Ephotobook suffering and progress

After many hours in front of Indesign and Photoshop, I’ve finally made progress with the first edit of my ephotobook and will share for comment before the end of the week. Here I reflect on the experience in the hope of less suffering next time around.

It’s probably over a year since I used Indesign having gone through a period of making zines and ezines. As for most things I haven’t used for a while, I feel a rustiness and a lack of fluidity. The technical stuff is important – if I don’t feel on top of it, it can frustrate the creative work. I’ve said it to myself before but I must use these tools regularly to avoid the pain of refreshing and relearning.

Just as a photograph is a new and separate reality from its referent, so a ephotobook is to a photobook. I was able to create more readily once I’d really understood this. For example:

  • While it has ‘spreads’ they are very different to pages in a paper book. With paper, we are sure of its form and its mechanics of use; pages are turned, spreads reveal, the gutters obscure. With an ebook, different reading applications give different viewing experiences (eg page turns or spread viewing). If your spread doesn’t open as a spread, your images won’t make sense. Eventually, I though of a ebook spread as a single page, but worked to create the illusion of a spread as a useful and familiar layout form.
  • Screen space (particularly on mobile devices, like iPads) is limited compared to a book. There is a temptation to make all images fill the screen so they can be clearly seen. Then the book just becomes like a slide-show, which lacks the visual nuances and rhythms through layouts. Once I’d let go of the significance of the gutter (it is just imaginary for an ebook), layout possibilities seemed to come more readily.
  • Attachment to photographs can hinder a good ebook layout – I’d spent time working the images within their frames and was attached to showing the whole of each image. After putting this aside, there were more options for how to place photos together and work the layout.
  • Attention to detail is vitally important and even that sometimes doesn’t save you from frustrating rework. With the book, the photos are the ingredients and if they are not quite right, it becomes clear when eating the cake. Looking a photos closely as a book develops and in context next to other photos reveals flaws. Despite looking closely at images before exporting for ID use, I found some problems later. It does suggest I need to be more rigorous when finishing photos in post. I won’t even get into the pain of cover design and text!
  • The multi-media possibilities of ebooks add a dimension that possibly compensates for their lack of physicality. There can be user interaction with that. So far I’ve added soundscapes that the viewer can activate, a piece of piano music for the canal, kindly composed and played by my son, and a map of the canal’s route. I also plan to add a video interview with myself (once the work has progressed further) and a link to a microsite for the project.

Next, I need to revisit what the work means to me after the additional shoots and spending time with the draft book. This will inform the brief foreword to the book.