Outside the Frame: The World in Photos, Online

by |

Amanda HirschFreelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her weekly column, Outside the Frame.

Over the past couple of weeks, I conducted an informal survey of how websites ranging from big-name media portals to indie photo blogs use photography to tell stories online. The experience was a reminder that while some webheads are rushing to invent the next boundary-pushing application, others in the industry are still struggling with the basics, like putting together an effective online photo gallery.

Take, for example, the nearly ubiquitous photo gallery feature on major news sites that requires you to reload the page each time you select a new photo. It’s incredibly disruptive, like watching a documentary and having the screen go blank between each frame. I was also frustrated by photo galleries cluttered with abstract buttons and icons: I became so focused on interpreting the interface that the photography itself became a secondary experience. For example, one gifted photographer whose site I visited requires you to click on a bouncing dot to view a filmstrip-style menu of other images. I kid you not.

Stupendous photography alone, then, isn’t enough to save clunky presentation. At the same time, a fabulous frame can’t make up for a lackluster image. Finding a site that effectively showcases striking images is no easy feat.
After a fairly extensive search, I found a few sites that excel at using photography to tell stories in compelling, easy-to-navigate ways. I’d love to know which sites you’d add to this list — submit your own picks using the comments feature below.

For an example of gorgeous simplicity, head over to luan.com. The site’s spare design showcases one rich photo at a time, inviting the user to really soak in the story that each image tells. You can choose to either view the most recent photo, view a photo from the archive at random, or browse the entire archive — three clearly presented choices that represent three of the paths users are most likely to want to pursue.

A screenshot of the luan.com homepage

A screenshot of luan.com’s homepage

You can view more of the artist’s work through his Flickr account. It’s striking how that less-curated presentation somehow drowns out the power of some of the same images featured on luan.com.

While the absence of excess verbiage is part of the beauty of luan.com, the interweaving of language and photography is what gives kthread.com its unique and compelling voice. The author, Kristen Taylor (aka kthread), a former PBS employee, is masterful at lyrically recounting her travels in word and image: check out this sample post to get an idea of what I mean.

A screenshot of a sample entry from kthread.com

A screenshot from kthread.com.

On a more comedic note, photo blogs like Fail and Totally Looks Like won me over thanks to the refreshing simplicity of their approach. They do exactly what they promise to do, and let the photos — of failures and lookalikes, respectively — speak for themselves. It isn’t artistic genius, but I found it more entertaining than a range of much more elaborate slideshows whose complexity got in the way of narrative power.

Again, I’m sure there are more examples out there that I just haven’t come across. I hope you’ll show me what I’m missing using the comments feature below.

Amanda Hirsch
Amanda Hirsch
Amanda Hirsch is former editorial director of PBS Interactive.