This is Part I of a 2-post series about how to use black and white photos as illustrations in ebooks for the gray scale Kindle. The first post covers handling of the photos; the second covers how best to use them in the flow of content.
As an avid Kindle reader I’ve admired the screen saver images that appear every time I turn off my Kindle. Some look like etchings, with very fine detail. As a photographer I wondered whether I could make an ebook with illustrations as handsome as that.
So, to see whether someone was already doing that I began to search for ebooks with photos in them, and found almost none. I found a few ebooks for children with illustrations, and of course ebooks with charts and tables in them, but very few with photos. Hmmmmm. . .This was a challenge!
I’m a Vietnam vet, and in a few months I’ll be returning there to take pictures and reflect on the past and present. After I return I want to publish an ebook, with photos. So, I’ve been experimenting with how one can use photos on the ink-based, gray scale Kindles in a skillful way.
Here are some things I’ve learned:
- The text runs in columns that are 550 pixels wide, so that’s the maximum width for images too. Some say that Kindle images should be sized 450 pixels wide and 550 pixels tall. My experiments indicate that a better sizing for full page portrait views is 550 pixels wide x 750 pixels tall. The screen saver images which cover the whole screen are 600 x 800 pixels. If you place a 750 pixel-tall image at the top of a page, its bottom will reach just about to the bottom, leaving just enough space for the reading-progress scale to show. Using a 450 pixel width tends to make a full page photo look a bit too long and narrow. A 550 width brings the edges of the image in line with the margins of type. So, for full-page portrait presentation, 550 x 750 pixels is ideal.
- Square cropped photos work great! 450 x 450 pixels gives you large enough photos to show detail, and enough space at the top and bottom of your image for some words to flow. If you shoot square pictures as I do, with an old twin lens reflex camera, you’ll have excellently composed shots to work with. Or, you can square crop a landscape view photo. Cropping a lot off a landscape view doesn’t adversely affect the resolution of images for the Kindle because the images are relatively small and will render with good resolution.
- To use a photo for the cover of your ebook, it should be 600 x 800 pixels. This will fill an entire screen and give you maximum room for a handsome graphic.
- Although portrait-view photos work best on ebooks, you can use landscape-view photos as well. Just rotate them with your photo editor so that they stand on end, then save them that way. A reader will have to turn the Kindle a quarter turn to view them properly, but that’s no trouble. Just make sure that you always rotate your landscape photos in the same direction when you save them. You don’t want to frustrate your readers by making them fumble for the correct orientation.
- The only way to do captions satisfactorily with Kindle images is to embed them as a layer in your image file. If you try to make a text-entry caption below the photo, it will fail to deploy in the correct spot, because different users use different sized letters.
- The best photos for Kindle illustrations are those with lots of contrast, strong highlights and deep shadows. Therefore, when you are photographing, choose scenes of high contrast. Photos with mostly mid-tones will present drably. When you’re editing your photos, after turning them into black-and-whites if they are not so already, turn up the contrast even higher. You can afford to pull up the highlights considerably. Also, you can afford to use considerable sharpening.
- You can save your black-and-white photos in .jpeg format for using in ebooks, but I use the .png format, which makes lean files for fast loading.
- I love to shoot film and then scan my negatives to make digital files. I’m finding that these photos make my best Kindle images, especially the ones shot with high contrast black and white film.
- If you want to use your black and white photos an an arty way, modify them with the ink sketch or pencil sketch filters in Photoshop, or similar special effects tools in other editors.
- To produce my ebooks I use the free application, Open Office. By default a word processing document in Open Office has margins set at .79 inches. I find that this is perfect for inserting an image of 550 x 750 pixel dimensions. Place your cursor at the top of the page and use the insert image command. The bottom of the photo will deploy just a trifle above the bottom margin. That little trifle will be enough to allow the reading-progress scale to show once you have published the ebook.
- When you’re ready to make your word-processing file into an ebook, first save it as a .pdf file by pressing the .pdf button in Open Office. Then import that .pdf file into the free application, Mobipocket Creator, to convert it into the fie format which Kindle uses, .prc.
- And finally, to make your file available to readers who don’t own Kindles, convert it into several other formats using the free download, Calibre.
There’s a Part II post about using illustrations on the Kindle, right after this post. You might want to check it out.