The More Things Change…

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
   -L.P. Hartley

10 May is an anniversary here. The lumen-perfectus.com domain name was registered on that date in 2001. Back then Google™ Inc. was five years old and wouldn't be a publicly traded company for another three years. Windows® ME and Windows 2000 were Microsoft's® latest operating systems; their successor, Windows XP, would not appear for another six months. The flagship SLR from Canon® was the EOS-1v (film); their best digital SLR was the EOS-D30, with a 3.25 megapixel sensor. At the top of the digital line from Nikon® were the D1H, at 2.7 megapixels, and the D1X, at 5.3 megapixels. I'd shoot film for six more years before buying my first DSLR. I was not quite three years away from moving from Ohio to Montana. I had a lot more hair then, too.

I wasn't photographing professionally in 2001. I'd been a very active photo hobbyist in the 1970s and early 1980s, until I began traveling extensively for my engineering job and spare time for hobbies diminished. A vacation visit to Montana in the 1990s rekindled my interest in making pictures, which I did with camera gear I'd purchased in the 1970s. An opportunity to visit Alaska in 1998 led to the purchase of a modern film SLR and new lenses. A trip to Norway's Svalbard archipelago in 2000 included a shipboard photo workshop. By the end of that trip I knew the pursuit of landscape and wildlife photography would take over my life, but that's a story for another time.

What to do with the thousands of 35mm slides from three decades of off-and-on shooting? Photography is a tool for communication. Every picture tells a story, whether by design or serendipity. The Internet, too, is a communication medium, among many other things. In 2001 I worked for a software company. I was surrounded by computers, electronics designers, and software developers; one of my coworkers was and is a first-rate outdoor photographer. The natural combination and extension of these factors made creating a photo Web site in my spare time an obvious choice.

Baby Steps

Section of the full image at actual pixels (100%)

A section of my first HTML page. Today this seems primitive and eyeball-jaring, but it was cool and useful in 1996.

In 1996 I had a Macintosh; it's compliment of memory, hard drive space, and accessories would be laughable and unusable today, but at the time the system seemed quite capable. I read and participated in a number of on-line forums, some on the Web, others of the text-only BBS type. The Netscape 2.0 browser (released in March, 1996) was adequate, but the Web itself was a simpler place then, without many of the technologies that today make it such a rich multi-media environment (won't that seem a funny statement in 15 years?). Shown here is a section of a navigation page I made for my own use, to provide quick access to sites I visited frequently. I uploaded the page to the small Web space provided by my dial-up Internet service provider (ISP), and used it as my default home page. It's a little embarrassing to see this, with its weird typeface and colors, but it was my first foray into HTML coding. Creating it and tinkering with the code was instructional.

Home page of my first photography Web site, circa 2000

The home page from my first photo Web site. Click the image to see larger versions of several of the site's pages.

I got a film scanner in 1999 and started digitizing slides on a computer with the Windows 98 operating system. I designed several different types of pages; when I got a few pages of pictures together I posted my first real Web site to the space hosted by my ISP. The site used a common design, with pages of small thumbnail pictures, each a clickable link to a larger version with descriptive text. As the site evolved and I learned more about the Web and associated technologies, I added JavaScript™-powered navigation menus. I added photos to the site periodically through the summer of 2001. The site grew in both content and complexity; it became clear I needed more server space than my ISP provided. I also wanted a better site design, something a bit more professional looking, whatever that means.

What's In A Name?

In May, 2001, I registered the lumen-perfectus.com domain name. Even ten years ago it was a challenge to find a subject-relevant domain name that hadn't already been registered (which probably explains why you see so many bizarre domain names today). Perhaps I simply wasn't sufficiently creative. As stated today on the site's about this site page, “When all the good names are taken, pervert a dead language and try again.” It's a difficult domain name. I can't read it to anyone without spelling it out, and usually have to do so at least twice. In the site's visitors logs I see it spelled in amazing ways; I've included many of those spellings in the site's metadata so the search sites can find it. But the name is appropriate for my attempts to capture perfect light.

Home page from the original lumen-perfectus.com Web site.

The first lumen-perfectus.com Web site, 2001—2008. Click the image to see larger versions of several of the site's pages (static images).

At the same time I began the design work for a new site. I'd gained enough experience from building my small locally-hosted site, and learned enough from browsing the sites of many other photographers, to know the sort of content I'd have on a new site. It would have the usual opening (home) page, thumbnail pages, and pages for the larger images. I also wanted pages for articles, pages for wallpaper/desktop image downloads, and pages to track the site's updates and changes. Most importantly, I wanted a simple, uncluttered design that showcased the pictures.

During the spring and summer of 2001 I built the basic site. On 30 August it went live with about sixty photographs. The site was an excellent example of tag soup and the use of nested tables to position things. I can blame Microsoft Office FrontPage® for some of this; the software was justifiably reviled for the messy and bloated HTML code it created. But the fault was primarily mine; I didn't know what I was doing. I also didn't know the books I'd bought only fostered poor coding style and technique. I thought this was how it was done! As the site grew and my plans for it evolved, it became clear I'd created a maintenance headache. But it worked, and I liked the look. I continued to maintain and expand the site with this design for six years. By then the site had grown to something over 400 pages (I stopped counting at 200).

In late 2003 my wife and I moved from Ohio to Montana. A month after our move a little box arrived in the mail. Inside was a Canon Powershot® S50 “point-and-shoot” digital camera, with a note from my parents, brief and to the point: “Take pictures. Send them.” We did. A couple of years later, on 29 November, 2005, I added the first Picture of the Day to the site. This was (and still is) a photo made with the S50 from our home. Since then, nearly 2,000 PotD pictures have been posted, all made with that durable little Canon.

Revision Three

As mentioned, the site was a mess under the hood. It was increasingly difficult to maintain and was beginning to look a little dated. In early 2007 I began work on a new site design. My work life had become a little complicated, limiting the time I had for the project. With frequent starts and stops I worked on layout/appearance and learned newer technologies I'd incorporate into the site. Ease of maintenance was a primary goal. A close second was a simple, clean style. You'll recall this was a goal for the previous design, too, but as it aged it became a little cluttered. The new site would be entirely hand-coded using a programming editor, be CSS (cascading style sheets) based, would use no tables, and would be standards-compliant. I didn't know much about those things, so research, reading, and experimentation were required. By mid-2007 I'd worked out the basic design and had a few working pages.

The design would use the excellent Slimbox JavaScript to display the large photos. When a thumbnail image was clicked, the larger photo would appear in an overlay on the existing page. I could eliminate all of the individual pages the earlier site used to show the larger pictures. This reduced the total page count by hundreds. Site maintenance would be much easier! The site would also use a script to automatically cycle through a folder of page-top “banner” pictures so I'd never again have to change them manually.

I posted the first new pages on 10 August, 2008 (no screen-shots here, as it's the current design you can browse at will). Most of the work of converting the site to the new design was completed by December. This is also when functionality was added to allow purchasing prints directly through the site. As usual with a major make-overs, minor fixes and tinkering continued for a few months. I decided not to update the downloads (desktop images) section of the site. These images don't really suit modern monitor sizes and aspect ratios; while the pages remain, they no longer receive updates or additions. On 26 June, 2010, I added the first php page, which is now the standard for our site. This is transparent to site visitors (except those pages have a .php extension, rather than .htm). This change further simplified site maintenance.

Fifteen years, three different sites. The one constant has been the photographs and the stories they tell. I can't guess what the Web and its technologies will be fifteen years from now. I can't know whether there will be a lumen-perfectus.com fifteen years from now. But I know I'll be making pictures as long as I'm able, and sharing them via whatever media seem appropriate.

May, 2011

All products and brand names mentioned are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners. I've done my best to get all the ® amd ™ symbols in the right places, but I can't guarantee the correctness or completeness of this effort.