Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Creating a coffee table Masterpiece: Part 01

To produce a great-looking digital photo book, the hardest thing is in deciding, first-off, how it's going to look. What its structure is, its content and its style.
Once these factors are decided upon you can really get into the page-by-page construction and design.
With a good PLAN laid out firstly, you'll find the somewhat laborious slog through your thousands of images that much easier to achieve because you know where you are going! Here are some starter suggestions:

1: Set the dimensions of the book: 10X8 inches, landscape/portrait (see, A4 landscape, A3 landscape (see, 12X12 inches square (see, 11X8.5 inches (

2: Work out your page count - actually this isn't that vital but if you want to make an 80-page book for example, you'll need 200+ images, so keep this in mind when editing the shots. One pic of a giraffe, one of a baboon and one of a gnu might not be enough! Look at either Blurb or ClickOnPrint to see their own page/cost calculators - a very helpful feature for when deciding how many pages to go for. I have produced books from 80 pages and up. Note that 80 pages is actually 80 SIDES or 40 pieces of paper. Pages one and two are on the same piece of paper. A 120 page book would would actually contain 60 bits of paper - give or take - there's usually a fly sheet front and back (also called end papers) and maybe a page with Blurb's logo on it.  How many 'extras' depends on the company and if your has a dust jacket or if the cover is an image wrap (where the cover shot is sealed into the hard back binding).

80 pages works well for the 10x8 inch text book format you see below (I'm using Blurb's 3D widget to display this).

Basic HDR by Robin Nichols | BOOK INFO

I think a coffee table style book on our tour to East Africa should have 100+ pages. One recent student of mine did a book with 400+ pages which was a bit excessive. This one, Capturing the Visual Beauty of Japan is 120 pages, has just the right number of pages for the format (11X8 inches). Note all Blurb books come with the option of using Premium paper stock  for a small additional charge. It's not much (use Blurb's online calculator to check exactly how much this is. ClickOnPrint paper comes in one quality only: luxuriant).

Capturing the Visual Beauty of Japan by Words and photos by Robin Nichols | BOOK INFO

3: Decide on the book subject/content. For example, decide whether you want to create a day-by-day account of the trip or whether you might divide the book into geographical sections (i.e. Nairobi, Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, etc) or even design it based on the picture subjects; i.e. have a section on elephants, lions, baboons, birds, etc.

4: Choose a visual style for the book. In my mind you can either go for the simpler photos on a page layout or the more complex photos on a textured background type of production (the latter choice requires a much higher degree of Photoshop knowledge and considerably more time).
5: While editing, label ALL your pictures clearly so, once imported into the book making software you can recognise your work. From experience, you can't always rely on the metadata showing you when the pics were taken (if for example, you wanted to list the images chronologically). Labelling them 'amboselielephant 001', 'amboselielephant 002', etc, is one way to go - but don't make the names too long!
6: Note also that bookmaking software only works with JPEGs so, although I use textured backgrounds in some of my books, I save have to save each page as a master '.psd' file, then flatten each and re-save them as a JPEG (laberlled 'page001', 'page 002', etc. That way, if I decide on a change, I can go back to the PSD file and make an alteration quickly, resave as a JPEG and upload the new file to replace the old JPEG in the book software.

7: Edit your pics to perfection, save them all in one folder (called My Coffee Table Book, or whatever) to make it easier to find them, to edit them and to update once you get going.
8: Log into and have a look at the bookstore - choose the Travel subsection and search for 'Africa'. I found more than 200, 180 of which were very basic (read 'boring') while there are also some really good images. Check out the cover images - most are very poor choices (weak images). We all took better shots than most of ones seen here. 
But use the time to see what other people are doing with covers, layout, text, captions, Photoshop, etc, etc...

Have fun, hakuna matata!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Robin's Zanzibari Prawn Recipe

Something to do while considering how to present your East African digital photo book. OK, OK, sure, you can get this recipe off the Internet - but I thought I'd add my own take on this timeless East African recipe anyway.
Here's what you'll need for the prawn dish:
- Olive oil for frying.
- A single onion, chopped small.
- A lot of garlic - I used one whole garlic - that's one of those clove-less types, but three or four regular cloves would suffice. Mash it through a press.
- Fresh ginger, again, finely chopped, preferably pushed through a garlic press.
- Juice of several limes (two to three depending their size and on how many prawns are used).
- A large bunch of fresh coriander, again, chopped very finely.
- Small dollop of Patak's curry paste (Madras or Vindaloo).
- Teaspoon of turmeric.
- Half a cup of (light) coconut cream.
- Two or three tomatoes, again, finely chopped.
- Two hot red chillies, more if you like it hot.
- Green prawns. Enough for each person (say five prawns pp?), depending on their size and cost. (Ironically the prawns for this dish cost more than three orders of Swahili prawns in Zanzibar...).
The Coconut Rice Bit
- One cup of rice + one cup of water + half a cup of coconut cream (light). I use a rice cooker so you just add the ingredients and let it run.
- More coriander - you can add a bunch of very finely chopped leaf into the mix half way through the absorption process to add extra flavour...
The Recipe Bit
- Fry the onion, garlic and ginger till soft.
Add the tamarind, coconut cream, turmeric, curry paste, tomatoes and any other bits I might have missed. Simmer for several minutes.
- Add the prawns and stir in the lime juice and coriander. Simmer till the prawns are cooked.
Add water if the sauce gets too thick.
Add more chili to taste. 

Friday, 16 April 2010

Rain in Zanzibar

The 'long rains' finally caught up with us on our last day in Zanzibar. The skies opened in a torrent lasting more than a couple of hours, resulting in seven very wet photographers, one totally stuffed passport and two brand new Obama umbrellas (a bargain at $6 each). What was interesting was the discovery that there exist no real drains in Stone town so the water simply flows down the streets to get away - locals were literally wading upstream with the water coming half-way up their legs. It created lovely, soft light but the volume of water made it all but impossible to shoot. Apparently it gets a lot worse...

Those Amazing Zanzibar Doors

It's one feature of Zanzibar that everyone likes and photographs: its Arabic and Indian style doors. Flat-topped for Omani and Arabic styles, while anything with a rounded top indicates that the original owner was of Indian origin. Many of the doors, and the houses for that matter, look as though they could do with a bit of TLC. I heard that money was earmarked for the renovation of Zanzibar because of it's World Heritage status, but that corruption is so bad little actually gets turned into bricks and mortar, or even paint. We did see several door manufacturers up around the spice market area so obviously there's still a market for wooden doors; probably for the new boutique hotels in evidence around town. The rest of the population still live behind totally unrenovated timber. Which makes them all the more interesting to photograph.

Zanzibar and OUT

It was a sad day today as I caught the plane out of Zanzibar and headed for home. Well almost.
Our group of seven became a bunch of five once Toby and Janice G left us at Dar-es-Salaam airport. They headed to the Holiday Inn in the city for an overnight, then a flight to Jo'burg, and home sometime the next day. Rest of us stood for nearly 1.5 hours while the Tanzainian airport authorities tried to get their computer system running. Eventually it groaned into gear and off we went to Dubai - where I sit with Saima now. We are headed for Damascus in five hours. One very cool thing the (Singapore) Youngs introduced us to here is if you are flying Emirates through Dubai and have to wait more than 4 hours for a connecting flight you can get into a special Emirates lounge (yes, a lounge for economy! It's upstairs above the main duty-free shopping area in Terminal 3). It serves meals/drinks 24 hours or snacks inbetween - you can chill in the soft seats, use the freeee and faaaast Internet or just veg out well away from the hectic, frenzied pedestrian traffic surging through the airport.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Zanzibar: Spice Island Tour Revisited

Well we did it again. The Zanzibar spice island tour. Getting there involved sitting in a small Hyundi microwave four-wheeled oven just long enough to cook the people inside it nicely.
At about the time we could feel the weak air conditioning seeping to the back of the oven it was time to get out and walk through the humid bush for two hours, chewing, sniffing and sampling variuous bits of foliage, twigs, nuts and berries. Basically doing everything you shouldn't in a strange country: eat the native flora!
The point of the trip is to get visitors more familiar with why Zanzibar is so famous (that's for spices, NOT for Freddie Mercury). A great afternoon of tomfoolery, climbing up palm tress (none of the group I may add) and snacking on all sorts of weird and wonderful herbs and spices, including: nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, green pepper, calamansi fruit, cloves, cardomon, chili, mandarins, star fruit and tumeric. Great fun. At the end of the proceedings we all get to wear an cool banana leaf hat just so we could look especially silly...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Fly 540 to Zanzibar

The converstation goes something like this: 
'What time is the flight?'
'OK, what airline?'
'Fly 540'.
'I thought you said it was at 13:35?'
'It is'.
'So what's the airline?'
'Fly 540'

And so on. This was one of the very few flights that I've been on where I knew everyone on the plane except the hostie. We left Arusha as soon as the door was slammed shut, 35 minnutes early, so had to wait 35 mins in Zanzibar - but that's all part of the African flying experience!

Kenya: Those Amboseli Skies

Now that I have visited Amboseli National Park on the border of Kenya and Tanzania twice, I'm definitely an 'expert'. And I'm sure that even first-time visitors might agree with me when I say the park appears to be suffering from lost vegetation and animals. An extended drought had only just broken after more than two years so, although most of the park was quite green when we visited, it still seemed sparse. A lot of the trees around the Serena and Ol Tukai lodges were dying or dead and although there seemed to be plenty of surface water in the paddocks, there were not that many birds or water-loving animals in evidence. I'm sure a real expert might have a better idea why this is happening but the reason for my post is more to highlight what could be done photographically when there's no game to shoot. Look at the landscape or, better still, the clouds. Late afternoon light was fantastic on the days we were there and by 5pm the clouds had built up around Kilimanjaro dramatically. We stopped the van in several spots to shoot the landscapes, or rather a thin sliver of land dominated by towering cloud formations. Sunlight seeping under these banks of cumulus provided a delightful illumination perfect for straight shots (into the light) and some HDR work for the more dramatic illumination. The last shot is a view of the lookout in Amboseli park set against the more dramatic backdrop of Mawenzi, the lower of Kilimanjaro's two peaks.

Tanzania: Life on Mars?

One interesting place we visited two days ago was depicted on the map as Hot Springs - some 36km from the entrance to Lake Manyara National Park's main entrance. It took several hours to get there along the dirt track - mostly becasue there's a heck of a lot of great wildlife to see enroute; from tiny crimson Red Bishop finches (Lucie help! Not sure if this is really a finch), to herds of tall, dark Maasai giraffe. Somehow the water from the spring forces itself out of the escarpment face at lake level and oozes down onto the shores of Lake Manyara - where the Cape Buffalo and hippos enjoy a Radox bath. From the track above it's nothing more than a red stain on the green shoreline, but get closer and you get to see all manner of weird shapes, colours and smells as this mineral-rich water flushes out of the rocks into the lake. It's way too hot to touch and, according to the notice posted by the road, contains 'every mineral from radium to sulphur'. I was disappointed to discover afterwards that I didn't glow in the dark. It provided a massive challenge for the camera's White Balance setting so I simply set it to RAW and let the software work out the best combination of red and yellow.
Here are some examples (that's Melanie Mannix from Dubai with the EF100-400mm. Bottom two frames: Janice Gursanscky).

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Landscape Night at Arusha Coffee Lodge

Although we have spent the last ten days photographing animals in Tanzania, I have also tried to encourage the class/group to keep landscapes in mind. After all some of the landscapes here are staggeringly-beautiful and require photographing. Our biggest problem is not being able to get out of the 4WD vehicles - so tripods are left to rust in the back of the trucks and we have to stand peefectly still every time someone selects an f-stop larger than eleven! Still the submissions were great - well done to, from the top) Robin, Toby, Janice, Myriam, Davie and Melanie.