Assuming you're not happy with using your web browser or whatever the default image viewer is on your computer (Quicktime, Windows Media Player, etc.) try one of these: JPEGView or GraphicConverter (for Macs), GDS 3.1 (for DOS), or LView Pro orACDSee (for Windows). Download an image. Adjust your monitor contrast so that the white step in the grey scale in the image looks white. Next, adjust the monitor brightness so that you can just barely distinguish between the three darkest steps. The middle step should look medium-dark grey. That's it!
There's more to properly viewing my images than just firing up your JPEG converter and opening up the files. It's not my fault-- it's the fault of your software, your computer monitor, and mine.
These screen images are 768 x 1024 x 24 bit images, but they can look good on most color video with the right software. If you're running 16 or 24 bit color, any viewer will look great. Skip to the next section.
If you're limited to 8-bit color, you need to pick your viewer wisely. With the right JPEG viewer, you can be running as little as 600 x 800 x 256 colors and you'll get very good (albeit not perfect) fidelity.
In the Mac universe, JPEGView is not only the most common viewer, but does a very good job of dithering JPEG's down to 256 colors.
In the PC universe, there are only a few 8-bit viewers I can recommend. If you're viewing under plain DOS or very early flavors of Windows, GDS 3.1 does the best job of dithering I've seen, when one selects the "Best 24 Bit Viewing" option. It will automatically take advantage of the maximum resolution your video can provide. (I've seen some viewers that always drop into 640 x 480 mode, even if the video board supports more pixels.) For Windows only, LView Pro is almost as good. Most other viewers I've tested produce objectionable and obvious patterns when they dither, so that even a 768 x 1024 pixel display looks bad.
Under OS2, PM View does a fine job.
With any of these recommended viewers, you'll see only a slight difference in quality between 768 x 1024 8-bit and 24-bit displays. If you have more color depth, all these viewers will use it. These are all shareware programs
Commercial packages don't necessarily do better. PhotoShop does a really lousy job of dithering JPEG's for a 256-color display.
A good viewer gets you halfway there. If you've ever walked into a consumer electronics store and looked at the wall of TV's, all showing the same program, and each TV picture looking different from the one next to it, you understand the problem. No two brands of computer monitors look alike. Also, different operating systems have different standards for brightness, contrast and gamma. Not that very many monitors come close to conforming to said standards. Your monitor probably doesn't display images the way mine does.
That's why I added those grey scales in the borders of each image. Use them to adjust your monitor. First they should look grey (surprise)! The top (or rightmost) step should look black and the bottom (left) step should look white. All the other steps should look somewhere in between. Adjust your brightness so that you can just barely distinguish the three darkest steps (all the steps are the same width) in the grey scale. You shouldn't see a big difference between them. Adjust your contrast control so the white step looks white and you can clearly see the difference between that step and the one next to it.
If you can do that, and the middle step in the grey scale looks to be about middle grey, that's it! All my screen images were made with the same monitor settings, so you won't have to tweak your monitor every time you open up another image.
If you can't make the grey scale come out right, you're going to have to manipulate the images. All the viewing programs I've mentioned come with simple tools that let you adjust the brightness, contrast and curve shape for an image. You'll need to use those tools to adjust each image instead of adjusting your monitor, but otherwise the guidelines are the same. Use the same adjustment settings for all the images.
If you want to fine-tune the images you downloaded so that you're seeing *exactly* what I'm seeing, you need to do some serious image manipulation. Start by downloading the image file named "MacBeth Chart".
This is a carefully-prepared calibration photograph of a Kodak grey scale, Kodak color control patches, and a Macbeth ColorChecker(tm) Chart (an industry-wide standard reference chart). You can buy these items in better photo stores.
I've adjusted all the patches and squares of color so they are extremely close matches to the originals. Import this image into your image-processing program of choice and adjust it, using whatever global tools you need to, so that the charts and scales on your screen looks as much like the real things as possible. Write down the manipulations you made. If you apply precisely those same adjustments to the other images you download, you'll get as close as possible to what I see on my screen and to what the original dye transfer prints actually look like.
The MacBeth chart will probably set you back about $40, and you'll be spending some valuable time tweaking images instead of surfing the Web. But I'm guessing that many of you who care enough about fine image quality to be contemplating buying multi-hundred dollar works of art will feel these are valuable tools and time well-spent. Drop me some E-mail and let me know if I've guessed right or wrong, OK?