Musings on Photography

SoFoBoMo 2010

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on July 15, 2010


I’ve just finished my book for SoFoBoMo 2010. You can view it/download it here.

My experiment this year was to pick a subject that was a little different for me, and to see how relaxed I could make the process. I used the format I’ve used for my online portfolios instead of a more book-like format, and I deliberately didn’t stress (much) about the photo quality. The photos were (more or less) made in two sessions of a few hours each, with most of the photos coming from the first session. Having all the layout/design decisions already done made assembling the book itself a pretty brief task. I got some editing help from my friend Alex, and despite a few bobbles I had the book done in short order after that.

I think it’s interesting (and important) that SoFoBoMo is an event where the scale of the challenge is largely determined by the participants; it allows everyone who participates to decide for themselves exactly how and how much they want to challenge themselves. I had thought that the usual suspects have/are participating for the third year might feel things going stale but it’s been interesting to see how easy it is to find fresh challenges to address.

Feeling the SoFoBoMo love

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on April 19, 2010


I’ve got a number of emails asking about why I’m not constantly posting about SoFoBoMo as it approaches, as I did in 2008 and 2009. Short answer: I want my blog to be my stuff, and I want all the SoFoBoMo stuff to move over to

A number of folks have mentioned that they’re not feeling the SoFoBoMo love this year the way they did last year. And, of course, last year a number of folks mentioned that they didn’t feel the love the way they did the first year.

Well, I have good news on both fronts. That good news is the new SoFoBoMo website. Beyond the functionality of what we had last year, we actually *listened* to what people said they wanted, and this year there’s a discussion forum where you can both receive the SoFoBoMo love that you’re missing, and you can share the SoFoBoMo love you’re harboring that everyone else is missing.

To top it off, we’ve got another new feature – a section of the website where we’re planning to have lots of helpful info on software, page layout, good books to look at, PDF creation, PDF size control – all the stuff you need to know about to be successful and complete a book for this year’s SoFoBoMo. What’s that? You say you already know that stuff? Well, navigate over there, take a look at what we’re doing, and figure out a way to share your knowledge by contributing what you know, both in the forum and as a volunteer building the wiki.

In other words, if you’re here hoping to catch some SoFoBoMo buzz, you’re in the wrong place. Navigate over to, and help make SoFoBoMo 2010 a big success for folks all around the world. SoFoBoMo continues to be an all volunteer operation, and we want to make it as good as we can, and that means we need your support.

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SoFoBoMo 2010: the new website goes live

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on March 26, 2010


After all the hard work (and all of your patient waiting) the new, enhanced SoFoBoMo website is now online at

If you participated last year, you should use the username you used last year. The passwords for accounts from last year have all been reset, so you should use the ‘I forgot my password’ feature; you’ll get sent an email that will let you reset your password.

There will be the inevitable glitches with the website as it gets explored by all of you. Let us know what problems you find, and please be patient while we get it all ironed out.

67 days to the start of the fuzzy window. Get ready!

SoFoBoMo on Facebook and Twitter

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on March 21, 2010


If you want to keep up on the latest news about SoFoBoMo in general and SoFoBoMo 2010 in particular, there are now two more official venues:

  • The official SoFoBoMo page on Facebook (just search for SoFoBoMo, you’ll find the discussion group and the official page). Become a fan!
  • The official SoFoBoMo Twitter feed – @SoFoBoMo (or go to

The big push for now is to get the word out. Becoming a fan on the Facebook page and becoming a follower on the Twitter feed helps us get visibility. Retweeting tweets from the Twitter feed helps, too.

We should have the new website up any day now – just a few more fixes and it will be online, replacing the old page at We’ll have a discussion forum, a resource wiki where participants can both contribute to the knowledge base and find answers, and both an official blog as well as individual blogs for participants.

SoFoBoMo 2010

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on March 6, 2010


I’ve gotten a large number of emails and comments recently, asking about SoFoBoMo 2010.

Here’s an update.

First, SoFoBoMo 2010 will definitely happen. The fuzzy window will run from June 1, 2010 to July 31, 2010. The rules will be unchanged from previous years.

Things that have been done since last year:

  • We’ve set up a non-profit corporation, the Cunning Plans Group, which can take contributions, pay bills, and provide transparency and accountability. The non-profit has no employees, and is run by a board of directors that consists of: Martin Doonan, Colin Jago, Gordon McGregor, Bill Saltzstein, Bryan Willman, and me.
  • We are in the final stages of getting the non-profit ready to take donations. When we’re ready, trust me, you’ll hear about it.
  • Bernie Sumption and Amanda McGlothlin, our intrepid web designers and developers, are in the process of polishing the final details on our new website. I have seen the new website, it is awesome, and it includes an integrated discussion forum, wiki based pages to hold resource information, and so much more.
  • We’ll be putting out the promotional blurb and calling for donations as soon as the website is ready to go live (we’re talking by the end of the month). We’ve got the promotional blurb translated into a slew of languages and we’re planning a big push to help SoFoBoMo break through the language barrier.

So you’ve got just a little under three months to get ready!

Got questions? Put’em in the comments, and I’ll try to answer them.

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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Blurb PDF upload

Posted in book design, books, digital printing, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on August 16, 2009


Today’s goal was to take one of my two SoFoBoMo 2009 books and do the work needed to generate a PDF I could upload to Blurb, to get an actual printed copy using Blurb’s recently announced/introduced PDF to Book service.

Blurb provides InDesign templates that you can download, and I did indeed download them. There’s not really much to the templates (in my current understanding) than the right page size, bleed settings, and margins, along with some simple instructions created on a separate non-printing layer in the template.

I took the path of setting the page size and bleed to match the Blurb template for the book content. I’ve discovered InDesign’s Layout Adjustment controls, which make it much simpler to adjust page size and still have all your photos, text frames, and so on stay aligned horizontally and vertically on the new pages. I was making just small tweaks to the page size, so I didn’t resize the content of the book, just let the page size change adjust the white border on each page.

The Blurb PDF->book service requires you to upload one PDF for the book content, and one PDF for the cover. So one of my first acts was to take the cover out of the ‘content’ pdf version, and create a new ‘cover’ InDesign file. I started the cover from the Blurb provided soft-cover cover template. It took me a bit of puzzling to figure out how to get stuff aligned properly on the cover – my InDesign skills could use some improvement.

But, after a couple of hours of fiddling, I had PDF’s for the cover and content that I was ready to upload to Blurb. I went to the website and used the ‘make a book from your PDF’ process they have there to upload the two files. It worked fine – nice and slick. You upload the files, they run some pre-flight checks, and you can either watch the pre-flight process run, or you can go away. Either way, you get an email telling you the files uploaded ok, and then another email with the results of the preflight check.

First time through, BOTH my files failed the preflight. The feedback they give on why your files failed seemed pretty detailed – mine both failed because the page size was wrong, and the feedback tells you what size your page is in the PDF you uploaded, and what size they expected.

I solved the content problem pretty quickly – somehow I’d managed to mangle the bleed settings when I did my last check before I generated the PDF to upload – I realized you needed the ‘inside’ bleed set to zero, but when I set it to zero, I didn’t ‘unlock’ the settings, so I set the bleed to zero for all edges. Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense – if you get to this stage with your own file, and look at the dialog, it will all make sense. Anyway, once I’d found that, I generated a new PDF and figured I’d upload it and see if that fixed the problem.

Here’s the one hitch I found in the otherwise excellent website upload process Blurb has put together – I wanted to upload just the one PDF file and have it pre-flighted again, but to replace one of the two PDF files you need to go through the whole process again, typing in the title, author, specifying the size and paper and cover type, and uploading both files. That’s a bit of a hassle, and it doesn’t seem like it should be too hard for Blurb to fix, so I expect that to change in the future as they get feedback.

My new ‘content’ PDF passed the preflight, but of course I’d just uploaded the same old cover PDF again, so that failed.

The softcover PDF generation is a bit tricky, because the width of the page is dependent on how many pages you have in the book (because that tells you the width of the spine). I spent a disgusting amount of time banging around on the Blurb website before I stumbled upon the ‘book calculator’ that tells you what size the cover should be, but eventually, I found it, calculated the new size, and adjusted my cover in InDesign. Uploaded the new PDF and it still failed the preflight. I still had the width wrong.

This time around, I adjusted the size of the design in InDesign based on what the preflight said it wanted. Again, it turned out I’d somehow screwed up the bleed settings. After adjusting the page width, I had to go and adjust the columns on the cover layout, and then adjust the alignment of the stuff on the cover. Fortunately, I have a really simple cover design and was a bit more clever about centering things this time.

The PDF I got from that go ’round passed the preflight check with flying colors.

I went and ordered a copy. We’ll see how it turns out when the book arrives. I was amazed that 2nd day deliver was some piddling amount (like 30 cents) more than regular delivery, so I paid extra for second day delivery. Now I remember that the last time I ordered from Blurb it was shipped from a spot less than 15 miles away from my home, so perhaps I’ve wasted 30 cents. Oh, well.


One thing I forgot to mention is that in addition to the InDesign templates for both the content and cover, Blurb provides a really super useful thing – an EXPORT preset file. You fire up InDesign, go to the PDF preset stuff, import this file, and it adds a PDF preset which makes InDesign emit exactly the variety of PDF that Blurb expects. I downloaded this preset file along with the templates, read the instructions, realized I needed to use this preset thingie, and Voila! I had an easy way to generate the PDFs in exactly the right flavor, color, charm, spin, charge, format, PDF variant, sub-variant, options, and religious denomination that Blurb wants and expects.

This preset file is the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, the dog’s bark, and the full nine yards, all rolled into one. I did not spend more than 30 seconds messing about with the PDF export dialog and its many rooms, crevices, buttons, check boxes, drop-downs, etc. and apparently I got the right variety of PDF right out of the gate. Yowza.

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Beyond SoFoBoMo

Posted in art is a verb, books, process, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on August 8, 2009


The idea for SoFoBoMo was shamelessly stolen from NaNoWriMo. As we work out plans for SoFoBoMo 2010 and beyond, we’re continuing to look to the clever and creative folks at the Office of Letters and Light (the non-profit that was formed for NaNoWriMo).

One interesting thing they’ve done is to have a laptop loaner program, which lends laptops to folks who can’t afford them. I guess the analog for SoFoBoMo would be a camera/laptop loaner program. That’s out of our reach for right now.

They’ve also got spin-off events, like Script Frenzy (“30 days. 100 pages. April. Are you in?”) in which participants write a script or screenplay in one month. That sounds so cool, I might give it a shot next April.

But all that’s got me thinking about what might lie beyond SoFoBoMo. I’m not talking about ending SoFoBoMo, I’m talking about what *else* we might do. We’re a long way from being ready to try to do more than SoFoBoMo. But it’s never to early to ponder, and so that’s what I’ve been doing.

Here are a couple of ideas:

The Brandenburg Challenge

This is inspired by Jim Brandenburg’s amazing book Chased by the Light. You’ve got three months. Create a PDF book containing one image made each day in that period. The catch: you must make EXACTLY one exposure per day. That means that you get up each morning, and during the day, you let the shutter go exactly one time. The image you get is the image that goes in the book. No retakes. No bracketing. No skipping days.

Like SoFoBoMo, this is a challenge that scales according to your expectation. It could be trivially easy. It could be monstrously difficult. It all depends on your expectations of what your book will be like.

The Long Look

One of the things people say when they dismiss SoFoBoMo is that it’s not possible to do a good book in a month.

I don’t agree with that view (just look at how many outstanding books there are), but they do have a point: the one month time limit constrains what you can do. SoFoBoMo is an exercise in focus – it takes focus to make the photos, lay out the book, and get it all done in a month.

So the Long Look is the opposite challenge. It’s not about compressed time frames, deadlines as motivation, or brief but laser intensity.

The challenge: you’ve got ten years. Do a book with photographs made, at least one per month, on a single subject. Examples: one photo per month of ten years of your child’s life. One photo per month, taken from your front door. One photo per month, taken at the same street corner and aiming the camera the same way. One photo per month of everyone in your family all together.

My first blush reaction was “Oh, that’s easy”. My second reaction to this idea was “oh, crikey, that’s hard.”

It’s all about discipline over a decade. It will probably span multiple cameras. If you do it with film, what are you going to do if film goes away during the decade? If you do it digitally, you’re propagating the project across changes in computers, software, cameras. And those are just the technical challenges.

If SoFoBoMo is a sprint, this is running a marathon.

Go Ahead, Make My Month

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on July 30, 2009


Light blogging, I know. Most of my attention is going to exploring a non-profit corp for SoFoBoMo.

But this was pretty exciting for me… I just got this email, from Clare Selley:

Dear Paul

I just wanted to say thank you for running SoFoBoMo – it got me to put together a book about my city which has now been accepted for commercial publication (with several tweaks, relayouts, text added, etc!)

Without SoFoBoMo I never would have had the inspiration, drive and target to put the book together and now I’m getting paid for it! I’ll be mentioning the challenge – and the website – in the book’s acknowledgements, I hope you don’t mind me quoting the rules!


That’s just incredibly exciting. I mean, a SoFoBoMo book, accepted for commercial publication.

On behalf of everyone who’s ever participated, I’d like to congratulate Clare. Clare, you are awesome. You are awesomely awesome.

I hope all the folks who’ve participated in SoFoBoMo get a thrill out of this. Every single one of you helped make this happen. SoFoBoMo is about getting a book *done*, not about getting it picked up for commercial publication. But when someone who did a book for SoFoBoMo gets it published, I think we all deserve a big helping of feeling thrilled.

And here, by ‘big helping’, I mean “break out the big bowls, pile it up high, maximum sized helping”.

The Future of SoFoBoMo

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on July 24, 2009


Time for a little update on the future plans for SoFoBoMo.

The small news is that the date for the next SoFoBoMo is set: the fuzzy two month window will be from June 1, 2010 to July 31, 2010. As before, you get to pick any contiguous 31 days period inside that two month window.

The big news is that we’ve now set up a steering group to make the decisions. This was the first step in an effort to build a stable structure for running SoFoBoMo in the future.

Things in the works:

  1. Careful consideration of creating a non-profit, 501(c)(3) qualified corporation to hold all the rights to SoFoBoMo, accept contributions, pay costs, and so on. Right now it looks very much like this is a go, and I’m just working out details of the arrangement. The goal here is not to create some monster organization, but to do what we need to do to shield the folks working on SoFoBoMo from legal problems, make it easy for folks to support SoFoBoMo financially, and to provide enough structure to make SoFoBoMo continue in a stable way into the future. If you have experience is starting such a corporation, I’d love to get your thoughts on that, please send me email.
  2. The web site will be expanded and many new and wonderful features will be added. Things planned: many resources for people on topics like book design, PDF generation for both Mac and Windows, and probably some stuff containing the accumulated wisdom about how to be successful at getting a SoFoBoMo book done. When we have some of the structural decisions on this done, I expect we’ll be asking people to contribute to that.

  3. We’ll be adding a discussion forum, tightly integrated with the main website, that gives people a place to get together, support one another, chat, discuss, moan and weep, etc. Our hope is that this forum will help ease the feeling that this year’s SoFoBoMo was not as convivial as last year’s.

  4. We’re making a push to have SoFoBoMo escape from the fetters of its anglophone origins, see this post.