Photography and Art

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On Publishing Photo Books

Many aspiring photographers face the question of how they should distribute their work. Publishing photos online is fast and fun and can initiate contact with other photographers and even generate fans for your work. I've used and and enjoy cruising these sites looking for photographer discoveries. However, there are limitations to online distribution. It's a highly competitive world out there with millions of photographers clamouring for attention. The medium isn't as satisfying as paper because the images are so small and you have no control over the set-up of the viewer's monitor. Who knows what your photos really look like out there. Finally, there is really no way to make any money from online images.

One of the alternatives is to produce prints. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than producing a large print of one of my images. It's a highly tactile experience and a whole evening can easily go by in the process of editing an image, producing drafts and finally a final print. However, large prints are expensive to produce, need to be matted and framed and then you have to find a willing victim (or customer) for your work who has wall space to hang the thing. My lovely spouse likes my work, but doesn't want to turn over all the wall space in the house to it and I don't have access to a gallery to market my prints.

Recently, I've discovered a very nice medium that is a bit of a compromise between online images and large prints. It allows you to produce a series of photographs like an online gallery but have them printed out on paper where they can be admired, touched and passed around. I'm talking about photo books, a very compelling medium for displaying images.

Photo books have many advantages. With new technologies, they can be produced inexpensively in small quantities, so they are ideal for selling at art fairs and giving away as gifts to your friends. They don't demand framing and wall space, so they can be enjoyed by the rich and poor alike. There are lots of types of books to choose from, so you can exert control over the type of paper and printing process to get the quality that you desire. Some book publishers also allow you to sell books online, a good potential way of monetizing your images.

I like photo books because of all the artistic possibilities. Think of all the stories that can be told using just your images or by combining text and images.

Here are some options for producing books:
  • If you have a good inkjet printer and want total control over the final product, you can purchase a book kit from Hahnemuhle or Innova. For your money, you get a 20 page, double-sided book with cotton fibre paper. The Innova album is cheaper ($40 versus $80), but the Hahnemuhle album is slightly larger and comes with nice light plastic pages to insert between each photo page. Using these products is excellent if you want one very nice album, perhaps as a gift. If you want to scale to several albums or want to sell your album online (or allow your friends to order extras), this is not the best bet.
  • The next option is to use a photo printer that does albums in low volumes. Typically, this will be a store that owns a high-end Epson printer and can provide you with templates to create and upload albums to their web-site. A good example of this type of service is offered by the Pikto Gallery. I haven't used the service yet, but I've done large prints at Pikto and they provide excellent service. I've no doubt that their fine art print albums will be of high quality. Pricing runs from $55 for a 30 page 6"x8" soft cover album to $200 for a 12"x18" hard-cover album. Pikto gives you custom software that you can download to assemble your album and they can help you calibrate color and ensure that you'll be pleased with the results. The beauty of this approach is you can produce additional albums with very little effort. For another $200, they will set up a custom online store where you can sell your photo albums. The albums can be printed on a variety of art papers using archival inkjet inks.
  • If you want to produce photo books that look like real printed books (i.e. using a printing press), then there are several sites that do this too. Here are two of them: and Pricing ranges from as low as $12.95 for a small 7"x7" 20 page soft-cover to $160 for a 360 page (!) hardcover book at 13"x11". These are in quantity one. The advantage of this option is the price and the ability to scale up to large books and large quantities. The disadvantage is in the quality. These are not customized art books, but they do have the look and feel of real art books. If you want to self-publish in limited quantities, this might be the route for you.
If the idea of a photo book grabs you, you should know about SoFoBoMo (Solo Foto Book of the Month) and Paul Butzi. If you sign up at the blog site, you have until May 31st to produce a book (either printed or just PDF) and submit it. The book has to have at least 35 photos and they all have to be taken between April 1st and May 31st this year. Get Crackin'!

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