Since the explosion of the digital camera, photography has become less of a tangible medium. We are now able to view more photography online and through social media than ever before. Print used to be the only medium that allowed us to own copies of spectacular photos. Holding a tangible photo in the form of print or fine-art photography book is a much different experience than looking at one on a computer screen.
There is good news here though. Since our world has become so technology driven, there are now more options for a photographer to promote their work. In fact you can be be at the helm of almost any idea imaginable at this point. While the print world may be in decline, it can definitely be an outlet for any photographer. Through technology we can now self-publish any print concept in small numbers, this even includes the fine-art photography book.
Fine-Art Photography Book Lightbulb
A little over a year ago I came up with an idea to mark an event in my photography career. I was a self-employed photographer for nine years. A fine-art photography book seemed like something special to celebrate that decade mark.
I typically write all of my ideas down in a little five by eight inch sketch book. I have gone through about a half dozen of these sketch books over the last decade. These books contain every hair-brained idea that I have ever cooked up.
One late evening, under the influence of bourbon, I jotted something down about my first fine-art photography book. I called it Then ~ Now. A limited edition fine-art photography book that was full of ten years worth of photos.
While many photographers produce limited edition items, some consider a limited edition to be something like a thousand books. I decided a number like that didn’t really represent a true limited edition. Nor did I have the resources to sell a fine-art photography book with that large of a print run. I began with some online research to figure out how to put my late-night sketch book idea into play.
Research and Discovery
I already knew about the concept of print-on-demand. However, I was looking for a very specific company to work with to produce my one-off fine-art photography book. I decided that a print-on-demand service was the answer. I didn’t want an already crowded garage to now become full of books.
After perusing a ton of websites, I felt that there were two online companies capable of producing a quality book. Blurb had a larger variety of book sizes available. They lacked some of the design options of my second choice company though. Artifact Uprising has a smaller variety, but more creative options. I ended up choosing Blurb because I wanted a larger dimensionally sized book that Artifact Uprising didn’t produce. Another reason that I went with Blurb was volume discounting.
The print-on-demand market is a retail price point. You need to know this isn’t going to be a cheap endeavor. However, by choosing to produce a limited edition price point for my fine-art photography book, I could ask for a greater price. This in turn could actually have some profitability in the end.
The Planning Stages
I wrote down my initial idea almost a year before I had any thoughts of releasing it. In the end, I realized that I used most of that year to produce the final edition book. I didn’t spend the entire year working on the book. I still had to run my business.
The Blurb website displays a monstrous library of print-on-demand books. Some of them hit the mark and others fail miserably in my opinion. My goal was to produce something that truly impressed my buyer. The fine-art photography book had to be worthy of a limited edition stamp.
Building the book design was no different than building any other project for me – I was fortunate enough to go to design school. If you don’t have this advantage though, Blurb even offers design services.
Looking for Inspiration
I began by perusing some of the 250 photo books on the shelves in my office. Some of the books were even printed by Blurb so I already knew that I was going to get a quality product. While perusing those books, I started writing down design notes and concepts. I began to think about how I wanted everything to look.
You need to think about every minute detail during this planning stage.
- What font(s) are you going to use?
- Is there going to be a lot of text?
- Any text?
- How will the paragraphs for that text look?
- What is the spacing of the actual letters?
- What is each heading going to look like?
- How will you lay out the photos on every page?
- Will there be more than one photo layout style?
- What will your cover design look like?
- Type of paper do you want to use for the book?
- Is the cover style is going to work for your concept?
Any question that comes to mind needs to be written down. Then you have to work through all of the details in a cohesive manner so that everything looks great as a final product. Have you noticed how we haven’t even begun to think about the book’s photo and text content yet?
Outline Your Concept
During this planning phase I also outlined the book’s concept. The general idea was to highlight a decade of photographs. However, as a writer, I also wanted to tell my story. The story of how I managed to get where I am today. Like I mentioned earlier, I wrote down the title a year in advance (Then ~ Now), but I wasn’t sure that would become the final title either. After more planning and research I realized that my initial idea was going to become the best.
So even within my pretty photo book concept, I developed a sub-concept. The title reflected three specific photo styles throughout my ten year career. Even the tilde made sense as part of the book title and became an essay within the book – it refers to a pause in programming language and became the in-between stage of my career.
Because I was choosing to sell my book within our online store and make it fairly exclusive, I had even more to consider.
- What was I going to charge for this book?
- How many copies did I want to produce?
- How was I going to let the world know about it?
- Did I want others to have access to copies of the book?
If you are an Adobe Lightroom user you can design, build and export your book directly from the Book Module to Blurb.com. I recently changed my photo management software to Capture One Pro, so I needed to come up with a different plan. Because I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator almost daily for my website and photo promo materials, I chose to use Adobe InDesign to lay out my book. Blurb has a great plugin available for InDesign that makes book creation in their offered sizes fairly painless. Blurb also offers their own software to help you build your book, as does Artifact Uprising should you not want to purchase additional software like InDesign.
In addition to printing, design services and software, Blurb will help you sell your book in their online store. They will help you get the book into Amazon. They will also create an ebook version of what you upload to their site. It is kind of nice having an auto-generated ebook available as well so buyers who don’t have the finances to justify an expensive fine-art book can get an online edition for much less. I chose not to use any of these features for my Then ~ Now book because of how limited it was going to be.
Making a Choice
Remember from the beginning that I already knew that I wanted a big book. I chose the largest print book available in Blurb’s option pricing, a 13 by 11 inch landscape book. Then I downloaded their InDesign plugin, watched a couple of tutorials and started laying out my book based on the notes I had already collected.
I chose a couple of page layout designs for my photos that I liked while looking through my inspirational photo books. I already knew that single pages in the book would only contain single photos so that my photos would be displayed at their largest. Then I started selecting photos and began dragging and dropping them into my photo book within InDesign.
During the whole process I decided to have a friend who lives on the east coast critique what I was doing. Every week as I got closer and closer to my release deadline I would screen cast the current design state of the book with him. We discussed layouts, photo choices, even photo pairings. Then I would head back re-analyze everything.
The First Printed Book
This process went on for two months and then it was time to see where I was. The beauty of print-on-demand is that I could just upload my book, create a print copy of it and see how everything physically looked. I am so glad that I did this because I realized some things needed adjusting. Printing a proof copy of the book gave me insight to how my fonts looked, how each selected photo looked, even how the design read compared to my initial vision.
From this point I made dozens of adjustments. I even changed the cover photo. Then I made all of the text much smaller and changed my font of choice.
I also began designing other components of the book. I figured out how I was going to make the limited-edition seal and designed the certificate of authenticity to be part of the book itself. The cover became a printed photo wrap instead of using a traditional dust jacket style. This led me to designing a dust jacket that made the book feel more of a one-off design using inked stamps.
I created mock-ups and sketches for just about every component along the way, I even figured out how I was going to ship it to buyers. Again, no stone unturned.
This book was originally set for 50 copies, but I changed that as well. As I wrote the included four essays I began to see all of these different connections with what I was doing. Since I incorporated as a full-time photographer on the 6th day of the 6th year of 2000, I felt that 66 copies made more sense than 50.
My Marketing Plan of Chance
Because printing-on-demand is a fairly fast turn-around I decided that when I sold one book, I would buy another. This meant that I didn’t need to layout money for all 66 books up front and I didn’t need to worry about not being able to sell a single copy.
As we got closer to my self-imposed release date, I decided to announce what I was doing to my email list. Almost immediately 10 people jumped on board by reserving a copy of the book.
From there I created a marketing plan about how I wanted to keep people informed and how I planned to continuously promote the book. Using my websites, social media accounts, and by promoting individual photos from the book we have gained sales traction from a variety of buyer profile types. The plan still remains to sell the book out before my 11 year anniversary this fall and with about a third of the 66 sold I think that is completely possible.
As the book came to completion, other ideas related to the project came to mind. Because I had so many photos and not enough room for all of them in the book, we created a limited-edition print series as well. This gave a different buyer an equally different purchasing option.
So far everyone who has purchased a copy of Then ~ Now has sent in glowing reviews. They love it and are extremely inspired by it. Which has totally floored me.
My first self-published book has even inspired me. I have realized that my photography needs to be seen in print more often. There is a quality to seeing your photography in printed form that cannot be understood online. Great 4K and 5K monitors, new Retina Displays show amazing details within photos, but with print there is a reality. You can feel a photo’s presence, you can smell the ink, and this tangible quality illuminates your senses. It changes your perspective of the photo you are looking at. Many photographers are missing this. I was too and I started taking photos in 1993 using a film called Fujichrome Velvia as my exclusive medium. I have decided that I want my vision displayed more as a craft, yet again, and print allows me to achieve this solitary goal.
You may or may not want to self produce of fine-art photo book of this magnitude. I now know how much time is needed to create a book of this magnitude.
The bottom line is that anyone can do what I did on a much smaller scale and not even for the sake of generating revenue. The key to creating a book that people appreciate is to give them something special. Something they couldn’t buy at a brand-name store. It is that uniqueness that sells, but even if you chose to produce the book just as gifts for friends and family, it’s the thought-out process that will wow them even more.
When asked if I would self-publish a fine-art photography book again? The answer is…there are already four more concepts on the drawing board.
Get Your Copy
A Limited edition fine-art photography book for your coffee table.