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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

Weíre 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. Thatís 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 canít you? We interviewed Kovacs to see how he created Magic. Weíre 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: Iím sure thereís vanity there but isnít every coffee- table photo book a vanity piece in some respect? I felt my photos were as good as many others. Iíve placed in photo competitions so Iíve 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.

Whatís 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 thatís what Iíve stuck with. I never took a class, just studied other peopleís 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, ďYou should do a book.Ē I laughed and said, ďYouíre crazy.Ē She asked, ďWhy not? Youíve always said itís not that difficult to do a book of pictures.Ē 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 didnít even consider trying to get liveaboard discounts or free camera gear while I was working on the book. As a no-name, I probably wouldnít be too successful. There really wasnít a specific method of choosing photos; I chose pictures that I liked and thought were solid. Iím 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. Itís 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 didnít want someone else to have artistic control -- I wanted this to be my vision of what my photographs project, not someone elseís. 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. Thatís because some printers donít want to work with small companies or self-publishers. Thomson Press, an India-based printer that did Roger Steeneís 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 Ė biology is not my specialty. Roger Steeneís 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 didnít 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 werenít 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 itís 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. Thatís probably the norm. The big obstacle of self-publishing is putting the money up front. I pretty much wiped out my savings. I wasnít out there to make any money. Iím starting with sending review copies to dive Web sites and magazines, so they hopefully do an article to let readers know. I havenít thought much about getting into bookstores because this is such a specialty book, so weíre starting with the dive industry. If I make my money back, I may consider another book. But Iíve already been approached by a couple of people about publishing their own books.

Whatís 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 isnít there, then it wonít happen or the quality of the finished product wonít 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 wonít be well-received. I know a lot of amateur photographers who have stunning work and they could potentially put something amazing together. Itís a lot of work, but itís not an impossible dream.

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