MAKING A PHOTO BOOK WITH -SYB-
Making a photo book is a very personal and vulnerable undertaking. Not only for the photographer but also for the designer. Clients have to entrust their precious and utterly personal project to someone they sometimes only know by reputation (which in itself can be pretty deceiving). It’s a leap of faith by any definition. The designer has to reward that trust by understanding the project so thoroughly that he/she can design a book that captures the essence of the project and elevates it.
Obviously every designer is different and a lot of them are quite unique in how they work. So I thought it a good idea to shed some light on my personal process. Keep in mind that this is only a general account. Each project and each book is a unique journey of creation.
Design with your heart
Designing a photo book is more about feeling than thinking and more about connecting than explaining. Of course a design has to be smart, but to my mind, the book’s first objective is to make the reader experience something before it makes the reader understand anything. So, we must design with our hearts, and check with our heads.
not only make it work, make them work
My books are specifically designed to immerse the reader in a project- pull them into a world as you saw it. A journey starting on the cover. this emphasis on experience is the reason why so many of my books miss formalistic aspects like title pages, french pages, introductions and even page numbers. They all distract too much from the story itself. My books often make the reader "work" sometimes causing a fair amount of irritation. But I’m confident that if a book can inspire the reader to engage with it on an active level the experience will only deepen.
A photo book is a balancing act of photo’s, text and context. The right mix is essential to keep the reader’s attention. Too much text will fail to mobilize the reader’s empathy, intellect and fantasy. too little however will leave the reader underwhelmed. In short some books need a lot of text and others don’t. Whatever makes it work.
Because of the mechanics of turning pages, the narrative of a book, by definition, evolves in time. a book is also a physical object. A ‘thing’ with not only three dimensions but also weight, smell, and touch. both aspects together make designing a photo book a strange mixture of architecture and film-editing. The editing deals with the selection and sequencing of the photo’s in a meaningful order. While the architecture deals with the physical construction of the book. Paper choice, print techniques, binding techniques etc. All of which matter to the final product.
to my mind, The physique of a book can (and must) be an expression of the content. many times it’s even the driving force of the narrative itself. To achieve this goal I have often used unconventional binding methods. Sometimes techniques that push the limits of book binding itself. When done well, it can make books stand out and instantly recognizable. But doing something “special” is only warranted if it really helps the story. If not, it’s not more than a party trick and has to be left alone.
book must be approached as a whole. The book itself is the end product, the total being more than the sum of its parts. As a result certain photo’s will not find their way into a book. Not because they’re bad photo’s – sometimes on the contrary – but they just won’t fit in the overall narrative and concept of the book. This “kill-your-darlings” moment can be (and will be) painful but it is necessary for ‘the greater good’ , a great book.
It’s my goal to make my clients happy (and I mean happy). That doesn’t mean that I blindly do what they want or say. Although I take the photographer’s view very seriously, my opinions and suggestions might not be something they expect. In a sense, I see it as my job to surprise the photographer with his/her own work, even if it takes some time to convince them. Discussions can be quite animated, but it’s all done in an effort to achieve a common goal: the conception of the best possible book. We don’t always find common ground, but bottom line is that the photographer is boss. In the end, it’s your project and bookand not mine. I’m only here to help you achieve your goals.
1. KICK OFF
Every book is a personal journey for you and for me. Ideally the design-process starts off with a face-to-face meeting, preferablyat a big table in the pub close to my studio. To get to know each other and talk about the project on a personal level. If you’re based on the other side of the planet, we can make it work with technology. Communicating by phone, might be helpful, but I like to keep that to a minimum for a number of reasons.
2. KITCHEN REVIEW
After this first meeting, I take the next step alone. Asking for time to react to the material without interference, working with the images and texts. The texts have to be in a (pre-)final incarnation. I never work with fake texts. Texts are just too important for the balance of the book, This preliminary step results in a first design-concept. The backbone of this concept is often a specific arranging/ordering/editing concept, combined with “architectural” ideas about size, paper, binding etc. I will “visualize* this first draft on screen in what I call a ‘kitchen review’. I don’t call this a ‘presentation’ because that already sounds too final for what it really is, even when a visualization looks completely designed, everything is still possible. Sending me back to the drawing board to start over, is definitely one of the options on the table. The great advantage of this method is that in discussing the reasons why you don’t like the design, I will get a clear picture of what to do next. This process of back and forth goes on until we are happy with the overall concept of the book. In effect, at which point, the whole book will be ready for 80% although there’s still room to add or change some texts and/or photo’s.
After agreeing on the underlying concept and initial edit, it can still take some time to perfect the book. Extensive discussions about all kinds of aspects, from paper-stock, to inks, from the color of binding thread to the color of foils, to... what ever is relevant. Photo’s go out, new photo’s go in and out again. this can be quite intense. I have to point out however, that (Romantic) ideas about the creation-proces, like working together, shoulder to shoulder, on a book, for days in a row, are not part of my reality. we discuss the comments, the worries, the fears, the doubts, the second thoughts etc. of a proposal and i try to fix, remedy and tackle them in the next design phase, which we will discuss all over again.
Although I hardly print out anything myself, I recognize the need of a lot of clients to see, feel experience a physical incarnation of the design. So the producing of a dummy is optional but not included in the price. The dummies we will produce will be as close as possible to the end product.
the final product is only as good as the team that makes it. To produce a great book, you need to work with a professional production team. Of course I work with those professionals all the time, but working with them is voluntary, you don’t need to. Still it might be a good idea to point out which production aspects are important in the book .
Reproducing your photo’s on an offset printing press is not necessarily easy. Pictures that look great on your screen or printed with an ink jet printer on photographic paper, can look like shit when printed on an off-set press, especially when using an uncoated paper. That’s where the lithographer comes in. His expertise and experience will guarantee a great reproduction on an off-set printing press. The lithographer I work with, will also be present at the press while your book is printed to check the printing sheets.
Having worked with a lithographer, the choice of a good printer is a bit less critical. But even then, a professional printer, dedicated to flawlessly reproducing your work, is very important. It can be a printer anywhere in the world, but having the printer, lithographer and designer in each other’s vicinity is pretty convenient. We always ask quotes from two or three printers to get you the best quality for the best price.
In my “architectural” approach to photo books, binding is of utmost importance. There is not always the need to push the boundaries of binding to tell a great story. Sometimes a ‘simple’ book works best. However if we go for special bindings, we have to work with a binder that’s willing to explore unconventional avenues (which often comes with an unconventional price). So there’s always the point that we have to weigh the advantage of a special binding against the costs, sometimes deciding to go for a more conventional and simple solution.
Producing a photo book is not cheap. How expensive, is hard to tell before hand. each book is unique and varies in size, thickness, complexity. STill there are a few global things to say about it.
although my DESIGN fee is about the same for every book, it varies, depending on the specifics of the book at hand. I WILL SEND MY INVOICES IN TWO installments. the first (half of my fee) the moment stage two is completed. the second after the printer has received the final documents for printing. A lot of times my clients reserve time between stage two and three to seek funding based on the design. they apply for Grants, they initiate crowd funding, pre-sales or what else is possible. While this hunting for funds is in progress, i will put the design proces on hold. Only when the financing is secured, we will proceed full steam ahead. clients don’t always like that but in my experience working in concentrated bursts will get better results than working in a drip-drip fashion.
After stage two we also have a fair idea what the technical specifications of the desired book are. This is the perfect moment to get quotes from printers, binders and lithographers. These will show precisely what the production costs will be. Especially when the design consists of complex binding techniques the overall price can turn out to be quite steep. sometimes urging us to reconsider some aspects of the design. If there is a production budget known beforehand, I will of course tAke that into account. GeneraliZations are hard to make, but in My experience production costs can range from € 5.000 - 15.000 depending size, page count, paper stock, binding, print run etc. In exceptional cases more. That’s why getting the quotes after stage two is so important. It also functions as a reality check.
Of course all this is still rather abstract and not as specific as you might like, but I hope it sheds some light on my design practice.
And remember, in the end it’s all about making your best possible book
if you’re not happy, i’m not happy too.