View Full Version : Print sizes for publication

John Mauser
25-Sep-2005, 10:12
I'm beginning to build a portfolio of my B&W photographs for what will hopefully be future book publication. The portfolio would be around 150 coastal north carolina images that would be for a coffee table style book. The images in the book would probably be around 6x9", give or take. My question is what size prints should I be making for this portfolio? I don't want to speak to any publishers until I have all of the photos printed, so if one shows interest, they won't have to wait on me. I will be contacting a lot of publishers, and I'm afraid they may have different needs as far as print sizes. My thoughts are that I would be best off doing all my prints on 11x14 paper so that they would hold there detail when they are downsized for the book. Not all of the photos are large format so I wouldn't want to build the portfolio in 16x20. Anyone have any experience with printing for book publication? I could really use your thoughts.

25-Sep-2005, 10:58
the last thing in the world you need to worry about is the print size they need for reproduction. nothing happens fast in the book publishing world.

the first issue is a portfolio to show. this could take the form of loose prints or even color xeroxes, or if you plan to edit the book yourself, a fully mocked up book dummy. color xeroxes are often the way to go, because you can make several sets and submit to several publishers, and don't have to worry about them when they don't come back. it's also very likely that the publisher will want to edit the work themselves, and loose prints makes it easier for them to try out differen ideas while deciding if they're interested. however, a dummy has the advantage of demonstrating upfront that the work IS editable into a workable book project (assuming it actually is). this can give it some weight even if they choose to re-edit it. just keep in mind that making a dummy by hand is a ton of work. a friend of mine spent a whole week mocking up a half dozen dummies of her project. i have no idea if she even got them back.

one piece of advice i was given by a photo book publisher: if you're new to this and don't have a major sales record, think small. virtually all photography books lose money, but there's always a limit to how much money they're willing to lose on any given project. printing a photographer's first book as an oversized edition with expensive plates, when experience tells them they'll have trouble selling more than 400 copies, would be an unusual business decision. he suggested that you'd do better proposing a modest book ... roughly 8x10, with 20 or so prints. check out some of the interesting books done by nazraeli press to get an idea. lots of small beautiful books by photographers you probably haven't heard of.

as far as reproduction prints, if all goes splendidly with publisher, then that's a conversation you'll be having in a year or so.

John Mauser
25-Sep-2005, 11:59
I appreciate your help. I think all this time I've been worried that if someone said yes, they would pass me up if I wasn't ready to go. But I guess if there interested in my work, they're going to wait around for me. I guess I'm still thinking in the magazine sense of deadlines, deadlines, deadlines...and not in a book publishing sense. How would you approach a large number of publishers if your work is B&W hand prints on Fiber...a few 8x10's, a CD of 20 images and one hand print, etc. What do you think a publisher would like to see.
Thanks for the help, John

Louie Powell
25-Sep-2005, 12:28
John -

You might want to read Brooks Jensen's editorial in the latest Lenwork in which he discusses at lenth the concerns involved in planning and publishing a photo book.

John Mauser
25-Sep-2005, 12:43
Thanks Louie,
I'll see if I can get ahold of it, as far as I know the closest book store that carries it is an hour and a half away. John

25-Sep-2005, 14:40
If you're really ready to go, it might make sense to get in touch with Mary Virginia Swanson (www.mvswanson.com) for some book publishing consulting, or at least for the most up to date version of her book. She knows the industry inside out.

Other than that, I would contact individual publishers and find out how they like to look at work. In many cases it makes sense to have samples available in multiple formats: a stack of inkjet prints, a cdrom, and a website. this lets people look at the work the way they're most comfortable. the senior editor might only like to look at prints, while his assistant might be into websites and multimedia.

Don't worry about showing anyone your best prints. It's impractical, they don't want the liability, and they're probably not too concerned about print quality. They're well aware of the magic that's possible when reproducing images ... I've seen many books where the reproductions outshine most prints made by the artist (Cartier Bresson and Walker Evans come to mind).

The Brooks Jensen article is excellent.

Another excellent article is by Darius Himes and MV Swanson ... it's available here with a paid subscription:

And is reproduced in MV Swanson's book that I mentioned.

John Mauser
25-Sep-2005, 14:52
Thanks Paul,
I've started emailing individual publishers asking them what form they would like their photo samples in. I really appreciate your help. I can see why so many photographers never take the next step past just invisioning a book...it can get overwhelming quickly. But I know several people around here that have done it, and I think it's possible for me too if I can stick it out. We'll see how it goes.
Thanks, John

QT Luong
25-Sep-2005, 15:39
Another consultant name who comes to mind is Michael Smith,
who has a lot of experience publishing fine-art photography books.

John Cook
25-Sep-2005, 16:51
As a retired photographer of advertising illustration, everything I have shot in the last forty years has been published. Magazine ads, catalogues, pamphlets and brochures, but no fine art books.

Just some general rules I have learned along the way:

No textured paper. Smooth glossy is best.

Plenty of shadow detail. It tends to vanish first in reproduction.

Donít worry too much about toning your prints for the sake of image color. If the printer wants something other than neutral color, he will do it with his ink. Same with ivory paper stock.

Lithographic cameramen and process cameras are geared to enlargement. They donít handle reductions well. Making a 4x5 lithograph out of a 16x20 print will make them crazy. I would recommend 5x7 or 8x10 prints as a general rule, unless you are contemplating an enormous coffee table book. Then make the prints as close to the final reproduction size as possible.

Lastly, remember that I am old. All of the above is probably now totally obsolete, useless information in this digital age.

John Mauser
25-Sep-2005, 17:02
Thanks for the information John,I really appreciate it.
Thanks QT, by the way your photos are beautiful.

25-Sep-2005, 17:50
"All of the above is probably now totally obsolete, useless information in this digital age."

probably not all, but i imagine the vast majority of book publishers will be scanning the work rather than using film. unless they're married to a printer/prepress house that is firmly set in its ways, there is absolutely no reason to use a copy camera for this any more.

i don't know what the usual policy would be toward providing your own scans. my guess is the question hasn't come up much until recently.

Frank Petronio
25-Sep-2005, 19:28
If you are working traditionally, then nicely printed RC glossies (open shadows, no blown highlight) at 100% of the repro size is probably the very best print for the designer to scan on their lowly flatbed.

If you work digitally, aim your file size to be at 100% and 300 to 360 dpi for standard "high quality" 175 line screen litho.

Going larger can actually be a detriment, as whenever 4 pixels need to be compressed to 1 pixel, something has to go "away".

Most likely, either you or the designer will end up scanning everything as you really need images to layout the book. So it behooves you budget-wise to scan the images properly once, rather than doing cheap "FPO" (For Position Only) scans and then having the printer overcharge you for their "pre-press" scans. So if you can't get the scanning together, get a designer who knows what they're doing...

25-Sep-2005, 21:11
Any time the designer scans art on a lowly flatbed, it's an FPO scan. Unless you're dealing with an extremely low budget operation. Believe me, I've been a designer for 10 years, and even at the jobs where I had pretty nice scanners (including a linotype flatbed that cost as much as a car) my inhouse scans would only be used for final art in emergencies or when quality didn't matter.

The final scans will either be done by a prepress house, or inhouse if the publisher has their own high end facilities. Really, don't worry about the specifications for final art at this point. Every publisher will have different specs and different ways of working (some sane, some not) Wait til you have a book deal! Time will come for working out the details.

Struan Gray
26-Sep-2005, 01:20
A tip: for mock-ups and for an easy cheap way to get a bound book in your hands, look into the books you can make with Apple's iPhoto. Cheap enough to kiss goodbye or leave on file, good enough to get the point across.

Frank Petronio
26-Sep-2005, 04:31
Paul, I've been a designer for at least ten years too. And I've done my own scans and bought scans for all kinds of projects. And for most short-run niche books, the artist or designer does the scanning for budget and control reasons.

Certainly if it was a David Muench type of large format, oversized color coffee table book I wouldn't suggest it, at least for a tyro. But we're talking about scanning B&W prints on something like an Epson flatbed. If you ever sent B&W prints to be scanned at an average commerical printer, you'd realize that they tend to muck things up far worse the photographer could do on their own!

Frankly, that lowly flatbed will do a better scan of a print than most high-end scanners (and operators) conditioned to scanning color film.

26-Sep-2005, 10:30
Frank, I don't dispute that in many cases you can get stellar scans from a flatbed. It's just been the perception at every design department where I've worked (probably around a hundred of them) that for final art you send the scans out. It's possible that New York is just a different market. But I seriously wonder if any of the photography book publishers is doing anything besides drum scans. They're getting so sophisticated now with their printing techniques it's hard to imagine that they aren't doing everything in their power to get the best scans, too.

In general, I would definitely trust an educated photographer to do his or her own scans, at least if the printer's needs have been made clear. I just don't know if a publisher will share that trust. And I don't extend that trust to graphic designers ... I never met one who knew much about scanning. My scanning education came from my own photography, not from the years of FPO scans I banged out for commercial jobs.