G F Smith

Yesterday Anete and I went over to G F Smith to talk to them about printing and framing some photographs for a second exhibition that we would like to do. Whether we do it or not depends entirely on the cost and so we thought a brief chat with one of the members of staff that came to talk to us at college last year might be a good idea.

We were welcomed into the office and immediately offered a tour of the photographic part of the factory. Linked servers allow the photographs and photographic album/book pages that are received into the Sales office to be sent across to the factory. These are then fed into ‘Thelma’ and ‘Louise’, the two photographic printers. We also watched as the technician changed a roll of photographic paper inside the ‘dark room’ area of the machine before he checked on the levels in the chemical baths. He showed us also where the machines dry the paper so that the finished print comes up ready to be moved on to the next stage.

A team of people put the books together with one person guillotining the photographic pages precisely and then individually creasing every page. Another uses an air gun to clean the pages of any dust and places them with boards between. The boards are slightly tacky and when heated in an oven the glue firmly adheres to the pages. The books are allowed to cool down naturally and are pressed overnight before being passed to the packing area where the cover is added and they are placed in a presentation box before being sent to the customer.

It was a really interesting experience and the care and pride that goes into making these books is incredible. We were shown two books that had been pulled and reprinted because they had the tiniest flaw on them. These flaws were so small and hard to see but the team were adamant that the books would be perfect when they were delivered to the customer. I found it very reassuring that they would take as much care over my prints and books as I would.

They are going to quote us for some prints and frames and we have offered to display some of their promotional material in exchange for a discount.

Christopher Manson

For my portfolio book I chose to create something that illustrated the humanitarian element of the photography that I enjoy doing. I wondered if this area of photography would lend itself to being published in a book and how much of a living I might be able to make this way.

Christopher Manson is a photographer that studied in Hull a few years ago and has since moved around the world, taking photos, lecturing and publishing books. I contacted him this week to ask him for some advice about making and self-publishing books.

I firstly wondered what made a topic worthy of a book.

Manson explained that all topics are worthy of a book depending on how successfully the project has been realised. When he has finished shooting a project he spreads all of the photographs, interviews and anything else out to decide whether it is appropriate to make into a book or not. He says, “I have many projects that didn’t work completely so they just sit on my shelves collecting dust until I figure out how to finish them.”

So I asked how he chooses a topic for a book.

Manson said that his project’s don’t initially start out as books, he finds it too restricting and instead allows the work to dictate how it should be presented, possibly through a book, an exhibition, just a web gallery or presumably, a combination of formats.

He has numerous small project ideas running through his mind at any given moment he finds ideas everywhere, from reading newspapers to having conversations with friends and colleagues. Eventually, two or three of these smaller ideas will come together to make a larger project and Manson decides to begin researching it. He says “If it holds my interest I continue with it.”

Sorting and sifting photos to decide which ones are included in a book is something that I find really difficult. I take so many photographs and find it a wrench to leave any out of a collection. I asked Manson for advice on how to do this better.

He agreed that editing and sequencing is the most difficult part of the photobook making process.

He explained that images could be grouped simply – they can be paired together based on objective similarities such as colour tone and composition. Images could also be grouped chronologically just like a film, consisting of a beginning, middle, and end. Alternatively, images could be grouped more experimentally and loose, with no real connections at all. He suggested that I may also want to utilize more complicated organizational strategies, such as creating a thematic grouping. This is done by placing images together based on their content (love, war, religion etc.). 

Manson explained his process:

  1. “I print all my successful images as cheap 5x4inch prints (I use a laser copier)
  2. I look at each image one-by-one and ask myself: “What is the image saying?” It doesn’t have to be anything particularly deep, but it has to communicate something in relation to my project. If my project is about love, then how does a picture of a gun relate to the project? Then, on the reverse of each photo, I list some keywords to remember the content, such as “religion”, “love”, “war”….that sort of thing. After doing this, I should have learned something about the themes embedded in my imagery, and therefore my project as a whole.
  3. I then stack the images in groups according to their keywords and begin making pairs. Each set of images can be related by similarities in colour or composition or subject matter. Important: Always edit/sequence when you are fully awake and alert! You must pay particular attention to how the meaning of an image changes when you place it beside another. For example, a picture of a gun (which may originally have the keywords “violence” & “war” attached to it) beside a picture of a criminal creates a new meaning. The gun can no longer be “read” in the same way when it is placed beside a criminal, it’s meaning changes. Maybe the image now speaks about “security”?”

I could see from the Christopher Manson website that many of his books are self-published. I wondered if this was a deliberate choice.

Manson explained that by self-publishing it gives him total control over the look of his books.

I have used Blurb in the past and could see that at least one of Manson’s books is published through Blurb so I asked Manson for his opinion on the service.

He responded, “Blurb, like all ‘Print-on-Demand’ book makers, use a limited selection of templates and binding options, which do not always work for my books. If I want a spiral wire spine, then I have to figure that out myself. Sometimes I make “Frankenstein” books, where I use Blurb to print the book (because they print pages cheaply) but then cut away at the spine when it arrives and re-bind the pages myself. I used Blurb to begin learning about books, they’re great for beginners!”

Its all very well making these books but I wondered who would buy them and how they might be promoted to the target audience. And of course I wanted to know if someone could earn a living from making books.

Manson suggested that unless I was Martin Parr it would be unlikely that I would make a lot of money from my photobooks. He said “I’m happy just making the money back from what I initially spent. I sell more books face-to-face and at my artist talks than on my website. I also submit my books to festivals and book competitions/awards. An exhibition is always nice to launch a book. I approach libraries to buy my books, I usually have them in one or two art book stores too.”

I find all this very interesting and it is good to understand that photobooks will not always be the end point of a project or the thing that pays the bills but that it is a useful addition to my portfolio of services.

Although the main point of this assignment is to create a book that can be used as a printed portfolio I think it would be useful to have books, showcasing the photographic projects I undertake, that are available for people to purchase and can be used to highlight my best images.

I really like the process that Manson uses and will try this for my next project. I think I work best in the evening and often end up writing these posts quite late at night so it will be a challenge to ensure that I am fully awake and alert when I edit and sequence images for a book.

Mason also suggested a number of websites and blogs that he has found useful. I have checked them all out and found the following to be particularly useful.

  • Photo-eye: http://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/index.cfm
  • The Angry Bat: http://theangrybat.tumblr.com/

Book Design

I decided that I would finally get my book made at GF Smiths. As most of their albums need to be made using their own specialist software I have chosen to use InDesign and use their ‘MakeBook’ specifications.

I downloaded a template from their website and used that for the structure of my design.

After seeing the books that G F Smiths brought along the other week I decided that instead of using images from several of my trips I would use a range of photographs taken in just one country. I felt that would give the book more focus but still allow me to display a range of photographic subjects.

I looked at a few books and magazines and discussed the options with my tutor and decided that I wanted to produce something that allowed my photographs to stand out on their own. Nothing too cluttered and just a little text to explain some of the photographs. See Portfolio Inspiration for some of the magazines and websites that I visited for inspiration.

I printed out a large selection of the photos that I might use. I used Photobox to print out 6×4 copies at low cost and reasonable quality. Then I spread them out on the floor and arranged them in the order that I thought I would look good in a book, discarded those that I felt didn’t fit and still added in a few others that I hadn’t considered before.

Right from the beginning I had visualised a landscape book so using the appropriate MakeBook template I left the first spread blank as this will be a plain piece of paper. I then set up the second spread so that there is some text about me on the left and a single photograph on the right. I positioned the photograph so that there is room for a caption beneath and chose to use Goku Stencil and Perpetua fonts to match my branding and website. See last year’s New Technologies – Branding assignment for the thought process behind this choice.

I chose not to use a Master Page (layout that is repeated on each page) but instead used the ‘Paste in Place’ command to repeat the layout on each of my pages. This way I had the flexibility of designing a number of layouts for the photographs that could be displayed on the left or right of the spread.

These are the images of the final layout.


The MakeBook template comes with just 10 spreads or 20 pages included so I chose to add another five spreads to make it a 30 page book. This would allow me to tell the story of my trip in more detail and allow me to include more images.

The cover needed to be designed separately and because I had added extra pages I needed to use a cover template that allowed room in the spine for those pages. MakeBook covers can be covered in plain ‘Colorplan’ paper with a portion of the front available for a photograph. You choose the colour when you purchase the book so the image below is just of the printed part.

I chose a photograph that I felt reflected my theme and that would also allow space for a book title and logo.

Tan Book Landscape Cover


I have some experience of using InDesign before and in designing this book didn’t come across any issues or problems with it.

All I need to do now is upload the pdf files to G F Smith and they will print it out. They have a very good video that shows the process they use to make the books.

Portfolio Book Options

This week I have researched a number of options for my portfolio book. There is a bit of a mismatch between what I can afford and the quality of the album that I would like. However, I have to say that the quality of the album needs to reflect the aspirations of the target market that I hope to reach, so I think I will have to save up and make an investment in this book.

I have previously used organisations like Blurb and Photobox to produce family or holiday albums.

The following are some example prices for Photobox but there is very often an offer on these prices. This weekend there is up to 60% off.

  • 30 pages, large square 30cm x 30cm, gloss finish hardcover, lay flat, lustre paper – £49.99
  • 90 pages, premium square 29.5cm x 29.5cm, padded hardcover, perfect bound, 260gsm matt photo paper, clam shell presentation box – £99.99

The following are some example prices for Blurb but again, they often offer a discount on repeat or multiple orders

  • 20 pages, large landscape 33cm x 28cm, dust cover, proline uncoated paper (archival), no logo, mid grey end sheets – £56.09
  • 20 pages, large square 30cm x 30cm, image wrap cover, proline pearl photo paper (archival), no logo, mid grey end sheets – £58.13

There are lots of companies offering high-end books that are great for wedding albums and possibly for my portfolio. Most of these need photographers to register with the website before they will let you know prices.

Most of these companies require you to download and use their own software to create their books. I would prefer to use InDesign to create my book to give me complete control over the design and layout.

  • Loxley Colour – uses Loxley Designer Pro software and has discounted sample album packs available to order when you upload and order your first album.
  • Graphi Studio
  • Colourworld – uses Colourworld Designer Pro software. Sample albums are available at a 50% discount – just email them and they will send a code to use for when you place your order.
  • Proam Studio – uses free album design software
  • GF Smith Photographic – uses PPS software
  • Folio Albums are even more luxury with prices that are upwards of £250.00

2 Nov 2015 Update

Today at college we had a visit from the people at GF Smith in Hull. They showed us some samples of their albums, including some very nice portfolio books. Although the photographic albums are only available through GF Smith Photographic they do have a version called Make Book which is available through their paper division. This can be produced in InDesign and uploaded to order.

An A4 book with 20 pages (10 spreads) can be ordered for around £100. So I think that this will be my preferred option.

Print Portfolio v Digital Portfolio

Last year I created a website which acts as an online portfolio and showcases my best photographs. This year I want to make a printed portfolio that compliments what I have done online.

I hope the online portfolio will help me to get in front of potential clients but when I am face to face with a client a printed portfolio will be easier to look at together and will hopefully enable me to stand out from other people. It means that I won’t have to rely on a wi-fi connection or be caught out by low batteries or electronic malfunctions. And it means that I have complete control over how my photos are displayed to clients so that images are not affected by low resolution screens or screens that are set to the wrong display size or colour settings.

A printed portfolio shows that I have taken the time to prepare and come along to meet with a client with images that I am ready to show off. So much better than just telling them a url to to look up. There is something about the tactile nature of a book or prints that makes the experience of looking at photographs more memorable.

There are any number of distractions that can interrupt viewing on a computer, especially email notifications or adverts but a printed portfolio allows clients to focus directly on my photos with no opportunity to navigate away.

On the downside, it is more costly and time-consuming to update a printed portfolio than it is a digital portfolio. Also, if it is too big, a printed portfolio can be a real pain to carry around and then there is the problem of keeping it smart, neat and not battered or dented at the corners.

Despite the failings of a printed portfolio I think it is still a useful tool for today’s photographers.

Portfolio Inspiration

I love the Lonely Planet magazine and would love to see my photographs printed in its pages so I’ve mocked-up a few feature pages, using Adobe Indesign, just to see what it looks like. Although the photographs are displayed very clearly I feel that there is too much copy for use in my portfolio.

I visited an exhibition at the National Geographic Society during the summer and purchased the accompanying book, The Tuareg or Kel Tamasheq: The People Who Speak Tamasheq and a History of the Sahara, edited by Henrietta Butler. Apart from being a really interesting read, I like the way that some of the pages of photographs are laid out, with the photographs large and clear and a small amount of descriptive text. It is quite a thick book that doesn’t lay flat when it is opened and I don’t like that some of the photographs go across two pages and get lost down the deep centre crease.

I’ve also been leafing through The Family of Man, by Edward Steichen. It is a lovely book with photographs displayed on the pages clearly. The only text is a small identification for each photograph, probably not enough for my portfolio. But what I do like are the quotes that are randomly found among the images on some of the pages.

I’ve also been to the Blurb website to get some inspiration from some of the photography portfolio books on there.

  • The Harbour, Savannah, GA is nicely laid out but where there is text, it is too large and distracts from the photos.
  • Free Bird Photography has too many photographs on each page for my liking.
  • Portafolio 2014 is very nice.
  • fotographie 4 is also very nice but I prefer the photographs printed on a white page rather than on a black page.

I’ve seen another couple of website with travel portfolios that I quite like too.

I have also re-looked at the inspiration that I used to create my web portfolio – Tools for Creating a Professional Web Portfolio.

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