How to Use Photos in Kindle Ebooks

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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.

19 thoughts on “How to Use Photos in Kindle Ebooks

  1. After this post I did some further experimenting to see what size the font would have to be to present readable text in .pdf format. The choice I like best is 28 point Trebuchet. When this is put into a .pdf file it produces very clear, adequately large lettering on the Kindle screen. It might be a bit too large for some readers, but for older eyes it’s great.

    I did some research on readability of fonts for ebooks. The consensus is that sans-serif fonts are best, that is, those without the thin little stems at the ends of cross lines and down strokes. These tiny portions don’t present well on electronic media. Trebuchet is an example of a sans-serif font. I prefer it to Arial, another sans-serif font used on the Web, because Trebuchet has a little pizazz.

    There are so many file formats for ebooks. The one that will work best with photos is undoubtedly .pdf, which can be read on any ebook. So, this is an excellent universal format. The only downside I can see is that it doesn’t let one make underlines or page saves. For that reason it would be good to provide your readers a choice of using the .pdf format, or the native format for their particular ebook.

  2. This is actually really helpful.

    I knew about OpenOffice and Calibre, but the way you talk about doing it makes it sound so much easier.

    I like the way you’re always experimenting, trying new things, making the not-yet-done possible.

    Let me know when you’ve put together your book on Vietnam – I’d love to share it with my stepdad. (and maybe I’ll even read it myself!)

  3. Thanks for the comment, Jeff. Yes, I really like experimenting. Rather like tinkering. Before I got into this kind of fun on the internet I used to tinker with old bicycles, stripping and repainting frames, cobbling new fangled contraptions from spare parts. I once built a 15 speed commuter by putting a five-speed derailler under a three speed internal hub. You could shift it at a traffic light without rotating the crank, and top gear was something like 115. Man, that rig would really go! Too old for those exertions now, so the internet is my preferred tinkering.

  4. serif or sans serif?
    Kate Harper’s excellent Kindle ebook – ‘How to Publish and Sell Your Articles on the Kindle’ advises the use of Times New Roman (a serif font)in sizes 10, 12 and 14.

    I’m not a TNR fan (I usually use a sans serif font for word processing) but I do think it may be more effective on the small Kindle screen.

    I suggest that ebook authors should download some free books, check the fonts and figure out for themselves which they feel is most appropriate.

  5. Very helpful information. I am starting my third Kindle book, and I found the illusration help welcome. One question: The Kindle Publishing site offers the following guidelines for cover image:
    1. minimum 1000 pixels on long side
    2. recommended 2500
    3. recommended ration height to width: 1.6…which I finally figured out means 1 to 1.6

    When you suggest pixel dimensions…is that for the official cover that kindle uses for thumbnails or the cover that you include in the file? Thanks so much.

  6. Very useful post with very specific recommendations on using photo images in Kindle books – just what I was looking for. Thanks

  7. Thanks for the question, Barbie. My dimensions pertained to the image that you are using if you are publishing your own e-book. Follow Amazon’s directions if your are publishing via their Direct Publish instructions.

  8. Dear Alexa:
    I would recommend your downloading a free copy of the Smashwords Style Guide at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52
    Smashwords.com is a marketplace for e-book publishers. It’s probably the best place to begin marketing your e-book, because once you upload there your e-book is made available in just about every format available, so people with various reading devices can find what they need. Smashwords takes less of your sale price than Amazon.com does, so it’s also a good marketing place in that regard.

    The Syle Guide gives you very detailed instructions about how to prepare your e-book file to be published in various formats. Among those instructions are some that pertain to using graphics in e-books, including photos. They recommend keeping the width of your photos to 500 pixels. If you use portrait oriented photos they tend to take up the whole page, leaving little room for text. The Smashwords instructions also say that your e-book cover photo should measure 600×800 pixels.
    There is no limit to the number of photos one may use in a Kindle e-book, but there is a byte limit to the total e-book file, and since photos tend to have lots of bytes, you have to hold your number of photos down so that you don’t exceed the total file limit. Check Amazon.com e-book uploading instructions to see what the total limit is.

    I’m posting this reply at my CyberKenBlog so that others can see it. Thanks for your interest. I hope you return often!

  9. Hi Craig. Thanks for sharing this info with us beginners. I have 2 problems the help desk has tried to solve – but being female and a beginner, I have trouble understanding their replys.
    1. I want to format my image with ‘text wrapping’ and ‘tight’ so it formats within my paragraph. Can I do this with Kindle HTML?
    2. I have saved my images as I put them into the HTML but they haven’t come through on my test run with Kindle. What am I doing wrong?
    I hope you still maintain this post as I really need some answers. Thanks Susanne

  10. Dear Susanne: When I publish ebooks I submit a Word file to Kindle or to Smashwords and those sites make the .mobi or .epub files, respectively. I haven’t tried to wrap text around photos using this method. I have just centered my photos. I don’t think it’s possible to wrap text around ebook images using Word as the input method. If you know how to code xhtml with CSS you can produce your ebook in xhtml and convert that file to .epub or .mobi using the free program, Calibre. Frankly, though, the images one inserts in ebooks have to take up most of the screen width to be effective as illustrations (otherwise one can’t see the detail in them, particularly on gray scale models). And if they are of a sufficient size to see the detail, then there isn’t much room left on either side to display text. So, I think you’re better off just centering all your images. There’s no problem doing this with Word.

  11. Thanks for a very useful page. I’ve just converted an old self-pub book to Word, planning to begin formatting for Smashwords and Kindle. This will be my first, so I’m a bit nervous, trying to learn the specs. The original publication has 143 images. The quality is low (faded snapshots for the most part), as they are from a photo album of a trip around the world in 1910. How many Kb do I have for the whole book? I had hoped to use all of them even if the resolution is lower. The text is 213 pages in Word at 14 pt., and the file is 323 Kb without any images. Will I have to eliminate a lot of photos? The book is a journal of the trip, and the photos really help the story. There are 2 (?) pix that would look good full page at higher res if possible. Thanks. ~ Sheryl

  12. Also, I had thought I could add captions under each photo in a smaller font. Not good? E-books being what they are, I would not be too upset if some captions ended up on the next page. By far most photos will not fill the page.

  13. Hello, Sheryl

    There is a 5MB limit for ebooks.

    The best way to make sure your pictures are compressed (in order to reduce the file size of the entire document) is to use the compress pictures feature in MS Word. Since Smashwords highly recommends using Word to format your ebook, this technique fits right into your work plan.

    Using MS Word 2010, follow these instructions for compressing pictures: http://bit.ly/15kXBS9. 96 ppi is plenty for ebook purposes. Anything choice at a higher resolution will not improve the quality of your images in your ebook.

    Using MS Word 2007, follow these intructions: http://bit.ly/YZQjOw

  14. Thank you! Do you know if using Word’s caption function will give any advantage over centering a line of smaller-size type under the photo?

  15. Hi, it’s Sheryl again. I’m making progress. I made an experimental photo caption I liked in Photoshop, but the text size had to be 14 pt to be very readable. It does not look big under the 500-px-wide photo, and I think it will probably be OK on a reader. It actually looks on the small side when seen on a phone, Question: can I tell whether it will be big enough and how it will compare to the size of the body text of the book? I have no idea how Word font sizes convert. 14 pt in Photoshop looks a lot smaller than 14 pt in Word on my screen. Do you have a sample of one of your books with captions and text where you can tell me the font sizes? Thanks again.

  16. Hi, Sheryl
    I think the best thing for me to do to help you is to film a how-to video demonstrating how to use Picasa to caption photos for ebooks. It will take me a little while, but I’ll get back to you, and post the video at CyberKenBlog.

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