Archive for August, 2011

Where did you find those photos? All of us can tell stories of old shoe boxes full of family snapshots turning up in the back of a closet, under a pile of boxes, or who knew where. What do you do when you find precious family memories? You certainly don’t want to dump them back into the box. Here’s what I did when I found a small suitcase filled with family photos, some taken nearly a century ago.

I created a photo book — my first. Here’ a sample page from the book I made for my mother as a Mother’s Day gift this year. The book, “Photo Vignettes from the Life of Frances K. Sullivan” (my grandmother) contains 46 of the best photos selected, scanned and restored from the mess I found in that suitcase.

Instead of a jumbled pile of old pictures, many of dubious quality, we have an archival quality, hard bound book. The images in that book are organized, tell a story (or stories) and brief comments identify people and dates.

A photo book lets you bring consistency to dozens of images. Since many of the originals were sepia toned, I used sepia toning throughout for uniformity. I played with the layout and image sizes as I went along. With a decent flatbed scanner and competent photo editor, it’s a simple task to enlarge small snapshots and reduce larger photos to fit

No other format that I know of can match a well designed photo book. In the end you’ll have a book that’s a pleasure to leaf through, easy to store and preserves memories for future generations.

Expensive? Not when you consider the cost of prints and a decent quality photo album. I went through some of our old photo albums today. What a mess! Maybe they were quality years ago but today they are deteriorated, plastic holders falling out. I pulled all the photos out and tossed two albums.

Never use one of those albums with the sticky pages and a plastic overlay. These things are supposed to hold the photos lightly. Don’t believe it. I have a few of these to go through and salvage what I can. After all these years, all the pictures in the albums are permanently glued to the pages. You cannot get them off without destroying the photos. The only way to save any of the photos is to scan entire pages. I can hardly wait.

As I flip through the pages I see too many photos that should have gone into the trash years ago. We save too many poor images. The key to a successful photo book is triage. Toss the garbage, the blurry, the silly, the who cares and concentrate on the good stuff. Select the best photos, images that celebrate special events, images that capture the essence of our loved ones at different times in their lives.

What about recent digital images? My daughter has hundreds of digital photos stored on a computer that refuses to boot. I’m going to try a rescue mission. Digital imagery has changed the way we make pictures, but permanent storage is an ongoing issue. Imagine your grandchildren finding a box full of CDs or DVDs 30 years from now. What are these things they’ll say? Even if they know what’s on them how will they view the content and will those CDs or DVDs even work?

Now imagine your grandchildren leafing through an archival quality photo book. Can you picture them sitting together reliving the memories? I can. I’ll have more to say on the topic of photo books in subsequent posts. I’m sold on the concept and when my latest order of six new books arrives later this week, I’ll have 10 volumes in my photo book library. Thank you AdoramaPix. I can hardly wait to tear the package open.

PS — I have a high quality e-book for each of my photo books as a bonus.

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April in Ceres

Sing along with me to the tune of “April in Paris.” April in Ceres, Shadows and Sunshine… Are you there yet?

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I ‘rediscovered’ this photo while putting a new photo book together. The title of the book is: “IN THE FOREST: Light and Shadows Revealed.” I was searching for a nice image of trees, light and shadows to pair with another when I remembered this photo that I took in the beginning of April.

When I looked at the image again, I saw it in a new light. I remember that day in the forest. I was off the trail, working my way toward one of the lakes when this photo presented itself to me. I think I got the tonal relationships just right this time. The image works well in the photo book. I hope you enjoy it too.

My sparse notes tell me this photo was shot on Ilford FP4+ film in my Nikon F3HP. Lens? I don’t remember but my notes say lots of 24mm.

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I won’t be anywhere near the Red Bank Battlefield Park pier on the Delaware River this weekend. We (here in New Jersey) have a bullseye painted on us and when hurricane Irene hits, the waters of the Delaware will be anything but calm.

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This shot was taken from the pier closer to the shore when the tide was lower. I could see through the water to the bottom. I pointed my camera straight down to see what I could see. This B&W image is an abstraction of swirls, ripples and reflections.

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Here’s another photo taken where the water was slightly deeper. The forms are ‘bubbly’ and rounder here with more middle grey tones. The lower contrast helps tame the spectral reflections from the sun.

This was a fun exercise. One of these days, I’ll try similar photos using a polarizer. I have one but I don’t use it for B&W film because it has a color warming filter (Moose filter) built in. Maybe I’ll shoot a roll of (gasp!) color film?

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I finished the last of six new photo books late Sunday night, tweaked one of them just a bit on Monday morning and ordered hard copies from AdoramaPix. The sale on 8×8, 14 page photo books ended Tuesday. Who doesn’t like a sale, especially one this good? I saved $15 + sales tax on each book so when my latest order arrives next week I’ll have a 10 volume library of my best images and $160 in savings.

This is an image of the cover from one of the photo books I ordered on Monday. All of my photo books use the same simple template inspired by a wonderful little book, “On Reading” by Andre Kertesz: White cover with photo, simple title, my name in a smaller, lighter font and one photo with a generous white border on each page.

Here’s an example of one of the inside pages from this photo book. As I mentioned in my previous post, Adorama’s (or your vendor of choice) on line templates will suit many people. I used Scribus, an open source desktop publishing program to format and lay out my books before uploading the final version to Adoramapix. It took less than an hour to upload and create six books using my method.

When you fire up Scribus, you get a setup screen that allows you to choose the book size, number of pages (you can add or delete pages any time), margins and other page settings. I set my book(s) up as 8 inches by 8 inches. I accepted the default margins of .56 inches for right, left and top. I set the bottom margin to .88 inches and chose 16 pages — Front cover, back cover and 14 internal pages.

I moved the bottom margin up slightly because I wanted each image to look centered on the page. If you center an image vertically, it looks too low on the page because of a quirk in the way our eyes see things.

Putting your image on the page is easy. Draw an image frame in the middle of the page (exact placement and size don’t matter). Right click and select Get Image. Pick the image you want from the drop down file window, click and the image will appear in the frame.

Then right click and choose adjust frame to image. To get the image where you want it to go, click Align & Distribute from the Windows menu. A sticky sub window will pop up. There are 10 align buttons in the window. Choose relative to: margins then click on center vertical and center horizontal and you’re there. Just a few mouse clicks places your image quickly and easily.

On of the neat things about Scribus is the sticky windows stay until you dismiss them so the window will be there for the next page and so on.

The cover takes a bit more work. I use a smaller version of one of my images on the cover so I need to size the frame so suit the cover design. Follow the same procedure to get your image into the frame. Then right click on the image and click properties. The properties window has all the properties of the image. Click image then check off scale to frame size (proportional) and the image will shrink to fit the frame. If the image doesn’t fit the dimensions exactly, you can fiddle with the frame to get the image to the size you want. Then click on adjust frame to image.

Drag the image to where you want it vertically then click to center between the left and right margins. Draw a text frame where you’d like your title, enter the information via the text editor where you can choose font, size, alignment, etc.

So why go to all this trouble when you can upload your photos to Adoramapix and use their online tools? Glad you asked. Scribus can output a high quality PDF file of your book. I use this interactively because all design is a recursive back and forth until you are happy with the results. And when you are finished you have a high quality ebook.

I ended up doing more triage with my Red Bank book as I went along. Two of the images just weren’t right for the book so I found better ones, edited them and loaded them instead. The page order wasn’t quite right either so I moved pages around in Scribus until I was satisfied. It’s very easy to move pages. Simply pick move page from the page menu then tell Scribus where to put the page relative to any other page.

When you’re ready to upload your images, choose export/save as image and Scribus will export each page as a jpeg file. For my 8×8 book, each page is exactly 2400 pixels in each dimension (300 dpi) and 100% quality. Scribus writes each page with the book name and sequential number. Takes a minute or two.

When you log in and choose to create a book, you go through the steps of picking the cover type, the size, number of pages, etc. Then click upload from your computer, select the image files and within a few minutes all images will be uploaded.

I chose a custom book with no template. The next screen lists all the images on the left, empty pages (in pairs on the bottom) and the page(s) you are working on in the main window. With my method, I simply drag the image and drop it anyplace on the page then click size to page. It’s fast and easy. Each page only takes a few seconds.

I haven’t figured out how to do the spine lettering with Scribus so I pick the text tool and type in my title and my name. You must rotate the text 90 degrees and size it by hand. Not difficult but a bit of a pain. When you’re done, click preview where you can review your book. If all is well, then click order and follow the prompts.

If you aren’t ready to order, your book will be saved for 90 days. I believe you can upgrade for something like $24.95/year for unlimited storage.

It’s lovely to have an archive quality ‘real’ book you can hold in your hands and pass on to future generations. It’s also nice to have a high quality e-book for viewing on your monitor screen. When I’m proofing my books I use the dual page display in Adobe reader. The book will display exactly the same as the printed version. The image is a bit smaller 82% on my screen but large enough to enjoy.

The real treat comes with a full screen display. Each page fills the screen vertically and because the book has been formatted at 300 dpi, the typical 96 ppi lcd screen displays each page with no loss of quality.

If anyone has questions about using Scribus for photo book creation, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email message. I’d love to help as best I can.

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I was all set to title this post “High Tide on the Delaware” — until I developed and scanned another roll of film today. The lead image of the pier is much better than the one I shot at high tide. So I changed my mind.

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I shot this photo yesterday. I brought my 24mm lens because I had the itch to go wide. Glad I scratched that itch. The tide was out enough to expose some nice textures on the beach, the clouds co-operated (I used an orange contrast filter), the boys hanging out on the end of the pier added interest to the photo and the reflections called out to be photographed.

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This photo was taken last week. High tide and a brisk breeze made for some interesting conditions. As many times as I’ve photographed the pier at Red Bank Battlefield Park, this was the first time I went out onto the pier. I had it to myself. I used my 75-150 zoom lens to get close to one of the old piles sticking out of the water. Can you feel the movement of the water?

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Here’s another shot of the same pile. I couldn’t make up my mind which photo I liked best so I included both. When I was standing out on the pier, I was reminded of John Daido Loori’s writing about “seeing with your ears and hearing with your eyes.” I felt the water all around me, heard the lapping of the waves on the rocks, smelled the river aromas and the wind  — it was a glorious moment.

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Turn to the north and look up — what a view. That’s the Phila. skyline on the horizon. Can you feel the water now? I used my 50mm lens for this shot and cropped from the top to raise the horizon and give the image a panoramic feel.

The first photo was taken with my Nikon F3HP and Fuji Neopan 400 rated at 640. The rest of the images were taken with my Nikon N8008s and Tri-X rated at 1250. I had loaded the N8008s with Tri-X for a party but we ended up not going. Shooting at 1/4000 sec was the only way to control the light. Who knew I’d ever need a shutter speed that fast?

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So you’ve decided to make a photo book. Where do you begin? Start with a concept, a theme for your book. What’s the book about and what kind of photos will I include? When I made my first photo book a few months ago, the theme was easy. I had dozens of photos from my grandmother’s life and I wanted to tell her story, at least part of it anyway. My next project was to make two photo books of my best images from my year in Saigon, one B&W and one in color.

Here’s the cover of my latest project: “Flowers — A Closer Look.” I haven’t ordered a print version of the book yet but I do have a finished e-book. The ability to make high quality photo e-books is one of the main reasons I’ve chosen to use a desktop publishing program for page layout and book construction. When I finally decide to have the Flowers book printed I’ll use Adoramapix. Adoramapix has printed four photo books for me so far and they’ve done a marvelous job with each. You won’t be disappointed in their work.

When I’m ready to submit my photo book to Adoramapix, I simply upload my pages as individual jpeg files and use their online flash app to quickly and easily add my preformatted pages to the new book. In other words, I do all my page layouts offline using Scribus then complete the book using the Adoramapix flash app.

As an alternative, Adoramapix has dozens of preformatted templates that make it easy to create a photo book. Most people will be very happy using one of these templates. Me? I’m climbing the steep learning curve of Scribus and I’ll explain why in detail in a subsequent post.

Let’s get back to the subject at hand, first things first. Once you decide on a theme for your photo book, it’s time to gather and sift through your images. I create a new folder and name it accordingly. For instance, my flower folder is simply flower_book. My Saigon B&W folder is saigonBWbook. Then I gather scattered images and make copies that I put in the new folder.

Once I have all my images in one place, I go through a triage process. If the image isn’t good enough or I decide to leave it out, I delete it. Remember that only copies go into this folder so all my originals are safe. I may end up with more images than I can use but that’s OK. I’ll make final decisions as I work on the page layouts.

Adoramapix expects your images to be 300 dpi and either tiff or jpeg format in sRGB color space (even if your images are B&W). I load each image into my photo editor and convert to sRGB (it’s easy). I prefer one photo on each page and I resize the image (making sure it’s 300 dpi) to fit my page layout. When I say resize, I mean downsize. If the version of the image I’ve chosen is too small, I’ll either dig out a larger image or rescan.

For an 8 inch X 8 inch photo book, I’ve been sizing my images so I get a nice wide white border on each page. This means about 4 x 6 or 4 x 5 for rectangular images and 5 1/2 inches or thereabouts for square images.

While in my photo editor I make tonal adjustments and add moderate sharpening as needed. In a few instances, I’ve rescanned to get a better image. The main thing here is to tweak your photos so they will be ready for the next step.

First things first means choosing a theme, then collecting, sorting and preparing your images for the next step: Either creating a book using a desktop publishing program like Scribus or uploading directly to Adoramapix. I use Adoramapix as an example because I use and like them. The principles remain the same no matter who you choose to print your photo book.

One of the real benefits of this first step is it forces you to choose and organize your best work and assemble it in one place. My images are all over the place but as I build each photo book, I know where to find things and can easily back up.

I’ll explain my next step(s) in the next installment in this series. Stay tuned…

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I’m having some serious fun with my photo books project. That’s a plural folks. Three new photo books arrived in yesterday’s mail and I’m expecting a fourth, the title of this post, to arrive next week. But first, I wanted to share the cover from the “Saigon 1966: Vol. One – Black and White” book that I mentioned in an earlier post.

This is the cover from the second version of the photo book. I tried using the Adoramapix online flash app to lay out the entire book. It was OK but didn’t offer the precision I wanted. The second version was created on my computer using Scribus, an open source desktop publisher. I like this version better. I saved it as a template for consistency with all my photobooks. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll show you samples of the results today, then follow up with subsequent posts to explain how (and why) I did what I did.

Here’s the cover of the prize we’re waiting for — “Granddaughters: The Early Years.” I shot the cover image on the spur of the moment one day a couple weeks ago. The twins (Maddy and Livvy) and I were sitting at my kitchen table. I was pleasantly surprised when I processed the film and found this gem. I cropped tight to eliminate clutter and focus attention on the girls.

This is one of the inside pages, a photo of Emily that I took a few years ago. She wasn’t posed for this photo. One of my cameras was loaded with Fuji Neopan 1600. Emily was leaning over the back of a chair in the family room and I grabbed this shot. All of the images in the 14 page (6 double sided leaves plus the inside front and back covers) are captioned. Digging through old family photos and wondering who was who is frustrating, captions will solve that problem for future generations.

I spent a year in Alaska in 1963-64 and wanted to preserve the best of the surviving images. All the photos in the book were taken with a 127 box camera and slide film. The slide mounts (super slides) are the same outside dimensions as a 35mm slide but with very narrow margins and a square aspect ratio. This photo is a crop of a picture I shot from the airplane on the way to King Salmon A.F.S. in November, 1963.

I like the idea of a single image on each page. This is a sample from the inside of the Alaska book. I didn’t take this one — it’s me at 19 years of age. There are no captions in this book because I opted for a simple elegant look similar to a matted photo. The two Saigon photo books, B&W and color, follow the same format. Actually, as I said earlier, the Saigon B&W book was the model for the template.

Next time, I’ll share my workflow and some of the technical aspects of photo book creation. One of the side benefits of making these books is that it’s forcing me to get serious about organizing my images and selecting the best of them for publication. Stay tuned…

PS — The new header on my blog is from the Alaska photos. It’s a cropped shot of the midnight sun taken in the middle of the short Alaskan summer night back in 1964.

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I decided to run a test roll through the Agfa Karat 36 that was given to my wife by her Great Aunt Eileen years ago. Aunt Eileen bought the camera in the early 1950s in West Germany where she was stationed as a senior NCO in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. The camera had been sitting in a drawer unused for a long time. I was always curious about the capabilities of this camera and if it would produce images at all after all these years. Every shot on the test roll came out. Here are the best of the bunch.

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All shots were taken at Red Bank Battlefield Park in National Park, NJ. This photo was taken on the upper level near the ruins of Fort Mercer where the Colonial Army forced the Hessian soldiers to retreat after the fierce battle of Red Bank on October 22, 1777. This shaded nook looks out over the Delaware River. I picked a good day for a shoot. The lighting is perfect.

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This photo is looking north where you can see part of the remains of the ditch which surrounded the now gone earthworks. You can see two of the original cannon near the center of the picture. I like the dappled light and shade in this shot.

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This is the front of the James and Ann Whitall house, the centerpiece of the park. This house served as a military hospital after the battle. I think the Karat acquitted itself well in the very contrasty midday summer sunshine.

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The upper level has a nice walkway lined with benches. I caught one guy relaxing the shade while another strolls along. This is where I take mom when we visit the park. You have a great view of the river because of the height. I counted the 28 steps leading down to the lower level the other day.

The Agfa Karat 36 is a folding camera that takes standard 35mm film casettes. Earlier Karats used a proprietary Agfa 12 shot casette. The lens is a 50/2.8 – 4 element Agfa Solinar. It’s the same design as the Zeiss Tessar created in 1902. According to the Agfa manual, this lens was coated.

The camera focuses by moving the entire lens assembly in or out. Agfa used a green grease on these cameras that’s notorious for hardening. The focus moved but not easily. I was able to clean the lens helical without taking the camera apart (I’m not qualified to attempt taking this baby apart). I used Q tips and lighter fluid to loosen and clean out enough of the old hardened grease so the focus moves freely even if a bit stiff.

The camera has a coupled rangefinder that seems accurate. It’s a small split image viewfinder that’s a pain to use so I zone focused all my shots. The camera has a mark between f8 and f11. Set the aperature to that mark and set the distance scale at either 10 ft or 30 ft. At 10 ft, everthing between 7 1/2 and 14 1/2 feet should be in focus. At 30 ft (the setting I used) everything between 14 1/2 feet and infinity is in focus. Much easier and it worked out quite well for me.

Light meter? Nope. I used my hand held spot meter in averaging mode for all my shots. They came out well exposed too. I used Freestyle Legacy Pro 100 film (it’s really Fuji ACROS) because I have a lot of it. I wonder if a modern high tech film like ACROS is the best choice? Next time I’ll try a more traditional emulsion like Ilford FP4+ or Kodak Tri-X. I would have used FP4+ but that stuff is expensive and I only have two rolls left.

This experiment was a lot of fun and when I repeat it I’ll be sure to share the results.

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The full title should be “Low tide on the Delaware at Red Bank Battlefield Park.” I had never taken mom to the park on a Saturday because I assummed it would be crowded. How do you know that John? You don’t. So last Saturday mom and I piled into the car and drove over to the park. What a pleasant surprise!

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Traffic wasn’t bad at all and there were fewer people at the park than during the week. This photo turned out to be the best out of the half dozen I took that day. I cropped the picture from the top because there was too much sky and I thought moving the horizon up would help this image.

Usually there’s a nice breeze that can get pretty stiff at times coming from the west across the river, but not Saturday — just enough to cause a few ripples in the river, no more.

The tide was out and the river was nasty near the shore. That darker grey area where the few geese were swimming was green with algae of some kind I suspect. I went down to river’s edge to have a closer look and get a few photos.

I’m glad the couple was out at the end of the pier. The figures add interest to the photo. Yes, I also wanted to capture the reflections but the real reason I came down to the river bank was to photograph the pleasure boats beached on the island and the sandbar.

Alas, I was travelling light with only a 35mm lens so the boats aren’t much more than specs in the photo. You can see them above the pier railing. The small island is out of the picture on the right, but the sand bar extends downstream into the photo.

There were quite a few boats pulled up on the beach. Hey it was a sunny summer Saturday. Mom asked me what they were doing and I thought it was a spontaneous kind of thing. Think pleasure boaters tailgating. That’s as good an explanation as any.

Well, the 35mm lens was too wide to get the full impact of all the boats but the perfect focal length for this photo. I had a medium yellow contrast filter mounted on the lens and the clouds came out nicely.

We went back to the park yesterday and again today (Thursday) and I expect to return again Friday while this glorious weather holds. The tide was in and the water was choppy. I got lots of new images too. Stay tuned.

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Yesterday, while waiting for the plumber to show up, I went through all my Saigon scans looking for the best 28 images — 14 B&W and 14 color. Why 14? Because AdoramaPix is having a sale on 8×8, 14 page photo books. One of the images that I selected for the B&W book has never been published on my blog. I offer it for your viewing pleasure today.

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I’ve always liked this photo. It’s the open friendly grin of the boy in the forground and the shy smile of the boy behind. I cleaned this especially dirty scan and cropped it square to get rid of the distractions some time back. The crop also makes a much stronger composition. I finally got the tones the way I wanted yesterday. Now the photo is worthy of publishing.

Why use AdoramaPix for a couple of photo books? They do excellent work. I made an 8×8, 14 page photo book for my mother that I described in a post several weeks ago. Much as I like electronic displays, it’s nice to hold a ‘real’ photo in your hands (or frame and hang on your wall).

I got the inspiration and the idea for my format from a wonderful little book: “On Reading,” by Andre Kertesz that I ordered from Amazon and received last week. The pages are 6 x 8 portrait orientation. Each B&W image gets it’s own page without captions. The keys to the images are in the back of the book.

So I’ve taken what I consider the best 14 B&W photos and am in the process of formatting the book. And I’m doing the same with 14 color photos. I won’t mix B&W and color in the same volume. Square is nice because both portrait and landscape oriented photos work well.

Today’s photo might be the last previously unpublished B&W from my year in Vietnam. I may have had more images but I only have about 72 surviving B&W negatives. Preserving the best of these images is another good reason for publishing a hard copy book. I’ve been telling myself to get busy and I finally am.

I’d like to make more of these books, each one featuring a different aspect of my photography.

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