Big picture galleries gaining acceptance at newspapers

Newspaper websites historically have never been photo friendly. In the first five years of the active Internet, most photos were compressed to a postage-stamped size of around 15k -30k. They had to in those promising days of 28K modems, where one oversized graphic element would bring a homepage to a screeching halt.

I think many photojournalists gave the early Web a big thumbs down as a place to display their work. At my newspaper, us photojournalists’ collectively shrugged our shoulders when the “web guy” would say that he posted one of our photos online.  Later requests on my part, to up the size on our online pictures, was met by one photo manager’s insistence that the images would be downloaded (stolen) or mass-produced across the internet. At that moment I gave up trying and, instead, embraced video as my online medium of choice.

Then, several years ago, Boston.com’s The Big Picture blog rocked my world when it launched.  Here, finally, was a large format online gallery that showcased photojournalism the way it should be. The images were displayed in a format that also didn’t frustrate the viewer with slow page loads. The minute I saw it, I knew we had to have something like it for Spokesman.com. Unfortunately our web team was in middle of developing a ground-up overhaul of our CMS, and it never made the priority list.

While I waited, other newspapers around the country embraced the idea of increasing the format size of their photo galleries. The New York Times Lens Blog, Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and many others started big picture galleries.

A few months ago, Ryan Pitts, Spokesman.com’s online director, who was damned tired of my whining, came to me with a surprise. “ I built you a big picture gallery,” he said. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I took a look at what he built.

I was nothin’ but smiles the rest of the day. He gave me the keys, so to speak, to a beautiful Corvette. Behind the scenes, the gallery is really nothing more than a tool that I can access through our web-based Django admin page. I just upload my photos, paste in the captions, add some intro text and a headline, hit save and, drum roll please, instant big picture gallery. The nice thing is, because it is a web-based tool, I can create a gallery from anywhere in the field.

What I like best about our gallery is its clean design. For a long time I pushed the idea of a black background for photos, but our gallery is white and I am fine with that. In fact, I think it is easier on the eyes. I also like how I can pop in drop quotes in between the photos. I am pushing to have commenting on the gallery, which I hope will be enabled soon.

Update: here is some more  links to big picture galleries: Tampabay.com’s All Eyes, SacBee’s The Frame Any more? Send links my way…

Update Two: KobreChannel blog take on this post.

Finding the Frame

kat.jpg

Here’s another easy way to add multimedia to your newspaper website. 

Shortly after the program Soundslides came out in August of 2005, I looked for an interesting way to use this Flash-based audio slideshow tool to tell different kinds of stories. One day in the photo department, as I passed the intern’s desk, I spotted a cool print of a guy reading a fashion magazine in a coffee shop. The way the top of the subject’s head matched up with the head on the magazine cover was eye-catching.  I asked photographer Kathryn Stevens how she got the shot. She launched into this passionate narrative about seeing this great moment lining up in front of her. How she rushed up to the subject and fired off a few frames on her digital camera just before the fleeting moment passed.

That’s when the light bulb went on above my head. I asked Kathryn to come into editing cave where I sat her down and recorded her telling me the story behind her photo. I edited the audio into a thirty-second clip. I then uploaded it and the photo into Soundslides and voilà - a great little piece of multimedia that took less than one hour to produce.

I called this audio slideshow feature Finding the Frame. It got an instant response from viewers who wanted more. Since then, when I see a great photo produced by the Spokesman-Review photo staff, I whip up a Finding the Frame. They have gotten a little more advanced over time as I’ve added other photos and a .pdf of the newspaper page that the photo ran on.

My other ulterior motive for doing these was that I wanted to educate readers and viewers about the creative process that a photojournalist goes through when making an exceptional image. Too many of our readers, in this age of Photoshop, think photographers alter the pictures that appear in the paper. This is my way of helping change that perspective. Finding the frames also go a long way in helping non-visual people understand that newspaper photojournalists are not button pushers as some have called them, but skilled journalists and storytellers who have a unique view of the world around them. 

Here are some of my favorite Finding the Frames:

Looff Carrousel, Chasing a Comet, Airmen Return, Tired Fireman, Demolition