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.

Judging a photo book

Last week I co-authored this with Josh, another member of the steering committee. We are working to share stories about the production of the photographers @ Microsoft Book. Behind the scenes, baby!



This email marks the start of a series of stories where we will share with you little slices of insight into what’s happening during the production of the photo book. We hope you find these interesting and insightful J

Our goal of creating a beautiful book full of amazing photos for you, the photography community at Microsoft, has many challenges. A critical one that we face early on in the project each year is how we select the photos for the book. After all this is first and foremost a community effort for you (by you) joining together for a great cause. Being a member of the judging committee in the past I got to experience an in depth view of the results first hand. I’ve found that with photography being art it is a very subjective experience and two judges can look at a photo and have very differing opinions of it. The good news is when we have many judges (THANK YOU for those who volunteered their time this year!) we can average those scores together to get a solid average for every photo. At some point we need to draw a line of how many photos are in the book to strike a balance between quality (great product) and quantity (as many members from our vibrant photography community in the book as possible). As the number of submissions fluctuates each year our goal isn’t necessarily a concrete number or formula but rather to have a ratio of photos that are submitted which should maintain a pretty solid and consistent quality assuming the same average distribution of photographers. Even still it’s important to remember that it is still subjective (being all about art) and there will always being photos that any given individual will feel deserve to be in the book and some that one feels could have been left out. With the judging system we work to ensure it all comes down to statistical averages.

Anyway, judging is just getting underway. We did our training with the judges at the end of last week and are set to start here in the following days after we iron out a few kinks in the technology.

We hope you found this little glimpse into the process of creating a book from your beautiful photos an interesting one. Please do feel free to let us know if you liked this (or not) and if there is anything in particular you would like to hear about the creation of the book.

All the best,

Josh Debner

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

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)


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;

EXPLORE | Photographers@Microsoft Photobook

Can a photo make a difference to the world? How about a book full of virtually every type of photo you could imagine?

Last week for the Giving Campaign we launched the 2012 photo book from the photographers@Microsoft. The book is made by the community of photographers of Microsoft and is used to raised money for The United Way Worldwide. A $50 book sends all proceeds ($37.50) to the United Way. For ‘softies in the US this is matched to make that $75. Last year we raised over $90,000 and this year we are shooting for $100,000.


After three years “in the book” I decided to help make and market the book this year. It’s simply a stunning collection of photos that illustrates the diversity and creativity of the photography community here at Microsoft. A community I’m very proud to be a member of.

For me the inclusion of ‘J’s photo (in the X on the cover) was a coup for the triumph of art and human connection (with a little bit of technology thrown in). You can read the story about this photo here. Next step; sending her two books and when she presents one to her school (it’s the school gate) to have her family take a photo of that moment.

Explore photographersATmicrosoft Launch Party 2012 (12 of 28)

We were lucky enough to have brilliant photographer and all round nice guy Chase Jarvis help us launch the book. His talk was inspiring and exciting. He shared with us his passion for photography, community and exploration. His “hit list” was a hit with the crowd. For me it resonated on a variety of levels; working hard at what you love, making your own rules, the creative process of iteration, learning, creating space for things to happen and helping others. You can read the inspired list here in full.


How to buy

You can buy the book via the Online Microsoft store (linked to from the Photographers at Microsoft site here) select “Buy” from the Photographers at Microsoft site then (for non Microsoft employees) at the Microsoft store site click “All other shoppers may sign up here”.

Vision to Reality–365 Project Musings

I’ve been thinking about my 365 Project, it’s rather addictive. It’s designed to be of course. As I started on January 1 (you can start any day) I’ve been thinking about continuing the project next year. Do I give it a theme? I thought “a person every day” OK now that would be a serious challenge.

Then there is the part of me that thinks; I’ll stop the project officially but try take as many photos as possible. That could work, it would certainly take the pressure off vast amounts of editing and backlog and feeling guilty when I publish 10+ days of photos at once.

What do you think?

One thing is for sure, even just one year of the project has helped me grow enormously as a photographer – it’s been allot of fun. Listen to me talking as if it’s mid December.

And hey, look, some of the work is already published;

Here’s #276 “#88 Redux” That’s right yesterday’s photo was of Day #88’s effort as published in ‘Inspire’ by photographers@Microsoft.