Category Archives: technical issues

LA1980: I Build A Book

book cover.

LA1980: book cover.

This post is about  “LA1980: a photo memoir”. Yes, a naked, blatant plug. Bear with me, I’m going to talk about the technical aspects of making this project happen.

Self-publishing a decent proof-quality book has come of age. For any derision about ‘vanity publishing’ I’ll say “demo”. As in musician. How good it looks and reads is up to you. It’s your baby. Treat it with respect, but work it.

Introduction to Self-Publishing

I’d stumbled on in December 2007. The idea was seductive. A closer examination revealed some serious issues.

Blurb uses Booksmart, a proprietary software, as a gating/formatting choke-point. Booksmart  is not easy in the same way a complex program like InDesign is easy. Its a bucket with pre-fab templates you can drag photos into. You have little control over type kerning, formatting, stylesheets, etc. Which are all the tools I need to work with. More study was required. All told,I studied the whole Booksmart/IDCS stuff for about 6 months, read all the posts, FAQs, whining. I got to post some of my own later.

In LA, There’s Always A Backstory

“LA1980” surfaced during an interminable studio-traffic meeting last summer. I’d gotten wise to the ways of the massive organization I worked for, and used the dwell-time to sketch ideas in a notebook. I wanted to do a photo book using images I’d shot between 1979-1982.

I’d shot 100+ sleeved rolls of Kodak 5297 cinema neg stock; which was cheap in those days, and I was broke. The neg would be contact-exposed to the pos stock, and slides happened.

Periodically I would look at the slides, and go “Yipes!” because the color had gone seriously magenta. The prints I made back then were on a particularly putrid Kodak stock—soft, more magenta, muddy. The images went back in the boxes, and slept.


First sign of new life was 2003, when I got a used Nikon LS2000 film scanner. The scans from the slides were awful. The negs offered more hope. It was a toss-up between OK and awful. But it wasn’t good enough yet.

In 2008 I bit the bullet and bought the Nikon LS9000 scanner in order to scan my medium format negs. The Nikon scanning software worked fine with the Mac OS X 10.4. All well and good, until my elderly G4 died, and I had to get into a MacPro.

Now I discovered that I had two scanning software choices: Hamrick VueScan or SilverFastAI. The difference was about $600. Since the Lotto Fairy hadn’t swung by recently, I went with the Hamrick VueScan. HVS has a blunt, unfriendly interface. I also looked at SFAI, and its interface was blunt, and ugly  as well. I spent several weeks steaming in circles getting the hang of HVS. Finally it began to make sense, and I was up and rolling on that.

Building the Beast: One Image At A Time

The only coherent way to find out what I had besides what I remembered, was to literally start at the beginning, and scan every roll. I’d put it off long enough, and it was time to man-up.

  • Using a cast-off lightbox, I’d loupe the roll.
  • Pull an FPO scan of the roll, typically 1400dpi at 4×6″ for starters.
  • Implementing a workable naming convention. Now that I was scanning in bulk, and going back to pull high-rez images, I needed to find them again.
  • color profiles were set to sRGB, the default Booksmart colorspace.

When You Name It, You Can Find It

I’m done naming images, its alphanumeric for me. Names, descriptions, tags etc can all be handled in Adobe Bridge using Command-Shift-I, which brings up the dialog box for naming, tagging, copyrights, etc.

Here’s a peek:

Image browsing in Bridge

Image browsing in Bridge

Image 790700_08_06 is frame 06, from roll 08, from July 1979. Variations are indicated as -1, -2, etc. This will make my life easier every step of the way down the line, especially when I’m preflighting the InDesign doc, and swapping out missed lo-rez images.

All images start as jpegs. After the curves are applied, the psd is saved, jpeg is tossed.


Here is a typical image, in the before and after mode:

The raw scan and the recurved edit.

The raw scan and the recurved edit.

I scanned close to 1000 images, and had to work fast, smart, and non-destructive. Sometimes I’d recurve an image 4-5 times over the life of the project. I’d see something I’d overlooked the first time.

The Design/Production Workflow

The book was designed using InDesign. This gives me dynamic updates, unique page formatting, typographic specificity, PDF exports; everything lacking in the Booksmart interface.

Pay very close attention to the Blurb specs. They aren’t joking. The following is contingent on your layout being the exact right size, with standard 1/8″ bleed 4 sides.

  • layout all hi-rez images in IDCS
  • page export pages as singles, w/ bleeds, to PDF-x1a
  • open up PDFs as Photoshop PSD (300dpi)
  • save PSDs as Hi rez PNG (300dpi at 100% image size)
  • import PNGs into BookSmart layout
  • upload to site

First proof came back 6 days after sending it. Examined it,

  • looked at binding [OK]
  • color [OK]
  • trims [aggressive to outside margins].

Readjusted live so it was 1/2″ from trim, fixed pages that needed it, re-uploaded it.


I worked on this book 6 days a week, 8hrs a day from Dec 29 to January 21. It was my job when there was no immediately visible work. I decided I needed to get a project up and running that might have a wide/wider reach that would kickstart other opportunities.

The color is OK as a proof. Nothing matches ink hitting paper. However the advantage of creating crossovers with impunity is big fun.

I’m looking forward to my next book.

Creation Myths Revisited & Rendered

Nativity Scene of the Holy Family, Attended by los Tres Reyes Godzillas

Nativity Scene of the Holy Family, Attended by los Tres Reyes Godzillas

In the Beginning

The Holy Family is attended by Los Tres Reyes Godzillas, who each have brought unique gifts of takeout, espresso, and a movie.

I shot this in 2001 with a Pentax ME Super, Fuji Reala 100 2G. Over the years I’ve scanned it as a print, then at least twice as a neg. Each time, I’ve seen more and been able to do more with the image.

When I scanned the print, I was captive to the murky print quality. The first time I scanned the neg with a Nikon LS2000, the details were eye-popping by comparison. The most recent neg scan was done with a Nikon LS9000 and the VueScan software [a whole other discussion] at 5400dpi, approx 12×16″.

The Bride Laid Bare

Moving pretty fast here:

  • duplicated the original source layer, set the duplicate to multipy. Combined the two layers to build out slightly underexposed shadow areas. Modified with curves. Collected all three layers to new working layer “Collect 1”. Saved source layers in a folder their own, to be left untouched.
  • All subsequent changes are written to “Collect 1”. Targeted areas with masks to bump the saturation, color-balancing, and modify inherent color casting
  • Finished with an overlay layer, solid color at 5% opacity to unify all the elements. Painted out areas on the mask to modify as needed.
  • I captioned it. Marion True helped me out on this one. Promise.
  • Then saved it as a web-ready jpeg.

Here’s the map:

Nativity Layer Palette

Nativity Layer Palette

Have yourself a Merry Li’l Xmas, and I’ll see you in the ’09.

RTFM Really Means “I Love You”, (But Only If You Were Paying Attention)

Part One: I Get A Wild Hair

Several weekends ago I was reminded that “impulse control” is the woeful precursor to “anger management”. Specifically, I decided to swap out the logic processor on my near-vintage Quicksilver G4.

I’d watched the videos, memorized the moves. I tore open the box, found the processor, pulled the old one, and began to install the new one.

The warning signs were visible early on, but had not yet penetrated my chattering monkey mind.

I plow on.

Part Two: Darkness

Everything was going too smoothly. Didn’t drop any screws, hooked up the fans. Whoo boy. Plugged it back in. Pushed the “on” button.

No signal.

Oh. Shit.

Now I had Terry Schiavo. It lit up, but no brain activity. I re-inserted the old processor, but no life. In my fugue, did I forgot to plug in the power lead? No. There was no brain function.

With a creeping dread worthy of HP Lovecraft, I discovered the install manual. And like the fabled Abdul Alhazred, I begin to page this late-surfacing Necronomicon. Therein were the incantations I did not perform, to wit, the firmware downloads. Of course! This was OWC, not Miskatonic University.

Back to the 21st century.

I called the Apple Store. Of course this all happened when they’d unleashed the 3G iPhone, and all the techno-weenies were howling, or at least texting, with their base desires. I got an appointment for 24hrs later.

Part Three: Dorkness, Unto Light

The lad at the Genius Bar looked at my G4 with an antiquarian’s amusement. Since I’d installed a 3rd party device, they weren’t going to touch it. Besides, they didn’t have the elderly 733Mhz processor card that was original stock. Of course not, it was sitting at home on my desk.

I needed big-ass professional help. Several references led me to Louis Katz. Not too long afterwards, he swung by my office. I led him to the scene of the crime. He smiled enigmatically.

“It needs to come to my workshop”. And off it went. Several days later, Louis calls.

“Larry, how you doing?”

“Louis, I was hoping you’d tell me”

“Well, it’s not looking good”

“I kinda thought so. I didn’t think you were out there eating birthday cake…”

“Sorry for the bad news”

“Yeah, I’m not thrilled either. But hey! it’s a dead computer, not a teen pregnancy…”

Long and short: the motherboard was fried. D-E-A-D.

I turned to face the light. My elderly G4 had run its last lap. I was going to make the long-overdue upgrade that I’d postponed. Lucky for me, it happened at a quiet moment, not in the middle of a crunch. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but here it is.


NEXT: Mr Pre-Press signs off on the fiscal proctoscope(s) to finance a new beast.