Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A calculating look into the business of photo book publishing

As for calculating looks, let's start with this photo from Daryl Benson's newest book, CANADA, which will soon be in bookstores and is available for pre-order (US | Canada) now. "These sled dogs reside in the Inuit hamlet of Clyde River up north on Baffin Island," says Daryl. "I barked really loud, once. They all quickly looked long enough for me to squeeze off a couple of quick frames. Then I tried to get some 'insurance' shots but no matter what I did after that they paid me no attention... story of my life; they must all be females. Taken with my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS lens, and Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo Polarizing filter.

Now, following three years of determined image gathering trips from his home in Alberta to the far corners of every province in Canada, Daryl's 168-page photographic portrait of Canada is finally being printed and is available for pre-orders online. Several times along the way, Daryl has paused long enough to share some of his images and experiences with us, and so we thought we'd ask him what it's like to publish a book and what could he tell the rest of us who suspect we may have a book somewhere in our own future.

"Let's assume," says Daryl, "you’ve decided to self-publish a book. The first questions to ask yourself should focus on your intent. Is this book for friends and family, a self-promotion vehicle to send to potential clients, a commercial venture to try and add income to your slumping stock sales, or is it mainly a way to stroke your ego? By the way ego is not a bad thing. We all have one and it needs to be fed. Knowing the answer to such questions increases the odds of your book achieving what you want it to. Understanding these answers will also help determine how many copies you print, how much you’re willing to invest and where you decide to have the book printed.

"For a traditional, medium sized, coffee-table book of photography, a reasonable print run might be 2,500 to 5,000 copies. Pricing will vary greatly depending on page count, units printed, material used etc. As a rule-of-thumb guide, you can expect a per-book printing cost of at least $10.00. You also need to add in the cost for a professional editor, about $1,500, and professional designer, about $2,500 to $5,000. If you’re doing a professional quality book these last two individuals are essential.

"Calculating the math to this point is fairly straightforward. However, no matter how good the book is, it’s not going to sell if it’s not seen. Your sales and distribution is just as important as the idea to publish a book in the first place. That’s a topic unto itself and I’ll save it for a future entry on this blog.

"If your intent is to produce a book as a gift for friends or family or as a promotional mailer for potential customers, you might be more interested in the on-line publishing options. These services will custom print your book for you (usually from a selection of their template designs), in quantities from just one book to several hundred for a reasonable unit cost. Here’s a partial list of sources for your reference:

"Perhaps you're thinking, 'Why not just publish a hundred books online and sell them locally?' You can; don’t expect, however, to make much money doing this -- unless you call a couple hundred net making money. Again it’s important to be clear and honest with yourself as to your intent with the book. There can be more value in a book than just its monetary return. Just don’t expect to make an appreciable amount of money selling a hundred books. Like stock photography, book publishing requires numbers and high quality images! High quality, however, is merely the price of admission these days. At this evolutionary point in the art of photography, high quality, unique vision and technical efficiency are expected of every photo book publisher.

"Another option is custom-made, small-quantity fine art books. Personally I’ve not done this but find it very attractive. It’s not a good way to have your work seen by a large audience, but it is a highly personal and attractive option if you want to create one-of-a kind or limited-edition works of art! The idea here is to create your own bound books. Anywhere from one to fifty books would be practical for this option. First you’ll have to find a custom bindery -- most larger cities will have several. Or contact a local printer who can direct you to local bindery services. Custom Bibles are often a big part of their business so you can also check for this info at your local church. A bindery can custom make book covers in wide range of material and styles. Here are a couple of links for visual reference;

"Other options are presentation boxes, slipcases, tins -- actually anything you can think of to store and present your images in! Wedding photographers have been custom making albums for their clients for years. Scrapbook stores are another good resource to check. My daughter owns a scrapbook store (when I say my 22-year-old daughter owns a scrapbook store, I really mean we do), here’s a link to just one of many specialty album makers we know of: We saw their new stuff at a recent trade show, it’s beautiful. My daughter dropped 3K ordering several of their new lines (please buy my book -– please tell your friends)!!!

"After you’ve found or crafted some type of cover, folder, box or presentation device, you then need to fill it with your equally well-crafted, imaginative images! You can custom print (or have a lab print) the images to fill each book. Again it’s a custom thing so it could be five images or fifty, depends on how you answered the questions at the beginning of this post. Given some time, thought and creative presentation this could be a very beautiful thing!

"The last option I’ll mention are e-books. The good news here is ink never hits paper. E-books exist as "digital" publications sold or shared with an audience on-line. You can create the e-book in almost any document format you care to and share or sell it any way you my wish. So far most of the e-books I’ve seen have been PDF documents that use Adobe Reader as the viewing application. The e-books are sold on-line through the photographer's website. The price is usually low, around $5.00. You can charge whatever you want, but the idea is to expose your work to an audience you would likely never reach with a traditional printed book. Also it’s impossible to track or control the circulation of an e-book. Once the sale is made, the buyer could share it with as many people as they want to (although that’s not the intent, and I would try to make that point clear to the potential customer at the outset). Ultimately, however, it would be nearly impossible to stop someone from passing your e-book on to others, so the low price is an attempt to keep customers honest, Since there is no additional cost to you for each additional book sold, $5.00 seems like a fair price for a simple pictorial e-book. One of the best examples I’ve seen is by Linde Waidhofer at You can download a free sample e-book from her site and, if you like what you see, order some of her other titles. I got them all and they are well worth the price. It’s an interesting way to expose your work to people who might otherwise never see it and potentially motivate customers to purchase a printed copy of the book, perhaps linking them to the book for sale on Here's how you can sign up to sell your book on their site

With all the various options now available," Daryl concludes, "there should be some way for almost any photographer who has worked out a realistic understanding of their personal motives and expectations to see their work published. Whether we're ready to publish yet or not, it gives us another good reason to continue photographing our world as we see it."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Great sunrise images are not always made in a day

Jon Cornforth has just returned from Chile's Torres del Paine National Park with these four impressive sunrise images of the Paine Mountain Range and an equally impressive story of perseverance and patience.

"I have been fortunate enough to have visited this incredible location twice now," says Jon. "I always knew I would fall in love with the famous jagged mountains that are symbolic of Patagonia. On my first visit in 2007, I learned the hard way about the notorious weather. Some days the wind blew so hard I actually could not stand up, let alone set up a tripod and take a picture. Since this part of South America is the only land at this latitude in the entire southern hemisphere, the storms and bad weather can last for weeks at a time.

"During my first visit, I had hoped to spend a few days backpacking and shooting the famous Los Torres, but the weather was so bad that it was not worth doing. I knew that I was going to come back in 'summer' and that is what I did this past January. Since Patagonia is not quite as accessible as a lot of the other locations that I frequent, I knew that I was going to have to budget a week of my time to try to get the dramatic image that I was after.

"Most people only visit the Los Torres viewpoint as a very long 18-mile day hike in the middle of the afternoon. However the best light occurs at sunrise, which -- for this single-minded photographer -- meant I needed to spend the night as close as possible. Some people hike half way to the viewpoint and spend the night at the cozy trekking hostel, but I knew that I did not want to hike for more than 2 hours in the dark each morning, so I backpacked all of my gear to the Torres campground. From there it is a steep 1-hour hike up to the viewpoint each morning. Unlike my previous attempt, the weather was unusually hot and sunny when I began the hike. I carried enough food and film to try and shoot for 5 days and hoped for the best.

"On the first morning, as I got up and did the early morning hike, there were some clouds in the sky and I knew this would create some great shooting conditions. I arrived at the viewpoint about 15 minutes before the sunrise and looked around for a worthy foreground to include in my image. The initial red sunrise light on the towers was blocked by the clouds, but I knew that I should hang around and see what happened. About a 45 minutes after the sunrise, the light started to poke through the clouds and illuminate the spires. I metered the scene and calculated that I needed my Singh-Ray 2-stop Hard Edge Graduated ND filter to even out the exposure between the clouds, towers, and foreground. I was very pleased with the image I had created, except for the top of the Central Tower and the entire South Tower which were obscured by clouds. I was determined to stay and try again the next day.

"I woke up on the second day a few minutes later, since I knew my exact location to shoot and how long the hike would take. It was totally clear and very warm as I started hiking up to the viewpoint. When the sunrise light began to illuminate the Torres, I was in position. I knew from the previous day that I needed to use a 2-stop Hard Edge Graduated Neutral Density filter to balance out the exposure. I have never seen an image of it being this clear at the Torres, which in itself makes the image unique and spectacular. I felt incredibly fortunate that I had successfully photographed 2 days in a row with different moods on the mountains.

"When I woke up on my third day, it was just about as clear as the day before. I was incredibly tired after all of the flying and travel I had done to get there. I spent a few minutes thinking about going back to bed. After all, I had only been gone from home for 5 days, and it was 11pm as far as my body's internal clock was telling me and not actually 5am as my watch was set for in the new time zone. But, I told myself that I had come this far and that I better hike up the hill again in case something special were to happen at sunrise. By the time I dragged myself and my gear up to the viewpoint, there were some incredible cloud formations all around me, but none over the Torres themselves. This was my least favorite image of my attempts, but under normal Patagonia circumstances this image alone would have been the best shot of the trip.

"Finally, on my fourth and final attempt at shooting the sunrise I was rewarded with what I consider to be the best image of my entire trip. The clouds were again swirling around at sunrise, but this time they were above the Torres rather than obscuring them. Unfortunately, the wind was back to its old strength and made it almost impossible for me to set up my tripod -- let alone take a picture. The sunrise light poked in and out of the clouds, and finally after about 30 minutes the golden light of sunrise illuminated the South, Central, and North Towers in incredible light! There were a few other trekkers nearby also enjoying the show, so I talked a few of them into helping me block the wind so that I could shoot. I cleaned the windblown dust off of my lens and 2-stop Hard Edge Graduated Neutral Density filter just in time as the wind calmed down enough to allow me to capture this one frame of perfectly sharp film. This was the image that I had come all this way for and had spent so much of my energy trying to create.

"So, what I am trying to convey in this series of images is how much determination, planning, and patience often goes into actually creating a highly successful image. For the few moments that I actually photographed, I spent an incredible amount of time waiting around camp, chatting with other trekkers, and using my iPod as sparingly as I allowed. I would suggest to anyone striving to succeed as an outdoor photographer, 'Just remember to put in the time to create your own perfect image. Sometimes you will get lucky the first time, but more often it will require return visits over days, weeks, or even years to create.' "

To see more of Jon's impressive images, you can visit his website and stop by his gallery.