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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Small Pix and Tiny JPEGs

By Gordon McGregor
I've been struggling with the "tiny JPEG" thing from a different perspective for about 6 months now.

I'm a product of the digital age. I picked up my first camera 5 years ago (about a week after I got married, but that's a different story) and started shooting. It was a Canon G2. Everything I shot/ produced was digital, displayed and shared digitally etc. My family and my wife's family are all overseas, so the Internet is a great way for us to share pictures with them. Most of my photographic friends are from various Internet forums. I very rarely print anything out, but when I do, it is at home on a letter-sized printer.

Everything I do is aimed at or learned from a 640x480 pixel image. Well, maybe not everything, but it feels that way. So much so, that all the compositions I produce are quite simple, bold, "large" in terms of the available space on a 4x6-inch shot. I can't seem to do subtle compositions or effective compositions for things that are going to be printed large.

Now, I'm not claiming that what works at 4x6 never works at 20x30 or 40x60 but there is a certain aesthetic to working in a small image composition. There's a certain aesthetic that works well for a large image composition. There is overlap between the two but I can't seem to
shoot images that work well large. I see them in galleries—beautiful images with small details—but whenever I try to shoot those kinds of images, I then look at them at 4x6 and think "too small, not enough interest" and move on.

Can't seem to move past that mental block I have for composing and viewing for a "big" scene.

This seems to me, to be the reverse problem of your Tiny-JPEG fallacy—that the small version is a representation of the large. For me there never really has been anything but small versions—so I can't do large very well. (I kid myself that I do a good job of composing for effective small images)



Blogger carpeicthus said...

I've found that to be a major issue in Web publishing. The things that look best in a tiny JPEG size get you the best response, so unless you're careful you continue to be conditioned to shoot that way. Hello, flower macros!

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Josiah Davidson said...

Thanks for your comments. I need to spend time studying your photos because I have the opposite problem. Coming from seeing/thinking/breathing 8x10 "big scene" landscapes for 20 years, my mind is having difficulty seeing and producing images that look good in thumbnails and get good response on stock photo websites (Getty, Corbis, etc).

Where can I see your work?

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Gordon McGregor said...


You can see a mixed bag of my pictures at the link above. And some flower macros, for my sins.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After 50 years of pro photography I can tell you that you have learned what most photographers never learn, how to take simple pictures that read well. Don't change a thing.


8:29 PM  
Anonymous Janne said...

Carpeicthus, that's not an issue at all. It's just an acknowledgement that photography on the web and on the wall are two different media. Neither is inherently superior to the other.

And if the OP is going to use his images on the web (or email), then it makes little sense for him to shoot otherwise, right?

8:43 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Actually, D's reaction was my first reaction as well, which is that Gordon has discovered something relatively quickly that most photographers don't have the visual sophistication to ever discover.


9:05 PM  
Anonymous robyoung said...

I agree with anonymous.

You have a good eye and a nice style. Keep doing it.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven't looked at the pix, but I'd recommend your checking out to alay concerns about 'small' and/or jpeg worries.


7:05 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

Funny, even though I come from a film-based background, since I never printed anything larger than 4x6, except for viewing slides on a projector screen, I really wasn't prepared to see my work at larger print sizes.

Now that I've started rummaging through my old slides/negs, I see where some things I might have overlooked before might look good 'in the large', but oft times I've found that technically, the shot fails for one reason or another (lack of sharpness, etc).

In fact, there a LOT of old shots that look fine at 4x6. It hides a multitude of sins, for the ham-handed among us. 8-)

Since I've started shooting digitally (and pixel-peeping), I've gotten a lot harder on myself for the technical aspects. It's as if I'm now considering everything from the viewpoint that I might want to print it large someday. It's almost a complete reversal from my earlier evaluation of shots using drugstore prints as being 'good enough'.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Dunton said...

If you haven't seen it already, you should read what Alain Briot has to say on this subject. I think you'll find it interesting. Here's the address at Luminous Landscape.

Actually, it's only part of the address. I left off the part because the preview screen made me think it wouldn't handle such a long address. So add this part to the part.


4:13 PM  

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