Regular readers of this blog, if they existed, would recall that I undertook a photographic project in the spring, giving up all of my lenses but one for Lent. I found the project to be enjoyable and productive, and—as threatened—I’ve put together a book of the project.
The book is now available for purchase, but that’s not the reason for this post. I’ve had my copy of the book for a few weeks now, and I’m happy with how it turned out, but I generally wouldn’t recommend it for others to buy. My project was a helpful undertaking for my own development. But the result was a bunch of single images that I was very pleased with. It was not a cohesive whole, either visually or thematically. You can find better photography books to spend your money on. (Also, my share of the book’s sale price is truly minimal—probably less than if you bought someone else’s book through that Amazon affiliate link!)
Instead, I’d like to write a few thoughts on the book-making process, as I experienced it.
My main goal was to get some experience putting a book together. Photographers are not designers, and I think most “first books” turn out pretty rough for photographers. Possibly also the second, third, fourth… Anyway, I wanted to get through at least one “learning experience” before it mattered too much. For this project, I used the new Book module of Lightroom 4. As of now, the only book-making service supported by the Book module is Blurb. I had seen Blurb books before; each year, the Pentax-Discuss Mail List, of which I’m a member, publishes a photo book using Blurb. I’ve found the books to be of quite good quality, with no major faults.
I’m very happy with the overall idea of preparing the book in Lightroom. The workflow is seamless; if I re-edited an image to adjust something, those changes were reflected immediately in the book. I didn’t have to export all of my images as separate files, and then import them into a book program, and then update them after each edit. Book preparation in Lightroom is very streamlined.
But the Book module is new, and has some rough edges. A lot of them hurt me, because of the nature of the book I was making. As I wrote above, I didn’t conceive a visually coherent project, and my habit is to make each photograph fit my vision for that image, without reference to others. That means some are in color, and some are in black and white. Some are square, and some are very wide. I wanted to preserve the chronological order of the project, so I often had very different images on facing pages, often with non-standard, mismatched aspect ratios.
Unfortunately, your layout in Lightroom is constrained by the provided templates, unless you have InDesign to create new templates (I don’t). That means you’re fitting images into boxes that don’t always have the right aspect ratio, and aren’t laid out to make effective use of the page with your image aspect ratios.
Related to that, your ability to align features on a page (or across facing pages) is very limited. If your images are wider than their boxes, you can move them up and down within the box, but you can’t exactly align two images to the same baseline. Nor can you move or enlarge text boxes, or align the text precisely with the top or bottom of an image. (You can only place the text at the top, center, or bottom of a box. I was literally using blank lines to adjust vertical text alignment, just like everyone’s mom does in Word. Sorry, Mom.)
Since it was hard to get a nice alignment between images on facing pages, I found it useful to do full-bleed on one page and float the image on the facing page.
Given the challenges of laying out my images, I didn’t include any captions. When I tried, the result looked cluttered. The only text is as the beginning and conclusion.
The text layout tools are pretty sophisticated, and allow adjustments to kerning, leading, and tracking. Since there’s a risk that Katie will see the book, I spent an evening kerning the very small amount of display type in the book. I probably didn’t do a very good job, anyway.
No provision for page numbers is provided at all, which is a major oversight. And, given that, it’s not surprising that Tables of Contents and indexes are missing as well.
When you add an image, “Zoom Photo To Fill Cell” is always checked by default. That means the photo will be cropped in a random way, instead of being shrunk to preserve the aspect ratio. As a photographer, I want to present the whole photograph. Unchecking the box each time was annoying. If I’ve missed a way to change the default, please let me know.
Spine text is not available on books below a certain length, including mine. It would be nice if Lightroom told you why clicking to add spine text had no effect.
But on the whole, I think the book turned out fairly well, subject to the limitations of the photographs’ visual inconsistency and the layout templates. The tactile quality of the book is excellent (even as a paperback), and the printing is good. Not as a good as a photographic print, of course, nor quite as good as the best “real” photography books, but it turned out better than I expected. And I have a deeper appreciation for the kind of project that will yield a better book next time.
Finally, if you insist on buying the book despite my warnings, don’t pay full price! Always look for discount codes before ordering from Blurb. As of this writing, UNIVERSITY25 gets you 25% off.