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Kleptography -- All images and site content are Copyright 2001-2004 by Don Ellis. All rights reserved. Images may not be used without written permission.


A website is all about making statements and solving problems. In the case of Kleptography, the statement is photography and the overall design is what helps to clarify that statement. After that, it’s a matter of solving problems, which I describe below.

Web Design

Look and Feel -- This is a photography website, so I want the focus on photos. That means text has to be managed so that it doesn't fight with the images. Because the first impression should be "photo," copy on the home page is limited to gallery names. That leaves “field notes” for the galleries and “photo notes” for individual images to contend with.

From each gallery, I used to link to a separate page of field notes. There were two problems with this: 1) sometimes the notes were important and people could overlook them by not clicking the link, and 2) sometimes the notes were unimportant and people clicking the link were left wondering, “Why did I do this?” The solution was to put the notes below the galleries so they’re handy but don’t detract from the “image impact” of clicking into a gallery.

Then there’s the commentary on individual images. Although pictures may be worth a thousand words, I think you often need to supply them yourself. Some photos are fairly meaningless without a background story. Others benefit from a technical note on how they were shot. So I placed any comments below the photo to enhance it without getting in the way. If you use the “Next” arrow to cycle through images on a 1024x768 monitor, you may never see the notes at all.

Thumbnail Size -- When you have hundreds of photos on your site, and especially when they run the gamut from fine art to foolish fun, it’s unlikely that everyone will want to see every photo. So I use thumbnails 150 pixels on their longest side to give people the ability to judge whether they want to view a larger photo. Even when they don’t, they can at least get the gist of what I’m doing with my photography.

Photo Size -- Thumbnail images originally linked to photos that were 1024 pixels on their longest dimension. That was half the full-size G1 images and they looked quite decent on my 1600x1200-resolution monitor. But after dropping by a friend’s office one day and showing her a photo, I realized that it overwhelmed her 640x480 monitor (we won’t get in to why it was set so low). And dial-up users were having to wait a long time for each image to load.

So I created a parallel website that offered 550-pixel images as the largest size. Sounds like a solution until you start having to code it all -- for every photo there was one thumbnail, two photo sizes, and two HTML files. In a word, it was a nuisance and I found that the fun had disappeared from posting, to the extent that I had 200 photos sitting on my hard disk and no desire to add them to my website.

Clearly, l needed another way -- which is the single single website you're now looking at, featuring 640-pixel photos. Like most compromises, there’s something to annoy nearly everyone. People squinting at 640x480 monitors will want smaller photos. People tanning in front of 1600x1200 monitors may have to search for the photos. But the majority of people with 800x600 and 1024x768 resolutions should find the size agreeable.

The single website approach once again makes it easy for me to post new images. In the month after the redesign, I already posted the 200 photos I mentioned above and I’m spending more time on photography than hand-coding. So it’s working for me and for anyone who would like to see regular updates to Kleptography.

Navigation -- Once upon a time, I prided myself on “No Java, No Flash, No Frames.” But I’ve mellowed slightly. In an effort to get out of coding Next and Previous arrows for every single photo (a goal I finally gave up on for reasons for simplicity and beauty), I cleverly made each large photo a BACK button -- click the photo and go back to the gallery.

This meant that each thumbnail linked you to a dead-end photo, but that fit with my belief that no one would choose to cycle through a lot of unknown photos over choosing from a smorgasbord of thumbnail hors d’oeuvres (I hate clicking a photo link when I have no idea what’s over the horizon).

But modern drugs mean there will always be people who prefer to cycle through unseen images by clicking a Next button. So I bit the bullet and hand-coded them all again... and in this design I've put them in the upper-right corner of the page so you don't have to pinpoint each arrow (as you would have to do if it were associated with the photo itself). Just put your cursor arrow over the Next arrow and click away while you keep your eyes on the pictures. What could be more mindlessly entertaining?

But for those who want to snack, there is still the BACK button in the form of the photo. Originally, I simply coded each photo to take you back to the gallery, but discovered this would return you to the TOP of the gallery. And if you’re looking at thumbnails near the bottom of the gallery is this tremendously annoying, even with the convenience of a mouse wheel.

The solution turned out to be a Javascript statement that takes you back to the gallery page just where you left it. It’s perfect, it's recognizable by every browser I’ve tested it with, and I’ve never had a complaint. Having said that, I'll tell you the one time it won't work -- if you arrived at a large photo page by clicking on someone's outside link and you click on the photo to go BACK, you will go back ... to that person's website.

The main thing wrong with solutions is that they simply create new problems. I'm just going to ignore this one.


Here’s a topic to get the blood boiling -- Hands-on or Hands-off? Some people believe that photos should faithfully record a scene and never be touched by human hands. Others think the sky’s the limit for tweaking. I think we’re back to my first words about making statements -- it all depends on what you want to say.

Realist -- If you’re a photo journalist and want to accurately record a moment in time, by all means dump in out of the camera and into our laps. But remember that every time you point your camera and press the shutter, you’re making a conscious decision to crop out everything that isn’t in frame, so you’re already using photo enhancement to support your own statement.

Artist -- On the other hand, if you’re an artist who views photography as just the first step in achieving your vision, get out the drawing tablet and start manipulating your way to fame. You may alienate people who want either “true” photography or “true” art, but you can’t please all the people all the time, so you might as well please yourself.

Me -- I tend to hover around the middle ground. I like the fact that photography is a recorder of history and events and objects and people. But the shortcomings of both life and photography mean that I’m usually cropping, enhancing and sharpening to make my photos interesting. After all, if you take a picture of a boring tree in the middle of the forest, will anyone care? But show us the tree or the bark or the wood weevil in a different way and perhaps we’ll see life in a new way. That’s one goal, anyway.

Photo enhancement is a little like the old advice about how to sculpt an elephant -- get a big block of stone and chip away anything that doesn’t look like an elephant. Figure out what is the focus of your photo and then help other people see it without having to be there in person to point it out. Important tools in this process are the Crop Tool and the Rubber Stamp Tool.

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