Book ‘Em, Dano!

Books offer the ultimate showcase for your photography—here's how to get your own
Book ‘Em, Dano!

There's no stronger urge among serious travel and nature photo enthusiasts than to share our work. We go to great lengths to perfect our craft. We travel to the four corners of the earth and wait for the absolute best conditions to capture our imagery, so it's only natural that we'd want people to see and share in the fruits of our labors.

For too long, the only way most shooters could share their work with others was by showing prints or projecting slides. For the established pro with a body of work, finding a publisher to produce a beautiful coffee-table book was sometimes another option. Of all the publishing ventures in which I've had the opportunity to be involved in my 30-plus years in the business, photo books are the most satisfying, by far. You get a chance to display your work in depth, beautifully printed and laid out, and your images have more room to "breathe" than by simply displaying a single print at a time. A book also has more gravitas and staying power than a slideshow.

However, speaking from the experience of having eight such books published, I can say, without getting too preachy, that it's "easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle" than it is for a photographer to convince a publisher to do a photo book. It's only slightly less difficult to get a major essay published in a magazine.

The situation is daunting, even for a pro. Just last year, while some colleagues and I were discussing our "lottery winning" fantasies, we found that we weren't too interested in island villas and private yachts, but in getting our work properly seen and displayed.

My fantasy was to go back through all the magazine stories I'd illustrated over the years and reissue them in coffee-table book form, this time with my picture choices (instead of the editor's) and my layouts (instead of the art director's). Well, as they say, "be careful what you wish for," because what was once a pipe dream is now an affordable reality.

One of the offshoots of the industry's shift to digital is the availability of high-quality, print-on-demand, relatively inexpensive coffee-table photo books. The trend started with Apple and its iPhoto books—books that you create using your digital images and the layout templates in the program. The final result is then uploaded to Apple, and voile, a beautifully printed book arrives at your door in a week or so. iPhoto remains one of the easiest and most versatile of the book-creation sites, but it's Mac only. Several other companies offer similar services for PCs, and some offer services for both platforms (see sidebar).

Be aware that these book providers offer different workflows and printing qualities. You should experiment and do some tests to see which is best for your needs.

Some providers make you upload your pictures to their site and then do the layout; others allow you to lay out a book from pictures on your hard drive and then upload only the finished pages (usually in PDF form). I prefer the latter because it can take ages to upload 20 or more good-sized JPEGs, even with a high-speed connection.

On-demand printers differ slightly in the types and sizes of books they offer, but a 20-page hardcover book usually falls in the $29 to $39 range, with extra pages costing $1 or $2 each. Some printers put a 100-page limit on books, but others can go up to 300 pages. So you can see that while it's relatively inexpensive to print one or two books for gifts and keepsakes, you won't be publishing thousands for bookstore consumption (unless you actually won a lottery and you're in desperate need of a big tax write-off).

If you'd like other people to be able to order your book, choose a supplier that offers that option. Some print sites will allow anyone to order the book (if you say so) or only an approved list of potential buyers (you provide the names and contact info). There's no profit margin for you if others order the book, but on the other hand, there's no handling and resending hassles either.

No matter which supplier you choose, there are a few things you can do to make sure your first book is a success. For a book to hold together thematically, you must make sure your pictures tell a story. There's no law that says you can't do a book entirely of flower close-ups or horizontal landscapes, but pacing, variety of subject matter, different perspectives and an editorial thread can help make your book a real page-turner.

That means, when you cover a situation, you have to "shoot for story." You should create a visual narrative of your trip or the destination in pictures and include wide overalls, medium views and close-ups of storytelling details in your shoot. Rather than only going for the one killer shot, work the situation from all angles with lots of variety in lens choice and point of view (and hopefully, more than one killer shot).

While the art of the narrative photo essay is all but lost in contemporary travel magazines and books, there are still a few places you can go to get an idea of what makes a strong picture story and how to lay it out. National Geographic still produces in-depth photo essays (as opposed to just a group of related pictures), as do the German magazines Geo and Merian (available at well-stocked magazine racks in some metropolitan areas).

For great examples of coffee-table book layouts, look for the books featuring some of the photographers whose work often graces the pages of this magazine, such as Frans Lanting and Art Wolfe. There's often a cinematic quality to their books, and they make good use of pacing with sweeping establishing shots, medium scenes and extreme close-ups expertly placed throughout the layout.

As a rule, when laying out your book, remember the less-is-more rule, and resist the temptation to sprinkle page after page with multiple picture spreads. Some layout templates encourage the shotgun approach, but they're usually designated as "scrapbook" or "yearbook" templates and will make your efforts look less professional.

Fewer pictures displayed larger, such as what you see in OP, will always have more impact than a lot of small pictures on a page. If you find yourself tempted to put dozens of pictures on a two-page spread, you may be wise to pick one of the templates that won't let you!

As far as I've been able to determine, only Apple's Aperture will allow the printing of one picture across two pages (called a "double truck" in the business). Double trucks have great impact, and I miss them in these book layouts (possibly enough to spring for an entire software program just so I can do books with two-page spreads).

There are some limitations to these books, and you should be aware of them. First and foremost, there's no "proofing" process. You can "soft-proof" the templates on your own printer, but be aware that there can be some deviation and difference in the color reproduction. I work in a color-managed environment and so do most of the printers, but the holy grail of absolute color fidelity from one system to another just isn't a reality today.

Also, the printing can be inconsistent. I sent one book off, and when it came back, I was so pleased with the results that I ordered a second one, but the printing on that one wasn't as crisp and colorful as the first one. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't the same as the first book. You'll also need to do a couple of books with a supplier to get an idea of how much to sharpen and saturate the pictures for best reproduction. It varies from company to company.

But these are minor annoyances compared to the satisfaction of holding a collection of your best photos beautifully bound between hard covers. Just be careful—creating these little masterpieces doesn't require a lottery win, but it can be habit forming.

On-Demand Photo Book Resources—Both iPhoto and Aperture offer custom book-printing options, with Aperture offering the most flexibility. Only the final pages in PDF form are uploaded. Mac only.—One of the only services with a money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied. Dual-platform.—Offers dual-platform support.—Offersdual-platform support.—Windows only.—Windows only.
—Will print iBook layouts with a Mac plug-in, but the oversized 15x11.5-inch template is Windows only.

For a schedule of Bob Krist's workshops and seminars, check his website,, under the "Teach and Talk" heading.

1 Comment

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    a really good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a whole lot and
    don’t manage to get anything done.

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