Summer Projects

Nice weather arrived in the last couple weeks, so working on a computer has become second priority – I missed my last blog deadline. Sorry. It was so worth it though – being outside in the garden has been a gamechanger for my mood and attitude.

Also, our camera club season has concluded, lockdown is still in place and I’m now left wondering what to do with all my “free time”.

There is the aforementioned garden to maintain, a backyard pond to enjoy and summer breezes wafting through the air. True, but night falls eventually.

Early summer is often a time to take stock, to clean out, clean up. In 2014, I started the tradition of preparing a photobook each year of the images of mine that I felt most emotionally connected to through the year. That lasted until 2018. I have a few years to catch up on. What better time than now. So I’ve set that as one of my summer projects, along with producing some larger prints of these very same images.

Many photographers have commented on the value of a tangible book or print. It somehow gives life and depth to the images we capture. And if an image is already compelling in some way, personally or technically, a hard copy seems to double that feeling. Understanding why can be the first step in a wonderful journey of discovery – corny but true.

We come from generations and generations of readers. Books were invented to allow us to document our lives or to explore other people’s lives. Whether real or fictitious, taking a journey with another being through the words in a book has consumed many lazy hours for most of us. I remember being transfixed by Don Quixote. For many younger than me, it was the Harry Potter series.

Adding images to the mix doesn’t detract from imagination – it enhances it. Words and images mix to convey the emotions of the moment, the stress of the effort, or the joy at the accomplishment.

This year I purchased several photobooks, produced by photographers I admire. It seems to be a growing trend and I am glad of it. There was a time when that was the only way to share your work – websites and social media didn’t exist. Those were the good old days…

The photobooks I’ve produced and my friends have produced tend to have few words – maybe a location label or two at the most. The images are all that count. Or so I thought.

The best photobooks I have seen are those that artistically combine words and images for precisely that magic impact of describing a journey that you take together. I must say the one I enjoyed the most this year was produced by Gavin Hardcastle, entitled “Chasing Awe”. It’s the story of his most compelling landscape images and the trials and tribulations of capturing them. There were many many trials, sadly many of his own making I must note. Gavin is a marvelous story-teller and the images were the reward for the superbly imaginative verbal journey taken with him.

So how do we get to a good photobook?

The mindset of producing a book is so different than the effort to edit an image for sharing online.

You need to consider organization, sequence and flow, what story is being told and the beginning/middle/end of the story. Will there be narrative to support the images? What size of book, what size of images in book, what paper, how many pages? So many decisions. It helps if you already have a preferred style and format, and just need to lay out a new story.

Ideally, the concept should be in your mind from capture, ensuring that the images fit the storyline and illustrate the journey taken. For a travelogue, that could mean the inclusion of signposts, welcome signs or well-known landmarks, dotted in between images illustrating the experience. For a specific genre or mood, that could mean finding particular colours in a sequence of scenes, shooting in particular weather, or framing shots in particular ways. For a documentary, that could mean ensuring the images tell the main and backstory, not leaving out any key developments along the way.

And we often have way too many images to fit the bill. Culling and sequencing are needed even before any thought of editing. A wide vista may naturally lead to an intimate detail reveal, achieved with the right crop. But you won’t know you need the right crop until the story unfolds. And often we fall prey to loving every image and not being able to part with the six views of that one particular skyline. Keep the images – but pick only one for the book. Tools such as the collections feature in Lightroom can be helpful with the sorting and culling.

So you have your images, you have your story, you’ve written your narrative. Now what?

It also helps if you have a preferred printing lab, especially if they offer templates and layout options to choose from. While you can use Photoshop and Lightroom to produce books, working through a lab with templates can often make some of the more challenging decisions a bit easier. They also have standards and specs for the source materials, helping to guide you to properly prepare the images and text.

Sometimes the software you use for editing will have a “strategic” relationship with a print lab or will offer plugins for a variety of print labs to make the journey from desktop to book that much easier.

So how to find the right lab? Reputation/word of mouth are big here – especially from colleagues and friends who can show you their finished work. Sometimes a large volume chain is your best choice for variety and speed; sometimes a boutique printer is your best choice for something unique and quality produced. Once you establish a relationship with a lab, you’ll find that you go back to them again and again.

Sometimes a lab will offer special pricing for multiple copies. So consider family and friends as you prepare your order: photobooks are a great gift for any occasion, especially if the recipient was part of the experience that led to the book.

One of my favourite moments with any book is opening the cover for the first time. With a new book, the smell of paper and ink just hits me in my happy place and the crack of the spine helps me settle in for a good read. With a well-worn book, the thought of who might have enjoyed it before me is always very intriguing and sets me on a daydreaming tangent.

We all used to produce family albums, with 3×5 inch prints stuck to pages with fancy corners or between cellophane sheets. Maybe you still do. A photobook is so much better and you will find yourself coming back to them again and again over the years. Cherish those moments. It’s a wonderful lasting legacy for your family.

But they don’t make themselves, so enough blogging and onto my summer project. I’ll probably post once a month between now and September, unless the muse strikes me on a hot summer day when I don’t want to be outside. Until we next meet again, have a happy, wonderful, Covid-free summer. Here’s hoping that we ditch our masks completely before the leaves fall again!

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