Why the Web Still Lacks as a Method to Display, Evaluate, or Enjoy Detailed Photographs…

…because in order for a photograph to have impact when viewed on a laptop, it has to work as small, compressed jpg, which makes showing any kind of granular detail of significance, within a large or wide view, virtually impossible.

There are exceptions to this (large, hi-rez watermarked photos on flash-protected sites, egads!), but by and large, if it doesn’t work at 500 pixels, it doesn’t work online. Like this:

Mitt Romney, Candidate for President of the United States, Atlanta, GA
© MDM, Mitt Romney, Candidate for President of the United States

Cropped detail:

I’m not saying this is the greatest photograph ever, but I don’t believe a good photograph needs to say everything it needs to say in a jpg that’s 500 pixels wide.

I’m curious how the limitations of Web presentation might begin to change the kinds of photographs that photographers take.

Another example:
"MLK March  - Obama Chant List", Atlanta, GA
© MDM, MLK March – Obama Chant List

Cropped detail (clickable):

If you don’t get hives at the thought of flickr, I figured a way to use the site in such a way that helps show significant detail that’s lost at web-resolutions. If you’re interested, you can see that looks like, in Detailing. This example from Mark is intriguing (and clickable, for its detail).

© Mark Alor Powell

A few months ago, I began work on a series of prints that are attempting to address some of these zoom/crop/distance/activity/compositional-hotspot issues. More on those (like this one below) some other time.

© MDM 2007

10 thoughts on “Why the Web Still Lacks as a Method to Display, Evaluate, or Enjoy Detailed Photographs…”

  1. I remember reading about how tastes in what is beautiful in movie stars have changed since movie filming styles have changed. In the classic black and white films it was all about lighting and defined sharp features were the most dramatic, i.e. Marlena Dietrich. Now it is women with very full features that command drama on a large screen like Scarlett Johansson and Angelina. I know I’m using a fluffy example but the publics taste has changed as the medium does. I agree that images, especially on Flickr, need to be graphic and powerful to catch the eye and make one want to explore more deeply. I wonder how Kertez or some of Erwitts more subtle photos would have looked as a Flickr member 😉 “your picture is my SUPER fav!!!!”

  2. Hi Michael

    This is something I’ve thought of for a long time.

    Flash software like jalbum is one way around this problem – if users have large screens you can (as webmaster) choose maximum widths your images are displayed at (and the images will then display at the max width of the users screen)

    It doesn’t get around the problem completely but it helps a bit…

    Nothing beats a big print in your hands or up on the wall…

  3. Except the limitations of the media. It has improved and will improve but it is not Plus-X 120 developed in D-76 on one of the beautiful Kodak papers.

    It is a little worse than you state because color changes from one monitor to another so you have now real idea what your viewer is seeing, BUT you can deliver your images to an audience very fast.

    I still like film and wet printing.

  4. That’s true and a lack of consistency in monitors is something we’ll have to live with I suppose.

    What I like about a tangible print in my hands (or in a book) is the absence of the ‘next/previous’ button.

  5. What we give up in moving toward a primarily digital display (or inkjet print) is the sensual depth of a silver print (in black and white. The physical experience has always been more disappointing for color, unless you include slides and transparencies, which is what a monitor most resembles). But photographers gave up the same thing when they moved from platinum to silver. What they got in return was speed and greater ability to accommodate more extreme dynamic ranges in lighting conditions. I always wonder how long it will take for even the most “serious” photographers to forget how beautiful silver was (is) and to begin thinking about how beautiful noise is.

  6. The web is just another medium for displaying images and one that can never be “controlled” by the person who took the picture. LCD and CRT all have different characteristics and plenty of rendering options. No image looks the same in every display.

    When producing an image, a photographer should always think of a target size and a medium of display. Images “demand” a size, a scale.

    There are images that will never work even printed on a book. Take Andreas Gursky’s or Candida Höfer’s work for an example. Those who have seen their work at a gallery or museum know what I’m talking about.

    Gabriele Basilico’s images are a good example of how good an image can be when printed on a book. Although he uses a large format camera, I think books are the best medium for his work to be displayed on.

    Detail is not an issue in every image and size is usually more important. Size controls intimacy for example (in little images) or makes us use one of the most ignored perception senses: peripheral vision. Take a look at Uta Barth’s works and you can see what I mean.

  7. I think that one of the main problems is that the web is a horizontal medium. Vertical images present a particular challenge. Although I’m not sure why you cant go to a 800px-wide max…most monitors these days can accomodate that.

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