Sunday, November 22, 2009
Unlike most of you, I never write fiction novels. I like to read them, not write them. My thing is nonfiction concerning modern American pop culture. I read a lot of books that by intent and design have a lot of pictures, mostly of cars and motorcycles. My first book, about cars, contained 37 photos, the inclusion of which cost me $100 with iUniverse. I paid another $100 to put a single photo of my ugly mug in the back of my third book. My second book, about boats, could have used pictures, but it was not worth the cost in time or money. Photos in most POD books still cost way too much money, in both upfront costs and the retail prices set by page count, but CreateSpace has changed all that. When you create your book yourself for CS, you can include as many B&W (grayscale) photos as you want and the company will not charge you a cent. CS does not care if you add a single huge TIFF or two-hundred tiny JPG’s. When you pay the $39 upfront fee, the cost per page is only 1.2 cents. This means that a large number of photos may raise the retail price of the book a tiny bit, but nothing to the rip-off degree that iU does for large page counts.
I am quite buried in boat pictures these days. The book I am working on is called Ker-Splash 2: The High Performance Boat Book. I hope to release it on schedule 1/1/10. Why, you ask? It’s not Christmas I am concerned with; it’s the winter boat show season that begins the following weekend. CS allows a maximum file size of 100 MB, so I have to choose my selections carefully. Since the file sizes of the photos generally vary around one or two MB each, you can see where the limited number kicks in. This would be yet another limitation on the design of a color CS release. It would be nifty if they would offer something like a ten-color-pages option within a B&W book so you could have some color shots without breaking the cost or file size limitations.
As for putting photos in a CS book, I can tell you this much. I enjoy the hell out of the process. It is one of the main reasons I got interested in computers in the first place. I can also tell you that it practically doubles the time it takes to completely publish a book. I think I have a very good grip on the process, and I think the programs I have chosen are probably the easiest way to create the project. There will be about seventy photos in my book. This number has been steadily growing over the past couple of months until it has reached the maximum allowable 100 MB.
In the world of POD publishing, the physical size of a printed photo and its actual file size are everything. Just because a picture looks huge, colorful, and beautiful on your computer monitor does not mean this photo is suitable for printing in your book. The experts will argue all day long about how dots per inch (dpi) is a printer measurement and pixels per inch (ppi) is a screen resolution. Don’t let this silly, but true, argument distract you. It’s just like the old POD slap-fight in which POD is actually a process, but it’s really the birth of iUniverse and all its print-anything-you-submit competitors that really puts their panties in a wad! This is just like that. CreateSpace insists that any photos embedded in your manuscript must be of at least 300 dpi, just as iUniverse used to, and I assume, still do. The only difference was that when I submitted my earlier books to iU, the photos had to be TIFF’s and it literally took all night with a phone line connection to send them the books. CS does not require TIFF’s, although you can certainly submit your photos in this format if you want. Some people claim the photos will look better if you do, but I doubt that I can personally tell the difference. What I can tell you is that with the 100 MB file size limit, you will not be able to include very many TIFF’s in your book, at least not large ones. Most of the seventy pictures in Ker-Splash 2 will be much larger than many of the thirty-seven in Plastic Ozone Daydream.
All the photos in Daydream were taken before I was even very involved with computers. Most of that book was written from 1985-94. The photos were 4” x 6” snapshots that had to be scanned into the computer at 300 dpi resolution each. The fact that these shots began as scanned, small, non-professional photographs hurt their quality level far more than the fact that they were submitted as huge TIFF files helped. I really cannot imagine that if they had been converted to JPG’s and submitted that they would look significantly of any lower quality in the book.
The photos I am working with now are from an entirely different origin. Although I scanned a few shots from prints in the beginning, none of these will be in the book. The two weakest shots were taken with my Kodak Instamatic as Ektachrome slides in the late Sixties. These have been scanned in with my slide scanner at 1800 dpi and then processed into the system. The easiest and best way to include photos in your CreateSpace book is to simply take them with your own digital camera. Most digital cameras spit out very large, high-resolution JPG’s with nonchalant ease. All you have to do is to crop and shrink these to whatever physical size you need and insert them into your document. They will automatically be of a high enough resolution to use in any book in most any size you want without creating too large a JPG file size. A small number of the photos in my upcoming book originated in this manner.
Most of the photos I am publishing originated with boat builders and their publicity firms, and this is one of the leading reasons I thought some of you might find this article relevant. I am describing for you in detail the processes you may have to utilize in order to take photos from a wide variety of origins and place them into your book. I sent out requests to selected boat manufacturers describing my book and what I wanted from them. The replies I received were all over the map. Some companies obviously have paid large publicity firms to take hundreds of high-quality, posed shots, and others may have only taken quick snapshots of a few models. In some cases I had tons of photos to look through and in others I had to hope that at least one of the shots was technically acceptable to use. I had originally wanted the book to be in the 8 x 10 size so the photos could all be larger, but due to the necessary file specifications, I opted for the 7 x 10 size instead. Too may of the precious few photos that I had from some sources were just too small to use without serious cheating; i. e., using too many photos of too low resolution below 300 dpi. Some of the former files were humongous while many of the latter were just a few shots sent to me directly by the small boat builder. A lot more of this latter group could meet the 300 dpi level, or come close to it, at 5.75 inches wide than at 6.75 inches wide. How did I arrive at these dimensions? After comparing the look of a number of books on my shelf, I selected the margin sizes I wanted to use. The really sophisticated providers had set up what they call a Media Page in which every promotional photo of every model was posted in both a small JPG format for the web and a large TIFF or JPG for printing. Later on in this article you will read how I built a quickie version of my book in Microsoft Word utilizing many of these smaller file versions, while downloading the large file versions to actually use in the book. The quick versions could be downloaded and copied into my book’s file folder in moments. I would literally go make a sandwich or do some other mundane chore while each of the monsters downloaded! I hope I can cover every contingency and answer all your questions about this process in this very long article. Let the explanation of the process begin.
I download a bunch of photos from a boat builder's media page on his website or I receive the photos in e-mails. I look at the properties of each picture to see the size and resolution. All my pictures will be 5.75" wide and vary in height, probably from about two to seven inches. This is why I agonized over the 8x10 format for so long: the pictures could have been printed larger, but less of the ones I have could meet the minimum resolution requirements at the 6.75" width. After I check the size of a picture, compared to its resolution, I can decide if it passes technical muster. In this case, if it is 1800 pixels wide at 300 dpi, it passes. The larger format would have required 2100 width to be acceptable. (Both these stated dimensions offer a little margin for error, of course: 1800 divided by 300 = 6, not 5.75.) You may remember that I spent a bit of time trying to ascertain if I could cheat in my CS submission, and if so, how much could I cheat. A lot of that issue was over the 8"x10" format concept, when so many of my pictures were not making the grade. Any photos that I have pulled directly out of the camera can pass the test without question, so if you were working on the same process, the problems I had would probably not apply to you.
After the photos have shown to meet the minimum technical specifications, I open a photo in Picasa. Whatever program you like probably offers much the same functions. (I need to point out here that a few of the boat media pages use TIFF's. When I downloaded a bunch of these, in one case I created a folder on my desktop that was 339MB! In that case, the first thing I do is to convert them all to JPG's and dump the big TIFF's in the trash. You can use the TIFF's in your book if you want, but the file size would be a monster, and 100MB is the total size of manuscript that the CS system can handle. Obviously my book could not be made from TIFF's; although Daydream was, as iU accepted only TIFF's. It was an all-nighter to upload that book, too!) All I do in Picasa is to crop the picture and save the newly cropped copy. Then I close Picasa and open Photoshop Elements, the basic form of Photoshop that came with my slide scanner. (Of course, I don't really do this process one at a time. I prepare a bunch in Picasa and then I finish the job with Elements.) I open the newly cropped version of the picture in the Image Resize page of Photoshop Elements. In this program, you must select do not resample image, and then I put 5.75" in the width box and watch the new listing of the resolution. As long as it states 300 or higher, I am not cheating. I click to resize the image and then I save it as a JPG. When I do this, the box pops up asking for the specifications I want and I choose the highest quality level; then I save the new JPG with a notation that it is ready for the book, such as Sonic Prowler 26 Crop Trim. The original photo has already been saved as Sonic Prowler 26, and the version cropped in Picasa has been saved as Sonic Prowler 26 Crop. After I have completed this process, I change the Crop Trim notation to just CT and move all the CT-designated photos into a special folder of actual possibilities for the book. The first two versions of the photo are left in their original folder in case I need to change the cropping of the photo later. The shot of the Sonic Prowler 26 shown here is my favorite photo out of hundreds that did not make the cut: Sonic sent me a couple of others that were even better!
The use of Picasa and Photoshop Elements is purely my own choice. Most of my face time with these photos is actually spent in the Windows Picture Viewer that comes with Windows XP. In 98% of the cases, Picasa is capable of doing about four times whatever is necessary to modify a particular photo, and Elements does about ten times as much, so the process I am using is meant to honor the KISS Principle more than anything else. I am sure some of you would prefer to open up the big, bad Photoshop and modify the hell out of your pictures; whereas, I am much more concerned with how many minimally modified photos I can include in the book. With the quantity of photos I am working with, my little KISS Principle methodology still requires an enormous amount of time, probably as much as the creation of the text portion of the book!
There are three small picture modification tools that I have utilized on just a few of the photos I have prepared for publication. I have used the sharpen tool in Picasa on a few shots that I took of moving boats at full zoom. I used the blur tool in Picasa to distort a few state license numbers on boats. I read somewhere a while back that you should not publish photos with identifying license plates on cars, just as you should not publish identifiable faces without the subjects’ permission. I assume the license number concept would apply to boats, too, so it gave me an opportunity to check out the effectiveness of the blur tool, which works surprisingly well. The third modification tool I utilized was the JPG quality setting in Photoshop Elements. A few of the shots that had arrived in my computer as humongous TIFF’s needed to be reduced in size just to allow room for more photos inside the 100 MB limit imposed by CreateSpace. I was shocked to discover that the largest of these was 203 MB!! Even after converting some of these to JPG’s, cropping the photos, and trimming the size down to 5.75 inches wide, they were about 6 MB each. I saved a few of these with slightly reduced quality in order to bring them down to about 2 MB each, a file size at least somewhat comparable to the rest of the photos in the book.
Word is still a wonderful, quickie way to create a version of the book that isn't real. If I want to test what a picture looks like in a particular part of the book, I insert the photo from any format and just let Word resize it the width of the page setup (7") and click the grayscale button to see what my book will look like. All of this is a complete no-no for actually creating a CS manuscript. After much research, I have learned that Word will actually decrease the photo's resolution if you insert the picture and then resize it. It will also decrease your resolution if you copy and paste the photo into Word, even without resizing it. The only issue I have not concluded yet is that if I take that color Sonic Prowler 26 Crop Trim above and insert it into Word and then change it to B&W, will I lose anything? It may or may not be necessary to first change that finalized photo to B&W in Photoshop Elements before inserting it into Word. The experts are certain that you should not resize a photo in Word, but I have yet to verify if you can change to B&W in Word without a problem. Take note, though: the experts agree that each photo should be changed to B&W individually before submitting the book. You can submit the book with all color photos and CS will change them all to B&W, but the program will treat them all identically rather than on a case-by-case basis, possibly causing less than perfect results. To be on the safe side of these issues, I have saved a B&W version using Elements of every photo in my Crop Trim (CT) File, so when the book is finally put together, if there is any inserting of photos in Word, no modification to the photo will be necessary after the picture has been inserted in place.
I keep three Word documents for Ker-Splash 2 active at all times. The first is the actual text that I am constantly writing, editing, and updating as a regular 8.5 x 11 document. The second is a 7 x 10 mockup of what the actual book will look like with all the photos inserted in place in their actual sizes. This is the document I referred to above as not real, because the pictures can be inserted quickly as low-res JPG’s and converted to the size and grayscale in Word. Take note that the file size of this document can be only a fraction of the size of the genuine book. After working with this pseudo-document for several weeks, I have already created an updated version with the real photos in place. This monster is, of course, about 95 MB in size now. The third Word document I utilize is a conglomeration of all my notes for the book. The reason it is important is that one part of it contains a charting of the chapters, sub-headings, and other components of the text in the book. As I worked through the hundreds of photo choices, I used this as a template to decide which photo should be selected and exactly where it should be placed. This process allowed me to slowly build what would become the final template for the book, a template in Word that is 95 MB large and too unwieldy to actually work with on a daily basis. The last step I have completed is to set up the final order and placement of the photos and to number them in chronological order through the book. I removed any photos that have been eliminated from the competition, as well as all color versions, from my Crop Trim folder, leaving the photos sorted in order by their numbers. Now I can examine this folder at any time to see if I am satisfied with each and every issue concerning the photo selections. When I am ready to actually build the book, all the photos are ready for me to simply look at my chart and plug in the correct photo numbers.
There is one last project that I have yet to undertake, but I expect it to go quickly due to all the template setup I have already completed. I need to compose any photo captions and credits that I wish to place under any photos. The plan is to write each of these and give them a number in the chart in my Word Notes document, and then copy and paste each of them into place. The whole process will have taken only a million hours, but as I said at the beginning, I love doing this stuff!
See Also: The NIAFS Website/Blog
The CreateSpace Specifications Page