How to Photograph Books

by Craig Stark

26 November 2012

Part V: The Lean, Mean Durability of Paint Shop Pro 7

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I've written several book photography tutorials in past years, one offering image editing techniques that can improve your photographic output, but I've never recommended specific image editing software. More often than not, software is something that continuously improves as it progresses through versions, so anything anybody might say about a specific application has a limited shelf life. And new applications, of course, pop up continuously.

But there are rare occasions, curiously enough, when software heads south as newer versions are introduced, and sometimes there is a significant drop from one particular version to the next. Such is the case, in my experience, with Paint Shop Pro. PSP has a long history in cyber-terms, first introduced as a shareware image format converter - e.g., converting BMP files to GIF files - in 1990, it has been seen through no less than 14 succeeding versions and one buyout in 2004 when Corel purchased the software and distribution rights from JASC, rebranding it as Corel Paint Shop Pro X.

In the mid-1990's PSP developed a strong reputation for function, simplicity and speed. Image editing software is typically so complex that it requires months if not years to gain a good working knowledge of; not so with early PSP versions. They were both intuitive and quickly grasped. And when version 7.0 was introduced in 2000, it had reached a point a point in its development where it met my every book photography need. Let's face it; booksellers don't need all the clunky, memory-hogging features present in the very latest version of Adobe Photoshop, the so-called industry standard. We're concerned primarily with presenting accurate (faithful to color and form, that is) and clear representations of our books.

Time was we could get away with presenting books for sale with textual descriptions only. Today it puts us at a disadvantage if we don't supply a photo, and in fact some venues are now requiring it - eBay the most recent. I think most of you will agree with me that taking photos of books is one of the heavier, more time-consuming tasks we perform, that is, if we care about quality. Like any process, it can be accelerated by simply snapping and uploading photos as is directly from a camera, but if you don't take some time to edit your images, the result ain't pretty, and to me there's nothing more jarring than reading a professional description of a book and encountering an accompanying blurred, darkened or distorted photo of the book being described. And it seems many more booksellers take this approach than not, certainly to their detriment.

But back to PSP. Version 8.0 was introduced in 2003, and I upgraded. My thinking was, it can only get better, right? Within moments of installing it, however - and it took a long time to install - it was clear that the interface had been altered to such a degree that it was no longer intuitive. Worse, it took almost a minute for it to load when I launched it, and most of the operations I attempted to perform had slowed to a crawl. It reminded me very much of Adobe Photoshop, as if PSP had become a Photoshop wannabe. I didn't uninstall it immediately, but I did return to PSP 7 that day. Given the high number of photos I took on a given day, it was clear I couldn't suffer the delays that this new version presented to me.

In the intervening years, as newer versions were introduced, I stayed with PSP 7, and I often read with amusement in forums and product reviews how the application had continuously morphed from the lean, mean application it once was to what was now affectionately referred to as bloatware. This was especially pronounced when Corel got involved. I remember a developer telling me that this was Corel's modus operandi - take a perfectly good application and bloat it with more and more features until it was practically useless.

Here's what the original PSP 7.0 packaging looked like:

And its contents:

One sure fire way to confirm that this software is still useful to many is the brisk buying and selling activity that still takes place. These original packaging units don't come up too often, but stand-alone installation disks are readily available and can be had for a modest amount. Also, tutorials specific to this version are abundant online, so one can easily get by without a manual.

Over time it has become apparent to me that continuous practice with this software truly enhances what can be done with it - and how quickly it can be done. I say, leave the clunky stuff to professional photographers; PSPS 7 does everything I need it to do.

Since I'm on the topic of book photography, this might be a good time to look at perhaps the most common fault I encounter in other booksellers' photos and, in turn, how to quickly improve things in PSP 7.

How many times have you seen something like this? A better question might be how many times have you not seen something like this?

But a raw image like this can be converted to this with a few keystrokes:

(By the way, the bright spot in the middle of the cover is not a flash but the actual coloration.) This is also a good example of why time is better spent on the back end of taking photos than the front end. With a tripod, special lighting, etc. it would be entirely possible to achieve the quality of the second example with one click of the camera, but why spend all that time on it when it can be done in a few moments at the keyboard?

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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