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Big is beautiful

Although you wouldn’t know that, if you looked at most online picture galleries. It’s been bothering me for quite a while: why is it that so many online publications seem to be proud of their picture galleries and attach so much importance to the visual aspect of news, yet completely ruin the experience by presenting the images in a very unattractive way?

Yes, I know that page impressions count and if you reduce the gallery size, cram a few ads on the page and make people click forever you may even earn a few bucks. But will the same people come back?

I may look at the galleries on Times Online, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph every now and then, but usually only when I get sent a link to one. I hardly ever look at the BBC galleries, although I have to admit that I like the fact their home page has become flexible and can easily accommodate a large(ish)-format gallery to illustrate a big breaking news story.

I know that not everybody uses huge screens and enjoys a fast broadband connection, and I’m fully aware of the fact that most news outlets need or want to appeal to the widest audience. But how about making the images bigger, the gallery visually more appealing and likely to be shared easily? At least try?

That’s exactly what did and subsequently conquered the social media world with its Big Picture gallery – massive, bold, carefully selected images focused on a single theme.

Ask any Twitter user whether they’ve heard of and they will probably say no. But ask them about The Big Picture and they’re more likely to remember it.

In a relatively short space of time The Big Picture has become an institution – a place to go to to see carefully selected examples of photojournalism, extreme photography, some quirky and unusual images – all in big format.

And, unlike most online galleries, this one needs to be scrolled rather than clicked through. That’s possibly its biggest unique selling point: no thumbnails, no individual pages, no pop-ups. Just a long list of visually stunning and often poigniant images. A big win for both photography and for journalism, but not just because of the big format. The images are always carefully selected to guarantee the most logical narrative or simply the biggest visual impact, or both.

Another exemplary use of big format photographs can be found on the brilliant Pictory site, where users are invited to submit just one image on a specific theme. Laura Brunow, who runs the website, then picks twelve best images and publishes them as brilliant image-led ‘stories’. See this Danger showcase for example. A clean, uncluttered and easy to navigate page, where images are able to speak for themselves and grab our attention. Each comes with a short intro or caption submitted by the contributing photographer and with the photographer’s bio.

The fact that many Twitter users – not necessarily photographers – shared a link to the recent London showcase, and had nothing but praise for the site, suggests Laura Brunow (and The Big Picture) got it right.

The big boys should really take notice.

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