Image Quality In Blogs And Websites

Being a commercial photographer carries with it a near obsessiveness regarding image quality. Or it should, if one wants to succeed in the business. It is therefore with some trepidation that photos are submitted to the general public for blog viewing, as they exit the control of the photographer. For this discussion, I’m speaking of the viewing conditions that bear on the viewer’s perception of quality.

When images are presented to clients for approval in the professional arena, they form almost the last link in a chain of controlled events and technologies that are in place to ensure their quality. In the digital age, that can be a long chain indeed, with literally several hundred factors being taken into account, tweaked and controlled before the client gets a peek. Now, most of those are behind the scenes and transparent to all but the man behind the curtain, but they are critical nonetheless. They all must be managed, if the train is to reach the station intact. In the public realm, rarely does it do so before jumping the rails. Lets look closer at what I mean.

Without going into technical jargon that would be meaningless to all but the initiated, just know that what Joe is seeing on his screen, in all likelihood, differs from what Mary is seeing on hers. And what looks good to Mary, may set Joe’s teeth on edge. That’s due to the many variables involved in presenting what’s seen and to the general public’s lack of knowledge concerning them. Such things as color calibration, environmental influence, monitor specifications, etc. all come into play when assessing image quality on a screen or for that matter, in print. An intentional chain of control must be implemented for each user, if they are to be brought into parity. Being that it costs money, time and effort to do so, Mary and Joe are likely to continue going their separate ways, if my business experience is any indicator. Hence, one source of trepidation with regard to what folks are seeing out in the wild west of the internet.

Another variable is the web browser. (Please see my post Browser Differences that discusses a particular situation.) It would seem that not all browsers are created equal. I’m speaking of the way they render images. Some are much more saturated and even have a higher contrast than others. You can test it yourself. Load up two of your favorite browsers side by side and see if you can notice a difference (please view the same page with each). Odds are, it’ll be readily apparent. And I’ll have to admit, this one has me scratching my head, as I don’t yet know of a way to independently calibrate a browser, as one can a screen. Anyone have any ideas?

(A heads up: I’ve noticed a distinct impact on image quality when sizing images for the blog here by means of the WordPress image editor. They get far more saturated when scaled down. If a larger image is desired for viewing, it’d be better to upload an additional larger one and create a link to it, rather than scaling it down for posting by means of the editor. I need to do that myself to a couple of images here on the blog.)

Now, why should any of this matter, you ask? Well, aside from the general need to look at pleasantly reproduced art, there is a specifically critical one. It is that of graphics professionals. Our reputations, i.e. ability to earn income, are directly tied to the quality of the work we produce.  And that quality is judged by perception, as much as it is quantitatively. It therefore follows, that we need to ensure as much as is possible, that what a client or a prospective client is seeing of our work, is the best we can show them.

Admittedly, in the professional arena, we tend to operate in closed systems when it comes to the production and delivery of images intended for reproduction. And within those systems, things are controlled to a gnat’s hair. Not so on the internet, and that’s the salient fact that we need to keep in mind when evaluating what we’re seeing. It could be that things are actually better than they appear. In today’s world, who couldn’t use some of that?

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~ by Johnny on September 21, 2008.

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