Step-by-Step Photography for Books: Behind the Scenes on Exploring Metal Jewelry
When I have the opportunity to catch up with beaders and jewelry makers in person and we start chatting about books, I’m often asked questions. How do you take all the photos demonstrating how projects are made? Do authors take the photos themselves? Is the finished project we see of a beauty photo the same piece being made in the process shots? Do authors take the pictures and then write the words, or vice versa? How long does it all take?
Today I’m pulling back the curtain to answer all these questions and give you an inside look at how we got the job done when working on Tracy Stanley’s Exploring Metal Jewelry: Wire Wrap, Rivet, Stamp & Forge Your Way to Beautiful Jewelry.
The Production Process
Before getting into the details of what happens at a photo shoot, you need to understand briefly what the production process is for a book. Simmered down, authors write a manuscript and create finished samples they send to the publisher by a specific deadline. Once the manuscript is received, the materials go through content editing, technical editing, and copy editing before being submitted to a design team. Designers create the pages you see in the physical book. Editors review everything again and again until all the words and images are just right. When everyone approves, the files are sent to the printer and a book comes off the press. Somewhere between content and technical editing, photography takes place.
Beauty Photos Vs Process Shots
There are typically two types of photos seen in a jewelry making book: beauty photos and step-by-step photos (SxS, for short). Beauty photos are just what they sound like; they’re the beautifully styled, final images of finished samples introducing each project’s set of instructions. SxS photos are also as they’re described; they’re the images that show the how-to process of making a finished piece.
These two shoots are completely independent of each other and often times happen with different photographers. That’s because in many cases, the two shoots are actually happening at the same time! Beauty and SxS photos are a lot to pack into one shoot. So while the author and editor are working together in a studio to take the SxS photos, the beauty photos are happening in another studio.
Preparing for a Photo Shoot
Ahead of the actual shoot, a lot of preparation happens to pull off it all off successfully. As authors write their manuscript, they’ll call out places they think a photo will help explain the text. These notes are used to create the shot list that guides the photo shoot. On the publisher’s side, as the author is writing, the design team creates a mood board to plan the look and feel the photos will have. The board shows things like background colors and props that appear in the images. They’ll also arrange studio time and contract with a photographer, if needed.
Authors also prepare for the shoot by creating “step-outs” of their finished samples. For example, it might take five steps to create a pair of earrings. So three or four samples will be made up to a particular point when it’s key for a photo to be taken. That means, at the end of the shoot, if the author actually takes each step-out to the final step, she might have three or four pairs of earrings!
Why make so many step outs? It’s all about time. Jewelry shoots like this are scheduled over three days. Have you ever tried to make 20 or more pieces of jewelry in three days? Sounds daunting, right? Those step-outs make things so much more achievable.
The Step-by-Step Photo Shoot
For Exploring Metal Jewelry, we decided as a team to divert from our usual process of having an author to our Ft. Collins studio. Instead, I headed to Tracy’s location in Portland, Oregon. In this case, it was easier to send one editor to Oregon than sending an author, an editor, and a hundred pounds of tools and supplies to Colorado. Since I was acting as Technical Editor as well as Editorial Director on this book, I hopped on a plane to be the on-site editor to work with Tracy and freelance photographer Dan Cronin.
With roller cases of tools and materials in hand, Tracy and I arrived bright and early Monday morning at Dan’s studio to start shooting. We created a staging area where each project’s step-outs were carefully organized. We also established a “set” where Tracy demonstrated each technique under the lights. The camera fed to a computer and monitor close by so we could look at each shot as it was taken. (The computer was always set up to play Pandora’s Beatles’ station.) We zoomed in super close to be sure every detail was crystal clear, and we played with the angle and the crop too, before moving onto the next image.
All the while we were reading the steps in the manuscript out loud and crossing images off the shot list so nothing was missed. By the end of Tuesday we had all the step shots we needed. Wednesday was all about shooting the tools and materials themselves.
Saving the tools and materials shots for the last day is a bit of a trick of the trade. If something goes wrong and the process shots take longer than expected, tools and materials shots can always be “picked up” from another book. Meaning, we could use a shot of round-nose pliers from another book in our library if we needed to. For Exploring Metal Jewelry, we were right on track so we changed the set for the tools and materials. We set the stage lower to the ground to allow for overhead shots. We crawled around on the floor like kids changing the layout and angle of the pieces. By the end of the day we had over 2000 photos from three full days of shooting! We also had an exhausted crew but we all fun and it was a successful shoot overall.
After the Shoot
Once the photo shoot for a book is complete, there’s a rather boring process of reviewing images, making selections, and color correcting images before each is individually placed in the designed pages.
The fun part after shooting Exploring Metal Jewelry was an unexpected weather delay on the East Coast. I stayed in Portland an extra day and Tracy and I hopped the train into the city one more time! We visited the yarn store Twisted. Take me anywhere and you can be sure I’ve scoped out the local yarn shops. I also show up with a list of indie-dyers from the area whose work I’m dying to see in person. I picked up some delicious skeins of yarn from Hazel Knits, Republic of Wool, and Knitted Wit. Tracy grabbed a skein of Madelinetosh and a sweet little hat pattern to knit for her granddaughter Ella, who happens to have a very special project made in her honor in the book.
To see Ella’s “To the Moon and Back” bracelet and all of the fantastic step-by-step photography showing you how to make Tracy’s fabulous jewelry designs, grab yourself a copy of Exploring Metal Jewelry today.
Editorial Director, Books
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