Top Tips for Photographers Illustrating Their Books

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I am a professional photographer, so I often work from shoot lists. When producing my recent book, Geography GCSE: Study and Revise Coasts, I needed photographs from across the UK. It was my project so this time it was up to me to create my own shoot list.

Geography GCSE – Study & Revise Coasts by David Robinson

Planning the shots for a complex project it can be challenging, so I thought it would be a good idea to share some hard-earned tips!

Where to Start with the Shoot List

Go through your planned content and identify everything that might need photographing. Make a rough list, then check again. Only when you are sure you’ve identified every shot should you start to build your proper list.

Caves & Sea Stacks

For me, that meant listing every place, process, landform, and feature I was covering. Some shots dropped off my list later on, but thanks to thorough planning at the start I didn’t miss anything. Books need covers as well as contents. Add them to your list and remember that you need an author
photograph too.

Go through your content, list every possible shot you might need, and only then start to create your actual shoot list.

Check before you go – a bit of micro-planning

Perfect light to bring the rock formations to life

Some shots need specific conditions before you can take them. Don’t go if the conditions aren’t right. Know what needs to be in place for the shots to work. You can’t shoot an expansive beach full of sunbathers when the tide is in and it’s freezing cold. If conditions aren’t right, do something else that
will work.

Make sure you will be in the right place at the right time, under the right conditions, to take the shot you want to take.

Take the Shots

Keep shooting!

You finally take the shot. Now take it again. So often a shot ends up discarded due to something you didn’t spot at the time. Digital photography allows multiple shots without extra cost, so play safe and protect yourself from unforeseen disasters. If you take multiple shots one of them will probably be OK. If you took only one, you’ll be back in the car.

Don’t be complacent. Take more shots than you need. If one isn’t good enough, you’ve got alternatives to use.

Update your Shoot List

Sand dunes on the move

As you get the shots, cross them off your list or you risk shooting something twice – a complete waste of time, effort and money. If some shots don’t work, revise the list. Don’t be afraid to change things as your book evolves and you have new ideas. Keep on top of it and always know what you’ve got, what you still need, and what’s next.

Finally: Three Universal Rules

Always shoot in colour, even if the final shots will be black and white. Converting from colour gives you more control of the finished look than shooting straight to black and white. Just edit to monochrome when you need to.

Always shoot in high resolution, at least 300ppi. That seems counter-productive when e-books need low-resolution images and small file sizes. Platforms, like Amazon’s Kindle, charge the author according to the size of the download. The larger the files, the less profit you’ll make. However, printed books need high-resolution images of at least 300dpi. File size doesn’t matter because it’s being printed not downloaded, but the reproduction quality needs to be good. Even if you are sure you are creating an e-book and will never publish in traditional print- always shoot in high-resolution. It gives you the flexibility to crop and edit, and if you change your mind and decide a printed volume would be good- you’ve already got the shots.

Shoot in landscape AND portrait even when the subject seems a natural choice for one rather than the other. You’ve not yet finalized the layout of your book –the final text and the page layout may give you no choice but to use one particular orientation. If in doubt, shoot wider so you can crop one image either way.

Shoot everything in colour
Shoot at a minimum of 300 dpi
Shoot everything in landscape AND portrait modes

[ed: David’s book, Geography GCSE – Study & Revise Coasts is now available on Amazon. If you know any students or indeed teachers that do the coastal environment please point them in the right direction, it’s a must!]

David is a Wilderness Photographic Guide specialising in wildlife photography. His work can be seen on his website and Instagram.

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