‘Mountainscape’ – behind the scenes

I remember back when DVD’s first came out that the big thing, alongside the much improved picture and sound over VHS, was the behind the scenes documentaries that accompanied the films. This reached epic proportions when the Lord of the Rings Special Edition trilogy was released. There was more behind the scenes material than the length of the film, quite brilliant. This feels a bit like that…

A few weeks after I was announced as the Outdoor Photographer of the Year in February I received a phonecall from David Breen at Triplekite Publishing. Thinking this was just a call for a chat, as we’d had one or two conversations in the past, I thought nothing of it. He started the conversation with “Great Coffee helps…”.

Many people assume that it was the result of winning Outdoor Photographer of the Year that I managed to secure a book deal with Triplekite, and although that was in fact the final brick in the wall, the wheels were put in motion more than a year before that. Back then, Triplekite had I think just published their 2nd title, David Baker’s ‘Sea Fever‘ and were on the hunt for new projects/photographers to publish. They sent out a tweet asking for photographers to submit book ideas. I think it was a friday night and I was feeling a bit cheeky so I knocked something up, it took maybe an hour or so. The mock-up book was entitled UK Mountain Ranges after a series of images I had been putting out on social media that were fairly well received. I wrote a kind of introduction and used a minimalist typeset. I noted that the last item in the ‘Creators Code’ under the Ethos tab on their website, it said “Great Coffee helps”. So, that was what I titled my email to them that accompanied my book mock-up. Of course, back then nobody really knew who I was and although the idea perhaps had some legs, David and Dav at Triplekite thought I needed to mature my profile. David came back to me within a few days of sending the email, thanking me for sending the idea through and suggesting that I needed to work on my profile some more. There was a suggestion that I might be considered for a future Land|Sea periodical should that project gain more speed (unfortunately it hasn’t) so it was a nice way to say thanks but no thanks.

That was that, until of course I did no harm to my profile by winning a major competition.

The process of creating a photobook is perhaps more complicated than it would first seem. Clearly as the book is being published by Triplekite who in turn carry all of the financial risk, they have their own vision and design ethos. It is one that doesn’t necessarily match the views of everyone, but they can be trusted to turn out beautifully presented books. I was basically asked if I had a set of images, approximately 30, from the mountains, that might hang together. I sent them 106 to decide for themselves. I figured they were best placed to figure out how one image might flow into the next, I’m no expert. I only highlighted about a dozen that must be in the book, personal favourites. Of those 106 images, about half of them had never been seen by anyone before. That was an important aspect for me, I did want there to be one or two images that were fresh to peoples eyes.

It took a while for the 1st draft to come back to me, remember I left the image choice to David and Dav, something in retrospect I wish I’d had a little more input on. Dav was very busy with his day job so the wait was a long one. In the meantime the book was announced and the pre-order site was opened with a bunch of orders in the first few days which was very nice. A date was arranged with the printers in Malta, 10 July, and I made the decision to spend some money to go see it printed. Profit wasn’t a priority for me. Despite what you may think David, Dav and the authors of each book don’t actually make a lot of money out of this. This is more about having a body of work beautifully presented, it’s not a money-maker. However, when the 1st draft pdf dropped into my inbox I don’t think Dav or David will mind me saying, I wasn’t happy. In fact I felt quite depressed about it for about a week. Despite winning a major competition my images rarely seem in demand, I’ve only sold a handful of prints and I think, similar to other folks, despite what we say about it not really being about peer approval, it is, it absolutely well and truly is. Of course, you should follow your own path and do what makes you happy, but if you are looking for any ounce of success your work needs to appeal to someone somewhere. What I didn’t want to do was churn out my first book and for people to hate it, people I respected. The images chosen just didn’t fit with my own vision and a few key images were missing entirely. I’m sure to the casual observer the 1st draft was fine, but not to me. Having seen that 1st draft though, it was the first time I understood really how colourflow influenced the design. The book gradually followed a curve from cool tones to warm. There were also a lot of blank pages. Even in the final version there still is. Personally I’d like to see one or two more photos and maybe some text, however, the blank pages do serve a purpose, they are there to make you pause and contemplate, and I agree, they do just that. Going from one photo to the next without a break can very quickly mean you skim the pages and get bored.

A choice of covers…

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Did I choose the right one???

So, having given it a few days thought, I sat down and carefully reviewed all of my images. I’d also captured a few new ones in recent weeks that I was particularly fond of. I also wanted to finish the book on a high with something that perhaps wasn’t quite in keeping with the rest of the book, a hint about the future perhaps. I sent back instructions about what I thought should go where and what images to swap out. Thankfully David and Dav agreed with about 90% of my proposed changes. The final image was going to be a shot of Cul Mor I captured in May. Some rather spectacular light striking the side of the mountain in a cropped panorama. The image was shot with the Fuji 50-140mm lens and despite being a 5 shot portrait stitch, has hardly been processed, such is the clarity this amazing lens brings to the party. I have wider views of this scene, one of which I have shared, but this was a halfway house between a more intimate image and a full scale panorama. We were nearly there, one or two minor changes and iterations and after the 5th draft we had a final arrangement. The next step was printing…

Malta

Lisa (my wife) and I arrived at the printers late on a friday morning in July. My book was due on press within the hour. This was going to be fascinating. We met David and Dav in a nice air conditioned office. They had the proofs which I readily pored over and I also had the pleasure of looking though the proofs for Hans Strand and Chris Friel’s books that were also due to be printed the same day. After a short time the plant manager came in and said they were ready for us to review the pages. The printer (a huge Heidelberg press) needed to be dialled in colourwise to the proofs.

The Printer (the big one, not the little one)…

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Each sheet was eights single sided pages. They print half the pages on one side, flip over the stack of single sided pages and then print on the back. One sheet is therefore 16 page faces in a book. If there is a double page spread (a single image spread across two pages) they both need to be printed on the same sheet for colouration purposes. If a single image has too much cyan or magenta then a change in levels for that sheet can affect all the images on that sheet. However, this is tempered a little by being able to limit changes to either of two rows of four or either of two square blocks of four.

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It’s a complex process and each time a change is made, they have to print off over 100 sheets and select one from the middle to compare against the proof. There is a lot of waste, thankfully the paper is from sustainable forests.

Waste…

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After a few false starts and one particularly difficult image the printer is effectively calibrated and you can sign off the sheet. The rest of the sheets should be almost spot on.

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The speed at which it prints is quite remarkable, about 100 pages a minute or something like that…it makes a mockery of all those Canon and Epsom home printers out there.

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Once all the pages are printed, including the covers, they are taken to another part of the works to be bound several days later. It was going to be about three weeks before they landed on British soil.

A unique Chris Friel/Greg Whitton hybrid print…

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I had decided that I would sign any books that were pre-ordered, so once the books arrived I had to travel to the Triplekite ‘centre of excellence’ near Newcastle to sign a couple of hundred copies together with the prints that would be included in the Special Edition and Luxury Edition packages. I honestly thought this would take about thirty minutes. Four hours later…

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The books are now being sent out and the reception has been largely positive, which is very pleasing. It’s quite nerve wracking having your work put out like this. People are parting with good money and the last thing I want is for them to feel let down by the quality of the product they receive. I’m still nervous, even now, someone out there is going to hate it, I’m sure. But hey, at the end of the day, as with all art, it is very subjective. Of course there still a number of images that I wish were in the book that aren’t, I guess I’m going to have to wait until I exhibit ‘Mountainscape’ to include them in that. For what it is I’m absolutely thrilled with the final version of the book, it feels like a very neat end to the first chapter in my photographic journey and the catalyst to start the next chapter. There are exciting times ahead…

Mountainscape is available in 3 editions; a Standard, a Special Edition, and a Luxury Edition from Triplekite Shop

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