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Ariel Zambelich

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The high-resolution retina display iPad has one downside — normal resolution images look worse than on lower resolution displays. On the web that means that text looks just fine, as does any CSS-based art, but photographs look worse, sometimes even when they’re actually high-resolution images.

Pro photographer Duncan Davidson was experimenting with serving high-resolution images to the iPad 3 when he ran up against what seemed to be a limit to the resolution of JPG images in WebKit. Serving small high-resolution images — in the sub-2000px range — works great, but replacing 1000px wide photographs with 2000px wide photos actually looks worse due to downsampling.

The solution (turns out) is to go back to something you probably haven’t used in quite a while — progressive JPGs. It’s a clever solution to a little quirk in Mobile Safari’s resource limitations. Read Davidson’s follow-up post for more details, and be sure to look at the example image if you’ve got a new iPad because more than just a clever solution, this is what the future of images on web will look like.

As Davidson says:

For the first time, I’m looking at a photograph I’ve made on a screen that has the same sort of visceral appeal as a print. Or maybe a transparency laying on a lightbox. Ok, maybe not quite that good, but it’s pretty incredible. In fact, I really shouldn’t be comparing it to a print or a transparency at all. Really, it’s its own very unique experience.

To show off the sample on his site Davidson uses a bit of JavaScript to toggle the high- and low-res images, highlighting the difference.

But how could you go about serving the higher res image to just those screens with high enough resolution and fast enough connections to warrant it?

You can’t.

So what’s a web developer with high-res images to show off supposed to do? Well, right now you’re going to have to decide between all or nothing. Or you can use a hack like one of the less-than-ideal responsive image solutions we’ve covered before.

Right now visitors with the new iPad are probably a minority for most websites, so not that many people will be affected by low-res or poorly rendered high-res images. But Microsoft is already prepping Windows 8 for high-res retina-style screens and Apple is getting ready to bring the same concept to laptops.

The high-res future is coming fast and the web needs to evolve just as fast.

In the long run that means the web is going to need a real responsive image solution; something that’s part of HTML itself. An new HTML element like the proposed <picture> tag is one possible solution. The picture element would work much like the video tag, with code that looks something like this:


 
 
 

The browser uses this code to choose which image to load based on the current screen width.

The picture element would solve one part of the larger problem, namely serving the appropriate image to the appropriate screen resolution. But screen size isn’t the only consideration; we also need a way to measure the bandwidth available.

At home on my Wi-Fi connection I’d love to get Davidson’s high-res images on my iPad. When I’m out and about using a 3G connection it would be better to skip that extra overhead in favor of faster page load times.

Ideally browsers would send more information about the user’s environment along with each HTTP request. Think screen size, pixel density and network connection speed. Developers could then use that information to make a better-informed guess about which images it to serve. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely we’ll get such tools standardized and widely supported before the high-res world overtakes the web. With any server-side solution to the bandwidth problem still far off on the horizon, navigator.connection will become even more valuable in the mean time.

Further complicating the problem are two additional factors, data caps on mobile connections and technologies like Apple’s AirPlay. The former means that even if I have a fast LTE connection and a high-resolution screen I still might not want to use my limited data allotment to download high-res images.

AirPlay means I can browse to a site with my phone — which would likely trigger smaller images and videos since it’s a smaller screen — but then project the result on a huge HD TV screen. This is not even a hypothetical problem, you can experience it today with PBS’s iPhone app and AirPlay.

Want to help figure out how the web needs to evolve and what new tools we’re going to need? Keep an eye on the W3C’s Responsive Images community group, join the mailing list and don’t be shy about contributing. Post your experiments on the web and document your findings like Davidson and countless others are already doing.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but eventually the standards bodies and the browser makers are going to start implementing solutions and the more test cases that are out there, the more experimenting web developers have done, the better those solutions will be. It’s your web after all, so make it better.

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

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GeekFest. The most frequently asked question is “what is it?!”

Well, it’s the best little photo conference with the worst, geekiest name out there. Every year, it’s suggested that we need to do something about the name, but in the end, it kind of fits. The name actually started as a joke, in reference to a group of geeks who’s all come together to geek out about photography. (If anyone has a better name though, I’m all ears!)

The first one was in DC with about 10 of us crammed into David Holloway’s basement. APAD was in its infancy and we all just wanted to put faces with names, so we devised a plan to get together for a meetup. We did a shootout on the Mall for the Fourth of July festivities, and talked photo all weekend. It was awesome and intimate and invigorating to know that there were some like minds out there.

From there it went to Fort Lauderdale, where we got about a dozen people, sleeping head to toe in every room of my small studio apartment, including two in the kitchen and one in the bathtub. I worked at the Sun-Sentinel then, and decided it’d be awesome to have some of my amazingly inspiring coworkers, like Angel Valentin and Mike Stocker speak to our small group. It also allowed me to approach Lisa Krantz, who I didn’t know at the time outside of her badass work at the Naples Daily News (about 2 hours from me, right across Alligator Alley). I emailed her, explained my mad photo crush, and asked her if she’d come share her work with us and hang out for the weekend. She’s been one of my best friends and still one of my biggest sources of inspiration since.

From there we’ve taken it on the road to Austin, Chicago, Portland and then found a homebase for the last three years in St. Petersburg, Fla. (where I work now, and where we have an awesome photo community and a great accommodating town).

Looking back on the speakers over the years amazes me. We’ve been lucky enough to have such talented presenters such as Ben Lowy, Penny De Los Santos, David Holloway, Khampha Bouaphanh, Carlos Javier Ortiz, Jon Lowenstein, Scott Strazzante, Wes Pope, Jamie Francis, Beth Nakamura, Karen Ducey, Alan Berner, James Rexroad, Bruce Ely, Robbie McClaran, Laura Lo Forti, Susana Raab, Lane Degregory, Preston Gannaway, Ross Taylor, Boyzell Hosey, Bob Croslin, Michael Williamson, Ted Jackson, Allison V. Smith, Damon Winter, Pat Farrell, Sam Abell, Bryan Moss, Dai Sugano, Alexis Lambert, David Hanschuh, Nicole Frugé, Lisa Krantz (2x speaker!), Greg Kahn, Liz O. Baylen, Zack Arias, Ben Rusnak, Todd Heisler, Deb Pang Davis and Mike Davis share their work, their stories and their wisdom with us.

Whoooooo…Amazingly talented list… I hope I’m not forgetting anyone!

It’s evolved over the years, from hanging out with friends, crammed 10 deep in sleeping bags and small spaces to nearly 150 people checked into area hotels last year and an incredible 3-day lineup jam packed with speakers galore. In the past we’ve formed teams and had shootouts, been delighted by the wonders of spoken word artists at photo slams, raised money for friends at print auctions, held BBQs, hosted shuffleboard nights and air hockey tournaments (Ariel Zambelich defeated Bruce Ely for the championship trophy!).

The folks at the NPPA asked me recently what we were doing with our little homegrown, grassroots photo conference that they weren’t with theirs. (It’s rumored that we had a better attendance than the Atlanta PJ Seminar this year.) And I think it’s simple. I’ve always tried to make the weekend inclusive, not exclusive. Our speakers are diverse, varied and hand-picked (not the same ol’ same ol’. Hell, some aren’t even photographers, just awesome story tellers, creative types and inspirators with something to share). We make it clear that they’re here for one reason: to inspire. But I’ve found that they also come to be inspired, to hang out, to soak in the weekend too… so awesome to see Damon Winter and Pat Farrell, fresh off their Pulitzer wins, hanging out playing shuffleboard with those young guns hoping to emulate them. We also don’t do things (formally) like portfolio reviews, because I hate the thought of creating an atmosphere of us vs them. We also try to make it fun. Extracurricular activities are just as important as phototivities. How cool is it to go have a beer with Sam Abell or Allison V. Smith? How rad to see Alan Berner out working an assignment with a team during a shootout? I think I get just as much from those moments, those random conversations, those chances of getting to know someone away from the podium than I do from hearing them speak.

So if you’re asking yourself what it is, I’d ask you to come check it out for yourself and find out what it is to you. Because I think it’s different things to different people, but mostly it’s photo love at its finest. It’s a welcoming group of photo geeks who have evolved from names, emails and photos shared electronically over the APAD listserv to friends with familiar stories and bonds that have made us like family.

So yeah, I can’t wait for the next dose of inspiration. Hope to see you at the next family reunion, make a few new friends and come away incredibly inspired.

Geekfest DENVER :: Sept 16-18, 2011. Mark your calendars! More info soon.

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