Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Book Arrived!

I picked up my book at the mailbox today!

It was exciting to see my own work printed and bound. However I have mixed feelings about the results.

The photos came out excellently. So did the text. My layout was great. The book quality was superb. So what's with the misgivings?

While I knew what size book I was ordering, when I got it I was initially disappointed. A 10"x8" book is too small for a coffee table. It's nice and all, but it's small. Also, I only produced a 40-page effort (on purpose -- it was a test) and it's very thin.

So: if you're doing a Blurb book,
  • make it bigger (both the physical size and the number of pages. Also the image sizes on the pages).
  • do order the premium paper. It's outstanding.
  • I think I worried too much about sharpening and finishing. All my pictures were National Geographic quality (OK, I'm not talking about the images themselves, although they're pretty good! I mean the reproduction).
  • While the printed jacket is really nice, I'm worried about damaging it. I think I'll hard-print on the cover of the next one.

So my next book will be (a) coffee-table sized, (b) have at least 60 (more likely 80) pages and (c) I'll create my own custom layout grids using a full page bleed size in PhotoShop.

While I'm writing here, I thought I'd remind everyone that the Wacom Bamboo Fun graphic tablet is very reasonably priced right now! Staples has it for $99 (the Fun includes a mouse and a software bundle). It still takes a bit of getting used to, but I'm at the point where I use it for everything. If you buy the one without the mouse, you need an extra USB port to plug one in. The Wacom mouse (by the way, it's pronounced "wack-om" not "Way-com", if you listen to the British voice on the tutorial) only works on the graphics tablet, but that's OK, it's pretty good.

And finally, we've set the date for the Pixel Painting Workshop: March 14/15 at Humber College. Drop me a note if you're thinking about attending and I don't already know about it. Details will go up on the website in a few days.

Have a geat New Year's, everyone. I wish you all health, happiness and prosperity in the year to come.

PS: Food for thought: I'm thinking about a trip out West this summer, in a car not on the bike. Maybe make Alaska? Anyone interested in coming along?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'm a published author!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Well, busy in the sense that I’ve been working on a project and have been sitting in front of the computer for lots of hours to get it done.

The project? My first Blurb book. Yes, now I can say that I am a published photographer and author. The fact that it’s self-published, and I only ordered a couple of copies to see how it turned out does not have to come up in conversation. UNDERSTAND?

I put together a 40-page 8x10” (landscape) hardcovered book with a sleeve. It’s called “The Path of Least Potholes”, and to find out why, I guess you’re going to have to buy a copy! Blurb is not that simple to use, but considering we’re generating a whole book here, it’s not that bad. I’ll talk about the process and some of the mistakes I made (me? Misteaks?) in my photo tips section below.

I got an email from them telling me my book has shipped. Can't wait to see it! I'm published!

Last week when I started writing this, I was staring out the window at the snow coming down. I was up in “True North” (as I am now), of course. The lake was now iced over. a couple of nights before, there was open water and the setting sun lit the steam coming off it, reminiscent of a misty dawn. It was tough to capture on camera.

When I woke up the next morning, it was -22°C and everything outside was crispy crunchy. It was a beautiful winter day and when I walked down to the dock, Susan from the Inn across the road told me to check out the frozen ice crystals on the fresh lake ice. They looked like giant snowflakes, so I went back for the camera and took a couple of shots.

These crystals were about 2" (5cm) across. I false-coloured the image to make them stand out.

I also took a couple of shots of my axe, embedded in a log I was splitting for kindling. I painted the background, since it was kind of messy. I’m calling it, “That’s Life NOT in the Big City”.

When I came back in, I waited for the camera to warm back up to room temperature, then set it up to take a couple of self-portraits to use for the back flap of the book. Don’t you hate pictures of yourself? I do…

This is my workstation up at "True North". I've since moved a larger widescreen monitor up here.

By the way, last week I got a few images at the landfill (OK, the “dump”) when I dropped off a bag of garbage. It’s not going to win any prizes as ‘prettiest photo of the year’, but it does tell the story of what they do there. They’re feeding a whole mountain of stuff into that big red machine which reduces things to one or two foot size chunks. Then they plow it all in (that’s why they call it a ‘landfill’.

Planning is well under way for the Pixel Painting workshop we're doing with Hilarie McNeil-Smith in March. Watch this space for an announcement in the next week or so.

I did buy the Wacom tablet I mentioned last time: Future Shop has them on sale for under $100. If you're planning to attend the workshop, you need one. The Wacom "Bamboo" is $79 but the "Bamboo Fun" is only $20 more. You get a mouse with it as well as some software, so it's worth it. It's seamless. No issues with multiple monitors, no locking up the computer, works great.

FacZen Photography Tips

You too can be an author!

There are a number of online companies who will help you publish your own book. The one I used was “”. They seem to be quite affordable, much less than the likes of Vistek or Black's, and from what I’ve seen, their quality is quite high. There are some limitations but there are some workarounds that can make your book fully customized and looking just the way you want it.

The first thing to do is go to the blurb website and download their software, called "Booksmart". Version 1.9 is the current one as I write this.

My book cover

Even though I put together a small book (only 40 pages) as a first test, I realize that workflow is an issue. Jim Camelford (he’s published a couple of hefty tomes) gave some hints which I unwisely ignored, so here they are again, but in my words.

The concept is like this: Blurb offers several designs from a small square book to a large format coffee table sized book (13x11”). You can have as many pages as you like in it, up to 440 pages (now THAT would be a book!). There are dozens of page layouts provided by Blurb, but you can’t modify them. So if you don’t find the layout you want, you’ll have to work around it.

You make .jpg files to fill the containers they provide. So if a page has two 5x5.5” image containers in it, that’s what you give them. The problem is, you’re probably going to end up cropping your pictures to fit their layout, unless you use a larger container and drop the pictures wherever you like in it. You could drop, say, a 5” x 3” image in a box and align it top or bottom or middle. You could also use a full-page bleed, create a suitably sized image in PhotoShop and position things where you want. Text too. Work with a grid, though, especially if you're going to put a customized page opposite a standard one. All files should be prepared for printing: proper exposures, clean cropping, sharpened appropriately, 300 dpi resolution and high quality. You get out what you put in.

You could just drop your pictures into the Blurb containers and let the program resize or fit them. But then the sharpening and resolution wouldn’t be optimum and, well, it is your book, so you decide.

Pre-plan your text. Blurb has several default styles: body text, headings, captions, etc. Choose the font, size and colour for each of these and store them as defaults. You should make everything consistent through the book.

The thing is, PLAN YOUR BOOK FIRST. Collect all your photos and text in one place then make subfolders for each section (which could be just one page!). Decide what fonts and colours to use and preset them. Decide on picture sizes and prepare them in advance. Here are a couple of things Blurb doesn’t tell you:

1. You don’t need to import pictures into their library. You can just drag them from Explorer or even Bridge directly into the program.

2. Resize them according to the pixel sizes given in Blurb. Not 6”x6”, 1801px x 1796px. By the way, in Photoshop be sure to enter “px” in the crop size box or you’ll end up with inches. 1801 inches is one HELL of a big file!

One of the page layouts from my book.

3. If you’re working in Word to write the text, set the font, size and colour to what you want in the book. If you have to, change the page colour so you can see your text (I couldn't figure out what was going on until I realized I was trying to look at black text on a black background!).

4. Try to be consistent. Your book will look MUCH better if pages look similar throughout. Stick with only one or two fonts and colours and sizes; try to keep the page layouts the same or similar.

Creating the book is a tedious process. And "niggly". I scrolled several times through the book and found little problems every time. Remember, this is going to be printed, so you have to get it right.

When you're all done, you connect to the Blurb site and upload the book for printing. Remember, it's a pretty big file so it will take a while even at high speed. Then you need to tell them how many copies, where to ship them and give them the usual credit card information. My 40-page book was $33 (I chose premium paper), plus shipping.

So go for it! You can be a famous author and published photographer just like me!