There are two strands to putting a print portfolio together, as far as I can tell. Strand one is that about which I’ve already spoken: picking the images that should go in your book (and more importantly excluding the images that shouldn’t go in your book). Strand two is all about the presentation of your work once you’ve picked it. I see no reason not to have both strands of thinking running at the same time. After all, where’s the fun in picking your images if you can’t get the book together once you’re done picking? (And I know myself well enough to know that if I didn’t have something to put the images in at the end of it all I’d likely just keep tweaking the selection and wanting to shoot new stuff for it forever).
Everyone’s seen the black leather portfolio book. It’s standard, you can get one in just about any size you like, and as a result it’s relatively cheap. To me it’s as dull as hell. I want something that will stand out when it’s in a pile with other portfolio books stacked up on a photo editor’s desk.
So that option’s out. What else is there?
Well, the short version is: tonnes. Take a look at No Plastic Sleeves. Pretty much anything you can think of can be made, as far as portfolio books go. Custom book cloths, aluminium or stainless steel covers, bamboo or some hardwood or… well, the list goes on and on. I shan’t waste time repeating them all here.
Myself, I’ve been torn between three different options, each of which has it’s own merits. In short, they are:
- A Pina Zangaro (or some other manufacturer) portfolio screw-post book, either with polythene sleeves or adhesive hinges; images printed on a paper of my choice.
- Pros: Solid, eye-catching (for the most part) and allows laser-etching of a logo onto the cover. A nice way to make a statement about your brand. I’m a big fan of Fuji Museum Rough paper for fine art prints, too.
- Cons: Price. The covers on their own will set you back ~£80 for an 11×14″ portrait book. And the prints – because I don’t own a large-format printer – will cost ~£10 apiece from Loxley Colour, my preferred printers*; I want a minimum of 20 images in the book, so that’s ~£300 per portfolio. Finally, the plastic sleeves look awful. They add glare to the images and the anti-glare ones look terrible, from what I’ve seen. The flexible hinges look fine, but it means sticking things to your prints that you can’t later take off easily.
- A Blurb print-on-demand book, using their ProLine Pearl or ProLine Uncoated paper
- Pros: Blurb make great photobooks; I’ve bought a few in my time. I did a test book of some of the headshots I’d done for Canonical (on which more in another post) and the quality is fantastic; reasonably heavy paper at 190gsm, no noticeable bleed-through between double-sided prints, and very reasonable prices. Oh, and you can have ImageWrap covers, too, which means that you can use whatever design you like on the cover.
- Cons: Well, I’m not sure. The prints in the test book that I ordered seem slightly desaturated compared to version on my screen, but I haven’t yet had a chance to view them in good, balanced daylight (because good daylight is hard to find at the moment. It’s March, people, and it’s like living in the arctic). More importantly, I’ve read mixed reviews about Blurb’s quality control… But I’ve got no actual evidence of problems there.
- A custom book; paper of my choice, cover materials of my choice… Everything of my choice.
- Well, yeah, this would be lovely, but honestly the problem here is that there are just too many choices and nowhere to start. Maybe, in a couple of years, I’ll engage a designer and put together some custom books that blow everything I’ve done before out of the water. But not today.
With all that in mind, I’m currently leaning towards Blurb books. 11×13″ Landscape – almost A3-sized – good prints on very good paper; not a terrible place to start. Three copies of the book will cost less than £200 including shipping, which is excellent value for money. But there’s something very lovely about the much more expensive – but far higher quality – idea of individual prints on fine art paper in between cool covers that’s also very, very tempting.
The point, ultimately, is to have something that makes a photo editor or art buyer sit up and take notice when it lands on their desk. Will a Blurb book do that? With the right cover design, well, maybe. Would a customised Pina Zangaro cover do it? Again, maybe. But I have to remember that right now the point is to be getting something together that I can put out in the world, and that actually what will make the most people sit up and take notice is, well, me. Meeting people, networking, and getting the introductions that I need to the people I need to meet.
*Someone’s going to suggest using ProAm for printing, so I’ll head this off now: ProAm are great, they really are. They’re reliable and very reasonably priced because they expect you to do the work of colour-correcting your images. However, they don’t do prints on fine-art papers like Loxley do and their 11×14″ and A3 prints are printed on 12″ wide paper; you have to trim it manually.