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:
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).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Terrific Triple Threat

From noted Canadian outdoor photographer and author Darwin Wiggett...

Many people ask me how I get the extra pizazz in my dramatic light landscape shots such as that seen in the photo at left. The image has a combination of intense light and movement that I achieved by using what I call my “Terrific Triple Threat.” The TTT effect is achieved by using a combination of three Singh-Ray filters: an LB Warming Polarizer, a Graduated Neutral Density Filter, and a 5-stop Solid ND filter. The polarizer gives the benefits associated with polarizing filters, mainly the removal of reflective highlights, the saturation of colours, and the increase in apparent contrast between clouds and blue sky. The ND grad filter keeps brightly lit skies from being overexposed, and the 5-stop ND filter creates long exposure times which has two benefits; first it shows painterly blur in any object moving in the frame (swirling tides, running water, blowing clouds) and second it builds up colour intensity especially at sunrise and sunset by allowing colour to wash over the land and sky over time.

In this second photo, I used my polarizer to give me a rich sky, and more saturated colours, and a 2-stop hard-edge ND grad over the sky to retain highlight detail. I also added a 5-stop ND filter to further build-up the sunrise colours and to give me painterly strokes of movement in the clouds.

I recently made a series of four images to illustrate the effect each filter has on the image in the TTT technique. The following photos are RAW captures taken from the camera with the same adjustments made in the RAW convertor (click image to enlarge).

Frame A was taken with no filters, frame B has a LB polarizer which removes reflective glare, darkens the sky and adds a warm cast to the photo. Notice how the clouds pop and the warm tones in the ice come to life with the polarizer. Frame C is taken with both an LB polarizer and a 1-stop ND grad filter over the sky and mountains to hold detail in the sunlit parts of the scene. The ND filter added further richness to the sky. Frame D is made with all three filters in place. The addition of the 5-stop solid ND filter adds more richness to the colour as the sunrise light moved across the clouds.

Without a filter the exposure was 1/8th of a second. With all three filters the exposure time was 10 seconds and thus the light had more time to move through the scene. Had it been a windy day the clouds would look more like the ones in frame B but this was a calm morning so no movement was recorded. The 5-stop ND does record changing light over time giving more colour in the scene. The final image is shown at left, which includes some additional finishing in Photoshop.

Some photographers have concern that stacking three filters together will have adverse effects on sharpness. I have not noticed any loss of sharpness between the photos taken without the filters (top) and those taken with all three filters (bottom). Note that this is an enlarged detail from the above example image. The sharp results with the filters attest to the quality of Singh-Ray filters. (Click image to enlarge.)

I use a Cokin P-holder to hold my stacked filters. I use a sprocketed P-series size LB polarizer in the inner slot of the Cokin holder. In the last slot of the holder I place the grad filter and in the middle slot goes the 5-stop ND filters. I have no problems with the filters or the Cokin holder vignetting with the lenses I use (24, 45 and 90mm TSE Canon lenses) but if you use a wide angle zoom such as a 17-40 or 16-35mm you will likely have issues with vignetting. In my next blog entry I will have hints on how you can use all three filters on a wide-angle zoom.

As far as shooting with the filters here is my workflow:

1. Use a steady tripod, never have the center post up and use a high quality ball head. You will need rock solid support for the technique to work or else you will have blurry photos. I also use a cable release to trip the shutter.

2. Compose the scene and place the polarizer in the filter holder, rotate the polarizer for optimal effect. Now place the ND grad filter over the sky – use your depth-of-field preview button or Live View on your camera to precisely place the grad line. Focus on the scene as you would normally do. I use manual focus and focus one-third of the way into the scene for optimal depth-of-field (DOF). If you use auto-focus, turn off this feature now because your camera will search for focus once the 5-stop ND filter is put into place!

3. Place the 5-stop ND in the middle slot up against the polarizer so light does not bounce in the gap between the filters. Close the eye-piece shutter on your camera, or cover the eyepiece with your thumb – extraneous light coming through the eye piece will affect the exposure causing gross underexposure. Most digital cameras will allow for exposure times of up to 30 seconds in aperture priority mode, which I use for this technique. I mostly use f11 or f16 for good DOF and the best resolution – lens performance at f22 is often poor with most lenses. Take the photo and make any adjustments to exposure compensation to give you a good histogram biased to the right but without clipping the highlights.

4. I will often do two shots one without the 5-stop ND and one with it. At home I can pick the result I like best -- it's almost always the one with the ND filter in place.

5. Show your end results around and gather the accolades!

To see more of Darwin's work, be sure to visit and share your accolades with him.