On Folios

Tyler with "Junior"

Key: R20090619-102632-levels

I’ve been thinking a little bit about folios lately.  For years I’ve wanted to put together a portfolio of real physical prints.  I think I’ve always put it off because I imagined it would be a lot of work to comb through all my vast image collection and try to pick out the best ones, and then painstakingly print them and bind it all up nicely.  Nevertheless, the idea continued to bubble up to my consciousness again and again. It seems like it would be a very helpful exercise to develop further as a photographer.

Enter the folio.  The difference is perhaps insignificant in all but a few letters, but to me it means all the difference: a folio is just a set of photographic prints about a theme. In other words, a less daunting, and far more manageable task. And again, other bloggers are giving me food for thought.  Over at the Landscapist, Mark Hobson has been talking up folios for a while now.  He provided a link to the excellent Brooks Jensen page What is a Folio? I like the way Brooks thinks.  His elegant and clear ideas about folios and edition printing resonate with me.

Finally, Paul Butzi got my brain really humming with a couple of posts on his journey with folios, which is all wrapped up with his efforts to get a PDF book generated for his SoFoBoMo photos.  Feeling like I’m drafting in his thought pattern here, it got me thinking about my own LaTeX based SoFoBoMo book–the more I thought about it the more logical it seemed to simply add another file that would share the same web and print photos as the book, but be targeted to a folio.

So I dived in and, sure enough, LaTeX gets another star for time saved. In almost no time I put together a simple 12 image folio based on a subset of the images in the book. The web version weighs in at 3MB and you can check it out here–I really like the way this turned out. Now, granted, it seems a bit absurd to make a artsy folio about a whimsical chickens book, but that’s not the point. The point is that I made a folio–finally.  And I have a great system in place to make another one that can be more considered.

From Brooks’ description, I got the basic notions down of the title page, a single front matter page, the images, and a colophon.  Clean and simple. The web version adds the image key for each image to the bottom of the page.  You may have noticed that I like to provide the key for each image whenever I post an image: it’s extremely helpful when communicating with others about your work to have no ambiguity about which photograph one is talking about.  I tried adding titles, but in the end I felt that leaving the photos untitled allowed my eyes to explore the images with less distraction.  Somehow the key is not as distracting as the title, to me.

The higher resolution print version of the folio leaves the image pages unadorned with any text whatsoever.  This version is sized for US letter, a standard ink jet paper size here in the states. My plan is to print out the PDF onto a nice set of Harman Fiber Gloss AL or similar. I print most of my photos with Photoshop on a Mac, so I’m going to have to do a little experimentation to see if I can print a PDF and get the same quality of ink jet output. I would assume that the Mac/Adobe will honor the color profiles in the PDF images and do the right thing, but we’ll see.  Finally, I will have to figure out a nice enclosure like Brooks shows to enclose the leaves of the folio.

I have to admit that I have not been too keen on the idea of a PDF for an online folio in the past. I’ve looked at several, and always felt that somehow it was a little backward/awkward for something that you could put up on the web directly, vs. embedded in a PDF.  But I’m warming up to the idea.  I think that it might actually make you stand out a little more from the crowd.  If you put a PDF out there, lots of folks will pass it by; they are in too much of a rush to rapidly click their way through more of the morass of photos that is the web.  Someone that takes the time to download your PDF and open it up might take a more considered look, might just linger a little longer. It’s a slightly different environment (which, BTW, looks great in full screen presentation mode–try it!).

The final kicker that sells whole idea is the print version.  The PDF was designed originally for precise layout of print documents; an heir from the postscript tradition. So it should be a great format for producing a printed folio–one of the holy grails of my journey as a photographer.  Some might feel that a nicely done photo book serves the same function as a folio.  Umm, not quite.  Go read the Brooks Jensen article linked above: he makes a good case for the folio.  The main point is that the viewer is interacting with prints, not a book.  And they can mat and frame them, etc.

Now I just need to get a few folios under my belt and I have a feeling it will feel like I’ve produced a portfolio…

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