Photography and Book Design

Hello Everyone,

I am a photographer undertaking a large self-publishing project looking for advice along the way from experienced designers. Sometimes I realize this project is a bit over my head as I learn new things every week. Essential things. Ultimately as I near the end of the layout, I will hire someone locally to offer critique and suggestions, and help me inch it through the printing process. The reason for the caution is there will be up to 600-700 photos. This alone is a tremendous task to not only select and place them, but to prep them properly. Of course colour management will be a big issue.

I am already a published author. (See the link at the end of this post. )

This current book project is on the same subject.

I am looking for advice on design issues, especially regarding photo placement. Of course, on a million other things.

I am also celebrating 40 years as a published photographer, so if you have questions on aspects of photography, maybe I could help.

Ron T Simon

You might want to do that at the beginning as well. Heading off problems before you get a hundred pages into is typically good.

You’re asking for broad suggestions, but doing so for something like this would be a bit like me logging onto a carpentry forum and asking for broad tips on building a house. I mean, there’s no way to really summarize the knowledge necessary to do such a thing in a few short sentences.

That said, before you even start, you should think through the entire thing and plan it out. Going back to the house analogy, you need a blueprint on what you’re building and you need to know ahead of time where all the pieces go, how everything connects together and what the end result will look like.

You’ll need to develop an underlying grid that extends throughout the book and use it as the basis for photo and text alignments. This will help provide a unified look to the book. Along these same lines, you’ll need to decide on what kinds of consistent running elements will be present throughout the book. These are things like page numbers and their positions, cutlines, rules, margins, headlines, etc. Remember you’re designing a book and not a series of independent pages.

A book this size will also be perfect bound if not actually stitched, so you’ll need to have wider inside margins. You’ll also need to think in terms of signatures and color profiles and work those kinds of things out with the printer ahead of time.

My best advice, however, is to hire a professional to do it for you. You’ve obviously put a lot of work into the photos, so it would be a shame for the book design not to reflect the same degree of professionalism as the photos in the book.

This is good advice. Do a few sample pages, have someone crit them and make suggestions, then use those as templates for the rest of your book.

Hello, Thanks for spending some time replying to my introduction and concerns. I completely agree with you,
I have already set that grid, actually 2 years ago.
As I have already published a book on this subject, I decided to break the mould in standard photo placement and create a variety of layouts that fit with a greater grid that gives the design a sense of recurring structure. I realize I am getting into dangerous territory with some of these layouts, but this is a book about a very political and celebratory theater, that in its own right is loud, attention grabbing. As i am paying for all of this, I do not mind taking some chances. That is when I will call in a critique.

What I really wanted to get into discussion about is the gutter. How designers feel about photos, not just crossing it, but even approaching it.

This question arises because the aforementioned structure uses full vertical bleeds. A fill frame 35mm film 36x24 ratio, translates into a 13.25 x 8.333 output size. My book is 13 x 9 inch.

So I need to decide how to treat every photograph with a full vertical bleed.
-How is a gap beside the gutter viewed by a designer? Should it be black?
-Or should that space always be filled by extending the photo to the very center of the gutter?

Correction: A ratio of 24 x 36 translates to 13.25” x 8.833”…

Let’s define “gutter” because it can mean different things to different people. I’m assuming you’re referring to the place between the pages where they meet and are bound, right? In a saddle-stitched magazine (staple binding), where it can open up and lie flat, a full spread across the gutter is common. With stitched signatures or perfect binding, this is problematic since the book can’t be completely opened up flat. This creates, as you know, an awkward space that isn’t fully visible. If you have an unusually composed photo with a big dead space in the middle, I supposed a full spread could actually work. Otherwise, it’ll be difficult to pull off successfully.

I’m assuming full horizontal bleeds as well since you’re concerned about the gutter. There’s less of a problem regarding the gutter on full-page bleeds, and I wouldn’t avoid them at all. You still need to account for the dead gutter space, however, and crop your photos accordingly. Speaking of gutters and perfect binding, there can be problems regarding the printing extending all the way to where the pages are glued (the ink can interfere with the glue), so this is something to discuss with the printer/bindery. They might want a 3mm, or so, of blank space there (that will never be seen when the book is opened).

Black? Why would you make it black? Why would you want a black stripe in the gutter? This makes me want to repeat again that you really ought to follow my and @StudioMonkey StudioMonkey’s advice about designing a few pages, then having a good designer look at it. The unused or only partly usable space taken up by the gutter really does need to be thought through carefully. You might want to find a similar book, see how they’ve treated it and how much blank space they’ve allowed for it.

You can do it either way or both as long as it’s part of the design, well-planned and done consistently. Again, though, if this is perfect bound, you’ll need to leave a tiny bit of printer-specified blank space for the glue. If it’s hardbound and has a sewn signature binding, this wouldn’t be an issue other than the fact that whatever imagery is deeply buried within the depths of the gutter will never be seen.

I don’t know how much control you have over the printing and binding, however. You’re self-publishing, which could mean anything from you just submitting what you’ve done according to written specs to a mass producer of self-published books to a more traditional printing and bindery company that will work with you and provide suggestions.

You mentioned celebrating 40 years of photos, so you want this done right. I’ve seen more than one book laid out in a way that doesn’t adequately take into consideration the binding and the gutter, which you apparently already realize.

There are lots of other production issues too. Old photos will be scans from film, right? How were they scanned? What’s their resolution? Any black and whites? If so, will you be running them 4-color process or using duotones or tritones? What paper stock are you using. What weight? What about the cover and the spine? What about media coatings, like spot varnish or an aqueous flood finish. Do you understand all these things and how to work with them. Are they options with the printer/publisher you’re working with. What layout program are you using for this. I hope it’s not something like Word.

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If one doesn’t learn anything in school, at least one should learn this.

Thanks very much for a very detailed description.

All the data is high quality, which includes film scans from Imacon scanners and RAW files that are processed in Capture One, all resized to 300dpi. That matters less when other things go visibly wrong, like how images may not line up well when crossing the gutter.

My earlier question was just whether full vertical bleeds should, as a rule, reach the gutter. Or is 3/8ths” of white ok? I would not want to see uneven strips of white close to the gutter, and feel it is better to let the photo reach to center everything. Just avoiding the possibility of unevenness.

Last year a local book binder agreed to work with her printer and then undertake the binding. Unbound, for 500 copies, I was quoted $30-$40 CAD for 200 pages at 13” x 9”. (It is now longer). Nearly twice that for offset, though I understand 1000 copies should be minimum to bring down the overall cost. (My first book on this subject was printed in an edition of 6000 of which over 300 ended up in libraries alone. It was only $40.00.) This book will be twice the price but it is bigger is size and much of it in colour. In total, I may invest $30K for 500 copies, or $60.00 each. A designer cost is built into that budget.

Thanks again for your interest and advice.

The previous answers are more than comprehensive enough. However, can I just add one small point to that? I have been designed books for years and when I do co-eds for both US and European markets, the binding is different between the two territories. A lot more is lost in American Library Binding, than in the UK equivalent. For the US binding, I usually move the images out from the gutter around 5mm each side to accommodate the loss. This means you have a 10mm area of duplicated image at the gutter. This is usually just about right so that the photo visually marries up when the book is opened.

The best thing is talk to your printer and get their advice.

Smart cropping can also usually counter a lot of potential issues.

This is a great suggestion.

Ecoecho, following any of our suggestions regarding the gutter, however, involves discussing the issue with the printer/bindery.

I have perfect bound books made to be opened wide and lie nearly flat — exposing the entire page right down to where they’re glued together. I have other similar-sized books where opening the book that far would crack the binding. A sewn binding can never be opened completely and some space is inevitably lost due to the stitching. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer given all the binding variables.

You need to take all of this into consideration when laying out your pages, but again, you can only get those specifics from the bindery. If it were me, I’d ask them for a sample of a similar-sized book they’ve bound using similar stock, then see for yourself where that inside margin should be and how much will be lost in the gutter and need to be compensated for when the photos bleed into the gutter.

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