Friday, February 21, 2014

Photographic Illustration, Part 1

by Deborah Wilbrink

Stumped for illustrations and book covers? Take your own photographs and use them. You’ll have the copyright, so no problem there. And photographs are the first reality graphics! The impact of a sharp and creative photograph cannot be overestimated.

When I studied photography at the Polytechnic Institute of London in 1975, there were no digital cameras; no personal computers. We shot in joy and trepidation, developed our own prints, and used staging, composition, and pure light for special effects. Everything I know about digital photography I have taught myself, mostly in the past two years. My first color book interior is the result of comparing printed scans at different settings, in my home office, as well as reading feverishly online. I still have much to learn, but these tips will give you a HUGE head start on illustrating your published works.

Start with the best shot possible. Your text isn’t amateurish; your photos should also look

professional. That means framing or composing the best shot, and shooting in the best light. A shot of a tree can show the tree; or, it can be framed so that contrasting words will show against the dark background. That’s for posed or still subjects. If you are shooting action, you can still manipulate the environment for the best shot – try moving yourself and not the subject! Simple software can do wonders, and professional software like Adobe Photoshop can do even more. But starting with a great shot leaves more time for you to write and market.

Create and Inspire. Now your illustrations have a chance for complete originality. Shoot and shoot till you get something that will inspire your reader. It can be literal – a view from your childhood home; or it can be metaphorical – a cubby of ropes signifying neatening up your life! Your original shot can be a design element for your new book’s Face-book page or an illustration for your weekly blog. Lisa Ernst takes her own shots for the blog, and they illustrate her text. Do NOT take a shot of someone else’s artwork, even if you own it, and consider that yours. You will need to get the proper permissions and write the proper credits and copyrights or disclaimers into your publication.

Use higher resolution images. Resolution simply means that your shot resolves into a sharp image at the size you want to see it. That could be anything from a large book cover to a small illustration. How about using a half-inch square as a high contrast graphic design element for chapter headings? Most online publishing sites require at least a 300 dpi, or dots per inch, resolution.

Use the settings for resolution. Some cameras offer a high resolution setting for shooting. Use that. If you are scanning original drawings or hard copy photographs and documents, and you intend to use them in print media, set your resolution to at least 300 dpi. The larger the original image, the better it will reproduce when small. If you scan a 4x6 photo and then want it for an 8.5 x 11”cover, you may have problems, depending on the dpi of the scan. Another measurement you may see is pixels, which measure the size of the original image. There are formulas, sometimes built into software, which will tell you just how sharply your image will print at different sizes. Start with at least 300dpi and you won’t have to worry about this. Not just the camera, but the scanner has resolution settings. Be sure to set them at 300 dpi or higher when scanning personal photos.

Check your image information. A right click on the digital photo will give you menus. [Yes, I’m a PC user! Apple products, specializing in intuitive graphics, may have different ways to do this.] Properties or general details will yield pixel and or dpi scan information. I can testify that getting some shots from church historian XX that proved to be 600 dpi delighted both of us! On the other hand, shots that were emailed at 60 dpi from another writer was the start of hours of backtracking and image manipulation for both of us in order to successfully use those illustrations. The common web image resolution, 60 dpi, may look sharp on your computer screen, but not when printed! Knowing about resolution before your shoot and scans will save you time.

Use all the other features of your scanner. Your scanner is your best friend for capturing existing photographs. Not only resolution, but scanning in batches, cropping while in the scanner, saving into files or by dates, are all possibilities. You can also set to scan documents, photos, black and white, or color; magazine and newspaper articles have settings for getting rid of text that may bleed through. Read your scanner manual and set aside time to experiment. I like to scan old black & white or sepia photographs in color, not black and white, for a warmer finish if the final product will be in color.

If possible remove the photos from under glass or plastic. If you have lots of these and they may get sticky, a Flip- Pal mobile scanner will allow you to leave them in place; a camera will give you fits with glare and reflection, but taking a shot can be done.

Use existing photographs at your own risk! Whenever possible, illustrate with original shots. There are times however, when an existing shot, a historic photo, a portrait, etc. – all be someone else or the terrible-to-track Anonymous seems to be the best and only choice. Be careful with this. You will need legal permission from the copyright holder; buy the rights from a stock image company, or use photographs that are legally in the public domain and note that they are so. I am always looking to learn more about this, and if you know all about it, please get in touch or submit a specific article. Otherwise, you may find these websites a place to start:

You’ll enjoy capturing your illustrations with a camera, a scanner, or working with a photographer whom you know and trust. Enjoy it even more now that you are confident you will get a legal, usable, and communicative photo to publish! Next month Part 2 will address how photos can be used to inspire your writing, and then be integrated for a stronger package.
c. 2014 DW text and photos, all rights reserved

If you liked this, subscribe to the Point of View blog for tips about writing. Deborah Wilbrink is an editor, ghostwriter and formatter for Writers in the Sky. Deborah specializes in personal history with her business Perfect Memoirs. Reach Deborah at 615-417-8424, Be sure to mention Writers in the Sky!

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