Essentials, Next Steps and Deep Cuts: looking to iTunes as inspiration for image gallery organization

In Apple's iTunes music store, iTunes Essentials presents curated introductions to specific artists and genres of music. In a stroke of absolute genius, they throttle the experience by offering a set of playlists of increasing depth. We can -- and probably should -- look to this example when designing our image gallery presentations.

As background, we should take a moment to consider statistics about visitor behavior on websites. In his article Carousel Interaction Stats, Erik Runyon concludes that ...

... as the number of features increases, the click-throughs on sub-features decreases dramatically ...

And while he is speaking specifically about feature carousels on websites, his findings apply can be applied to a wider range of Web content, including image galleries. So we might extrapolate from his findings within our own context to say that:

  • As the number of images in our galleries increases, visitors are increasingly unlikely to view the entire gallery.
  • As the number of pages in our galleries increases, visitors are increasingly unlikely to browse to subsequent pages.

As photographers, we publish images because we want them to be seen. But we often publish far more images than our visitors will take the time to wade through; I know the truth of this, because I've been at this Lightroom thing for seven years now, and in that time have seen a lot of your websites ... Sorry. =/

Except for a the most extreme cases, I won't tell you to publish fewer images. But it's delusional to think that anyone is going to wade through a deluge, and we should adjust our expectations and then our presentations accordingly.

And for the record, I too am guilty of publishing (probably) too many images. But because my personal site is a record of my travels, not a portfolio, I'm comfortable with my published volume. Still, I do make tremendous efforts to keep my numbers under control, and I'm constantly adjusting the size and contents of my collections.

Now, let's take this conversation back to iTunes.

For iTunes Essentials, tracks are organized into playlists of increasing depth: The Basics, Next Steps, Deep Cuts and Complete Set. Let's take a look at the iTunes collection for the incomparable Electric Light Orchestra!

iTunes Essentials: Electric Light Orchestra, The Basics.

iTunes Essentials: Electric Light Orchestra, The Basics.

Electric Light Orchestra were a British rock group from Birmingham, England, who released eleven studio albums between 1971 and 1986 and another album in 2001. That's a lot of music, an amount that would probably be overwhelming for someone coming to the band as a new listener. And it's safe to assume that a new listener would be investigating the band having already heard and enjoyed one or two of their big hits. And so we rope this new listener into the band by highlighting a selection of their greatest hits and most beloved songs, The Basics.

The Basics

"Evil Woman", "Mr. Blue Sky" and "Livin' Thing" stand among ELO's most classic tracks. They're brilliant songs, and comprise our best opening salvo.

In designing your image presentations, put your strongest work at the fore.

Bangkok, Thailand. Wat Arun viewed from across the river, while Buddhist monks wait for the ferry. This is one of my favorite images from this this.

Bangkok, Thailand. Wat Arun viewed from across the river, while Buddhist monks wait for the ferry. This is one of my favorite images from this trip.

The Home page of your website might serve as "The Basics" playlist of your oeuvre, the 15-to-25 images that you absolutely want every visitor to your site to see.

For your individual image galleries, front load each gallery with the best images of that collection. As visitors move through a collection of images, regardless of the collection's size, it becomes increasingly unlikely with each image that the visitor will continue on to subsequent images. It's no reflection on you; it's just the principles of fatigue and falloff at work. The visitor's attention will wander, they might get sidetracked (maybe your stunning images of Bali have inspired them to research a Bali vacation of their very own), it's dinnertime, quitting time, or the kids might demand their attention in another room. At some point, for whatever reason, they are going to close your website and go do something else. Don't hide your best images so deep in your gallery that your audience may never get to them before wandering off to other things.

Next Steps

For many, it will be enough to load "Evil Woman" and "Mr. Blue Sky" onto their smartphones, then move onto the next band's greatest hits. But those who go a bit deeper will find much to love: "All Over the World", "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" and "Confusion", for example.

Chiang Mai, Thailand. A groundskeeper at Wat Chiang Man. No one is going to plan their next vacation around finding this fellow, but he's awesome and I love that I was able to come home with this photograph. And encountering locals really is one of the greatest joys of traveling.

Chiang Mai, Thailand. A groundskeeper at Wat Chiang Man. No one is going to plan their next vacation around finding this fellow, but he's awesome and I love that I was able to come home with this photograph. And encountering locals really is one of the greatest joys of traveling.

On page two of your galleries or just a little further down the first page, reward the visitors who stick with you with some more of your photographic excellence. While "The Basics" comprise a very limited number of your very best work, your "Next Steps" images will comprise the bulk of your presentable work. While not your most iconic images, your visitor might still find their favorite or most meaningful photos here. Taste is subjective, after all.

Deep Cuts

It may not be ELO's most essential song, but "Eldorado" is still quite a good listen.

Bangkok, Thailand. A lizard lounging in the sun. It's not an essential travel image, it's not even a great wildlife image, but this lizard is friggin' awesome, and I got him with his tongue out. ;-)

Bangkok, Thailand. A lizard lounging in the sun. It's not an essential travel image, it's not even a great wildlife image, but this lizard is friggin' awesome, and I got him with his tongue out. ;-)

The deep cuts won't be essential, but should serve to round out the experience, to highlight memorable moments, to fill in the gaps in time or to show something genuine rather than posed, captured instead of composed, etc. Provide color, in the metaphorical sense.

The Complete Set

Not a tier unto itself, but just all of the above. The listener who gets through the entirety of ELO's collection will have heard and hopefully enjoyed "Rain Is Falling", "So Serious" and all the rest, and will hopefully come away from it all with a well-rounded and positive impression of Electric Light Orchestra as a band.

Outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. If I didn't tell you it was Thailand, you might guess lots of places, and so the image is not iconic, and maybe doesn't even leave much of an impression on its own. But as a part of the larger collection, it contributes to the overall tone of the presentation. If you move about in Thailand outside of Bangkok, you're likely to see a lot of scenery such as this; it's in the connective tissue of traveling the country, a part of the complete set.

Outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. If I didn't tell you it was Thailand, you might guess lots of places, and so the image is not iconic, and maybe doesn't even leave much of an impression on its own. But as a part of the larger collection, it contributes to the overall tone of the presentation. If you move about in Thailand outside of Bangkok, you're likely to see a lot of scenery such as this; it's in the connective tissue of traveling the country, a part of the complete set.

Some images standout, while others comprise the connective tissue of a given collection. Depending on the nature of the image set, such connections may be of greater or lesser importance to the overall presentation, but it's something to keep in mind as you go: not only the impact of each singular image, but how the collection shapes up and the impression it leaves as a whole, whether you're communicating a complete or truncated experience to the visitor who sticks with the presentation front-to-back.

Are you the sort of person who listens to the singles and the greatest hits compilations, or the sort who goes in for albums? I like albums, as I feel they provide a more rounded picture of where a band is and what they're producing at a particular time in their career.


Some parting thoughts on this pleasant Monday afternoon ...

Pagination is good, and for large collections essential for gallery and browser performance, but don't hide your best work on page two. Put The Basics and Next Steps on the first page, and leave page two for the Deep Cuts.

You can ensure the majority of your audience will get to see "The Basics" by putting them on your Home page or creating a first-in-list gallery of your best work. This is particularly important if your standard galleries present images in chronological (capture time) order, where some of your best work may very well be at the end of a collection.

Not everyone will come to your site looking for the same thing. Some people are only interested in your singles, while others will be keen on your albums. Cater to both types.

Most importantly, don't stress. If you don't enjoy it, it's not worth doing. Put "Mr. Blue Sky" on the stereo, turn up the volume and smile until it hurts. And if ELO isn't your bag (why?!), then maybe you'd rather jam to Sigur Rós.

Sound off in the comments if you have something to say, or if you just want to share your favorite ELO song. :-D


7 responses to “Essentials, Next Steps and Deep Cuts: looking to iTunes as inspiration for image gallery organization

  1. I am in the process of switching my photo gallery from the “Gallery” open source software to CE3. My gallery documents my travels, or events that I have attended. Many of the galleries are over 10 years old.

    As I am going through them, I have found myself weeding out a lot of whet I now consider extraneous, repetitive or non-essential photos that I obviously thought were important at the time. This is a good thing, and I should have done it much sooner.

    However, this Blog has brought up a good point. Since my photos are documenting a trip or an event, I usually arrange them in chronological order. The first dozen photos may not be the best ones,

    How do you feature your best shots in a format that is normally in chronological order?

    I would appreciate hearing other people’s suggestions.

    • One of the nice things about using LR/TTG, you can reorder images however you like.

      So you might pull your best images out of sequence to front load the gallery, then leave the others in chronological order, or you might just create a “best of” gallery that gathers your best work from all other galleries.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Excellent analogy, makes a good point. Gonna look at my stuff in a new light, rather than peppering my best images throughout each gallery, I’m putting them up front! Mind you, I’m not happy with most of them so I’ll probably over do it and be left with only 3 pictures on the site :o)

    • If you were completely happy with your oeuvre, you’d have no reason to continue honing your craft. There is no one more useless than a complacent creative.

      Keep at it, Jon!

  3. Excellent post Matt. Some interesting things to think about. Thanks for the inspiration to make some changes to my site. Now to just find time!

    Monte

  4. Hi Matt,

    Excellent post, great points and superb choice in music…

    … but after watching the ELO video, and yes I was dancing around like a mad thing, I have a very strange image in my head. If Spinal Tap and Ron Burgundy had a love child… it would be that video.

    Keep up the awesome work, TTG and photo wise.

    Andy


  5. Jaran Gaarder Heggen says:

    I wish for “virtual” galleries, … galleries create With selections from galleries already uploaded, that way you dont need to upload same image more than once …

    I.e. “my last 10 portraits” or 25 most viewed image of Year/month/week.
    Dynamically created based on metadata … it may need a database or a xml file … and if it was possible to let it select for every nonprivate (pwd protected) gallery …

    I know it can be made by java and php … but … not everyone know Programming … (like me .. lol) …

    Thanks for a good article

    Jaran

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