Monday, May 28, 2012

Photos On Line

I have a big old Epson Stylus Photo printer that takes up a lot of room on my desk.  I've only used it a couple of times in the past year.  I bought the printer originally to make prints for gallery display, but I soon tired of that whole scene.  I did make quite a few prints with it for myself, but there is only so much wall space in my home for hanging pictures.  I started putting prints in large cellophane sleeves and storing them in binders, but I seldom got them out to show anyone or even to look at them myself.  At the same time all that was going on, I started up a web site and later a blog.  I have now put hundreds of my pictures on line, and I'm perfectly happy having them seen on computer displays.

Of course, on line display of photos is not without pitfalls.  Photo sharing sites like and Flickr do a pretty good job of displaying photos, but the rules and the context are under their control rather than yours.  At the other end of the wire is the viewer's actual screen display, and you really do not control that at all in any significant way.  It is shocking sometimes to go to someone's home and see how your pictures look on their computer screen.  People crank up brightness and contrast to the max, and the photos look horrible.  Often people will work their way through your web site, blog, or photo sharing site displays and never click on a thumbnail image to view the photos at full size.  It can be a pretty discouraging experience.

In addition to all of the above, we also now need to contend with the fact that everything on line, including photos, is moving rather quickly to mobile devices such as tablets, cell phones and e-readers.  On high-end devices like the iPad, the display is potentially excellent  in many, though not all, respects.  As you move down-scale, the compromises start kicking in and displays not specifically configured for smaller screens and a limited tonal spectrum are often not worth looking at.  Before I take this any further and get us all depressed, let me say that I see the move to a mobile web as an interesting challenge and an opportunity, much as was the case when I was a Fidonet administrator devising ascii text graphics, or when I put my first web sites on line and viewed them with Marc Andreessen's Mosaic browser.

I got my Kindle Touch to use as a reader and it works very well for me for that purpose.  However, I'm also excited by the possibilities this inexpensive device shows as an implement for sharing information and images.    The built-in wireless capacity makes acquiring books and other data effortless, and there is even a rather good little web browser available.  The screen on my Kindle measures 3.5 inches by 4.75 inches, and thay lets me display a photo at a size close to what I normally want to show on line at my web site or my blog.  To be sure, there are just sixteen shades of gray availble for my photos, but if I pay attention to contrast, levels and sharpening, I can show a pretty good looking image.  

An encouraging aspect of the move to the mobile web is that a great deal of it is already automated.  The folks who are running the show at Google, Facebook and all those other big sites know where it is going, and they are making  tools available to developers and users to make the transition tolerable.  For instance, if you want to have some personal documents or photos available for viewing on your Kindle, you can email them to your Kindle email address and have them come back to you automatically formatted within minutes for viewing on your e-reader.  If your ambition is more expansive, you can publish a complete e-book with text and illustrations and market it on Amazon -- all with free tools.

Of course, e-books and photo display are just niches in the bigger picture of the web today.  There are also great opportunities in video and audio production, 3D graphics, game design, and other forms of communication which are yet in the dream stages.  If you want to share your art and have it be relevant, it is worth giving some thought to where the web is headed.

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