How 'Opening Soon' Was Made
I'm going to go through step-by-step on how I made this, and share how you can do it too.
1. Come up with an idea. This step is optional because it may happen first or it may happen later on. I came up with the idea of displaying hope and optimism during difficult times, but only after half my photos were already taken.
Seeing a decaying building with a giant "OPENING SOON" sign sparked my idea. I wanted this to be the thread that connected all my images - during constant bad news in the world during 2020, people were still able to put on a happy face and maintain some sense of normalcy.
2. Get your gear sorted out. I don't want to focus on the camera too much, because although the camera influences how I make my work, I don’t want the medium to influence how someone views my work.
For all the pictures in this zine (except one - can you guess which?), I used a Canonet QL17 GIII, which is a ~40 year old rangefinder. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to learn film photography after 2 years learning digital, and the Canonet is a great camera for that purpose. I did my research, bought a handful of film stocks, and started experimenting.
With the goal of learning a new medium, I was motivated to go out much more for photography than I would have otherwise, and completely rediscovered my interest taking and viewing pictures.
3. Learn your gear inside out. Take your camera every time you leave the house, and take notes about your photos as you go. These can include exposure settings, light conditions, and guesses about how the photos will come out. Looking back at your notes later on provides a great feedback loop.
4. Assess your results. If shooting film, get it developed at a local lab or camera shop if possible, and get it scanned. I have gotten lots of valuable tips from employees/owners when I bring in my film (specifically Downtown Camera in Toronto and Galaxy Camera in Ottawa).
Compare your results to your notes, and see what conditions led to your favourite results. And find a way to keep your negatives safe. I am using a couple old boxes for prints and negatives - I covered them with craft beer stickers. I'm starting to run out of space now and will need to use a proper archival binder soon.
5. Edit your photos. I find I am making adjustments to my scans about half the time - others may avoid editing film, but that is just part of my process and helps me get my message across. Here is a before and after, which is mostly just a brightness bump. I find with film, when exposed properly, I spend much less time editing than with digital. Maybe with film I am just being more careful with how I expose and compose?
Before the next image ended up in my zine, I cropped it and added some contrast to emphasize the cyclist's white shirt in the breeze. I have been using Capture One to edit.
6. Get your photos printed! This will help a lot with sequencing later on. And it is nice to have a physical copy that you can smell if you feel like it. I always get 4x6 prints even though I get scans.
7. Share your prints. I have given portraits to a handful of people, and it is an amazing feeling to see their reaction several weeks later. For example, family and friends, bookshop owners, and the corn guy in the ByWard Market.
I was even able to track down the owner of the psychedelic-painted school bus, who apparently was in my program at university (small world!). I will be sending them a print as well.
Passing around an old point-and-shoot to my friends and sharing all the prints was another way I got this feeling recently.
If you give away a print you'd like to use in a zine, you can sketch it on a piece of paper to use later while sequencing on a table.
8. Share your photos online. I found a 'photo journal' was a good outlet for me since I wanted to share almost everything. Then I just passed around the link to my friends. Alternatively, keep everything confidential until you have a full body of work ready - this will help keep away outside influences and opinions, if that is what you're going for.
9. Shoot more photos. Go on intentional photo walks solo or with a group, or go to specific locations that fit your theme.
I even encouraged my friends to record one of our photo walks and post it on YouTube - in this video you can see behind-the-scenes on some of the photos that ended up in my zine.
Talk to strangers and ask permission for their picture (about half the people I photographed in this zine I asked first, the other half I got by without them noticing me).
10. Try out new things: new film stocks, editing techniques, compositional ideas, gear, film processing techniques, and shooting techniques.
Experiment with scanning. I also worked on scanning some very old family pictures and it was cool to discover what was hiding on those negatives.
11. Back up your files with redundancy! I have everything on an external hard drive and my unlimited Amazon cloud drive.
Here are the books/zines I read while working on my own:
- Unlikely Landscape (Scarlett Hooft Graafland)
- Walking Svalbard (Willem Verbeeck)
- nyc, i love you... (Joe Greer)
- March & Rock #18 (Maarten Rots)
- Before You (Mark Holmes)
- Some Kind of Heavenly Fire (Maria Lax)
- Soft Shells (Libby Oliver)
- #nyc (Jeff Mermelstein)
- 45 (Damian Heinisch)
- Subjectively Objective (Tom Stoye, Solange Adum-Abdala, Balint Alovits, Seunggu Kim, Noah Waldeck, Leah Frances)
- Forsaken - Lana Slezic
- A Broken Landscape (Gideon Mendel)
- Diffuse Collective Volume II
- Sangue Jovem (Leonardo Paradela)
I drew connections between my books and my own photos. Above: Lana Slezic (left), me (right). Below: Joe Greer (left), me (right).
Check out interviews/podcasts/documentaries of other photographers. Here are a few I liked recently:
- Willem Verbeeck interviews Ian Howorth (just search interview on Willem's channel)
- Kyle McDougall's The Contact Sheet Podcast (notably the Matt Day and Noah Waldeck episodes)
- Lots more on my playlist
You can even attend photography conversations over zoom while live events are closed. For example WKGP. I attended one of Blue Sky Gallery's meetings where Kris Graves interviewed Hannah Altman about her book called Kavana, which was a great learning experience.
My influences for this zine were mostly modern - I am starting to research some of the great photographers of the past too, and have a lot to learn. One cool thing I learned recently was about Garry Winogrand - he took so many photos that sometimes he wouldn't even get them developed until a year later. This would remove his emotional connection to the photo and then he could judge it from a more clear perspective. This made me question if this is what I want myself, but for now I still want my emotional connection to my photos. Garry called this process "marinating", and had left a huge amount of undeveloped film behind after he died.
13. Start noticing themes and concepts in your photography. Refine your ideas and seek out more opportunities to capture them. You might have to drive somewhere, or wait for the right weather conditions, etc.
14. Decide on an idea for the zine, if you haven't already. I had my idea figured out about halfway through the summer. I knew what pictures I had already, and what kind of pictures I wanted to take next. Eventually stop shooting. I chose to stop when I finished my last roll of film of the summer.
I've seen some cool book/zine ideas around lately: Chilpaco by Nathan Hirschler (photographing a local landmark from different places around town), A Parade Of Strangers by Edward Pavez Goye (1 roll of film per day for a month), 45 by Damian Heinisch (all images taken through a train window), and Subjectively Objective monographs for example.
15. Spread your prints out on a table and select what you like and what fits your theme. This can be difficult and you might want to take a few days to complete it gradually.
Noah Waldeck mentions on The Contact Sheet Podcast that while curating, he will discard someone’s best photograph(s) without hesitation if they don’t fit in with the theme or sequence. Here are some of my favourite shots taken during this period that didn’t end up in the zine (see my photo journal for the rest). Maybe these will end up in future projects?
16. Research paper types (textures and coatings), ink types, binding types, hardcover vs. softcover, CMYK theory, etc. I chose to go with a saddle stitch (staple) binding for a more casual and understated look - it is also the most affordable binding type.
17. Order/sequence your prints physically on the table, and make connections that make sense to you. Every photo pair in Opening Soon has something connecting them intentionally. Some other ideas can be to order chronologically, or by colour palette.
18. Start thinking about how to print your zine. Order online, or buy a printer, or go to a local print shop and get a custom job. Do lots of research before making a decision, because this step can get pricy. If you have a tight budget, you can also do a pre-order so you get the money up-front.
Ask photographers for advice. I met Libby Oliver while waiting in line for an art exhibit a few years ago and she had just worked on her own book at the time. Below is some advice she gave me on instagram.
I found that buying a printer was not great because of paper and ink costs, and binding - a local shop should be affordable and more customizable.
After some research I chose a local lab called GTA Imaging. Since they work with photographers they were able to answer all my random questions and help me with some customization. They were generous with the free samples and I was quite happy with the quality of the results. Since they were local, it was also a quick iteration cycle between sending in files and seeing results. They refer to the product I ordered as a Booklet, which is what a lot of local labs will call this too (once printed, you can call it whatever you want).
19. Experiment with printing, try different sizes and research other variables like paper, colour profiles, and screen calibration. Get samples before committing if possible. My strategy was to edit on half-brightness with my macbook, and when I saw my sample prints I knew 50% screen brightness would work well enough. I chose to have square pages, so that I wouldn't have to shrink horizontal or vertical images (my lab was able to provide me a custom .PSD template). After getting a full sample zine I was able to make other small adjustments.
20. Figure out how many copies to make and how to sell/distribute them. I knew I wanted to give away some copies, and some other friends and coworkers had already expressed interest in buying a copy. I chose to order 50, and do my best to sell whatever was left over. Keep in mind: if you are not ready to risk the investment of a bunch of zines up-front, a pre-order is a good idea.
I didn't have enough to lie down on top of them, maybe next time:
Now I'll go through some of my strategies and takeaways while selling the zine.
I already had a Shopify store called PhotoRotation, so I decided to leverage the (small) platform to sell my zine. Sending an email blast to my customers and subscribers was one strategy that worked.
I also announced the zine on my instagram, which is how most people found out about it. Some people shared their order on their story, and reposting that definitely generated renewed interest (but I was also conscious of not annoying my friends).
Also related to instagram, see what communities you can join that will repost your work. For example, Downtown Camera reposts a lot of pictures they get tagged in (many people tag them after receiving their film scans). I tagged them as well, and this led to a couple new friends after they discovered my profile (or I discovered theirs), and even a couple sales.
I work at a software company with a lot of photography enthusiasts in one of our slack channels. Sharing the process and the finished product with my coworkers felt very rewarding and also led to a few sales.
Another strategy I tried was posting this article on relevant photography forums (film/analog subreddits, Rangefinderforum, etc.). By sharing my process I was giving rather than taking, and my main goal was to inspire others to make a zine too. This led to making some new friends who kindly reached out to me on instagram, and also led to my first sale from a complete stranger.
My main learning from marketing the zine was to give rather than take - the effects of that attitude will always be rewarding. Sharing my experience in this article felt very beneficial. This attitude also led to a couple trades (more on that later).
At the time of writing this, I have about 15 zines left, and I am trying to come up with some creative ways to sell them before the end of the year...
21. Figure out how to ship your zines. This one can be complicated so take some time - I also have no idea what I'm doing.
My zine's size is 8.5x8.5 inches. I asked my lab to include 8.5x11 cardboard sheets to help keep the envelopes straight while shipping (which they did for $0.25 a piece). I found 8.5x11 bubble-wrap envelopes (about $1 each) were almost perfect - but the zine and cardboard just barely did not fit inside. My solution was to cut open the side, re-tape it shut, and plaster on my custom "DO NOT BEND" sticker.
I set up some shipping rates on my online store: $5 local delivery (10 km radius of my house), and I let my online store calculate the automated rate for tracked shipping.
22. Share your zines with people that inspired you. I got some addresses through instagram and included hand-written notes in my shipments. Matt Day has mentioned on his story that he loves receiving work from fans.
24. Collect screenshots of all the reactions to your zine. You can look back on these later and smile.