Tips for Authors: Preparing photographs and other images for print and eBook production

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Ret. Col. Clifford Worthy, author of The Black Knight, second from right with Undersecretary of the Army Ken BeLieu. This photograph is displayed in color in the eBook and black and white in the print edition.
Ret. Col. Clifford Worthy, author of The Black Knight, second from right with Undersecretary of the Army Ken BeLieu. This photograph is displayed in color in the eBook and black and white in the print edition. (Click on the image to see it in a larger format.)

Photos and images can add a great deal to a book’s content, as well as a reader’s comprehension and retention of the material. An image can convey a story in a powerful and memorable way. On a practical level, images can explain some concepts more concisely than a paragraph of text.

Below are some tips for selecting and preparing images and photographs to ensure they appear optimally in both print and web displays:

Selecting appropriate photos

When selecting the best photos for a book, consider the final look of the book. Traditional 6″x9″ books benefit from the inclusion of vertical photos to best use the space on a page, while traditional photo books typically use horizontal photos. eBooks are more flexible when it comes to image displays, but many devices may struggle to display images with irregular dimensions.

Also consider the space the image will take up on the page. Do you envision a particular photo as a full-page image, a half-page or a quarter-page? This information is important to convene to your editor or project manager, and it also informs whether the subject matter of the image is treated correctly. For example, quarter-page images should have the most important subject clearly visible and taking up the majority of the space in a photo, so that it’s not difficult to see in a smaller format.

Some images can be set up as a two-page spread in a print book. If you’re considering such an image, make sure the most important elements of the image are not in the center, as the bleed-break in the middle of the page spread that accounts for the spine dip will obscure the middle of the image. Two-page spreads are usually more appropriate for landscape images or illustrations, as the illustrator can control the placement of important elements.

How many photos should I publish?

The correct number of photos and images in a given book is informed by the function of the photos. To help determine how many photos you’d like to include, consider questions like:

  • Will the photos be used formulaically, such as to open every chapter, or are they associated with specific locations in the manuscript?
  • Are the images central to the content of the book, or are they supplementary? This can determine whether specific photos are helpful or distracting to the reader.

Don’t think of the complete collection of photos as a numerical goal to achieve. The photos should serve the overall manuscript in improving reader comprehension. The specific number is less important than the way the photos flow in the book.

Should I use black and white photos in my book?

Black and white photos are cheaper to print because they require less expensive paper and ink. When determining what style to print photos in, consider whether adding color will benefit the presentation.

If the book doesn’t benefit much from color printing, your book will be more accessible via a lower suggested retail price. Material print cost depends greatly on the kind of paper, type of ink and page count of a book, so it’s difficult to generalize the price increase between black and white and color printing. In very general terms, you can expect a color print version of a book to cost 20%-30% more than the black and white counterpart. However, the highest quality paper that can be used with color printing can cost more than double that of a black and white book.

Almost all eReaders can view images in color. Older eReaders and some versions of the Kindle will display black and white versions of images.

Consult online tutorials to assist you with converting images to black and white. If you’re partnered with Front Edge Publishing, contact your project manager or [email protected] for assistance. Make sure to keep full-resolution color backups of all photos and images.

Technical specifications for media optimization

Media optimization refers to the process of preparing images for publication in multiple formats. For example, photos should be 300 DPI to look their best on the printed page. They should be high enough resolution to fit the page design of the print book. For example, standard full-page images should be at least 1600 px in width. Photos intended for eBook and web displays should be at least 72 DPI. 

Evaluating placement requirements

Images can also be used to negotiate whitespace in print layouts. If the value of your photos and images is secondary to the content in the manuscript, consider letting your editor know that you’re flexible when it comes to image placement. Flexible image placement can smooth the print layout process by using photos and images to minimize whitespace required by content in the layout. 

If you’re set on strict photo placement requirements, that’s great! That means you have a well thought-out vision for your book. However, it’s important to discuss this vision upfront with your publishing team to help the proofing process.

About Dmitri Barvinok

Director of Production Dmitri Barvinok works on the digital development, print layout and distribution of new books. He coordinates Front Edge editors and designers and works with the BookEdge software suite.