Musings on Photography


Posted in book design, books, web issues by Paul Butzi on September 17, 2009



I’ve spent quite a few days fiddling with online versions of things I’ve put together to make into printed books. I started out thinking that, if I just made a few tweaks, I could use the same ‘document’ for both print and online. Sadly, that doesn’t really work.

So I went to producing two versions, which were visually very similar but tweaked in a variety of ways, one for print, one for online. The differences were things like moving copyright information to the back for online version, changing print shape between the two, and so on. Sadly, that didn’t work, either. Close, but not working.

I got quite a bit of feedback on various versions from various people.

None of my fiddling addressed the real, fundamental problem I was having. That fundamental problem is that looking at a photograph printed on paper, and looking at a photograph displayed on a computer screen are just plain different. A photo printed on a sheet of white paper, with a nice white surround from a generous margin – looks great.

But when you take that same layout, and display it on a screen, it looks icky. I thought so. The folks I asked for feedback also thought so. It was universal.

So today, I pretty much abandoned the ‘I have the same thing for print and online’ approach.

The good news is that, freed from that constraint, I think I’ve been moving pretty rapidly toward a design I like for online. Online is complicated, though. Folks can look at your PDF with different viewers, either embedded in a browser or standalone. They can view it in a window, amongst all the clutter of their other open windows, or they can view it full screen.

Things I’ve noticed – dark backgrounds work well. Unlike print, where you want a generous margin of paper around the image, on the screen (and particularly full screen) you don’t need that margin, and it’s better to get the image larger. On the screen, the best page shape is not square, because the screen is not square. And on a screen, it feels to me like the viewer needs more help from the visual design in terms of typography and subtle design cues to help the page make sense. And lastly, just as setting a photo in the middle of a bright white page doesn’t work well on the screen, white text on a black background works ok for small amounts of text but not for a full page of text.

Progress of a sort.

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