In an earlier post I dealt with the challenges which the Kindle3 gray scale screen presents if you want to use photos as illustrations in ebooks. In summary, it can be done, and done well, provided you use well exposed and sharp photos to start with, and then turn up the contrast and sharpening, which makes them appear reasonably sharp on the Kindle.
However, this is not the only difficulty in using photos well on the Kindle. There’s also the problem of reference: making clear which photos belong with which paragraphs of text.
Explanation: There is room for only one column on the Kindle. Photos are a part of that one-column flow. They appear either before or after text; or sometimes if they’re large they occupy a whole page themselves. At any rate, because the photos do not sit side-by-side with text, as they might on a printed page, the author must make it clear how he intends for each of them to be used. For instance, let’s say a picture appears at the top of a page, and there is no caption with it, and there is no explanation in the nearby text (either before or after it) to explain why the author has displayed that particular picture in that particular place in the flow. Well, such a picture is at least a mystery, and at most an annoyance!
The easiest solution to this problem is to embed a caption in each photo, linking it to some portion of the text. When printed novels were illustrated, a full page illustration often had a caption below it. Frequently the caption was nothing more than a brief excerpt of text, with quotes around it. When you saw those quotes you knew that the illustration depicted the event described in the paragraph from which the excerpt was taken. There was no ambiguity about what the picture was for, or to what event in the story it referred. Similarly, if ebook writers would use captions for their illustrations fairly consistently, this would help to alleviate the reference problem.
Captions would not necessarily need to be used for all photos however. A more subtle and aesthetically pleasing mode of reference could be used, such as including details in the main body of text which refer to details in an immediately upcoming photo. Also, at the beginning of a chapter, an uncaptioned photo could be used as a thematic introduction to the chapter. The writer’s reason for using that photo would become more and more evident as the reader turns up details in the chapter which harken back to details in the photo.
The problem of reference is not nearly so difficult for illustrators of printed books, because the page designer can easily place an illustration in close proximity to the text to which it refers. But this advantage is not enjoyed by the ebook writer, who must therefore constantly consider how to caption and/or deploy her photos so that their purpose is clear.