With the launch of the 2014 “Nature of Inspiration” Wall Calendar, I wanted to share the process of creating and publishing the calendar for all those who are thinking of doing the same, or are just curious. I’ll cover the design and layout, as well as the financial and marketing aspects of self-publishing a photo calendar. I use a commercial printer, so this is not about doing it at home on a photo printer. I tried that already, and it just doesn’t make sense in terms of costs, labor, and headaches, especially if you print more than just a few for family and friends.
I will start by saying that it took about 3–4 years to get to the point where it was financially viable for me to publish a 28 page 9×12 calendar. The first few years were break even at best, and I treated the calendar as a marketing tool, so costs were part of the marketing budget. (Yes, once you have a photography business there needs to be a marketing budget – and that’s not for new gear 🙂
Theme and Conception
This is my 7th year publishing a calendar, and it’s always lots of fun as well as challenging to put together. While at first it was just a collection of images, I wanted to do something that had more of a unifying theme. So after a few years of trying different ideas, and based on feedback from customers, I decided on the current title “The Nature of Inspiration.”
It all starts about a year in advance when I start collecting quotes that I think would work well over the course of 12 months. I save them all into Evernote from wherever I find them – books, online, talks, videos, etc. Once I’ve settled on 15 or so, I start to select images that I think complement the quotes. Some are obvious (seasons, subject matter) while others are not, and that’s where I get some help from my wife to make final decisions I get stuck on.
Often the images elicit certain emotions that remind me of the quotes, and so are more personal than others. Like all photography, I hope that viewers will also have a similar response, so I go with my instincts as much as possible for final selections. The cover is really challenging because it creates the first impression, and also for me it has to somehow encapsulate the entire feel of the calendar. It also has to work well with the type and that needs to go on the cover.
I chose this years cover image based on my memory of the moment- lets just say I was pretty inspired when I made the photograph. It’s in the Dream Lake area of Rocky Mountain National Park, and I made it on my trip there this summer with my family.[symple_box color=”gray” text_align=”left” width=”100%” float=”none”] The full story is that towards the end of my trip in Colorado, I sprained my ankle pretty good on the trail, and didn’t think I’d be able to make the difficult hike again to that spot. I spent the whole day of the injury with ice on my ankle in hopes that I could hike again, otherwise I’d be out of time and have to catch a plane back home to NY. So when I did manage to get to the spot again, and saw the opportunity that I had been given, I became emotional and very thankful. These are the moments I live for as a landscape photographer, and each reminds me how lucky I truly am.[/symple_box]
Once I have all the selections, I let them sit for a while (a few weeks) then revisit them and make changes if necessary. Once I’m committed, then it’s on to the design and layout.
Design and Layout
I use Adobe InDesign to layout the calendar using a custom template I modify each year – things like fonts and colors to vary the calendars look and feel. There are several places to get templates online – Adobe Exchange, CopyCraft, and many others I’m sure – do a google search. I like a clean and simple design to keep the emphasis on the images and quotes, and the main theme in general. Because my images come from a digital camera, I use a 9×12 layout which avoids cropping while maintaining the largest image size possible. (I love the look of square calendars, but full bleed images are impossible without lots of cropping.)
The next step is image preparation, and that means converting all images to CYMK because I use a commercial printer. The steps are as follows:
- Gather images in a collection in Lightroom.
- Export from Lightroom at the desired size and resolution – because the images will fit horizontally on each page, I export them at 12.25“ wide @300 ppi. (The extra 1/4” is for the required bleed margin on each side of the page.) The height comes in at about 8″ so I use the extra white space at the bottom for the title and quotes. I would have to crop to fill the page completely, and that often changes the composition substantially. File format = tiff / Color Space = ProPhotoRGB / Bit Depth = 16bit / Sharpening = Glass paper, Standard.
- I then open each image in Photoshop and select “Convert to Profile” under the Edit menu, and select “Working CMYK” under Destination Space. This gives you better results and more options than just using the Image Mode menu to convert to CMYK.
- Once converted, if there are any substantial differences in color or contrast, I adjust them here using an adjustment layer. Usually it involves out of gamut colors like green or yellow that sometimes need an extra boost to look vivid again.
- Once it looks the way I want, I convert from 16bits to 8bits, then save the image out as a jpeg, quality level 12. I convert to jpeg rather than use a tiff file so that the InDesign file and final PDF doesn’t get too big, plus I can’t tell a difference at the calendar size. I repeat this about 20 times for all the images that will go into the calendar. (Extra images on the info page)
- The images are now ready to be placed into the layout on the main calendar pages as well as the thumbnails on the back cover.
- When the design is done and proof-read, I export a print ready PDF. I use CopyCraft for printing, and they have an PDF Export preset that makes sure all the settings are to their specifications. This includes no compression of the images to make sure they look their best in the final calendar. My final PDF file was 497MB in size.
- I then export a web version of the entire calendar as a PDF, as well as each page of the calendar as jpeg for sharing online. These are exported in RGB in the sRGB color space. I use Photoshop to create the various mockups for promotion.
- I upload the final PDF to CopyCraft, then wait for a proof from them to make sure everything looks ok and the file doesn’t have any errors. Once I approve, it goes to press!
- I enjoy half a glass of wine with my wife. Why not a whole glass? Because the work is only half done…
Marketing and Sales
It goes without saying that without some kind of platform or distribution, it will be difficult to sell a calendar. So I rely on social media, past customers, my email list, referrals, and local outlets to generate sales.
Forget the big box stores like Barnes and Noble or similar – they rarely carry products from independent distributors. Amazon.com is another option, but their cut is steep and you must have an ISBN number.
I primarily sell the calendar here on the website, and make sure to have a basic system in place to ship orders out as soon as they come in. My wife handles that, and it includes mailing labels, envelopes, and postage. I also sell the calendars through local stores and galleries in the area, and I’m always looking for new avenues that may want to carry it. Some other ways I have sold the calendar in the past is to find other business’ that have a similar target market, and have them give it to their customers as gifts.
All of these are outlets that I have developed through the years, so it’s important to have a long term marketing strategy in place and stay active on it not only when you have a new product, but throughout the entire year. For many years I sold the calendar at art fairs, and now many of those customers buy directly online.
I also set aside some calendars that I give as complementary gifts to a range of people and organizations. They have all been instrumental in my success as a photographer, and so I like to make sure they know I am grateful. I also send the calendar to those I want to stay “in front” of – galleries, interior decorators, corporate offices I have contacts in, etc. it makes a great marketing piece that remains active for an entire year – very effective.
I hope this information is useful – any questions or feedback, I’d love to hear from you! Thanks for reading and of course, you can get your own copy here!