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What photographer hasn’t dreamed of publishing a book of his or her work—or, more exactly, having a book published, because both the technology and the expense of do-it-yourself publishing is daunting? Publishers, alas, aren’t usually so eager to bring your best photos to the public, understandably, because fine printing is devilishly expensive, so much so that publishers can’t charge their usual markup on a photo book, and most photo books just don’t make money.
Innocently, my husband Lito Tejada-Flores and I began publishing photo books years ago, not realizing just what a risky business it was. If we had understood what we were getting into, we never would have dared to bring out that first book. But against the odds, we survived, even flourished as small independent photo publishers, and my first book of landscape and nature photos, High Color: Spectacular Wildflowers of the Rockies, sold 24,000 copies in four printings. Even so, bringing out each new photo book is a scary proposition; you take a deep breath and either go into debt or watch your savings account flatten out overnight. But no longer....
An electronic photo book is simply a richly illustrated PDF file that you can download and view on your computer screen, turning the pages with a keystroke. The e-books we have are set to open in so-called "full-screen mode" on a black computer screen with no distracting menus, just the image of the photo book page. You use the arrow keys to navigate from one page to the next. And, of course, the better your computer monitor, the better an electronic book will look.
Producing an electronic photo book isn’t expensive. It takes time and thought and some modern computer skills, but there’s no real up-front expense, other than the inevitable investments in today’s cameras, scanners, computers and software, beginning, but not ending, with Photoshop. Yet those expenses are already an inevitable part of the photography game these days.
Creating Your Own e-book
The process of creating an electronic photo book is straightforward and, in its first stages, is the same as that for creating any photo book: defining the theme, editing and then sequencing the images by looking for correspondences and connections between one image and the next. Almost always, this involves tough decisions and ruthless editing. We're all in love with our own images, but they don’t all deserve a place in any given book.
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Then the fun begins: designing and laying out the book. We use a popular layout program, Adobe InDesign, but there are many other choices. This is where one needs to start thinking "computer" not "traditional book." Printed books are conceived and laid out in double-page spreads. What goes on the left-hand page? What goes on the right? How do they work together? An electronic photo book is laid out as a series of single pages, each filling the whole computer screen. It’s a different design problem; only memory leads you from one image to the next. One designer friend of ours, John Boak, borrowing a musical idea, remarked that photos on facing pages of a spread create a visual chord, whereas a single photo is the visual equivalent of a pure note—no distractions. But, of course, there are no rules, either. There’s no reason not to create pages full of multiple images, if the book seems to call for it.
After the book design is complete, the next step is to export it as a PDF file (this capacity is built into InDesign). Then, using Adobe Acrobat, we modify the document’s properties so that it will always open in full-screen mode. And voiliá, an electronic book is born. But wait a minute—someone is sure to ask at this point—if viewers can enjoy this book on their own computers, won’t they print out the images instead of buying your photos in a gallery? Won’t people just steal and misuse your photos? The short answer is: No, they won’t.
In Adobe Acrobat, you can fine-tune the security settings to protect your images. You can make sure that your PDF book file can’t be modified or an image extracted from it, for example. You can also choose whether or not to allow people to print your book. But it turns out that the resolution needed for these e-books to look gorgeous on screen is actually so low that they won’t print well except at tiny sizes. So for us, misuse of the images in an electronic photo book isn’t really an issue, although to be sure, we know some photographers who spend their lives worrying about their images being stolen. And that brings us to another important point: How the devil do you distribute an electronic photo book once you create it? The solution is simple. Use the Internet. That means either having your own Website and putting together a very basic, online selling and downloading system (PayPal makes it very easy) or selling your e-books on one of the burgeoning electronic marketing sites like Blish.com or even on eBay.
We have found that these e-books can be so attractively priced that there’s little incentive to cheat and pass them around from one person to another. Zonezero.com sells its electronic photo books for $4, and we’re selling ours, depending on the size, for either $2.50 or $5. Does that sound too cheap? Remember that these books cost nothing but your time to produce. The actual design and creation of such works is more, deeply satisfying photographic adventure. And like most photo publishing endeavors, the goal is to share one’s images, not to make a vast fortune. It’s a privilege to be able to make and share images you care about and that others may care about. It took only a couple of weeks at the computer to make my first two electronic photo books a reality. Blue Light: The Marble Caverns of Patagonia was the first and High Color: Spectacular Wildflowers of the Rockies, an electronic reprint (so to speak) of my first coffee-table book, was the second. Additionally, Lito and I created a small sample book of Mexican images called Mexico & Memory, available as a free download on my Website, to show visitors to the site just what electronic photo books are all about. And we’re already planning to "publish" several more ambitious electronic photo books this coming year.
It also seems to us that electronic photo books have a bonus dimension: They democratize photo publishing. To paraphrase the early Apple computer ads, this is "photo publishing for the rest of us." Any Photoshop-savvy photographers should be able to design, create and publish their own photo books electronically. This last year, more and more students in the digital workshops that Lito and I jointly teach have been asking us to walk them through the process of creating e-books. So much so, that making photographic e-books has become an important focus of the courses we’re teaching. For our latest Day of the Dead photo course in San Miguel de Allende, we’ve created a series of Photoshop templates and Actions that let photographers create their PDF books directly from Photoshop without needing to buy and master another complex layout program like Adobe InDesign. The response of every photographer we’ve shared this option with has been nothing short of enthusiastic. It’s a brave new world of photo publishing.
True, we still love turning the pages of beautifully printed photo books on the sofa after dinner. Traditional photo books offer great aesthetic, tactile, even sensual rewards, exactly the way any fine print on fine paper can. But our book universe just got bigger. We can imagine new generations of photographers and photo lovers growing up with electronic photo books just as we did with the books of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eliot Porter. Today, these e-books are a revolution; tomorrow—who knows?
To see more of Linde Waidhofer's photography, visit www.westerneye.com.