Friday, March 07, 2008

Daryl Benson offers an inside look on the business of designing a photography book

Do you remember seeing this photo of oilfield pumpjacks taken in Saskatchewan with Daryl's trusty Vari-ND? It was featured in a recent Outdoor Photographer ad as well as Singh-Ray's product brochure. "Before we go any further," Daryl suggests, "imagine that this is your photo and you want to include it along with others in a photo book you're producing. How would you present it?

Now, Daryl invites you to "preview" a free 20-page eBook version of his soon-to-be-published book, Canada, here. You'll see the impressive way Daryl -- and his designer, Peter Handley -- present his unique photos, including the one above.

"In my opinion," says Daryl, "presentation is one of the most important parts of self-publishing a photography book -- and perhaps the least understood. I’m a sucker for books featuring the work of photographers and have a personal library that includes hundreds of such books. What I often notice when browsing this collection is how poorly presented and laid out many are! The images are usually outstanding, imaginatively shot, creatively composed, professionally printed but boringly presented -- we follow page after page of big colorful landscapes with little or no thought given to how the images work opposite one another on the pages, no sense of flow and no design or imagination used in their presentation. No mater how good the photography is, poor presentation can kill it.

"That's my point," says Daryl. "No matter how talented you may be at design, typography and working with programs like InDesign or Quark, seriously consider hiring a professional designer if you want to publish a professional looking photo book.

"Give a lot of thought to how you can visually organize and pace the content of your book. Perhaps by season, by region or theme -- earth, water, sky or close-up nature detail opposite grand landscape, etc. Maybe grouping images by color or through time of day -- opening with sunrises -- and have the images progress through the day to conclude with sunsets.

"Whatever. . . The point is give careful thought to structuring your book in the most interesting way. This is what creativity is. . . the application of fresh, inventive thought to a process. With the Canada book, the thought is to concentrate on individual layouts for each 2-page spread to be sure the images on opposite pages work together as one whole -- instead of two separate images. Another design choice was to break up the overall flow of the book with several short stories, several sections of monochrome images, and then a few stand-alone spreads where an image on one page faces a solid black page. Combining these options provides variety in the layouts and helps keep the presentation dynamic.

"Too many photo books seem to be an attempt to show every good image the photographer has ever taken. For the Canada book, we preferred to include fewer images carefully chosen to communicate most clearly what I believed to be my personal statement. I’ve always found the quote by the great dancer/actor Fred Astaire helpful. Talking about his dance routines in movies, he said, 'Get it to where it’s perfect, then cut five minutes.' Be ruthless when editing images and the end product will be better for it. This image editing stage is another place where a designer who’s opinion you trust can really help. If we agree with Fred Astaire, we must accept that there should be some favorite -- even perfect -- images that get left out of your final book. If not, you probably don’t have enough material to do a book yet.

"Including a few short stories or background information in your book can also help control the pace and flow of your book. Your choice of type styles for your text is another important design factor. I collect and use digital type fonts now like I used to collect filters. I have hundreds of type styles and they’re all useful. The Canada book uses Requiem for photo captions and text and Bickham Script as the decorative type. For further insight on this topic of presentation, I recommend the book “The Non-Designer’s Design and Type Books” by Robin Williams (no, not the actor). It's a very informative and straightforward explanation of various basic design and type principles and how to take advantage of them. I found it very useful."

Daryl includes a list of favorite sites for information about type fonts:
Fonthaus
MyFonts
Fontshop
Hoefler & Frere-Jones
Font Bros.
Type For You blog
Bembo's Zoo

"This last one listed is just a bit of fun," says Daryl, "but it's also an example of the creative use of fonts through design and imagination."

Daryl Benson's book, Canada, is available now for pre-order (US | Canada).

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