Over the years, while browsing online galleries, I have from time to time experienced something that I have casually labeled Thumbnailitis.  It’s a condition that occurs when you see what you think is a very appealing image –in thumbnail form– but when you click on that thumbnail you are suddenly confronted with a full-size image that is not at all appealing and is actually somewhat ugly.  Going back and taking a second look at the appealing thumbnail, I then become much more deeply confused because once again I see something appealing but now also can see it’s similarities with the big ugly image it was clearly derived from it.

The thumbnail looks great, but the full-size image is unexpectedly disappointing.  Although I’ve experienced this often enough as I’m sure many other viewers have, I realize that it’s probably just the opposite of what one would expect.  One would expect the thumbnail image to be a degraded form of the larger image and not the other way around.  Of course, that’s the way it usually is, but it’s odd how thumbnails can sometimes look better than the originals.

Just why would that ever happen?  I’ve considered some reasons for this and I think it has something to do with how people make fractal artwork.

1. Too much detail and no central focus.  When a thumbnail is created it almost always results in loss of detail and blurring of the image.  The result is that smaller elements in the image merge into the background and only the largest are noticeable.  It’s the sort of thing people often try to accomplish with masking except the process is cruder (and much faster).  The result is a greatly simplified and subsequently more focused and less chaotic image.

2. Some images just look better when they’re smaller.  It’s hard to believe, but I think it has something to do with my first point in that our perception of the image is better when we can see it all in a single glance and without turning our head or moving our eyes much.  This happens in offline art galleries; people will sometimes take a few steps back to view a large work of art instead of moving forward to see more detail.  That’s why some of the Great Masters look better as cheap souvenir prints bought in the gallery gift shop than they do as the original hanging in the gallery.

3.  Some images have a great color scheme but really ugly content.  The thumbnail boils that ugly stuff down to just a few tiny, but really glorious, gradients and color combinations.  This is one that always tricks me into clicking on a thumbnail.  There’s something about good color that just excites the visual mind and makes it a tough act for the details of the full size image to follow.  Similarly, some images make better palettes than they do artwork.  The thumbnail contains all there is that’s worthwhile about the image.

4. The Proverbial Art-Hammer.  The process of creating a thumbnail is both creative and to some degree destructive.  The transformative effect usually produces a less interesting image but sometimes the result is better because it does things to the image that careful, fussy artists would never do, that is, blur the entire image all at once with one click.  It’s like one of those wierdo photoshop filters that makes you wonder why anyone would want to make (much less ever repeat) such a simple, degrading effect, until one day you try it on something without really thinking and the result is polished and professional.

Well, there you go.  Thumbnails can occasionally teach us something.  I once saved a thumbnail of mine because it looked so good.  I had to do a screen shot of it because I couldn’t duplicate the effect by simply resizing the image.  The thumnails created by the image viewer for file browsing were made with such a low quality process that no other graphical function could produce the same brutal effect.

Maybe someday thumbnails will be a category of digital art all their own.

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2 thoughts on “Thumbnail-itis

  1. I have run into this myself, especially with smaller images looking bad in a larger form. I have also deliberately rendered fractals really big and shrank them because it helps them look better for some reason.

    I've also had this happen with photos. Small photo looks great….full size it looks blurry. Same principle, I guess.

  2. Yes I see the point and it is true.. But some digital Images /fractals /are should ve seen only in Fulls screen sizes only , the smaller is just doesn't deliver the same effect …

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