4. Thumbnails

A text book uses a table-of-contents and maybe an index at the back to help the reader find the material they want within the book. This technique for summarising and cataloguing content is fine for text but is very poor for photographs.

'Thumbnails' are used instead. A thumbnail is a small-sized version of the photograph itself.

Typically thumbnails are sized from about 60 pixels upwards i.e. big enough to appreciate the nature of the photograph but small enough to fit many to a page.

The idea behind a thumbnail is to allow the reader to rapidly scan a collection of photographs. If the thumbnail collection is on a website, quite often it can be clicked to reveal a larger version of the original photograph.

Thumbnails, when combined with keywords, produce a very efficient indexing system for large photographic collections. For instance, an online stock library may have millions of photographs within its collection. To search, you first of all enter a keyword such as 'computer' and you are then presented with a page of related thumbnails to explore.


Example of thumbnails in use

Wedding photographer. It is now common for a professional wedding photographer to take dozens / hundreds of photographs of a wedding then upload a thumbnail catalogue online. Guests can then pick and choose the photos they want (and pay for!)



This is a hugely popular online service where people can upload and share photographs. The service makes extensive use of thumbnails to summarise and collate images.


Stock Library

There are dozens of commercial photographic stock libraries online. Each one has a comprehensive search system that uses a combination of keywords and thumbnails to select a photograph. You may even be able to select a set of thumbnails by the colour tone you want such as 'pink'.


Advantages of thumbnails Disadvantages of thumbnails
Excellent for presenting a large number of photos in a small space Need software to produce the thumbnails in the first place
Can be sized from tiny to medium to suit the circumstance Need to organise them effectively on disk or online
More effective than simply using text to describe a photograph Need extra coding to handle them compared to just displaying every image


challenge see if you can find out one extra fact on this topic that we haven't already told you

Click on this link: Thumbnails