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Archive for December, 2008

American Photo Issue Review

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

Red rose
A red rose from Arizona

One of the things I did on Christmas Day, besides eating and opening presents with my family, was to read through the January/February 2009 issue of American Photo magazine. It is billed as a special issue as it features the results of their "Images of the Year Competition". The photo competition is divided into the categories commercial work, nature, personal work, portraiture, student work, and photojournalism.

The Commercial Work category led off with a photo of Madonna by Steven Meisel for the Green Issue of Vanity Fair. This was the photograph that won the category. I’ve got to admit that I have to agree with the judges – it is a good picture. In the Nature category a rather spectacular dirt-colored tornado against a cloudy blue sky by Jim Reed caught my eye. I thought that the most artistic was a black and white photo of a lions head with offsetting negative space by Boza Ivanovic. In the Personal Work category, my favorite is a nude by Mona Kuhn, which also happened to be the winning image for this category. Portraiture was for me the most disappointing category as it contained nothing I liked. The winning image was one of Barack Obama.

I liked the Student Work category the best. An architectural image with unusual perspective by Chang Kyun Kim was the winning image in this category. Edging out this image as my favorite was an abstract of I don’t know what created by Samantha Mintio of Singapore. It looks like a multiple exposure image and creates the impression of an abstract city that would adorn the cover of a science fiction novel. It’s too bad that the printed image was so small.

The final category was photojournalism. A choreographed wave of women all in yellow by Mike Blankenship (a distant relation possibly) was pretty cool but my favorite was a black and white industrial scene by Fred Conrad.

The book review that caught my eye was "Inside Out" which was a review of the 224 page book X-Ray: See Through the World Around You by Nick Veasey. Mr. Veasey makes use of really really big X-ray machines to image all sorts of things. The review features an image of a city bus complete with passengers and a Boeing 777. The article also provides a very brief overview of the techniques used to x-ray these objects. There is something about x-ray imagery that has always fascinated me and I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of this book.

The most useful article for me was "Closeup: Photo Books On Demand" which reviews ten print on demand services. The article identifies Lulu as one of the largest self-publishing companies with 1.8 million members and 600,000 titles published. My experience with Lulu was to publish a pair of calendars several years ago that featured my images of Mars. While the quality of the standard calendar was disappointing with respect to price, the quality of the premium calendar was quite good. I recently returned to Lulu to make a new calendar but was less than happy with their new work flow.

To help photographers with choosing a publisher for their projects, the review article includes for each company a single comment on the company, an overview on price, color management, design options, papers, proofing, shipping and turn-around time, and general comments making for a handy reference.

Following is the list of companies reviewed along with the top level comment for each company.

  • Asuka identified as having the most high-end professional options with an emphasis on producing high-end coffee-table books. Said to be a favorite of wedding and portrait photographers.
  • Apple identified as having the most integrated work flow. I had no idea that Apple (yes that Apple) offered print services.
  • Blurb identified as having the easiest user interface.
  • Fastback Creative Books identified as providing the most personal attention.
  • Embassy Pro Books – said to have the most sophisticated color management.
  • Lulu identified as having the best book promotion which is logical as Lulu is geared towards using its web site to sell the products created by its content authors.
  • Mypublisher identified as having the most deals offered.
  • Pikto identified as having the biggest range of prints.
  • Paperchase identified as having the most creative options.
  • Sharedink identified as having the best special options.

Based on several of the top line comments, it does look like the reviewer wanted to have something positive to say about each and every pod (print on demand) service. The two services with the best general comments with respect to publication quality were Asuka and Pitko. One useful insight the reviewer provided was "if creating a small number of high-quality portfolios to impress special clients is your goal, a smaller company with an emphasis on color management and customer service might be ideal." Another tidbit was contained in the description of the Lulu service. With Lulu you can purchase an ISBN for your book as a part of the publishing process. An ISBN is the code used to categorize and identify books. If your book has an ISBN then it can be added to the various book publishing databases as well as Google Book Search. No mention was made as to whether or not the other nine services had this as an option.

My copy of American Photo magazine is now recycled. However, I have kept the pages for the "Closeup: Photo Books On Demand" article as a reference for the future.

The Illustration

I used a digitally manipulated photograph of a rose to illustrate this article. The original photograph was taken while on a trip to Arizona in 2007. I used Photoshop to extract the rose from the background and then applied a few filters on separate layers with different blending options to create the final image.

Ad Astra, Jim

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