Darran Leal is a wild life and wild places photographer who runs the second oldest photo tour company in the world. Recently we printed his ‘photographic legacy’ book titled Wild Visions, so we’ve asked him to provide some guidelines for anyone else wanting to create a portfolio or photo book of your images that span years and possibly decades.
Wild Visions is a culmination of your 40 years photographing and traveling the world hosting photo tours and workshops. You must have captured hundreds of thousands of photos in that time, so how on earth did you go about deciding which photos made the cut and which didn’t?
I am not a machine gun shooter but I have over 350,000 digital captures simply because I have spent so much time in the field all over the world. (I sadly lost most of my thousands of film images years ago to fungus. Too many house moves.) Of course I went against my own teachings on how to start a book. Instead of spending time with a pad and pen sketching out a plan and concept, I jumped into it.
I wanted to show the diversity of my work but within a week I could see the complexities with ‘showing off’ everything. The storyline would not work, and images clashed in spreads. This was clearly pointed out to me by my personal photo book mentor, my son Pearce! His constructive feedback allowed me to step back and see that both I and the viewer would enjoy looking into my favourite photographs, rather than a mass of all kinds of images and stories. I love to photograph every genre, but it’s hard to show that diversity of work in a single visual medium. So I chose to just focus on nature and wild places instead.
Had you been saving and filing photos for this book as you captured them, or did you spend time trawling through your archives?
After the first week, and once I defined what the book would be about, I could then narrow down the images better. So out with people and culture images and in with more nature and landscapes. Since I started digital files in 1994, I have used a storage and retrieval system that works very well for me. I rate my images from no Star, for most images to 1 Star as good but not processed, to 5 Stars, with the latter being my best and ready for publishing.
So, I simply went through my 5 Star images (over 20,000 of them) in Adobe Lightroom Classic and selected intro images for each chapter. This reinforced the importance of mapping out your book first, then, as the stories of the book progressed, I could go back and grab more images to suit.
Can you show us a few examples of photos that nearly made the book but you chose others instead, and explain why?
1. Lion image – This image is one of my favourites from Namibia. I was up very close to this lion, to the point of smelling his breath. Unfortunately, it did not fit into the theme of landscape orientation images. So, it missed out – this time.
2. Leopard in a tree – I borrowed a customer’s 500mm lens with 1.4 converter and a Canon 1.6X sensor, this offering a 1120mm focal length, hand held. I love the image but could not fit it into the narrative of the book. The two images I picked for the Spread, offered a better look, beautifully complementing each other. (Pages 84-85)
3. Smiling Gorilla – How could I go past this shot? I had a lot of amazing images to pick in my gorilla collection. I decided to pick the most eye-catching that worked to the spread story. (Pages 86-87)
4. Malachite kingfisher – Another favourite image as I worked hard to get that crystal prawn in its beak. Very tough shot to get, but again it did not fit in with the spread’s theme of Chobe’s Birds. (Pages 96-97)
Did you decide on a page limit before you started selecting the photos or designing the pages?
No but I knew it would be a lot of pages due to the number of images and stories I was keen to include. I could have added more images per page, but isolating images and limiting the number per page or spread offers a cleaner view of the photos and allows them to stand out. The book ended up being 200 pages. I am happy with this number for the combination of price, content and saleability.
Why did you choose a landscape orientation for your book?
I made a book a few years ago called People Of The World. It won a national print award. It really suited a portrait format book. Early on in this book project I decided I’d mainly use landscape and panoramic images. So a landscape format would offer the maximum presentation for key full page images.
Most of the images in the book have very little, if any, cropping as I prefer to do this in camera. All this helped with the image selection process and the final look of the book.
It appears that you used your KISS motto for the design of your book too. What made you choose such a simple and classic design?
I have to thank my son Pearce for this. As mentioned, I teach this style, but of course I was like a kid in a candy store. I got a little excited with concepts and the design at times. I discovered that I need to improve my selection and use of fonts. Pearce is more experienced on that front, so he played the role of photo book mentor. I’d send him my Momento Proof.pdf to offer constructive feedback, and it was worth its weight in gold. Pearce, the cheque is in the mail mate!
Text in a photo book can describe the photograph, its subject or location, the technical details of the shot, or simply the way you feel about the photo. What text have you included in your book and why?
I failed English at nearly every level at school, but loved the concept of writing. Up until 1984, I found it hard to sell my photos as stand alone images. As soon as I added words that told the story behind the images, they sold faster and made more money. This bought me more photographic film and months away in the bush exploring Australia.
I decided to write small stories about the photos and provide more information for the reader, just as I have since I first started guiding people on photo tours in 1981. I also added some ’tall stories’ from our adventures over the years. This can all help to add more depth to images and the book as a whole. You need to start with a clear idea of the concept of what the text’s aim is, how much you need to write and how it will fit into the page designs. You do not want to bore the reader.
The book has around 16,000 words (thanks Grammarly) and a big thanks to my wife Julia for playing editor. I highly recommend that if you feel you are weak in this area, work at it and over time you will get better and ask a friend to look at your book thoroughly to spot any typos or mistakes.
Did you keep notes or journals of your travels, or did you have all this information stored in the recesses of your mind? Or Julia’s?
I am lucky that I can look at nearly every image I’ve ever taken and offer a story. Sometimes I scare myself with the information I can drag up. Other times I have a total blank. I guess that is part of what makes us all different and definitely is a part of my life as a photographer. After several commercial books and over 300 articles in 20 different magazines, I am proud of my history of work, but also happy that it is still accessible for others to enjoy also.
Where did the title come from?
In 1987 I was looking at starting up my first business as a commercial photographer in Brisbane. My love of nature was strong, so Wild Visions was registered as my business name in Queensland. A year later, I was commissioned by the Queensland government as one of the key photographers for the Queensland pavilion at World Expo 88. Wild Visions helped me get that job. I have used it for exhibitions and all sorts of marketing. A catchy but simple book title is important!
Why did you decide to create a standard edition and a limited edition and what is the difference?
The book collector market is huge. I didn’t realise this until recently. I thought I’d experiment by making the same book available to two different markets, with different printing and production values.
I printed the a limited edition of 20 book with Momento Pro. I’ve always loved the meticulous handcrafted work offered by their team in Sydney, so it was an easy decision. This version included 6-colour digital offset printing onto deliciously thick Lustre 190 paper. It comes signed and numbered, and packaged with a book I produced in 2005, Capturing the World. This is a popular way to offload any unsold past editions, but also shows your reader the diversity of your work. I also invited the buyer to pick any image in the book for me to print in A3 size to send with the books. The combined package was sold for $495.
I also produced a standard edition. It is printed on one of the most advanced photocopiers in the world. This version has no extras and more copies, and is available for $120.
A standard and limited edition was always part of my plan. We had the costs of the books covered before receiving them and could pay for the books immediately. I could do this due to the fantastic database of photo tour and workshop attendees that we have built up since 1989. So it really pays to develop your network, and ensure you have their email addresses. They are the ones who can bank roll your book.
I sold the first 10 limited editions in two weeks, and half of the standard edition before the books were even delivered.
Where can people buy them?
The books are available to buy at worldphotoadventures.com.au or you can email Darran directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are only 9 limited edition books left as only 20 will ever be printed, so don’t miss out! Take a sneak peek of Wild Visions here.
What was the best part of creating Wild Visions?
The thought that someone will be looking through my book in 100 years time is priceless. That wouldn’t be possible if I just kept my photos in digital format. Momento Pro uses premium materials, with world class printing and binding techniques, so if the book is stored correctly, it will be safe for viewing this time next century.
That thought has always been part of the driving force in my work and when teaching. Imagine … I’m long gone, but others still get to enjoy our beautiful world, as viewed by me, in a previous era. As photographers, we are recording history every day. That gives me such a buzz.
What’s your top tip for photographers wanting to create a photo book of their best images captured over many years or decades?
Go with your passion and share your images in physical form. Viewers will have a more enjoyable experience and connect more with your work. Make a photo book for yourself as a culmination of your life’s work, as a printed legacy for family and future generations, or to take to market. Start by being clear on what the purpose of your book is and the concept behind its visual narrative. Are you entertaining or teaching the viewer? Also consider its size and how many photos you can include. And … take your time. Don’t rush it. Share the draft with trusted family or friends to give visual and editorial feedback. You may have to create a few versions of the design before its perfect, but the result will be well worth it all as you learn, improve and bring your photo ‘legacy’ book to life.
PS: My next book is already underway. It will be about my family going back a couple of hundred years. I can’t wait to use my experience to put it together.
If you’re inspired, start creating your own photo book with Momento Pro.