An approach to the self published photo book

By Carll Goodpasture

Carll Goodpasture makes nature and landscape photographs, and uses his camera work to advocate for environmental awareness. His point of view is that of an artist and a scientist combined. Regarding self publishing photo books, Goodpasture prefers the traditional offset method of “fine art and professional printing quality”, and he shares his experiences and opinions here.

Conversations with a Star. Published 2010.

Producing a do-it-yourself (DYI) photo book has never been easier. Like photography in general it seems: anyone can do it one way or another. As the digital revolution progresses, so the ways to self publish diversify: as for example in print or virtual, offset or digital, copy shop, print shop, or via desktop printer at home (for an overview of the self publish photo art world, see and ).

Within this view of the commonplace picture book, we might distinguish those of  “artistic intention” in which the artist assumes responsibility for the whole including photography, print making, layout and design, reproduction and the quality of the printing process. I prefer to use traditional offset lithography of a fine art and professional printing quality for my personal footprint. Quoting Gerhard Steidl, the prestigious European photobook publisher, “…if you want to do something in photography and it shouldn’t be ruined by lousy, unmotivated printers, then you’ll have to learn to do it yourself.”


Why self publish?

No matter what kind of photography, I think it boils down to “…the very heart of the matter of what it means to be an artist in the first place: self expression”, as Bill Konwenhoven says in an article entitled Self-Publish, Express Yourself, and Be Happy!, European Photography No. 88, 2010.

I make nature and landscape photographs and use my camera work to advocate for environmental awareness. My point of view is that of an artist and a scientist, thus it’s as important to publish as it is to be imaginative about the subjects I work with.

For me self-publish is both a practical and a tactical strategy for “getting the work out there”. By that I mean, why do photography if not to share it with others? The best way to do that, I find, is in book form. Traditionally scientists publish in print while artist’s exhibit on the wall. For me, the book does it all. In self publishing, I find three main advantages: control, cost , and creativity.

Truth be told, I’ve found no better way to be in control of my work than to let the book become my primary means of expression.  As in both science and art, my work is project oriented. Typical of an artist, the expression of a creative imagination is my goal. Typical of a scientist, per review and co-authorship is my preferred way of promoting the intent of my work.

As to cost, independent work in my field of natural history study is by definition without institutional support and, as an artist/photographer, my most important resource is the time I have to put into my work. In practical terms then, self publishing as DYI artist’s book or via on-demand print service is an obvious response to the high cost of publishing in print.

To the issue of creativity, self publishing is an alternative to the mainstream, free from editorial restrictions. In self publishing the creator of the work is responsible for all aspects of its production – you can be as imaginative as you wish. Otherwise, you hand your ideas and your pictures to an editor and take what you get.


A self-publish experience

A long involvement with commercial publishing of technical journal papers, natural history books, and an exhibition catalog was my introduction to the craft. With this experience as a guide I simply jumped in to DYI (for a step-by-step guide, see the recent book by Chris Dicki: How To Make & Publish A Photobook). The first task in self-publish is to make a virtual book (the digital file). The fun part is next: translating the file into print.

I have just completed my third self published book using print ready files delivered to an offset lithography press. Note that “ready to print” as described here means delivering to The Press a page lay-out document, high res image files, a set of aim prints, and a “proof” print-out of the entire book mocked up exactly as expected to appear when printed. The image files (pdf or tiff) are set up to produce full tone range prints on fine art paper; these are the “aim prints” for the press. I work in B&W with large format film negs scanned via Epson V700 flat bed. I make aim prints via inkjet to exactly represent the offset print in size and in color for a two color (duotone) press. I use InDesign for page lay-out. To learn how to use this software I studied various on-line tutorials such as

Terje Vigens Båt. Images of Nature Consciousness in Coastal Norway. Published 2006.

For my first self-publish experience, I searched for an offset printer with a business model catering to premium quality production that would allow me to supervise prepress and print run (most printers avoid the art quality print job). I was fortunate in that the Norwegian firm Bryne Offset had a unique commitment to quality image reproduction and on-site client participation, the balance of their business being commercial print work. Most importantly, fine print offset requires the skill and care of the workers on-press no less so than the materials and mechanics of The Press.

Take note that in this work flow explanation, the artist is engaged in person creating the tone separations from digital files at prepress, selecting ink colors (duotone printing), and approving print density on the press floor. Thus it is necessary to have a set of aim prints in hand at the press. The aim prints for the book Terje Vigens Båt, for example, were “quad black” Piezographs printed on a warm tint paper. To match the aim prints, a dark black/brown and a warm orange ink was selected and tested. I should also mention that offset paper chacteristics such as tint, surface, and weight as well as the line screen software employed by the printer are important. In other words, a quality print job is a complex undertaking and only a special print house is up to the task.

Imagining Place. Published 2009.

My second book, entitled Imagining Place was printed in Hong Kong using the service of a “print broker” such that prepress and print quality were the responsibility of an expert. I selected the broker by examining brokered books of the quality I wanted for my book. Although the print industry is changing, I could not at that time find an offset press willing to do fine print work of high resolution screen line and meticulous binding quality in Norway. Thus, in lieu of being on-press, I reviewed proof prints sent back and forth via FedEx. Although grateful to the former Bryne Offset Press for “showing me the ropes”, fine art quality offset practice is indeed a specialized industry.

As it turned out, broker guided production resulted in a book of exceptional quality. Although it used a line screen of 175 lines per inch, which is a standard commercial bench mark, all aspects of its production were meticulously executed. It’s one of the most beautiful printed from digital file books I’ve seen especially considering its modest cost (the cost of Asian printing is typically 2 to 3 times less than European and American press work of equivalent quality). The production quality of the book Imagining Place is evidence of extremely skilled attention to detail possible on a commercial offset litho press.

My latest book, entitled Conversations with A Star, was also produced by a print broker but outsourced to a printer in southern China. The line screen is much finer than my previous books (Agfa software “Sublima 240 lpl” with a dot size smaller than most ink jet prints). The result is a “soft” tone-scale rendition of pinhole camera work.

As a check-list of advise to the artistic book maker, consider that choice of paper, screen, and ink are critical to the look and feel or “quality perception”. These are a book’s materials. Yet its method of production is equally important. This includes the cleanliness and the condition of the press as well as the skill and experience of on press personnel. Finally consider a quality in – quality out equation: in this method of “print ready file book production” the page lay out (InDesign or QuarkExpress), hires print files (i.e. photoshop editing), and aim prints must be impeccable.

An additional step to maximum quality is to ask for a trial or test run to evaluate paper, ink, and screen choices before committing to print. This must be an offset (termed a “wet print”) rather than a proof by some other method such as inkjet. While an added expense not routine to most printers, to expect a close correspondence between offset book print and inkjet aim print (the “acid test” of fine art photobook quality) optimal procedure would be to first test methods and materials and then to supervise in person on the press.

For more information about offset printing and how to interact with the press in a DYI book production project, see the book Getting It Printed.

– – – – –

Carll Goodpasture’s books are available here:
Imagining Place and Conversations are for sale at Tronsmo Bookstore in Oslo. Conversations is also for sale at the Preus Museum. Terje Vigens Båt can be purchased on line from Commentum Forlag AS.
Also note that the distributors of most of his books are listed at Goodpasture’s web site on the “books” page.


2 Responses to An approach to the self published photo book

  1. Ron Bailey sier:

    Thanks, picked up some pointers. I will be seeking the help of a print broker.

  2. Interessant artikkel, gode konkrete tips for oss andre som fabler om å gi ut bok.

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