Years ago, I met a photographer who was avoiding digital. He reasoned that at his age (a bit older than me) he didn’t want to learn a whole new skillset when he was an expert at what he did (film and darkroom). This seemed like the most reasoned and fair rational for not converting to digital that I had heard, and at the time, I embraced this sentiment wholeheartedly.

Digital is a separate, albeit similar, medium to film and the skillsets are decidedly different. They overlap, but there are enough new skills to be mastered that one should not assume there is no learning curve. There is, and it can be steep.

It is true that there are a lot of things about making photographs, for instance: composition, lighting and camera handling, which apply in both media. But, once one starts “developing” and printing, the needed skills separate.

All of this is said to make a point related to my current project: creating a book.


I now have even more respect for people I know who are in the book business, or any graphic artist types (full disclosure: this includes the spouse); but especially photographers Les McLean and Bill Schwab, who are responsible for some wonderful books.

How hard could it be?

Actually, it can be as hard as you make it, not unlike some other things, but the point is that it is not photography. Making a book of photographs uses photographs, but other than the work in preparing the images, it is not photography.

Creating a book involves a whole new set of skills.  I’m learning. The problem, like so many others, is clearer in hindsight. I should have made a “practice/learning” book first! Having to learn, experiment, fail, and re-do while actually producing the real book is not efficient. However, at this point I have no choice.

The book is of photographs from the project I have been doing on historic pipe organs. The project is in conjunction with, and in support of the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival.

Briefly, the photographs document a selection of organs connected with the late Roy Perry of Kilgore, Texas. Perry (1906-1978) is one of those typical American stories. Born poor to a widowed mother, self-taught (for the most part) and yet a genius at what he did. What he did, besides being a highly skilled church musician, was do the on-site tonal finishing of many Aeolian-Skinner organs sold in this region. Tonal finishing is a very exacting and esoteric skill that apparently came easy to him, and the organs he did are today regarded as masterpieces of the genre.  If Aeolian-Skinners were considered the “Cadillac” of pipe organs, Perry’s were the top of the line model.

The festival is an annual event (started in 2011) to celebrate the life and work of Perry.

Link to website for photos

Link to the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival

Writing text for the book is fortunately not a new skill. In my recently retired-from day-job, writing was our product (reports). But, designing and assembling the book is another story.

I have done some publishing work before. For several years in the 1990’s, I did a monthly newsletter that had a lot of text and many line illustrations. I used Microsoft Publisher™ and provided camera-ready copy to the printer. I am fairly adept at things like Acrobat™, dealing with pdf’s and such. So, how hard could this be?

For one thing, I had never really gotten into dealing with photographs for “pre-press” at a level needed for a photo book. It is similar to preparing files for printing, yet different. Initially, I was using Word™; since it does enough of what the 90s Publisher did to suit my purposes. All along, I was assuming that I would output camera-ready copy to go to a printer.

The festival is in November each year. I had set an arbitrary, but realistic deadline of October 1 to have the book draft completed. About a month ago, I decided not to have a print run, but to use print-on-demand. This made the deadline a little more flexible, but it also introduced another major variable: the publisher’s software!

I could have still done the whole thing the way I had been and output a pdf file for the publisher, but I reasoned that using their native software would be easier and eliminate a “reproduction” step, which never helps over-all quality.

Well, yes and no. I had to learn the software. Hardly difficult, it is very “WYSIWYG”, but it also has some interesting quirks and limitations. Still, the book is laid out. Now I need to go back and re-size all of the original jpegs, and replace the images in the book draft. This will not take as long as it sounds, because each photo needs to be made just a bit smaller, and Photoshop™ will make quick work of that.

Anyway, it will all work out. The morals of the story are:

  • don’t assume it will be easy
  • prepare for a learning curve
  • schedule carefully
  • add six months

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