Sunrise Machu Picchu
Location: Machu Picchu, Peru
This month’s feature photo. (Editor’s note: Back when we launched our website in 1999, we used to post one picture a month, but now with the invention of social media, everyone can share their own images easily. We’ve saved a few of our favorites for posterity. Here’s one. Below, I’ll describe how we made digital images 20 years ago.)
Two llamas greet the sunrise in the Andes Mountains. Machu Picchu, also known as “The Lost City of the Incas,” is South America’s best-known archaeological site, and home to many llamas and alpacas. The photographer had just walked the Inca trails, and at seven in the morning, just as the sun rose up above the mountains, she captured this stunning image.
About the photographs
Why are the photos so different?
Long before social media existed, we gave photographers a place to showcase their work. As I mentioned, we launched our site in 1999, before blogging and social media existed and before digital cameras were good enough to be useful. So, all of the images from our Photo Pictorials and early stories look old-fashioned, and some look downright ugly. The reason is two-fold.
One) Back then most images were taken using film negatives, but they still had to be converted to digital files. First off, the color gamut of film cameras is very different than modern digital cameras. The colors were richer and full of contrast, but yet less detailed and bright. That’s one reason they look old-fashioned. It was also difficult to match the scanned image to the original negative. And then, to make matters worse, sometimes the image was printed in a book and scanned in again. So, by the time you see it, the image has changed at least six times. And, if you are lucky, you are looking at the image on a color-balanced monitor.
The image on top was scanned in from a book. If you look closely, you can still see the moire pattern of the halftone. It also explains why the picture is so dark and lacks luminance. You’ll notice other images on our site have banding from the scans. And, despite our best efforts, sometimes we couldn’t retouch the image to match the original because too much information had been lost.
Two) To make matters even worse than worse, the bandwidth of the internet back then was very slow. The recommended size of all content on a page was 64 kilobytes, making each image about 10 kb. Now images are hundreds of times bigger. But, back then, the tiny images looked blurry.
Recently, I have found a lot of the original high-resolution images on our backup. So, I was able to make the images bigger, but I still couldn’t make them better. The more colorful picture above is one I found on the internet. Since the photographer gave us permission to use the first, I didn’t think she would mind if we attempted to show that she is a much better photographer than we had originally showcased. If you visit her new site, you’ll be amazed at what she is now doing.
This tiny picture of Chac-Mool is an example of the size that we originally uploaded to our website in 2000. It’s 250 pixels wide and only 9 kilobytes in size, which means most of the detail has been lost and it looks a bit blurry. But if you click on the image, you can see a much bigger version.
I hope that explains things. And my humble apologies to the photographers. We did the best we could. Now, it is amazing to see how far technology has come, not to mention how much easier it has made my job.