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A case study in picture finishing

April 20, 2020

Case study in picture finishing

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we finalize Steam Encounters at Montreal for the printer. Given the time and effort several people are investing in preparing the photographs for publication, I thought you’d enjoy a brief overview of the process.

CPR 4-6-2 2580 at St. Johns, Quebec

For purposes of this example, I’ve selected a picture of CPR G2 Pacific 2580 at St. John’s, Quebec on Sunday, September 30, 1956. This view will appear on page 22 of Steam Encounters at Montreal.

Evolution of picture finishing for the printing press

We begin with the raw scan of a Jim Guerin 35mm slide, as processed by my sons Spencer and Duncan:

The next step is for me to crop the image according to the space it will take up in the book layout (this is an iterative process, whereby I compose the narrative and size the pictures as I go—unlike the usual practice of book authors and book designers being two different people):

At this stage of the game, I send the cropped file to Tereza, my graphics design artist (she produced the cover blocks for the Speed Graphics series and now the CPR faux-tender plate for the Montreal book). Here is what the file looks like after Tereza is finished with it:


Finally, we hand Tereza’s rendition over to Jim Brown. As you know, Jim is a longtime contributor to my books and a steam railway photographer. Jim has a practiced eye for emphasizing certain aspects of a train picture. Here is the image after Jim has released it back to me:

And, by way of a preview so you can understand the context of this particular picture, here it is in the book layout for page 26:

Final thoughts on the process

We’re dealing with TINY images here—35 mm slides which, as you know, are miniscule compared with most black & white negatives from the steam era. These are blown up by several orders of magnitude for the printed page (which, arguably, they were never intended for).

Another key point is the wealth of talent that is dedicated to producing the best possible book for your money. This began with Jim Guerin’s careful storage of his 1950s-era slides, to ensure minimal fading and colour-shifting. Then professional-quality scanning in-house under the author’s supervision. Over to Tereza, who does wonders with making black steam locomotives truly look black—not an easy feat with old colour slides (not to mention that she does a lot of reconstructive work to these files). Finally, Jim and his railway photographer’s eye, instinctively working with the tones and identifying natural focus points of the pictures for your enjoyment.

We’re in the home stretch with Steam Encounters at Montreal and appreciate all your support (especially the hundreds of you who pre-ordered!). For more information on this upcoming publication, please visit:


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