Compose photographs on a double page

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If I can afford it, I always try to spend time in stores where I know there is a good selection of photo books. Books inspire me for my photographs as well as the way I present my own work in print publications.

A few books will stand out from the rest for the quality of the work, the quality of the design and the printing techniques, or ideally a combination of the two. One of those books that particularly struck me was a large hardcover compilation of works by dozens of exceptional photographers both historical and contemporary.

I would often flip through the exhibit copy to which I had access until one day it disappeared during a workshop redevelopment – I hope it ended up in a good house. Shortly thereafter I found a brand new, cheaply priced copy and bought it, but when I received it I encountered an aspect of the book that I had never considered with the display copy: the double page.

The presentation of the images is very simple – mostly landscape oriented images in the classic 3: 2 format, with only a few portrait, Polaroid and square format images interspersed. The majority of the landscape images are faithful to their original framing on the double page spread distributed in the majority of the book. They don’t appear to have been adjusted to accommodate any of the physical aspects of book binding, which means many suffer greatly from it, far from the ideal layout.

Embarrassing presentation of an otherwise superb portrait. The central crease element directly crosses the subject and distorts the rest of their face.

The reason I didn’t understand this with the initial display copy was that it had been opened a few times and was flatter, which my copy will hopefully do. Even so, there will still be notable aspects of some truly amazing footage lost in the center gutter.

Again, through the focal point of the image. Readable only after flattening the pages with a heavy second book.

A feature so simple that virtually all mainstream books will have in terms of a binding fold between one page and the next seems to present such a challenge to design around this “problem”. If you consider it at all, it seems that many designers find themselves weighing what can be sacrificed at this fold when it comes to spreads, or avoiding what it can offer by making sure that the facing pages form diptychs by separating a sequence into individual pages. .

I find it easier to accept the fact that there is going to be some kind of line in the center between two pages, even if I am working with a flat pattern, and to integrate it into a “composition” of the same way I would when working a scene to make a photo. Worshiping the photo on the page will mean not making compromises that enhance the experience of both.

Instead of presenting just one photo per page, which can feel like just scrolling through a printed social media feed, I really prefer to embrace the physicality of a book and showcase two images side by side, which complement each other as a diptych.

I will find photographs with a thematic link and then work to “compose” them together into a result greater than the sum of its parts. This diffusion comes from a digest containing a work that I shot in India in 2019 and contains the continuous element of the rope which passes from one image to another.

I have positioned them deliberately so that there is continuity between them.

I really like to match the elements so that they continue on the page, really guiding the gaze between the two images, inspiring the reader to make links, circulating the energy from one page to another and encouraging the next page turn.

Pages of my book Transit in Bulgaria that mesh the bottom edge of the window sill on the left page with the row of tungsten lights on the right page.

One of my favorite recent apps of this was my book DC exclusion zone, which has a matching element in the lines leading to the road markings, and the edge of the frame on the left flowing into the frame on the right.

For a double-page layout of a landscape-oriented image, I’ll adjust it so that no essentials fall down the gutter. Sometimes it’s easy if you compose ahead of time in a way that takes into account the potential for use with a double page spread.

In composing my photographs, I became very aware of the potential for loss of something. If I look in my viewfinder and feel that there is a possibility that this work might be printed as a double page spread, I will deliberately change my composition to make sure nothing is lost. All of my projects will hopefully live their best lives as print publications, so this is something I’ll always consider when I’m in the field.

When I made this image at Margate I deliberately used the possibility of negative space in the middle so that the two main elements could be balanced on the left and right pages of a spread, with the pattern of the l water in the foreground guiding the gaze and offering depth:

I have featured this photograph here in the Affinity Publisher workspace, which is the software I use to design all of my publications. I rarely work with 3: 2 book formats (the classic 35mm format), which means I often lose parts of the image, and on top of that a 3mm bleed will always remove slight details on the outermost edge of the image.

In the image above, the red lines show the margin area and the outer blue lines represent the end of the bleed. You can see that there is a part of the image sticking out on either side, but it’s not essential to the image, and I can afford to lose it to keep the rest of the photograph.

I’m often careful in general not to have anything essential in the dead center or the extreme edges of my compositions, as they easily get lost on the page – although if I know the image is meant to exist as a single impression then I will be more comfortable working with these settings.

It is much more difficult to work with photographs like this which look well balanced as an individual frame but become very difficult to present as a double page spread without compromising.

In my eyes, this photograph is well balanced with effective negative space at the top and right, allowing for an area the boat can be dragged into. However, if we try to work this image on an entire page using the same report pages as above, we will soon find that we will lose what makes the image work.

Centered, we will lose the back of the boat and the tip of my finger, where the pivot interaction takes place – not ideal.

Slipped left or right and we still have quite a bit of the essential element that will either be lost in the gutter or curved by the fold of the page enough that it isn’t really visible.

My solution if I didn’t want to compress the image and have some sort of border around it or change the aspect ratio of the pages to make it fit, would be to make the image larger, so that the boat is clearly on one page , as below.

The problem with this tradeoff is that you lose a lot of the rest of the image. Even though it is negative space, it is not empty space, and as a result, the image presented on the pages loses its balance. In a real scenario, my answer would be to reduce and present with a white border rather than having the image edge to edge.

I’ve found that some of the best things to study for composing on two pages are comics and graphic novels. As these are made from scratch on blank pages, the physicality is already taken into account, and the flow from page to page and between panels can provide some really interesting applications for a photo book.

For my upcoming projects, I will be examining ways in which I can put together many complex structures on the page made up of my individual photographs, and I will explore the potential that there may be for a unique reading experience based on this construction. .


About the Author: Simon King is a London-based photographer and photojournalist who is currently working on a number of long-term street photography and documentary projects. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone. You can follow her work through her documentary collective, The New Exit Photography Group, and on Instagram.



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