Sunday, April 19, 2009

Twelve thoughts on PDF for Photography

About 12 days left until the first possible day to start a SoFoBoMo book for 2009. I've been sharing some email with Brooks Jensen, the editor of Lenswork, on his experiences with using PDF for photography. He was kind enough to write down some of his thoughts, that you may find useful. Brooks has been using PDF for a while, particularly for the publication of Lenswork Extended and has some intriguing ideas.

Twelve Thoughts on the PDF for Photography

Brooks Jensen

As a creative artist, I reflexively resist any time someone tries to tell me what to do—so this article is not that. On the other hand, I've learned that learning from someone else's experience can be a valuable way to learn, in and of itself. So, with Gordon McGregor's encouragement, I offer a few thoughts from my experience as the publisher of LensWork Extended relative to the new medium of PDF publishing. It will, of course, be up to you to decide whether to follow the suggestions or consider them rules to be broken—with vigor!

  1. Monitors are horizontal (more correctly, landscape orientation), and so, too, should be PDFs. It's a ridiculous waste of screen real estate to make a vertical (portrait orientation) publication in a horizontal world.
  2. Use Acrobat's "full screen mode" for PDF publications. Why clutter up the screen real estate with software menus, scrollbars, and other superfluous visual clutter in a presentation like a publication of photography that is supposed to be visually sophisticated.
  3. In full screen mode, viewers will need navigational aids which you will have to provide them in your layout—next page, previous page, jump to another section, etc. This will take up screen real estate, but at least can be designed in any way you want, using any aesthetic you want, and fully integrated into the layout and design of your publication—a significant advantage when compared to the restrictions of the built-in software navigation menu bars and arrows provided by Acrobat reader. Don't forget that navigation can be transparent. With JavaScript, it can even pop visible on mouse-over!
  4. Speaking of remember navigation, that unlike physical books PDF is a nonlinear navigational challenge. There's no reason to think someone needs to view a PDF in page sequence—in fact there might be a great reason to assume that they won't. Be sure to take this into account when designing your PDF publication.
  5. In the nondigital world, it is universal that people will get close to a photograph or a book to see more details. In the PDF world, using the zoom tool, viewers can zoom in beyond anything imaginable in a photographic print. If you want them to have this ability, be sure to create your PDFs with enough resolution that allows people to zoom in without the images pixelating. Screens only need 72 dpi, but to allow for zooming, you might want to use 200 dpi instead.
  6. Unlike a physical book, PDFs don't have to consist of equal sized pages. Some pages can be vertical, some horizontal, some large, some small. What can you do with this idea?
  7. Obvious as it seems, PDFs are not books. It's best not to think of them as "digital books," but rather as their own unique publishing venue. So, think beyond the book; think audio, think video, think links, think links to the Internet, think layers.
  8. Speaking of layers, this is one of the most under-utilized and most interesting aspects of PDF publishing. If you create a layered document in InDesign, you can export the InDesign document to a layered PDF and then include hot buttons that turn off and on various layers. Think three-dimensionally.
  9. PDFs also break a temporal barrier. Unlike physical books, it's easy to update a PDF. Most commonly, updates would be some form of correction—fixing a typo, for example. But what about projects that incorporate a temporal update as part of the project? Maybe a story that unfolds over time? Rather than a publication date, what about publication range?
  10. To produce sophisticated PDF publications, learn about named destinations, bookmarks, buttons as well as links, renditions, the advantages and disadvantages of embedded versus linked media, page transitions, the document information dialog box, keyword searching, watermarks, opening parameters, password protection, full screen mode, tool tips, color management, and, if you're really adventurous, embedded JavaScript.
  11. Don't forget that the many sophisticated computer folks now use widescreen monitors—an unbelievable blessing for panorama format photography.
  12. Always embed fonts. Always embed fonts. Always embed fonts. If you can't embed fonts, convert them to outlines.

We are clearly in the early stages of learning how to use this new medium for the publication of photography, but what an exciting potential it has for the distribution of our work and for some very engaging and unique experiences for our viewers. For all you SoFoBoMo participants, good luck and have fun!


doonster said...

A couple of technical points that need to taken into account:

on point 2: users can disable full screen mode switching: I do. I prefer navigation to be the same for all documents. AFAIK, full screen is a browser control and you can't force it on readers if they don't want.
on point 5: the 72dpi myth. Monitors need a pixel dimension, not a pixel pitch. If you're forcing the PDF to display to a physical dimension, you're assuming the user's resolution is correctly set in their reader.
72dpi is very old. The 10y.o. CRT sat next to me is 90dpi, the screen I'm using for this is 95dpi (probably the current most common), my netbook has 130dpi. It's a mess. That's not even mentioning display size.

PDF is still fundamentally aimed at printing, which messes up the whole page size thing. For zoomable images on screen we'd like to be able to say to the software: here's a 3000pixel image, embed it in this page and display at 1000pixel wide. Unfortunately PDF isn't set up to do something like that directly.

Unknown said...

on the DPI thing - you are right, ratios are all across the board, from 72 to 140 or higher. The point is still valid though - if you want to allow for viewers to zoom images, then it is worth publishing at a higher resolution than is needed - you can work that out from the physical size you are embedding it at and the DPI you set for your PDF authoring software.

On DPI of typical screens, I don't there is much of anything that's 'common' now, although many people are still using old crts and 1024x768 resolutions.

Unknown said...

on the full screen point - as far as I remember, the lenswork extended publications have a intro page that explains how it is designed to be viewed, which recommends viewing in full screen mode. It is up to the user to ignore your advice if they want to, but you can still design for a particular way of view. Most books are written with the expectation you'll start at one end and read through for instance, you can't force the reader to do that though.

Unknown said...

Screen resolutions1024x768 is far and away the most common (though trending to higher resolutions over time)

Based on a 15" monitor that would be an 85dpi. Based on a 17" monitor that would be 75dpi. So the world probably hasn't strayed too far from that 75-85 dpi range.

It is no doubt arguable that photographers as a group will typically have higher resolution and larger monitors. A typical large, widescreen display is closer to a 100dpi.

Paul said...

Gordon, thanks for sharing that. Very interesting, particularly #1. I tend to like to shot vertically. It's just the way that I see things, but I have been thinking about what orientation I'd like to use for my book. I had decided on horizontal, mainly for the reason that he mentioned. All monitors are horizontal. Sure, you can turn them vertically, but rarely do you see that done.

Interesting reading. I don't know that I'll add links, sound, etc, but those are intriguing ideas, but then it starts to look/feel like those flash-based websites that I don't like so much. :-)