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August 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Are Your Dive Photos Worthy of a Book?

this diver thought so -- and published his own

from the August, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Were used to reviewing underwater photo books from the likes of Roger Steene and Cathy Church, but when we received a preview copy of Magic Beneath the Seas by Steve Kovacs, we sat up and took notice. Thats because Kovacs is a dental surgeon from Clewiston, Florida (and Undercurrent subscriber) who only takes underwater photos as a hobby during dive trips but decided to spend nearly $30,000 to publish a book of his images.

Plenty of divers picture themselves as the next David Doubilet after reviewing their images post-dive. But self-publishing is costly, not to mention the added costs of marketing and distributing the book. We wondered if Kovacs really aims to sell his book or is it just a vanity publication? Are his photos really that good? Then again, if this guy can do it, why cant you? We interviewed Kovacs to see how he created Magic. Were also putting his book for sale on our Web site (Undercurrent).

Undercurrent: What made you decide that your photos were worth a whole book?

Kovacs: Im sure theres vanity there but isnt every coffee- table photo book a vanity piece in some respect? I felt my photos were as good as many others. Ive placed in photo competitions so Ive gotten some affirmation. But yes, I wanted to gift myself with my own photographs rather than having them sitting on a hard drive, and share them with other people.

Whats your overall photography experience? I bought my first camera in 2001. I had wanted to take photographs ever since I was young, but that was the first time I was able to afford a camera system. I researched what all the pros were shooting, so I bought an Ikelite housing and strobe, and thats what Ive stuck with. I never took a class, just studied other peoples work to see how they were doing it

How did you come up with the idea? In June 2006, after a trip to Lembeh Strait, my girlfriend Alena turned to me and said, You should do a book. I laughed and said, Youre crazy. She asked, Why not? Youve always said its not that difficult to do a book of pictures. So I decided to do it.

Where did you take all the photos? I had been taking them on all my past dive trips to Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Florida and the Caribbean. So I looked at my portfolio and decided I had enough photos to do the book. I didnt even consider trying to get liveaboard discounts or free camera gear while I was working on the book. As a no-name, I probably wouldnt be too successful. There really wasnt a specific method of choosing photos; I chose pictures that I liked and thought were solid. Im a perfectionist so I set the bar high.

Why did you go the self-publishing route? After picking the photos, I researched book publishing and conventional versus self-publishing. Its hard to get into an industry dominated by big names, and even then it would take forever to get it published. Whereas, self-publishing took me just shy of two years from idea to finish. Also, I didnt want someone else to have artistic control -- I wanted this to be my vision of what my photographs project, not someone elses. So I got a business license to set up a company to become my own publisher. All I needed was the required state and county business and occupational licenses, and I also decided to incorporate.

The next step was to find a printer. I got all the marine life coffee-table books and made a list of those who did a great job. Then I sent out a request for quotes. Some printers ignored us, some came back with quotes so high so that they were openly discouraging us. Thats because some printers dont want to work with small companies or self-publishers. Thomson Press, an India-based printer that did Roger Steenes Oceanic Wilderness, impressed me with their quality and they actually came out on top -- they were willing to work with us, and the price was reasonable.

What were the biggest challenges putting this together? One of the biggest was trying to organize the book. Writing chapter introductions was the most difficult biology is not my specialty. Roger Steenes Coral Seas was one of my big inspirations. His Oceanic Wilderness came out right when I was doing mine -- it was so eerily familiar, it made me a bit nervous.

Using the publishing software Adobe InDesign was another. Converting photos into print-ready images can make or break a photograph, so I didnt want someone with no vested interest doing it haphazardly. I had to do a lot of reading and research to learn the process from scratch, followed by a lot of experimentation. About 90 percent of the pictures werent a problem once I got the hang of it. The other 10 percent were a challenge and took a lot of time to get accurate. And its a tiring process physically. I have a full-time job so all the work was done on nights and weekends.

And how much did this cost you again? The whole project was around $28,000. Thats probably the norm. The big obstacle of self-publishing is putting the money up front. I pretty much wiped out my savings. I wasnt out there to make any money. Im starting with sending review copies to dive Web sites and magazines, so they hopefully do an article to let readers know. I havent thought much about getting into bookstores because this is such a specialty book, so were starting with the dive industry. If I make my money back, I may consider another book. But Ive already been approached by a couple of people about publishing their own books.

Whats your advice to divers who feel their photos are coffee-table worthy? I say go for it, but be prepared for the high financial investment and a tremendous investment in time, not only putting the book together, but also learning the entire process. If the motivation isnt there, then it wont happen or the quality of the finished product wont be up to par. Also, are you sure your photos are of high enough quality to show alongside the big boys? If not, your book wont be well-received. I know a lot of amateur photographers who have stunning work and they could potentially put something amazing together. Its a lot of work, but its not an impossible dream.

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