Dean M. Chriss
Photography Website History
Over 21 Years Online!
December 5, 2020

Grizzly Bear
"Fluffy", Subadult Male Grizzly Bear
This website came into existence sometime in the middle 1990s under a different name and URL. Those were the early years of the World Wide Web, when user provided content was still sparse. The website was hosted on a free shared platform and was named "Blue Sky Nature Images". In return for the free hosting the hosted websites were required to have a small static advertising banner for the service at the top edge of the home page. Obnoxious pop-up advertising did not yet exist. The site URL also contained the name of the hosting service, making it long and difficult to remember. After a couple years of that I felt the need to do something better.

On May 19, 1999 I registered the current domain name, moved the website to a paid hosting service, and changed the name to what it is today. I coded the website using a WYSWIG HTML editor along with some hand coding. Our domain name registrars and hosting services have each changed only once.

The online world has changed dramatically since 1999. iPads and tablets would not exist for another eleven years and the first Android smartphone was still nine years away. Websites had to deal only with desktop computers. The VGA monitor standard (640x480 pixels) was still common, and monitor resolutions of 800x600 pixels and smaller accounted for a over 70% of all Internet users. A little over 25% of all monitors had resolutions of 1024x768 pixels or 1152x864 pixels, with the former being far more popular. Less than 5% of all monitors were larger, with the largest being 1280x1600 pixels.

Larger images are always more compelling than smaller ones. I wanted the images to be as large and detailed as possible but fit without the need to scroll on a majority of monitors, including 640x480 pixel VGA monitors. Even in 1999 that was not much to work with. For vertical images to fit fully on a VGA monitor the longest dimension would need to be less than 480 pixels, or more like 400 pixels with a page border. That's not large enough to show much detail, and my horizontal images would suffer too if the sizes were to be consistent. I chose to optimize the largest image size for horizontal display on the smallest monitors, which meant making them 600 pixels in the longest dimension. That meant vertical images did not completely fit on some monitors and those users would need to scroll the image to see everything. The ability to see a whole image at once is important. A separate page containing useful textual information about the image under a smaller (325 pixels in the longest dimension) version of it eliminated that problem. Last but not least, I had lots of images and paging through one at a time just to see everything that was available would never work. There had to be a way to organize them and for users to see many images at once. Thumbnail pages each containing 16 small images measuring 120 pixels in the longest dimension, in a 4x4 grid, provided that. The width of the grid was no issue and its height still fit the 640x480 monitors. If a user saw something of interest in the grid they could then go to a larger version with more detail along with information about the image. If they wanted to see even more detail the third and largest size was available to show it. That is how the website worked in 1999 and the basis of how it works today.

As monitors grew physically larger and their resolutions increased more space became available and the physical size of our website images decreased due to higher pixel densities. To address that in an easy way as the online world changed, I made largest of the three sizes bigger on an ad hoc basis. That resulted in a variety of "largest image" sizes depending on when the image was captured. I doubt that many looked at the older images because they paled in comparison to the newer and larger ones. At the same time use of mobile devices, which had never before been a consideration, skyrocketed. Our website statistics currently show that half of our users access the website with mobile devices. I could no longer avoid addressing these problems.

By lucky coincidence the original 1999 vintage image sizing scheme worked fine on mobile devices. The old HTML code also worked to display everything and allow navigation, but not in a very friendly and useable way. At the other end of the spectrum, the resolution of desktop monitors has increased significantly, though not as much as one might think. In 2020 monitor resolutions of 1920x1080 pixels and lower account for 73% of all Internet users. Above that are many different resolutions that go up past 4K at 3840x2160 pixels. Generally speaking, as monitor resolutions increase beyond 1920x1080 the percentage in use online decreases rapidly. Only 3% are viewing web pages on 2560x1440 pixel resolution monitors and that decreases to a miniscule 0.12% at 3840x2160 pixels. Optimizing a photography website for the highest resolutions is not worthwhile for many reasons including bandwidth, speed requirements, and the fact it benefits very few users. The most problematic issue with using high resolution images online is image theft. High quality online images are constantly stolen, even at small sizes. They are used illegally for everything from other websites, advertising, and even printed commercial items, all of which I have experienced personally. Larger and higher quality images are put to more damaging and varied illegal uses.

Thieves want to steal the best and most compelling images they can find for exactly the same reasons legitimate users want them. There is no good way to prevent online theft. If an image is loaded onto a thief's computer by a website there is always a way to steal it. The only effective way to prevent online images from being stolen is to make them less desirable to thieves and everyone else. Images that are small, highly compressed, or watermarked are less desirable, but I cannot bring myself to do any of that. I put a lot of effort into making my photographs look as good as possible, so it is very difficult for me to partially negate that effort. More importantly, a goal of my images and this website has long been to help inspire others to protect and preserve our natural world. It is hard to imagine others being inspired by images that thieves don't want to steal. None of that means I want to give away high resolution files that are suitable for any purpose imaginable. Some compromise is obviously needed. After some careful thought about everything involved I decided that putting images of 1000 pixels in the longest dimension online is at the ragged edge of my comfort zone.

To better accommodate today's wide variety of devices the website is now capable of displaying each image in four different sizes, three of which are available for any given window size. Each image is optimized for proper display at the specific size. Thumbnail images are automatically selected from two different sizes based upon the dimensions of the user's viewing window. The middle size on the image description page is increased from 325 pixels in the longest dimension to approximately 500, and the largest image is approximately 1000 pixels in the longest dimension. The HTML code is updated to select the correct thumbnail image size and work in a more friendly way on smaller mobile devices. Implementing the image size changes meant regenerating each of nearly 400 different images in four different sizes, or 1600 images in total, from existing master files. Because tools and my abilities have changed dramatically in the last 20 years the oldest images were completely reprocessed from their original camera files or film scans, and in some cases the original film was rescanned. Each of the 1600 images was appropriately sharpened according to its displayed size, sometimes with localized sharpening modification to avoid halos. Accomplishing that and the required code changes took an enormous amount of time before and during the 2000 COVID-19 pandemic. I have no plans to do anything similar again, but as someone once said, you never know.

In spite of these changes, the website's appearance and general functionality are not much different than they were in 1999. By today's standards it is a no frills, old-school website and it will likely remain so. With one person providing the content and maintaining more than 1,140 pages created over 21 years, I promise that some of the more deeply buried pages have outdated content and some have outdated code that does not display them perfectly on every device in every browser. Even so, I would argue that the website gives each user more than their money's worth.

Happy browsing!