Musings on Photography

More on books, portfolios, and the web

Posted in Adobe InDesign, book design, books, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on August 20, 2009


Today I got a little bit further along on my quest to have a template that will help me generate paper books and online PDF portfolios/books.

This afternoon, I used to template to crank out a 24 image portfolio. That’s about as big as I’d want to go without giving more thought to structure than it currently has – right now it’s just a test job, with 24 photos from this years SoFoBoMo effort thrown in to see how it worked.

The differences between print and online versions, and between portfolios and books are slowly starting to become more clear as I go through the process of making things and am forced to actually confront actual problems and make concrete choices.

For instance, it seems to me that a portfolio is a much simpler structure – you don’t need quite as much front matter to a portfolio as you do for a book. Some of that structure – bastard title page, frontispiece, and half title page – might make sense only for books, and not so much for a portfolio. I can see a preface or forward for both books and portfolios, I guess.

The paper version/online version differences are growing more clear, too. If you’re generating a PDF for online viewing, you have different resolution needs, and you probably optimize the PDF differently. Those are hidden technical PDFy things. Beyond those, the on the ground experience of viewing a PDF online means that you’ll probably treat things like blank pages and spreads differently in online and print versions. Beyond that there are a host of issues which are basically traditions in the print world which might make no sense in the online world – the practice of having bastard title pages at the front (which was used to make it easy to identify unbound books) is a good example. Another example would be the idea of combining the frontispiece and title page to fill both functions (display an image, provide title, subtitle, author, publisher info) with just one page that also serves as a sort of cover for the portfolio as well. So an online version might have the cover, frontispiece, and title page collapsed into the first page, the second page would be the copyright page (or maybe move that to the end), followed by a preface/foreward/dedication/acknowledgements and then the body and back matter

I’ve also been going through my books on book design again. When I first went through all that study for SoFoboM 2008, I got headaches trying to learn book design. This time around it seems to all be making sense. The challenge is in taking hundreds of years of tradition and figuring out which bits are useful in an online context, and which are not. It isn’t always clear up front what parts the baby and what parts are the bathwater. As a general thing, I’m finding that if I’m not sure, better to leave it in until I figure out why publishers have been putting it in books for hundreds of years. My working presumption is that the people making books in the past were smart clever folk and not clueless idiots.

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  1. Gordon McGregor said, on August 21, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    A couple of books I’d suggest throwing into the mix of reading would be ‘Understanding Comics’ by Scott McCloud (which, despite the title, is about so much more) and maybe also ‘The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects’ by by Marshall McLuhan, or at least google/ wikipedia about that one.

    Understanding Comics is well worth it.

  2. Anita Jesse said, on August 21, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    When do we get to see one of your tests? All this has me eager to see a sample. Do you have one ready to go online yet?

    You have drawn interesting distinctions between a book and a portfolio and they all make sense to me. I am eager to see the theories in action. I wonder if there will ever be anything resembling a standard layout for an online book in the way there is for a printed book. With technology changing so rapidly and constantly amazing us with what is possible, I wonder if it won’t take quite a while for the look of these online publications to develop any consistency. Is it going be difficult for tradition to gain a foothold?

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