27 July 2014

Photography + Memory (Part 3) : Making A Great Photo Book

As mentioned in my last post I've made a Blurb photo book for the husband every xmas since 2007. I was so proud of my early attempts but now when I look back at them I do cringe a little - I made some pretty poor choices when it came to design, layout and photo quality. I've learnt a lot since then and I think each book is better than the last. 

(Although I do kinda think I may have peaked in 2012, a year in which we travelled a lot. The book was titled 'Home and Away', and I used a retro departure / arrivals board type of font called Flipboard throughout. The captions were made to look like flight information displays - a page of photos of Ferdi refusing to get out of bed was captioned 'ZZ101  Ferdi sleeps in  20:12  Delayed'; our trip to the US which kicked off in San Fran was captioned 'OZ214  San Francisco  12:01  Go To Gate' (OZ214 was our actual flight number and 12:01 represent January 2012). And so on. Clever, yes?)

Anyway. Here's what I've figured out:

Less is more. This is true in so many ways. Firstly, edit your photo selection and then edit it again (kind of like packing a suitcase). You want the best images, the ones that are most fit for purpose - just a few duds in the mix can bring your whole book down. Next, keep your page layouts clean and simple. And only use a few different page layouts across your entire book. Three at the most, I think. And the same goes for fonts too.

Negative is Positive. Don't be afraid of negative space. Don't feel the need to cram eight photos on every page, or use a heap of full page bleeds. Embrace that blank space, that emptiness will help each of your beautiful images tell the story they're meant to. 

The page from my 2007 book below is, frankly, terrible. The photos are too tiny and too dark, and the layout is far too busy. The story, the images, get lost in the messiness of it all. The 2009 page is a little better - at least the photos take centre stage here. But mainly I included this page because LOOK! There's Elfi in a life jacket! 

Tell a story. Before I sit down to make each book, I run through the year and jot down the big events for each month. Then I try to find a common thread across those events or pick out one really important / life-changing thing and use that as the theme for the book

Last year we moved from Seoul to Sydney (kind of a big deal...) so the book was called 'Hello Sydney'. I continued the theme through some of the captions - images taken during our Europe trip were introduced with 'Hello Venice', 'Hello Istanbul', and so on. The 2012 'Home and Away' book I've described above is another example of how a theme helps tie a book together. 

The same idea could apply to any kind of photo book - it might be about a specific trip or special birthday - whatever it is, try and find that hook, that thread running through things. Trying to find the theme and having fun with it is definitely one of my favourite things about putting the book together each year. 

Set the scene. Not every photo has to have someone's smiling face in it. This is about memory, right? So include some shots that trigger the memory of whatever it is you're trying to capture. Was it the smell of espresso at a coffee bar in Napoli? Then include that shot of the espresso machine. Was it the non-stop rain during your Hong Kong stopover? Then include that shot of all the umbrellas, dripping wet. It might be a shot of your feet, the landscape, the furniture, some balloons, a meal, a posy, a random goat (Italy, July 2013) - whatever it is that reminds you of that place, that time

Vary your shots. Include a mix of gorgeous close ups, zoomed right in, and big picture, scene setting shots. Mixing things up will help you set the scene. (Also, see this great post from Fat Mum Slim over on Kidspot about how to tell a story in photos.) 

I really love the page below from our 2012 book. It's a reminder of one of the loveliest afternoons we've had in recent times - a really amazing family meal at Pilu at Freshwater on a gorgeous Sydney winter's day. Note the simple, clean layout and the mix of shots I've used to capture the mood.

Light and bright. I always, always find that my photos print out a little darker than how they appear on my computer screen. You don't want to overexpose your shots, but don't be too stingy with the brightening when you're editing and be very wary of including any that are on the dark side. Be aware that when you're viewing your photos on a screen against a black background they will look much lighter than when they're actually printed on a page with a white background. 

High resolution. I'm very bad with pixels per inch and dpis and all those technical terms, they make my head spin a bit. But I do know that low resolution images might look okay on your phone screen but they're probably not going to cut it on the printed page. A good quick check is to zoom in on your image a little, if things start looking blurry straightaway chances are you're dealing with a low res image that may not survive the printing process. Some book producing software will also give you a warning if your image is too small for what you're trying to do.

Basically you don't want to spend your time and money on a photo book full of vague, blurry images. So, use the best camera you can get your hands on and be mindful of image size when you're shooting, editing and exporting. A few years ago I would have said don't use camera phone shots, but the technology has come a long way very quickly - you can pretty much get away with it these days.

See how light and bright the page below is, from my most recent book? See how large the photos are? How there's a scene setting shot and a close up? How it captures the city (Istanbul) and the thoughtful repose of my (stylish) teenage stepson? Such a difference to that awful layout from 2007, yes?

And lastly? Have fun! I include all kinds of silly jokes in my books - captions about places we've been that only make sense to us, turns of phrase that have become part of the family lingo for the year - all the little stuff that glues us together. In the page above the caption says 'Hello Istanbul - We will eat all your things'. I poke a lot of fun at myself along the way too. It amuses me greatly and, occasionally, I'll even get a laugh out of the rest of the family. I have so much fun putting these books together, it's almost unhealthy...

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Have you made a photo book? Do you have any tips you'd like to share? Or do you have any questions for me about making photo books? Ask away!

19 July 2014

Photography + Memory (Part 2) : Print, Share, Publish!

A few days ago I wrote a post about the important role that photos can play in our memories and our sense of self. I wrote about how they can be a reminder of past lives, a celebration of our adventures and progress; something to gather around or quietly contemplate. But they only do all of this if we get them off our hard drives and in to our hands. I'm really hoping you've been inspired to do just that, so here's some ideas to get you started.

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My husband is really, really tricky to buy presents for. He's one of those annoying people who doesn't need or want much and tends to buy whatever he needs or wants when he needs or wants it, which makes gift buying rather difficult. So back in 2007 I was searching desperately for something just right for him, when I came across Blurb - a site which allowed you to publish your own book. Brilliant! I thought, and proceeded to make the first of what is now an annual tradition - a photo book for the family that documents our adventures from the past twelve months

Each year the book gets bigger and better, partly because my photography has improved, partly because Blurb itself has improved and partly because I've learnt a lot about layout and design. When I revisit that first book I'm stunned by both how ridiculously young the step-sons look and how terrible my choices were when it came to photo quality and layout...

In the next post I'll outline some tips for making the best photo book you can, but in the meantime I'll share this page from our 2008 book as it's our wedding anniversary today (in case you can't read the caption it says 'Getting hitched'!).

I've also used moo to create postcards and greeting cards from my photos (I prefer the postcards, for some reason the print quality seems better). And once - in an act of desperation a few days before my husband's birthday and completely stuck for gift ideas (have I mentioned he is ridiculously hard to buy for?) - I used Moonpig to create a personalised birthday mug. It was so delightfully tacky I have a feeling this may become another annual tradition.

I also have some of my favourite shots framed and dotted about the house - a cluster of smaller prints in similar frames looks especially good, I think. In the past I've printed out single shots at home but unless you have a fabulous printer I wouldn't recommend it. Better to use a professional service; I've had great results using Snapfish (good value too). 

I recently asked my photo taking friends for some further recommendations and here's what they said: 

"I used Origrami and they were awesome. Very reasonable and you can choose from a fab range of borders and filters! And the box is super cute...
- Katy Dee (@shiztastic

"I recommend Genius Printing for consistently high level prints, great customer service and fast turn around times.
- Andrew Paranavitana (Andrew Parmi Photography)

Origrami is definitely on my hitlist, I've heard such good things. I'm also really keen to try Artifact Uprising - the quality of their products looks amazing and their website is so clean and pretty. And I'm even keener after reading this review by CZ Design

These days there are loads of photo printing, book making, product creating options around at all kinds of price points. You can go from a fill-in-the-blanks type book (like those offered by the Kindred app) to hard cover works of art printed on lux paper. Not to mention giant canvases or notebooks or calendars ... Film might be dead (I don't think it is but that's for another blog post!) but the printed photo sure isn't. There really is no excuse for not turning your digital images into tangible artefacts. Go forth, and print.

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Please do tell me if you've tried any photo printing services - good, bad and ugly!

16 July 2014

Photography + Memory (Part 1) : Some Thoughts

I've just got back from five chilly but beautiful nights in Tasmania with my good friend Shannon and my loan Olympus OM-D E-M10*. Five nights and I have 413 photos. Yep, you read that right - Four Hundred And Thirteen. Yikes. You see, this little Olympus camera that I've been playing with is much lighter than my beloved DSLR, so I've been taking it everywhere with me. I've even worn it around my neck, obnoxious tourist style. End result? I have taken a lot of photos. 

It does have built in wifi, which means I've already sent some favourites to my iPhone to edit and share them on the go (so nifty!). But it's going to take weeks before I get stuck into the rest of them with editing and sorting and tagging and publishing. And when I say weeks you know I actually mean months, right? It's ace but it's also all a bit overwhelming. And it got me thinking about memory and photography, and the role photos play in our memory, especially in this age of digital cameras. 

But first, some more of those Tassie shots...
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At my Mum's house there's a shelf loaded with photo albums. I have fond memories of flipping through them at various ages. As kids, my sister and I would cringe at all those crazy hippy camping shots of our folks (so much nudity!), and later I'd cringe at the hair cuts of my youth (I had a mullet, sob.). 

We poured over our parents' slightly kooky wedding photos - loving our Dad in his velvet top hat and Mum with her long, long hair. There were photos of my Dad's gentle old border collie; of my Step-dad building our house brick by brick; of my Mum and Step-dad's Grand European Adventure. Of me feeding baby goats in Nimbin and playing the ukulele in Queensland and blowing bubbles in our backyard with my sister. 

Seeing our younger selves reflected back at us, seeing our family and what they'd done, kind of helped us tell a story, create a story, of who we were and where we'd come from. Memories help create that narrative of identity, of self. And photos can help us remember

But here's the thing - how many photos are sitting on your phone, your hard drive right now? And how often do you pull them out and look at them? How many have been printed or scrapbooked or archived in a real, tangible way? How often do you sit around flipping through a collection of photos and laugh and talk and tell stories and ask 'remember this?'? 

Photos are a great reminder of your adventures, the things you've shared as a family (whatever 'family' means to you). They document past lives; they can show you how far you've come (even if it's just in dress sense...). They remind you of how young your kids once were, how time flies past so quickly and why you really should cherish the moment, the now. 

They can be our touchstone, our collective memory bank, our shared history. Something we can gather around and laugh about, or contemplate quietly. But - they can only do all this if we get them off our phones and our hard drives and out in to the world

Consider this a call to action, a rally cry! Print, share, publish, document, archive. Revisit and reflect. Don't just capture moments - create beautiful, tangible memories you can share.

(ps. If you come back for part two and three I'll share some practical ways you can turn your digital images into real life ones, including some tips on putting photo books together...)
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*Disclosure: As part of Kidspot's Voices of 2014 competition I've been lent a super awesome Olympus OM-D EM-10 for a few months. I'll be writing three challenge posts during that time and have a chance to win some really awesome stuff. I'll be telling you a bit about the camera in each post. I promise I'll tell you both the good and the bad.

Here's my initial thoughts: 

Switching from DSLR. To be honest it's taken me a little while to adapt to this compact camera. I have grown quite attached to my trusty DSLR and it's lovely fixed lenses, so embracing a new camera was always going to be tricky. Although the OM-D EM-10 has all the settings to give you the same freedom and control as a DSLR, the fact that it's mirrorless means looking through the view finder is a slightly strange experience - the light looks very different in the view finder compared to the end image. Having said that, I've found using the LiveView screen works pretty well for me. I've also changed the settings so that the image is displayed for a few seconds longer after shooting, which means I can do a quick check of the end result and adjust things as needed. If you're upgrading from a compact you probably won't notice this, but if you're switching from a DSLR allow a little adjustment time

Loving the light (x2). As mentioned the Olympus OM-D EM-10 is super light (just under 400 grams apparently) which means I do take it everywhere with me. I can throw it in my backpack and not even notice it's there. Being compact means it is perfect for travel and street photography, and candid family shots

In Tassie I also put the camera through it's paces under all kinds of light conditions - sunrise, sunset, night, high contrast, indoor, outdoor - and it performed admirably under all of them. The clarity of the image is consistently blowing my mind (more about this later!). 

Wonderful wifi. Through some kind of magic (pretty sure that's what the product specs say) the camera can talk to my phone. Built in wifi plus a free app means you can download photos directly to your phone (or tablet) and edit and post them on the run. I've been doing this for July's Photo a Day challenge and I reckon my Instagram feed has never looked so good! I'm thinking this feature is a dream for bloggers, especially those of us who travel a lot. 

That darn lens cap. The one thing I'm not so keen on so far? There's a teeny tiny lens cap that's not attached to the camera body in anyway. I'm amazed I haven't lost it yet and am taking this opportunity to preemptively apologise to Olympus Australia and Kidspot for losing it in the next month. It will happen. 

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I'd love to hear your thoughts on photography and memory - how do you manage all those images? Do you think it's important to create an archive, to share and reflect on your photos? And is there anything you'd especially like to know about my new toy?