Musings on Photography


Posted in book design, web issues by Paul Butzi on October 4, 2009


I’ve been continuing to plow through making online PDF portfolios of the work that currently is up on my website. That’s meant some time refining the look and feel of the online PDF portfolio presentation – and I’m now fairly content with what I’ve got.

Some lessons learned:

  • unlike on paper, on a screen images do not look good surrounded by a broad white border. After considerable fiddling around, I’ve settled on a brown that is nearly black for presenting warmtoned B&W images. To my surprise, this also works well for color images, so I’ve used that throughout.
  • It finally occurred to me that I needn’t feel obliged to use any particular page proportions just because they’re common in the print world. I settled on a page size that’s something of a compromise – it gets slightly letterboxed full screen on a 5:4 ratio monitor and slightly pilarboxed on a widescreen (16:10 or 16:9) monitor.
  • Unlike images, reading substantial amounts of text presented white on a dark screen background is unpleasant. So for pages that are entirely text, I have switched those pages so that they’re a creamy warm white with black text.
  • For this sort of thing, the graphic design should be as simple as possible but no simpler. Using subtle color differences to background text on the title page, for instance, makes the whole thing look a heck of a lot more polished.
  • Bright white page numbers on dark pages are eye magnets. I’ve toned them down to a muted grey, which seems to work.
  • Presented on a dark screen, a lot of images have dark regions that ‘bleed’ unpleasantly into the dark surround at the edges. My solution, shamelessly stolen from Brooks Jensen, is to add a .25pt dark grey rule around each image. Most of the time you can’t even see it. On an image that’s dark, it ‘frames’ the image neatly but not obtrusively.
  • To get the copyright page out of the way of the browsing of images, I’ve folded the copyright page and colophon together into a single page at the end of the PDF document.

The process of banging out these PDF portfolios has been interesting. Making them has dragged me into reviewing most of the photography I’ve done since about 1998. Not surprisingly, much of what I’ve made (including some of what I’ve put online) is dreck. But some of it, I think, still feels good and right and true, and it’s been fun and rewarding to go through that work, blow the dust off, polish and buff it somewhat, and put it into a presentable format.

To my great surprise, while editing some of that work, I’ve gone back to my archive of ALL the images I made for those projects/during those periods, and sort of ‘re-edited’ the work, adding back in some images which in retrospect I think ought to be in there (not often) and weeding out images which, with the passage of time, I no longer feel so keen on.

The most interesting edit job was going through all the images I made in the Snoqualmie Valley between the fall of 2005 and the summer of 2007. It was my first color photography in decades that was not vacation snapshots. After floundering around a bit, I ended up breaking the work up by season, sequenced the photos chronologically, and was startled to discover that this works well and also made it evident how my photography changed over that period of time. The work at the end of that period does not look much like the work at the beginning, although while I was making it the process felt unchanged.

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3 Responses

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  1. Dave Kosiur said, on October 4, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    I see no reference to the URL for the web site of which you write … 😉 It’s nowhere to be found on your blog.

    I tried, but that’s obviously an old site, with the latest “news” dated 2006.

    Where are these PDF portfolioss of which you write? I’d like to see them.

  2. Paul Butzi said, on October 4, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Yep. is the site. As you point out, it’s sadly out of date.

    That’s because I’ve been contemplating a complete makeover for three years, now, and have made no visible progress.

    I’ll get the portfolios up where people can view them, probably this week. Lots of other stuff going on for me right now, which means I’m somewhat short on long, uninterrupted blocks of time.

  3. Martin Doonan said, on October 5, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Two technical ideas I’ve pondered for pdf portfolios:
    a. using 100% transparency for borders so prints are white, screen is black
    b. setting individual sizes for each page (but does that lend itself to automation?)

    Looking forward to the new content and presentation. I hope there’s a series of your gate pictures.

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