As a photographer today, you have multiple ways to get your work out to fans, clients, collectors and aficionados of fine photography. The issue becomes one of how to choose the most appropriate way.
Photo books have always been a great way to present photography. They are readily usable, inexpensive (compared to exhibition prints), and can be widely distributed.
Producing a photo book offers an experience somewhat similar to preparing an exhibition: an opportunity to examine your work closely, discover relationships between individual pieces, and explore a topic in more depth than a single image can. However I would argue that a photo book actually goes beyond an exhibition in allowing you to more deeply explore your work.
Because they do not have takedown dates like exhibitions, photo books allow you to keep exploring your work over an extended time frame. This can be key to identifying deeper themes in your work, finding threads you want to explore further, and evaluating your work as it changes over time.
Thus, photo books can be an essential part of your development as a photographer. In addition, photo books enable you to communicate different ideas and meanings to those who buy or view your books.
So let's explore the options that we have in producing photo books.
Print On Demand Photo Books
Print-on-demand (POD) photo books, from companies such as Blurb, Lulu, Apple and others, allow the production of one-off books of excellent image quality. Virtually all these companies use HP Indigo digital presses to print their books.
In fact, HP Indigo digital presses dominate the print-on-demand market for photo book publishing. Indigo presses now offer six-color photo printing for better image quality, wider paper choices, and innovative features such as in-line laminating.
The offerings in print on demand (POD) continue to grow. For example, Blurb has released the ProLine option (below), adding new papers, end sheets and cover linens to the mix, with tighter quality control by only printing these from one location for better consistency.
CreateSpace, an Amazon company, offers POD photo-book publishing with the additional benefit of easy listing on Amazon for sales. One downside is that they don’t offer the color-management options of the dedicated photo-book printers. Nor do they offer paper choices. But for some photography-book projects, CreateSpace can work extremely well.
When it comes to photo books, e-books are the elephant in the china shop. Thanks to the Apple iPad, Amazon’s new color Kindle Fire, and other tablets that can be used as full-color e-reading devices, the ability to widely distribute full color e-books is on the edge of an explosion of biblical proportions.
One reason e-books will be the great leveller for photo books is because it is as inexpensive to produce a full-color e-book as it is to produce a black-and-white one. This isn’t true of printed books yet.
The two most widely used formats for e-books are Kindle and ePUB. The Kindle format is proprietary to Amazon, but is supported on most devices with dedicated apps and the new cloud web app from Amazon. The ePUB format is used by all other e-book reader manufacturers and book apps for tablets. So the iPad, Sony ereader, Nook and others all use the ePUB format and there is free software for reading such books on desktops and laptops.
The main drawback to producing photo books in e-book format is that both the Kindle and normal ePUB eBooks are reflowable. What that means is that the layout is flexible and you do not have total control of the exact placement of text and images. For example, you can not do things such as flow text around images or insert sideboxes. Basically you prepare your book in Microsoft Word with images inserted, then use minimal formatting for the text.
Minimal text formatting is necessary because e-book readers allow the user to change fonts and font size to aid readability. So even though you don’t have the same level of fine control over pages that you have in a printed photo book, the major advantage of publishing your photo book as an e-book is that book can be widely distributed at low cost and viewed on a huge number of devices.
Apple, in a desire to overcome the page-layout limitation, supports a non-standard extension to the ePUB format for fixed layout e-books. This basically uses website type technologies of css and xhtml to allow the accurate positioning of text and images, as well as access to all the iPad fonts and such.
Presently, InDesign does not output to this format (unfortunately), but there are other solutions. You can do it yourself and there are clear instructions online that describe the fairly complex but not difficult steps required. There is also an app for the iPad, Book Creator that makes the whole process so easy that photographers and artists, even children, can easily use it. You can share the resulting books and submit them to Apple for sale through the iBookstore.
Apps allow you to go further, creating photo books with interaction and much more. While directly developing apps for iOS (the iPad's operating system) or Android is for those with a programming bent, there are other solutions. This is a rapidly evolving area and there seem to be new offerings every other day. Many have been overpriced for photographers, but there are now more reasonable alternatives.
Two such solutions are Demibooks Composer and InteractBuilder. These programs allow you to create interactive eBooks and then sell them as apps. The Demibooks solution comprises an iPad app to do the design in and then their service to publish the app to the App Store. InteractBuilder involves a Mac or Windows application to design the book and then a $99 a year fee and a commission on each sale to publish. Both of these allow you to go way beyond a fixed layout book to something with interactivity.
If you just want to get a portfolio on an iPad for your own use, there are many apps to do this.
Getting your photo books out is something every serious photographer should be working on, both as a revenue source and for your development as an image maker. Give it a go.