Picture Tweaks for the Web

These are the days of instant picture-taking and sharing, and as such, most people don’t worry too much about how the pictures look; it’s more about the subject matter than anything. But, if you’re a webmaster/webdesigner, pictures take on a slightly different meaning. They are not only photos, but visual representations of your website.

It’s easy to get daunted by all the image-creation and image-editing software out there. But I’m here to tell you there are quick little tricks to make your photos (and your website) a little more awesome for your users. Read on and discover!

Photos in a Range of Sizes: Convenience for the User

When dialup and slower DSL connections ruled the Web, thumbnail photo galleries were all the rage. They were the fastest way to preview tons of photos, because users could see at a glance which photo they wanted to click on and view in full. Downside? They took forever to make, because you had to select the most salient point of the photo to make it attractive to click.

These days, web designers trying to present tons of visual content do not have to resort to thumbnails anymore due to slow connections (for the most part). Instead, what is most helpful for the modern Internet user is a selection of various sizes for your photos and graphics, a la Flickr. Like so:


This is the small size…


…and this is the larger size!

This way, your users do not have to try enlarging or shrinking the photo on their own; instead, you as the webdesigner/webmaster provide them with a choice of sizes for their convenience. (And the more convenient you can make photo-saving, the better!)

The “Levels” Tool: Beautifying Even the Most Drab of Photos

Looking for a way to subtly enhance your Web-ready photos and graphics without making your pictures look fake? Then you might want to try changing the images’ “Levels” settings, in your favorite trusty image editor/creator. (I’m using Photoshop Elements 8.0; your program may differ slightly in how this feature is set up, or it may not have a Levels tool at all. More about how to work around that in the next section. 🙂 )

Let me show you the difference a few Levels tweaks make:

Before changing Levels: A pretty outdoors picture.


Showing the Levels dialog box alongside the picture, with no changes yet.


With slight rightward shifts to the leftmost arrow (the Shadow settings), then slight leftward shifts to the middle arrow (the Midtone settings), the colors appear stronger and make the picture more interesting.


End result: a MUCH better “pretty nature pic.” And yet, it doesn’t look fake–it just looks better, at least to my eye.

Small, subtle changes like this can make your photos more vibrant and captivating–and who doesn’t want and need that kind of draw for their website?

Brightness/Contrast: The Poor Man’s Levels Tool

Now, if your image editor/creator does not have a “Levels” tool, all is not lost! Before I got Photoshop Elements, I used a long-forgotten program that had only the barest of image “editing” wizards and tools. The most sophisticated editing tool it had was a tool called “Brightness/Contrast,” and in a pinch, this can spiff up the colors of your photos like the Levels tool can. The following example uses a recent picture of me to demonstrate. (Avert your eyes if necessary–I am no model. xD)

My picture, before changing any Brightness/Contrast settings.
The Brightness/Contrast dialog box, ready to make my picture AWESOME!
With slight changes to the Brightness and Contrast settings (Brightness +10, Contrast +20), the pink of my shirt looks more colorful, my hair looks a little darker, and my skin looks a little bit smoother (and if that ain’t a miracle, I don’t know what is!).
Finished product: a slightly more presentable me–always a good thing on the Internet. (And if you recognize this picture from my Twitter avatar, points for you! xD)

With Brightness/Contrast, you can make your pictures just a little bit livelier. Just don’t go overboard changing these settings, otherwise you will end up with fake-looking pictures. Like, more fake than me with blonde hair. 😛

PNG-8 Format: Smoothest Gradients and Truest Colors

If you want a lovely gradient effect for your website, these days it’s best to turn toward the PNG format, and to the PNG-8 format in particular for smooth gradients in a small file size.

Observe the difference when you save the same exact gradient in the three major Web image file formats:

This is a low-quality JPEG rendering, with obvious diagonal striations going across the image. (You CAN get a smooth gradient with true colors in a JPEG format, but the file size will be much bigger.)
The GIF file format, especially with “Restricted” colors like this one, makes a pointillist mess of the gradient. (The “Perceptual” GIF setting does render the gradient better, but still has annoying striations running through it.)
Ah, perfection! The PNG file format renders the gradient just as well as when I created the image, but contains it within a 33 KB size!

PNG-24 Format: Best Transparent Graphics Creation

On the other hand, there is a use for the PNG-24 graphics format: making truly transparent graphics. I’ll show you what I mean:

From left to right: GIF, PNG-8, PNG-24, all with transparency settings on. Which icon would you rather use in your webdesign?

To my eye, the PNG-24 format results in the best-looking transparent graphics, whether the graphics are small like icons or big like website headers. By contrast, the “fuzziness” around the GIF and PNG-8’s icons make them both undesirable for making true transparent graphics. While the file size may be a tiny bit bigger (the PNG-24 in my example is 618 bytes, as compared to 387 bytes for the GIF and 430 bytes for the PNG-8), the payoff is definitely worth it from a design perspective.

Dark Page Backgrounds: Show Off Those Beautified Pics!

Now, for the final question: How do you properly display your newly-spiffed pictures? Answer: with a darkly-colored page background!

Think this is too simple? It does work–way back in high school, I served on the Yearbook Staff for a year, and learned a similar trick of telling a “good” picture from a “bad” one. It seems that pictures just show up better if they’re against a black or dark-colored background, and it’s easier to tell if you need to reshoot the picture or if it’s worth using. The same goes for displaying pictures on the Web; a darker background can make the colors in an image pop a little more, or help the details show up better.

The following side-by-side example shows what I mean:

This is based on exactly the same picture, with no Brightness/Contrast or Level changes between the two. And yet, the one with the black background/border around it seems to have more detail and better colors than the one with the white background/border. Weird, but it works! Using a darker-colored background for your picture pages will make them show up just that much better.

Summary

You don’t have to be a photo whiz (or a Photoshop ninja) to make your pictures look awesome for the Web. All you need are a few quick and subtle tricks to spiff up those photos for their Internet closeups, and you’ll have a much better collection to show off!

2 thoughts on “Picture Tweaks for the Web”

  1. I came here looking for info about diagonal striations in jpegs, which I have encountered, before, and found so much more: you may have inspired me to break my “attachment” to jpegs!
    ~ Eugene

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