I have slowly been gathering a collection of books of photography. One I particularly enjoy reading is Ray Atkeson's 'Western Images'. He photographed the American west for 40 years using a large format camera. As well as the photos, printed on 12" square pages, he offers some narrative about his experiences - a bit of background about his life at the time, and some details about how the shot was captured. If I could produce a book like that I should be very pleased with myself. I don't have the depth of landscape photos from a single region to produce a book quite like Western Images. To get together material for a book I either need to use images from the London area where I live, or pull together disparate photographs from the US, Canada, Europe, and all over the UK. I chose two portfolios, and sent each to a different publisher.

I uploaded Epping Forest images to Their product comes in a hardback 8"x11" landscape format with a hole in the front cover through which a small picture on the first page is visible. This is obviously a cheap alternative to a printed cover. Whether you really add value to a book by cutting a hole in it, is arguable. The paper quality is nice. There is reasonable print resolution available for landscape or square format images. Photobox say they print at 300dpi and recommended a picture size for full bleed of 3366x2646 pixels ( about 9mp ) but not all the image detail is rendered. Nevertheless, the general perception of the printing is positive. It's up to the standard I am used to seeing, say in photography magazines. Portrait format images are not shown at their best because of the height of the page. The user interface on is pretty good. It is quick to operate and the layout options are sensible. You only get 20 pages as standard, but I added a few more for which they charge extra. The book arrived in just two days !

Photobox (top) and Jessops books

My second book was ordered from Jessops. I decided to put one image only on a page and make a fine art presentation called City and Landscape. That is a very inclusive title and covers most of the images I have ever taken ! There is no common thread really, but all the images are either architecture, or landscape with some man-made element in the scene. This leaves room for some more portfolios like Portrait, Documentary, and Nature. The Jessops user interface has some serious issues. It hits the server for almost every action, so viewing the next page of the book means a 10 second wait or more. Once an image is placed in the book, there is nothing to indicate it is 'used'. This makes it so difficult to organise the images, I had to draw up a plan for the book with pen and paper. Also the layout options are silly. There is no option to place a single portrait image on a page, but you can have 9 square images if you want. Who the hell writes this software? I ignored the format options and prepared 300dpi files sized for full bleed, placing the images and text exactly where I wanted. I used 48pt arial font in dark grey. I even wrote a whole page of text as introduction. I ordered a 42 page book. The Jessops book is bigger - about 12" square ( exactly 30cm ) so it suits landscape and portrait images equally well. I think it's about the perfect size for a book. The paper is a bit less glossy than Photobox and the print quality isn't quite so good. But of course the Jessops prints are going to be much bigger for square or portrait format pictures so they are ultimately more detailed.

Unfortunately neither of these books is as good as I would like. The Photobox format is too small, and the Jessops printing is just short on color depth and resolution. On balance I would choose Jessops for my next book. Their product provides an interesting medium for presentation despite its limitations. The modest resolution of the printing means the size of the image file isn't really an issue, I can't tell the 10D (6mp) images from the 5D (13mp). Since all my images max out their printer, I can choose my material based purely on the subject and style ( that point applies to Photobox also ). I can also choose landscape or portrait format images and present at the same size and quality. For the next book I'm planning to stick to the City and Landscape theme and increase the number of images included and the amount of text. I'm learning that choosing an image for a book isn't the same as choosing something to print and frame at 16x20in and hang over the fireplace. It's important to think about combinations of images and how they are sequenced, and the narrative as well.
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