In the final part of this series, and now I’ve sourced the protective hand-made outer shell and slip case from Hartnack & Co, I’m going to cover off the most important aspect of the portfolio – filling it.
Instinctively from the outset I knew this was going to be the most substantial and difficult part of the project and because of that it was important to have an outline high level plan of what I really wanted to get out of it. This is what I had in mind initially:
- At least 30 images. If I was going to spend the time, and money putting this together I wanted it to be really worthwhile.
- Quality and presentation was everything. This was to be the culmination of years of work and craft after all.
- I knew it needed to have some sort of page divider but I really didn’t know what.
- The images needed to flow through the portfolio, colour and texture would be important from one page to another.
- The portfolio may be viewed from back to front as well as from front to back. Particularly strong images were therefore required from the beginning and towards the end so that a strong impression would often be left regardless of where you start from.
- No ‘kippers’. Every image has to earn its place and be worthy of inclusion.
- The photography needed to be representative of my work without being too one dimensional or indeed wildly disconnected.
- I wanted a balance between colour and mono without it being too obvious.
- As a collection I wanted it to represent a signature, something people would know as mine.
When I type these thoughts down again that suddenly seems like a long list of variables and actually it brings home how much thought has gone into this but looking at the finished work, it’s totally worthwhile.
Step 1 – Image Selection Planning
Perhaps the most critical of all decision making was the image selection – it should go without saying that the prints are everything, the core focus of the whole project. Not only would they need to match the standard of the very high quality materials selected to house the work from a technical and presentation point of view, but they would need to go beyond that and positively shine, effectively putting all of the materials used into the shade. The print needed to be king, I would be mortified if I got the impression that the slip case and binding out-shone the contents, it needed to be the other way around along the lines of “wonderful photography, oh and I love the case too”. The portfolio needed to be a talking point for all of the right reasons, include the images I’m most known for but also the ones which speak loudest in terms of how I feel about the landscape…
It took about three evenings to get to a point where I thought I’d nailed the selection. A total of forty images just felt right in the end – thirty seemed to fall too short, literally, and it would have meant I would leave many favourites out. I couldn’t do it. The decision making was also compounded by the fact that vertical images just didn’t work in the mix this time – I’ll be addressing that in a future version instead.
The whole process was subject to a lot of reviewing, then leaving it, coming back, I changed the order a hundred times, deleted and added images, at least until I finally arrived at something I was happy with. The flow I picked was based on how textures, lines, patterns, colours, applied technique, atmosphere and even location played a part in trying to create almost a storyboard of my photography. There’s a degree of subtlety to the flow and of course it’s based on my own decision making so some might disagree with the final selections and the order they fall in, but the principles of having a strong back to front series as well as front to back also played it’s part. To my eye I think I pulled it off anyway – following the final print and construction I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything.
Step 2 – Pockets, Dividers And Hole Punching Considerations
It’s fair to say this became absolutely the most frustrating aspect of the whole project, and it really shouldn’t have been. When I placed the order with Hartnack & Co for the binder and slipcase one of their design questions asked if I intended to use page separators either immediately or in future. I answered yes despite having no fixed idea about what I would settle on, but I wanted the flexibility to make changes nonetheless. It’s just as well. There are a few ‘lessons learned’ for me in this project (it’s the first time I’ve done this after all) and this is one of them…
I really should have firmed up much sooner how the printed images would actually be fixed in the portfolio. The options were broadly as follows:
- Hole punch the paper directly and then score it. Consider some sort of fixing spray.
- Perhaps avoid the fixing spray but use a translucent page divider between each image (akin to tracing or bible paper).
- Source some pre-punched see-through pockets to put the printed images in.
After a bit of experimentation I soon ruled out options 1 and 2. Despite having the capacity of an A3 binder at my disposal, so much of the page would have been lost to the hole-punched area, especially as I wanted a reasonable border around the edge of each image too, I was starting to head towards A4 sized images with this approach and I wanted more impact than that. So pockets it was. It was the right decision but unfortunately just the beginning of my troubles.
In my mind, obtaining pre-punched A3 landscape pockets with a standard four hole punch pattern in should be pretty straightforward. However even my 13 year old daughter pointed out to me after I’d spent a particularly frustrating day of trying to source what I wanted that “there is no market for A3 – everyone wants to buy A4 don’t they?”. She’s pretty much bang on in that assessment as it turns out and that’s where this whole project suddenly starting veering towards failure believe it or not. The issue really was where I found what I needed they were exceptionally cheap products which would totally distract from one of the primary presentation objectives…
I started out by searching all sorts of websites for this product, I came close to getting what I wanted initially via Amazon (pictured above left) but believe it or not the punch pattern was off. I tried to punch new holes and it was just not going to work. I guessed they had come from the US or something where their paper sizes are not all the same as ours. I needed “glass clear” pockets too so that you could properly view the prints but even this first set were a little milky as you can see. Then came Ryman and their “premium” product which was a long way from my description of premium. This time the hole pattern was bang on but they came as milky low grade plastic (pictured above right). This was starting to get irritating beyond belief and expensive. I went back to the idea of punching the paper directly, bought a four hole punch and scoring tool but after experimentation the consistency and sheer volume of prints was going to be a problem.
I don’t mind admitting that it all started to get somewhat upsetting until I spotted a product on portfoliosplus.co.uk. It looked like my prayers were finally going to get answered right up until I saw the price. Glass clear, flex-hinge, archival quality, black backing sheets, A3 landscape, it met all of the criteria. £30 for ten. I gulped hard and ordered forty.
These things are genuinely top notch however, they look fantastic inside the portfolio, have a glossy finish which adds contrast and depth to the images, and you can load a print from the top or the bottom. Initially I thought this top and bottom loading facility was going to be a handicap and I was going to be in danger of prints dropping out, but that fear was completely unfounded, it turned out that it’s not that easy to get one to go in between the sleeves, let alone have one fall out. In fact, getting a print in turned into a bit of an art and I developed a “shuggle and tap” method to load the print.
Finally I could safely print the entire portfolio…
Step 3 – Printing
I’ve owned my Epson 3880 for a number of years now. It’s a very low maintenance printer indeed, relatively quick, 100% reliable, a couple of blocked print heads which were very easily remedied with self cleaning, but never a paper jam of any kind. Getting the paper right for the portfolio was key though. Some of my images have definitely printed better on Photo Papers like Canson Baryta in the past, but I’ve steadily worked my way through a number of test sets of matt papers and have discovered that Fotospeed Natural Soft Texture Bright White (315gsm) has a very nice wide gamut, holds the ink beautifully and faithful colour reproduction to the original image is possible. There’s also a bit of texture in the page which definitely adds a certain dimension to each print, bringing that often elusive fine art feel. The whites in the page also seem to improve contrast and tone too – pretty perfect really.
This was going to be a test though if I could get all forty images printed off on the same paper. In practice only a couple of images had a gamut which was wider than the paper under soft proofing and I generally switched between Perceptual and Relative Colorimetric rendering intents to make the best print possible. It all worked out though.
The other thing I did was set an offset margin. I wanted even margins around the image on the page, but the black edge of the Flexi-Hinge protectors impeded the page by about 5mm. As such I set all my prints with a 39.5cm width with a 1.2cm left margin offset. This gets a little technical but it meant that the viewable margin left and right were the same at around 1cm while the top and bottom margin would be determined by whether it was a 3:2 or a 16:9 crop. At this point it’s probably better to demonstrate in real life what this looks like and the settings in Photoshop rather than trying to describe it!
Step 4 – Final Assembly
At last I was there. Forty images selected, printed, protected, ready to go into my hand made Hartnack & Co portfolio. Suddenly it looked like a very fat pile of printing indeed and it was heavy too. The final stage didn’t really take any time at all of course. It was just a matter of revealing the screw posts and lining up the prints in their page protectors.
Once all of the prints were loaded, the portfolio was reassembled and the screws gently tightened to secure everything in position, then the flap reversed to hide the screws again.
After all of the time and effort it was finally there. It’s genuinely something to be proud of I think, it certainly meets my vision and original objectives. In truth this project has been incredibly expensive and I’m not sure I will launch straight back into another of these just yet. However I’m now reviewing a couple of interesting options which Hahnemuhle have which will help cater for my portrait orientation images better and an option to print an entire project like my Backwater series. Watch this space for more!