Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Photo Books 101
The revolution in self-publishing has opened the door for professionals to create commercial-quality photo books for portfolios, promo pieces and leave-behinds
PhotoBook PressPhotoBook Press (www.photobookpress.com) makes a great first impression. The website sure looks like the right place to go if you want meticulously crafted art books or presentation portfolios. It appears they set the bar high with a very hands-on, handmade approach. That's distinctly different from the mass-produced or even lab-made books more typically available.
Price Up Front. When you're shopping around, you'll notice that the PhotoBook Press website offers a very helpful feature, a button marked "Price my photo book," so you can determine your total cost, upgrades and all, before you begin. This is a nice touch. The projects are anything but inexpensive, although for the very best construction—a handmade book with a sewn binding—it's to be expected. It's not for the amateur, but for the pro who knows his or her portfolio better make a strong first impression. For that, it may be a steal.
I use the "Price my photo book" feature to determine the exact materials I want to use. I'm a little overwhelmed by the options for end papers, cover materials and book wraps—many options, all of them very nice—so it's helpful to see how different options impact the cost before you begin; some materials turn a $150 book into a $350 book.
High-End Cover Options And Upgrades. After considering the cover material options, I settle on sailcloth fabric. The other fabric options are shinier and bolder, as are the leathers, but I just feel like something a bit more subdued will be ideal for a pro portfolio—and for my work, in particular. I wish there were a few more options in fabric covers that seem less targeted at the wedding audience, but I class it up a bit with a blind debossing of my name on the cover. This is a high-end look that should help me avoid any possibility of cheesiness. The slipcase is an awesome option for a professional photographer, as is the clamshell case. This is how you build a top-notch portfolio.
Now that I'm ready with my materials, I'm greeted with a message: "How would you like to design your photo book?" The company offers free custom design software, their professional designers can lay it out for you, you can design it yourself with your own professional software, or you can upload a folder of images to simply make proof books or test prints. I go with their free custom design software, which is a download.
Knowing that my 30-page book (I'd like to show a larger selection of work to make the book feel a little more substantial) will cost me $168.50 with the selected options and upgrades (more pages and the sailcloth cover), I click continue to download the software and begin the layout. While the software is downloading, the website shows a tutorial page to help navigate the software.
Using The Software. The first snag. Turns out that when you go to design your book with the downloadable software, it doesn't carry your materials preferences through, so you have to make those selections again. It's quick and easy—because you've already taken the time to consider your decisions. Still, it's a duplicate step.
Now for the layout. The pictures auto-flow into the template. Many pages have multiple picture arrangements. I prefer full-bleed, but that's a personal preference. A nice feature in the layout tools is the ability to apply photo filters for automatic image improvements or converting to black-and-white or sepia. Right-click dropdown menus make the interface more like traditional software, which is intuitive. Adding more pages is easy; Command I adds them in pairs. Checkmarks on the thumbnails at the bottom of the page make it easy to determine which pictures are in use. When you're done with the layout, simply click "Send to PhotoBook Press" and watch it build the book.
Final Review. You're then presented with a PDF proof of your book to review—a nice, professional touch that shows they don't want to waste anyone's time with reprints for mistakes that should have been easily caught. Click that, and you've approved the file, and your pictures are uploaded. Along with an email order confirmation, they send another PDF for approval within about an hour—double-checking the details.
Lastly, you receive an emailed invoice with all the particulars of cost and materials spelled out so there are no mistakes and no surprises. And their sentiments sum up the experience quite well: "Thank you for entrusting this project to PhotoBook Press. It usually takes about three weeks to produce your book, but if you need it faster let us know immediately and we'll do our best to meet your deadline."
The message is signed by the whole PhotoBook Press team—just a handful of people. You feel like you're dealing with a small business that makes books as opposed to a big faceless factory churning out your pictures on paper. That's nice when you're trying to meticulously craft your portfolio. The usual three-week timeline is a bit of a wait, but sometimes good things shouldn't be rushed. Quality takes time.
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