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!

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