People often ask on our workshops and Career Training program, “What do I do with all these images?” If your walls are full and your family is politely refusing to accept any more of your framed photographs, a logical step is the photo book. More and more publishing companies are emerging that are geared towards producing photobooks on demand for photographers. While the process is made to be as user friendly as possible there are, as with anything, better ways to create your own book. Tim Daly, a well-known writer on digital photography and printing wrote a book and teaches workshops internationally on the process of creating photobooks. My own interest in book projects led me to ask him some questions which he was more than happy to answer.
What draws you to photobooks, or interests you about creating them?
Well, I think we live in an age where digital has taken away all the physical and tactile experiences we used to have with photography. You no longer get to see prints or plug into the craft of print production. I think we’ve kind of become removed from the physical aspects of making, we just move data around. I’ve had a fine art education and have been making artists’ books for the last 30 years. My undergraduate students get massively excited when we make physical things in our photography programme at the University of Chester and I reckon it’s because they’ve spent too much time on their Mac.
What is the most important thing to consider when making a digital photobook?
The best books always reflect the subject or theme in the design and underlying concept. There are lots of different kinds of photobooks to make, some conceptual, some storytelling, some which are basically neat photo-albums. Mostly it’s about having the concept right before kicking off the layout. And having great photographs, of course.
What is your favorite aspect of creating a photobook?
I guess it’s the whole thing of being able to re-purpose your images into a totally unique artifact. Making books enables you to play with materials, sequence and narrative. You can make a really different kind of experience for your reader/viewer/client that isn’t available from a single print or onscreen image. People love to handle photobooks.
When you sit down to create a photobook what is your method of choice (on-demand or handmade)? Why?
Well that’s the million dollar question. I think both methods have their own purpose. I use on-demand for my public facing projects like self-promotion, exhibition catalogues and things which don’t rely on the material qualities of paper. But I also make a lot of handmade books when I want to make a one-off or limited edition. I like the work of UK photographer Stephen Gill and Alec Soth’s Little Brown Mushroom projects. They are taking photography into a different territory.
What are some of the benefits of using an on-demand publishing company vs. printing your own books?
The primary benefits are price, flexibility and distribution. A company like Blurb can provide a total package for promoting, selling and distributing your work while you can get on with the important stuff like shooting great photographs. The downside is the restriction on formats, sizes and paper stock. I’ve been using smaller commercial digital printers too who use the same Indigo press as Blurb and they are often happy to work with you on something unusual. The technology is the same but you get the benefit of face-to-face contact. I also make a lot of handmade books using unusual materials that really add another dimension to the work.
How much Photoshop does someone have to know to create a photobook?
Well, how long is a piece of string!? The best quality books are always made by those who use a sensible colour managed workflow. We usually spend at least a day going through my own customized workflow for preparing images for book production. We use all the soft-proofing features and play around with CMYK profiles and RAW file conversion to ensure maximum quality. Most of the people who come onto my workshops have made their own on-demand photobooks prior to the course, but are massively disappointed by the results. They always blame the service providers for the way the book has turned out, but most of the quality issues have been self-inflicted!!! There’s also a lot of rubbish advice on the net which just makes the whole process confusing.
What inkjet book kit(s) do you recommend?
I’ve used most of them and find the Innova products the best in terms of flexibility, price and quality. I prefer to hand bind my own photobooks using standard double sided inkjet papers, though. This means I can have total control over the shape, size and all the design aspects which aren’t available through kits. Making your own is much cheaper too and needs no specialized equipment.
What on-demand printer(s) do you recommend?
I think Blurb has established a standard and service that others need to follow. The print quality is excellent providing you follow the rules and their pricing is second to none. There are a couple of smaller players based in Germany which I have used who are excellent too. I’m keeping their identity a secret to myself and students who come onto the workshops!!!
To see examples of Tim Daly’s photobooks, take a look at two of his Blurb books available for preview.