Layout complete

Here is an article I co-authored with Santosh regarding the layout for the 2013 photo book from the photographers @ Microsoft.

Photographer Friends,

What a wild couple of weeks it’s been for our dear friend the photo book who is starting to take shape.

This story is in two parts. The first for the visually inclined (I suspect there are a lot of us in the community J). Secondly for the numbers inclined (lots of us at Microsoft, right?)J

Visual Matching

Photos… beautiful photos. Seriously if you join the steering committee for this book for one reason and one reason alone it’s being involved in the layout. It is a lot  of fun. And yes you can join next year (if you are a photographer at Microsoft).

Without further ado let’s get some visual insight into what the process looks like, in a secret bunker deep within… OK so one of the buildings in Redmond.



So what’s going on in these pictures? Firstly the two photographers you see are just loving checking out a set of amazing photos from the community. More importantly what is going on in this photo is the act of pairing.

“Pairing, what’s that?” You say. And probably quickly get it J Pairing is all about how we take hundreds of individual works of art and put them together in a way that will work well and pop in the visual experience of the book. In some cases this might actually tell a story. In others it might “just” mean the photos go really well next to each other.

Number of Pages

What are the relative merits of 1, 2 and 3-per-page layout options and how do they impact the mission of the book? We enter each year with an open mind. Learning from the past and taking as much community input as possible. Always trying to make a product that you (and the love ones you gift it to) will love. The book used to be one per page. Last year we worked to get more of the community in the book by changing the layout. We got more of your fantastic photos in the book and also heard feedback that some photos were a little on the small side. That resulted in a swift decision this year not to go to 3 per page this year. So how could we make the photos bigger based on the number of photos we have? Increasing page count allows us to have more per page and still increase people in the book. Enough to make the smallest photo equivalent to a 4×6. This would result in 60% more full page photos compared to 2012 design based on this year’s photos. Something we hope everyone is excited about.

“Time to crack out Excel!” Ah yes, more pages brings with it a key challenge. Increased cost. And seeing as a big part of this is about raising more money for charity what does that mean to the project? The page number plan is moving from 324 to 384 pages. So the good news is we now know that increase is nominal and means selling 70 more books will cover our increased break even.

That’s it for today!

Hope you enjoyed reading – please use the voting buttons to ‘like’ this post – and as always we love to hear your detailed feedback, thoughts and questions.

All the best,

Santhosh Rajangam

A participant in the Microsoft photography community & a member of the 2013 photo book steering committee

On selecting a printer

This is another story I authored for the photography community at Microsoft regarding the production of the 2013 photo book.

When I hung up the phone with our contact at “Company B” on Tuesday I was both happy and sad. Let’s start with sad first so we can end on a high note.

“We know how important this project is for the photographers at Microsoft, and for raising money for the United Way so based on our conversations I really can’t recommend pushing to go with us for the 2013 book.” Said Mr. B (our contact at Company B).

For the past few days I’d feared this is where things was heading. We had been working on some final attempts at a workable solution. We’ve been working schedules and deadlines for about four months as well as exploring pricing structures, book sizes and printer options. Lots of moving parts. Why had we been pursuing Company B? They could also create a great online sales experience.

The thing that caused me the most heartache as I hung up the phone was that we know how important buying online is for you and that it had been problematic in the past. We really want to make it work.

At the end of the day it came down to time. And not enough of it. Specifically the difference between July 1 and July 22. Company B was relying on a third party printer based in Asia to do the job. Company A is based in the US and printed our book for the last two years. If we had known back in February what we know now we could have pulled in production… judging… submissions to hit the July 1 date (hurrah for 2014 planning!). At the end of the day we were not prepared to sacrifice the quality of the book to make the July 1 deadline. Your experience when you open it and leaf through the beautiful photos is paramount. The Give Campaign is in October and it’s critical that we make the book available for that wonderful carnival.

Company B used to only do Print on Demand. Which is rather expensive. They now also offer “offset” (bulk) printing. As such they can deliver products comparable to the 2012 book, in the quantities we need.

A partnership with Company B goes beyond printing. The most obvious and important thing the project would benefit from would be having a frictionless online sales motion. One that captures the necessary information to enable the charitable match. A US Benefit. This. Is. Huge. Double the money when a US employee purchases a book? Yes please. An important part of the project is raising money for charity so a focus on the US market is inevitable.

Online sales also open up our ability to sell the book externally, and internationally. Whilst our communities product is different to a standard coffee table book it doesn’t exclude others wanting to buy it, for a good cause. When you think of your family and friends getting a copy think about the charitable match you will get, as a US based employee, when you buy it for them.

“So let’s start talking much earlier about the 2014 book, as we’d love to be involved. OK?” Said Mr. B and I replied in the positive.

We hope you enjoyed this story. The photos just entered the layout process. We’ll keep you posted on that soon.

For now we will continue to use Company A and the Company Store and continue to plan for how to expand plans in 2014.

What’s your photo vote? Down to 9 images, need to select 3 for submission.

Thanks for your input so far! From 24 I’ve got it down to 9 images. This is proving tough. Hard to remove myself from the process.

Do I insist on ‘that’ photo being in because it’s my kid and I find him super cute? Or is it actually a good photo?

I trimmed allot of photos that I thought were ‘cool’ but just didn’t strike the ‘unique enough’ tone or failed to tell me enough of a story. I do feel I’ve got it down to a decent selection where each have a narrative and/or offer an unseen perspective along with strong composition. But who am I to say… it’s all IMHO, that’s why I need your help Smile

Here is the short list. Help me chose, see instructions on commenting in the prior post. Click to see the gallery!

mspb01 nine short list

Help me select a photo for the photo book

It’s that time of year again. Submissions are open for the Microsoft Photo Book. Each year the photography community at Microsoft bands together to create a book that raises money for the United Way.

I have put together a gallery with some of my favorite photos from 2012 and would love your help selecting three to submit.

A sample of three of the twenty four images;

To comment/rate: Bottom left click ‘add comment’


Then add your details and opinion (you don’t have to use a real email I don’t think)


What next after completing two 365 Projects?

I have now completed two 365 Projects. I will not be doing one for 2013.

2011 – Primarily DSLR

2012 – Primarily Camera Phone

It really has been fun making sure I made a photo every day. It has given me inspiration and helped me develop creative building blocks. Now I plan to pause, take a step back, focus and create intentionally.

Using a camera phone this year helped me stretch even more to ‘get the shot’ with lower grade tech (such as the Union Flag below). It also resulted in some pretty subpar photos getting in. I feel 2011’s DSLR (And associated developing of photos) helped me grow further across the year.

So, what next?

I’m considering publishing a photo book. Perhaps using photos that the two years of 365 Project furnished me with. What do you think?

Should I do it?

What would you like to see in that book?

Shipped: Two photo books to Mexico, end of a journey.

It’s funny how it feels when a project is finally done, finished, tucked up and put to bed. A certain lightness rests on ones being, the part of the left hand side of the brain that managed that particular project can rest. At least momentarily before being set off on another adventure.

Today I was finally able to ship two of these books to Mexico. It’s the end of a journey that started in the spring of 2010. Last covered in the blog here. I’m excited for ‘J’ to get ahold of the books. One for her and one for the school.

For me the project represents two things;

  1. The triumph of beauty and art (you have to read the back story)
  2. That if you care about it and put your mind to it anything really is possible


The funny thing about these two things is that they represent the Right and Left Hemispheres of the brain quite nicely. One is the source, the connection, the creativity. The other is, well, getting stuff done. I also feel it my responsibility to call out the underlined; note how I don’t just say “you can do anything”. I don’t think you can. OK, so maybe you can. My point here is simple; rather than trying to do anything chose to do things that you are passionate about and love. Then work hard at them. I heard a quote recently “chose what’s easy, and work hard”. Ala Marcus Buckingham it’s about finding your innate talents and investing in them so that they become strengths.

Here’s the photo again incase you missed it last time;

Tulip Glow–Wins place in 2011 Microsoft Photo Book #365Project

When I embarked on my 365 Project this year I didn’t know what to expect – apart from allot of learning. What I certainly didn’t expect was that an intentional, architected, photo of the day would make it through the selection process into the 2011 Microsoft Photo Book (an effort by the photographers @ Microsoft that raises money for charity). I always thought that it would be my more grandiose attempts. Smile

I’m excited to announce the Tulip Glow has made it into the book – I’m even more excited to say THANK YOU to all my friends and followers who helped select the photo by voting on my initial selections.

Photographers interested in the ‘how’ can see a description of this photos project below the photo itself.

Some facts about this photo;

  • It started as a ‘desperation shot’ for my 365 Project. It was late, I hadn’t taken any other photos that day. My aim was to get something ‘quick’. As I started exploring the fresh flowers my wife had bought.
  • It was shot with a Canon 5D MKII + 100mm F2.8L Lens
  • The primary lighting was an overhead halogen spotlight. Other light sources were the highly reflective metal table (Diner Style) and the main kitchen light (a double CFL).
  • It is three blended exposures (HDR, Photomatix) – This enabled me to get rich detail in the highlights and keep all the shadow detail. Single exposures lacked not just dynamic range but also depth of detail in the subtle grooves of the petals.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom was used for minor touch up
  • It was photographed against a red wall in my kitchen (see below for set up shot) the high f-stop used resulted in such a reduction of the depth of field little was visible beyond the subject.
  • The tulip was purple but I opted for a slight shift in tint to get a red final product
  • …I spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the flowers to get a composition that I liked. Quite amazing actually how many iterations of one Tulip there are. Angles, petal arrangement, lighting (how is it filling the Tulip, hitting the tulip?). And the biggest challenge of all – getting some essence of leaves and stem to provide context and pleasant framing. Experiments without the leaves just didn’t have the same story for me. Smile


Set up shot:

HDR Tulip Glow Setup Shot

What are your 3 favorite of these 9 photos?

Click on the grid below then in the gallery use the ‘green thumb’ that appears when you hover over the picture.

Please vote to help me select 3 photos to submit for this charity photo book project! Below are the potential submissions for the Microsoft Photo Book – an annual competition for photos for a book that raises money for The United Way of King County (raises $50K+ per year!)