Monday, September 14, 2009

Pain-Free Book Illustration

or, Had I But Known: A Primer on Photos

Today, if all goes well, principal photography will begin on Ryan Gingerich's book. This is part of the project is always fraught with danger. Depending on how things go, it either means that the project will soon be finished, or that I have a boatload of work ahead of me. (Actually, no matter what happens, I have a boatload of work ahead of me. However, the size of the boat -- whether it be a dinghy or a battle cruiser -- remains to be decided.)

When I wrote my first book, I was unaware of certain key questions that needed to be asked before I signed the contract. One of those questions was "who will be the photo editor?" It wasn't until late into the process that I discovered I, the writer, was destined for the job.

The photographer for the project, a wonderfully talented individual, had never photographed for a book before. He took pictures -- over 4000 beautiful images. And then he gave them all to me.

Since I'd never written a book before, I wasn't certain what the protocol was. However, after spending literally weeks wading through photo after photo after photo after photo, I realized there had to be a better way.

Through trial and error, I've developed a system that works for me. It seems to be the most efficient, the least time-consuming, and the least painful for all involved. If I can get everyone, the models, the photographer, the expert, and me on the same page, the shoot goes quite quickly. The key, I've discovered, is taking the reins and directing the entire thing. (I was reluctant to do this at first. I felt that it smacked of dictatorship. But after several nearly disastrous projects, I discovered that "dictator" isn't necessarily a bad word.)

The first step is writing the text. Polish the text until it shines. Get the manuscript ready.

Then, go through the text and look for words that lend themselves to visual representation. Find the phrases that require illustration. Find the words that are particularly evocative. Think of an appropriate illustration for this text, and describe it.

Give each illustration a unique number. The easiest way to do this is in sequence within each chapter. For instance, every illustration in chapter 1 will begin with the number one. I generally use a dot to separate the sequence number from the chapter number. The first photo in Chapter 1 is titled photo 1.1. The second in the same chapter is titled photo 1.2, and so on.

Photos that require being grouped in a sequence, as is often the case with how-to books, are designated with alphabetical letters. So, for instance, four photographs in a sequence might be titled photo 1.1A, 1.1B, 1.1C, and 1.1D.

Directly underneath each photo description, I write a short suggested caption. Captions for photos and illustrations are generally taken from the manuscript text, and then elaborated upon in further detail.

What I've gone through the entire manuscript and indicated where illustrations are appropriate, I make a chart. The chart includes the photo name (1.13, for instance), the short description, and the suggested caption for the illustration.

This chart goes to the photographer, and becomes his or her shot list.

As each shot is taken, the photographer can indicate the frames or file names of the two or three best photos for each required illustration. I tell the photographer in advance that I do not want every single photograph he or she snapped. I only want ones he or she would feel proud of if they appeared in print. This, I have discovered, narrows my selection process down immeasurably.

I generally have 2 to 5 photographs for each possible illustration. I prefer doing the initial photo selection off of thumbnails because it takes so much less time than working off the flow photograph file. I weed out the ones that are patently inappropriate for the text. Then I look at the full files and find the ones that best match the text.

I insert the name of the appropriate file in the manuscript text next to the photo number. My goal is to make the entire manuscript submission readily and easily understandable for the publisher. The publisher then receives a hard copy of the manuscript, printouts of the photo thumbnails, a CD of the large photo files, and an electronic version of the manuscript file.

If all goes well, complete photo selection, edits, and placement can be done in a few days. If all does NOT go well, photo selection alone can take nearly as long as writing the manuscript in the first place. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

In Other News

Made good headway on the Novel in Progress today, while I await the photos to come in for Ryan's book. I'm really enjoying the long-term creative process that a novel requires.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Not only is it the next meeting of the Writing Practicum, but a friend that I met at the Christian Writer's Conference in Grand Rapids earlier this summer is planning to come spend the day with me at the beach talking writing stuff. Sounds great! Nothing like a kindred spirit to sharpen the creative edge and make the Muse work overtime!