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Free galleries and watermarks

I've just put together my first free gallery, presenting my favourite twenty pictures from the Caned in Jodhpurs photoset, starring Zille Defeu, Thomas Cameron and myself. The video of this scene and the full gallery of 96 high-resolution photos will both be available on the site at launch.

This gallery is to send out to the lovely people who have donated funds to me towards the building of this site. Each and every donation has helped pay the bills and meant I had a bit less pressure to find paying work that week, and a bit more time and energy to work on the site. I am supremely grateful to everyone who contributed, and want to express my appreciation. I think I might be giving out a couple of free subscriptions to those who were particularly generous, but I also wanted to do something for everyone who chipped in.

I've got a set of glossy postcards printed with some of my favourite stills from the site, and will be writing everyone personal thankyou notes. But I thought a URL to a free gallery would be a nice gesture, too.

Lots of decisions to be made in putting the gallery template together. First question: is this template going to survive the launch of the site? No - I'll need to redo it with the 'join' links and links back to the main site areas. Still, I envisage the eventual FHG template as being closer to this than to the graphics-rich homepage design; the emphasis should be on the images being presented, not dominated by a large header graphic.

Then there's the question of how much text to include on the free gallery page. My initial vision had a single, short introductory paragraph, no more than three or four lines, to the right of the logo. But the header looked better lined up horizontally with the logo, and I realised that as a viewer, I would much prefer to be given a sense of the full plot, rather than simply a lead-in. After all, the emphasis in all my content is on believable, engaging storylines with an interesting psychological edge, as well as beautiful aesthetics, fairtrade production and real, hard spankings. Having put so much thought into the narrative, it feels right to emphasise storyline in the promotional materials. After all, those who are put off by contextualising dialogue and want to watch plot-free spankings will not be drawn to my productions: Dreams of Spanking is all about the story.

I worked up the full 96 image photoset of Caned in Jodhpurs, so that's one down, umpteen to go. It threw up some interesting questions, such as watermark placement. My preferred placement for the watermark is in the top left corner - I think it looks more professional, more glossy-magazine than the bottom right placement often preferred by adult websites. However, in many images (particularly landscape ones) a top left watermark would cover up someone's head, a raised implement, or some other key element of the composition. In such cases a bottom right watermark makes more sense. But I'm not sure whether it's better to include a combination of top left/bottom right placements, so that most of the images still have the preferred top left placement, or whether I should aim for a universal bottom right placement. The bottom right rarely covers up key content, but in many cases (as in this set) the logo would end up over a busy patterned carpet background, and much harder to read than the subtle white-on-cream where it's placed against the ceiling.

I suspect that finding a placement which works on all images without exception is impossible, and so permitting myself variation within photosets from the start keeps things very simple, as I can keep each individual image as strong as possible by customising the placement to the composition. Still, it's possible that some viewers will find the variation more disruptive. Perhaps this question should be the subject of one of my first polls...

Image quality vs loading speed

Progress made:

  • Second photogallery edited and ready to go ("Pandora dreams of spanking", my introductory photoset)
  • Cut the two hard b/g photosets I shot with D, and sent my selections to the photographer Tricia so she can sort me out with high res copies (after which my editing begins!)
  • Free gallery template upgraded with the shadowbox gallery interface.

The latter is pretty shiny. It also apparently supports streaming .wmv and quicktime video, although I haven't tested this yet.

The only problem with it is that each image, in my browser, is pretty slow to load, and the script generates a "loading" graphic each time which makes the whole thing feel unwieldy to browse. I wondered if the shadowbox code was slowing  page load down, so for comparison I swapped the gallery script to Lightbox2 instead, but the loading speeds were pretty comparable. At around 300kb a piece my photos are quite chunky. That's 800x1200px jpgs, 72dpi, jpeg compression set to around 8/10, so relatively high quality. I think that's a good download size, but I'm wondering if I could have smaller or more compressed versions for the web gallery.

When viewing photosets online, do you prefer to download a zip and view them using your desktop file browser? Or would you rather view the whole gallery in a browser, perhaps only downloading the images that catch your eye?

If the latter, there's clearly a trade to be made between image size/quality and page loading speeds, and I'm not sure where most viewers would draw the line.

File size and movie formats

After spending the weekend working on other overdue projects, I managed to sit down last night and do some editing.

I started working on the behind the scenes documentary from my first independent shoot, where I handled lights, camera, production, direction and performance without any tech crew and only Tom (who has no more experience than me) on hand to help. Unfortunately, once the project file reached a certain size/length, I kept running into a persistent problem I'm having with my editing software, and needed to put it down and work on something simpler.

I ended up editing of the clip Tom and I filmed that day, a consensual office spanking scenario inspired by some of our favourite novels. I left it rendering overnight and went to sleep in Tom's room so I wouldn't be disturbed by the loud whirring of my poor struggling PC's fan.

The render completed successfully overnight, leaving me with a full res (1920x1080 - the resolution my camera shoots at) .wmv copy. It felt good to get something finished. That's not much use for my site, though, so today I set about re-exporting the clip for the web.

There are several overlapping considerations when selecting file formats for downloadable content:

  • Operating system (Windows / Linux / Mac OS)
  • Internet connection (ADSL / mobile broadband / wifi / 3G / dial-up)
  • Usage pattern (streaming / download)

Slower internet connections and streaming users require smaller, compressed files. Users with faster broadband who are downloading prefer larger, higher-res files - but there are still upper limits on file size. As a user in the latter category, I would say that 100-300MB is a good download size for a web clip, with bigger file sizes forgiveable in longer clips. For a half hour clip I'd be happy with 500MB - for a full length feature film I'd want it to be somewhere between that and 900MB. Personally, I wouldn't want to download any file that came in over 1GB (I recently bought a feature film which was around 2GB, and it took four attempts over two weeks to successfully complete the download).

For streaming, file sizes need to be considerably lower; and viewing in a web browser rather than your desktop, it makes sense for films to be lower res too. The smaller version will double for streaming and for users with slower internet connections. I would say that in most cases these files should be under 100MB, but that up to 200MB is permissible for long films. (Would you agree?)

So I need a high-res and a low-res version of each file format. What formats are essential if I want people to avoid having to spend ages installing codecs before they can view my content?

  • .wmv - optimised for Windows users with relatively low file size. Some Windows-using site owners think this is all you need, but they're not straightforward to play on Linux or Macs.
  • .mov - optimised for Mac OS but playable on all systems with the right software installed.
  • .avi - good compression/quality balance. Most people can play .avi files (depending on the codec¹), and they're very easy to burn onto DVD. This may or may not be an advantage; it's a file format favoured by filesharers.
  • .mp4/.m4a - playable on all operating systems, but relatively high file sizes.

Other factors: my editing software exports directly to .wmv and .mov, but not to .avi or .mp4 - I would need to convert the file after rendering. I think there's greater support for streaming .wmv and .mov, but I'm not sure.

So to cater to the highest number of users with the smallest number of files, I could offer one avi (low res) and one mp4 (high res); one large and one small .mov, one large and one small .wmv; or some other combination. I'd be very interested in hearing which file formats you, as a user, prefer.

In the meantime, I'm experimenting with compression, format and file size. Here are my results so far for my 12 minute clip (25fps, 48khz):

  • 1920x1080 .wmv: 233MB. Bit blurry, still in intro fairly pixellated, motion not always smooth.
  • 960x540 .wmv: 211MB. Same visual issues as above, but not noticeably lower file size.
  • 960x540 .mov: 967MB. Really nice video quality - smooth, sharp, no pixellation - but very high file size.
  • 640x360 .mov: 734MB. Again, great quality but file size too big for that visual resolution.

Interestingly, when I accidentally exported 640x360 .mov without the audio, the file size came out at 173MB, so it seems that most of the bulk is in the audio track. I'm currently exporting the same resolution with the audio bitrate dropped from 64 to 32kbps, to see how big it is and how it sounds.

Lots of experimentation still to do before I hit on the right compression guidelines. Each export/conversion takes between 1-2 hours, so it's a slow process. But it's all useful data, and I'll get there in the end.

1. I think all of this depends on the codec actually. I'm still operating somewhat in the dark when it comes to codecs.


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