically, it's rarely a courtesy to the reader to provide the originals unless that reader is wanting to steal your images. In the above example, the resized image is 0.094MB (96KB), but the full size image is 2.2MB, which is a dramatic difference in file size.
Even if you keep the originals, you still might not win a court case should it ever come to that, but at least you're not putting it all out there where almost no one knows who did what. There will always be people who will be able to figure it out and give you credit. Even if there's some dispute about who owns the image, you still don't want to release the original. If you want to give some proof, only give out a portion of the original or increase the size of the released image slightly.
From the simple perspective as the photographer, it's just a good practice to keep the original should you ever need/want to alter anything in post-production for a different effect. If you take an original from color to black and white, you're a bit out of luck if you want to return the black and white back to color without the original. Furthermore, hard drive space has become incredibly inexpensive compared to 15 years ago. In 1995, 512MB would have been pretty awesome, but today, 1TB is pretty awesome.
|Comparison of Hard Drives in 1995 as compared to 2010|
There are many measures that you can take to protect your images, but maintaining an unedited original in its entirety is definitely a good one. Keeping an original gives proof that you were the photographer due to pixelation when smaller images are enlarged (no matter what X-Files might say) and general quality degradation in further editing. Originals are rarely helpful to blog readers because of their dimensions and file size, and because of larger hard drives, you can keep originals at very little cost and re-edit should you ever find the need.
More Information on Protecting Your Images: How to Prevent Image Theft.