Musings on Photography

SoFoBoMo – What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on February 7, 2008

The intimidating aspect of SoFoBoMo isn’t that the problems you’ll encounter are insurmountable – people have successfully made books before. The intimidation comes in because for so many of us, we don’t even know what the problems ARE, let alone know how we’re going to solve them. And, if you don’t know what the problems are, how can you know if you can solve them? Add in the not insignificant requirement that it all be done in 30 days, and it seems like utter madness. Heck, let’s just come right out and say it – it’s utter madness.

I won’t say that it’s likely that everyone who signs up for SoFoBoMo will end up getting a book done in 30 days. (Last year, there were about 120 participants in NaSoAlMo, and only 21 people who finished an album.) It’s by no means a sure thing. But it’s important to remember that the worst possible outcome is that you still won’t have put together a book – you’ll be exactly where you’ll be if you don’t try. Actually, that’s not quite true. If you really make an effort, it seems to me that you’ll end up 30 days into SoFoBoMo and have only, say, 50% of your book complete. That’s a heck of a lot farther along than if you hadn’t started!

I think one possible payoff from SoFoBoMo is that you might actually finish, and you end up with a book. Done entirely in 30 days, it’s unlikely that it will represent your best work ever (although one never knows). But the big payoff is that the intimidation of attempting a book is gone. The problems of doing a book will have all been taken out of the ‘unknown and thus intimidating’ category and plopped into the much less intimidating “problems for which known solutions exist” category. The further you get in 30 days, the more problems you’ve moved from the bad category into the not quite so bad category. Even if you fail, you succeed.

If you’ve thought SoFoBoMo looked interesting, but you’re afraid of trying for fear of failing, stop and consider – What’s the worst that could happen? Is it really all that bad, or does it in fact seem pretty good?

11 Responses

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  1. Martin Doonan said, on February 7, 2008 at 11:30 am

    My thoughts on SoFoBoMo swing between excitement to be part of this & get going and terror of the sheer scale of the problem. I hope I’m on one of the high days when it all starts.

  2. Chris Hoge said, on February 7, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    I’ve already decided to make things easy on myself. To put the book together I’m going to use iPhoto. Image processing will be handled in Raw Developer and LightZone.

    The hardest part will be the taking and editing of images. For me this project is about seeing something through from beginning to end, but not necessarily making things hard on myself by demanding the highest quality from every step.

    If it’s a hit, I can try a more difficult project and be able to work from a place of confidence (as your post suggests).

  3. John Sparks said, on February 7, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    In the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking about creating a photo book for a very long time (years). I find the idea of SoFoBoMo (but not the name 😦 ) an interesting one and think the deadline aspect would be motivating. However, I don’t quite understand the rational behind some of the “rules”.

    The hard part about writing a novel is, well, writing a novel. The hard part about creating a photo book is creating a book and finishing the project.

    I’ve been doing a photo-a-day project for a while now and I chose to use the form of a printed photo book as my project. It’s been a learning experience, but once the page layout was set up, choosing a photo a day, processing the photograph, printing it out and putting it in a book is just about shooting and editing and printing. It’s challenging in itself, but it’s not the same as creating a book.

    I believe it is improving my photography, it is definitely improving my editing skills (both choosing good photographs and post-processing), but I am no closer to creating a book of my photographs.

    It’s not the same as choosing a body of work that I want to represent in book form. Selecting photographs that I have already made and creating new photographs that fill in holes. Editing this larger body of work into coherent sequenced whole. Determining the number of photographs required to tell the story and stay within my budget (as I would want to at least one copy printed and bound). Laying out pages; writing copy. Creating a new work of art in the form of a book from photographs that in large part already exist. Kind of like creating a new work of art in the form of a photograph from subject matter that already exists.

  4. Paul Butzi said, on February 7, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    However, I don’t quite understand the rational behind some of the “rules”.

    Ok. Which rules don’t seem to make sense to you?

  5. Ed Richards said, on February 7, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    A quick and dirty approach for those who need a jump start: Just create a document in Word, do your title page, insert some blank pages with fairly wide margins, and start dropping images on pages. If you want to use portrait and landscape oriented photos, then set up a square page. Then use word’s photo editing tools to resize them as necessary, and print to a PDF. That gets you a book to look at in about 30 minutes. If you want to send it to an on demand publisher like LuLu, just get their sample document and set your page size to match. In a couple of hours you could do the first pass, sent it to LuLu, and get a copy in your hands in a few days. Then you can start really working on the book – editing only begins when you have the first draft. The key to doing a book is get that first draft, even if it is quick and dirty.

  6. John Sparks said, on February 7, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    “Ok. Which rules don’t seem to make sense to you?”

    I thought that was pretty clear from my response.

    If the idea is to make a photo book within a month (emphasis on book), then why restrict it to photos made within the month. If the idea is to make a bunch of photographs within a month and edit them down to 35 or so, that seems to me to be something different and the emphasis is on the photos and not on the book.

    Making a good book is a challenging project. Doing it within a month is more so. Making 35 or more book worthy photographs and a book in a month seems like a distraction from the real project and at best a trial run for a real book later with stronger photographs.

  7. jmsetzler said, on February 7, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    The worst thing that could happen is that I will like the resulting book so much that I’ll want to create more, and that will take up all the little free time I have now. This isn’t the first time I have considered making a photo book, but it looks like it will be the first time I’ll actually get one made. I don’t have any particular fears about getting this job done. The only fear is a possible addiction… 😉

  8. Martin Doonan said, on February 8, 2008 at 12:39 am

    John, I disagree. the whole point is to get over that hurdle of saying “it’s too challenging” and actually focus on getting through the whole process. It’s supposed to be a challenge, if this was easy there would be no point: everyone would be doing it. A photobook is nothing without producing the photos.
    Your arguments are like saying making a movie is either all about shooting the film, editing is not important or conversely the shooting is a distraction, it’s the editing that counts. In fact both parts are necessary to the overall finished product.

  9. John Sparks said, on February 8, 2008 at 7:08 am

    I don’t want to argue so this will probably be my last post on this subject.

    My point isn’t that “it’s too challenging”. It’s that it is too restrictive and not very satisfying.

    My photo a day project produced a book of 31 photographs during the first 31 days of the project (doing a book of a month of photo a day photographs with 35 photographs is a bit silly). The photographs are interesting and I learned a lot, but it’s not a very satisfying book. Maybe it will be more satisfying after I have done it for a year, but I can’t imaging too many people interested in looking through 365 sort of interesting photographs, including me.

    A few years ago, I went to Ireland for 2 weeks. Over the course of 2 or 3 months, I made a book of the photographs I made there. Using the technology available to me at the time, the book took the form of an album of prints made in the darkroom. It is a valuable memento of the trip, and includes a few really strong photographs and lots of weaker ones, but it’s not a very good book of Ireland. For that, I would want to go back many times, photograph at different times of year, have a more cohesive theme, etc.

    I have been photographing in a local park for many years. I have a significant body of work from this park. Many strong photographs. Photographs of how the park changes with the seasons. Photographs of how it has changed over time. This could form the basis of a book. Turning this body of work into a book is a challenge. A bigger challenge than limiting the book to photographs made within a month. Choosing from many more strong photographs than I could possibly make in a month. Showing things that would be impossible to show from photographs made in a month. Creating a satisfying book. Creating a “deep” book rather than a “wide” book. Creating a book that interests me rather than a book that doesn’t. It’s a daunting project. It is a project I haven’t started.

    Creating a book of photographs is more than creating a bunch of photographs. I have been photographing for a long time. I expect to continue making photographs for a long time. I have a bunch of photographs and it’s growing all the time. I don’t have a book.

  10. Gordon Coale said, on February 8, 2008 at 10:09 am

    This is not totally germaine to the subject but if I go to the trouble of creating a book I would like to send it to a printer who will print photographs reasonably well. Who is the best print-on-demand printer for photographs? Or are they all pretty much the same?

  11. Alan Abercrombie said, on February 14, 2008 at 4:11 am

    It seems that this project has already got people to don their thinking caps and spot some anomalies/problems with the 30 day time slot. The choice of theme is paramount, landscape producers are going to find it the hardest I think, after all seasonal changes are definitely out. Nothing much changes within 30 days, so there has to be an element of “A month in the life of” about it. Neverteless I still find it a stimulating idea, and have a few plans on the drawing board.

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