Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Blame it on Rio II

November 1999

By Mike Gould

In last month's article, we talked about sending a suitable-for-printing digital image of ace harmonica player Madcat to a promoter in Brazil. Here are the results of that exercise:

After much international emailing north and south, we determined the easiest way to go was to try 3 different versions of the picture at 3 differing amounts of JPEG compression, stick them on the Web, and let the promoter pick the one that worked for her.

The picture was scanned at 200dpi, and then compressed using Photoshop (a graphics software package) at low, medium and high compression ratios. If you call up one of the large pictures you will note that it fills your screen and then some; this is because you are viewing a high resolution picture on a relatively low resolution device - your monitor. If you print out the picture you will see it is much smaller, around 8" x 10".

Squeezing Down to Rio
JPEG is what is called a "lossy" compression method; when you reduce the size of the file you are working on, some information is lost. Squeeze a lot, lose a lot; it's always a trade-off between file size and picture definition. JPEG does a good job of discarding excess bits by using an algorithm that knows how your eyes perceive colors and contrasts, but a little goes a long way - too much compression and everything looks like it came out of a fax machine.

If you visit the above Web page, you will note that I provided the viewer with the option of seeing the picture versions via 3 icons, each icon a small picture of the finished photo. This small picture is called a "thumbnail", and is a convention used on the Web to show a picture as small as possible while still being able to see what the picture is about. This is useful when you have several pictures and don't want the user to have to wait while all of them load; the smaller thumbnails load in fast, and the user then chooses which picture he or she wants to see by clicking on the thumbnail. It is usually polite to inform the user if there is a large (i.e., slow to download) picture linked from the thumbnail; on the page above I gave the file sizes and approximate download times.

I advised the promoter to start with the smallest picture, print that, and see if it was acceptable; if not, try the next largest. The one that did the trick was the middle picture; 220K, with an approximate download time of 79 seconds. Madcat tells me that this picture was used on posters throughout Rio and everyone was happy.

The Business in Pictures
Hopefully, this will give you some ideas about using pictures on the website your business runs. The latest version of Photoshop has a very handy Album feature that automatically makes thumbnails, puts your pictures on individual pages, and provides navigation between those pages. You can see this demonstrated at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival website; highlights from this year's festival are on view at:

This feature is useful in making online catalogs, listing homes for sale, showing off the cars on your used car lot, or any place else where you need to present the user with a lot of pictures.

Caveat Picture
Be aware, though, that anything you put on the Web is pretty much up for grabs. Someone can take that picture of your storefront from your website, and use it on their own site, maybe after a few touch ups from a Photoshop airbrush. If you catch them at it, you can sue them, but with a 18.53 gazillion websites out there, how will you find them?

And don't be lulled into thinking "I'll just compress the bajeezis out of this picture - that way anyone trying to print it will be disappointed". I thought that would work until a picture of mine was grabbed from the Blues and Jazz site and used in print ads in a magazine, another web site, and a glossy magazine. The picture in the glossy magazine looked pretty good, even though it was heavily compressed and small in physical size. (I had a chat with all involved, apologies were offered, and I learned to live with it.)

The above also applies to print catalogs, of course; anyone can scan something in from print and slap it on the Web. Copyright law is being severely impacted by all this; expect to see major revisions from Congress in the future.

But Madcat says it's OK; you can print out the picture of him and use it any way you like. If you use it on the Web, just give him a credit.

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