Zoo Scientists to the Rescue: From the Cutting Room Floor

By Senior Production Designer Erica Johnson

Photographer Annie Crawley, senior graphic designer Emily Harris, and I had a great time putting together Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, a nonfiction book for middle-grade readers that Annie created with author Patricia Newman. Zoo Scientists highlights three scientists who are working to save endangered species. You can learn more about the title on Lerner’s website.

Here we discuss the process of laying out the book–and which images had to be cut.

Taking the photos

Annie: As a photographer and filmmaker, I grew up knowing the value of an image. You have probably heard the saying A picture is worth a thousand words. Images, used correctly, are tools of engagement, connecting the reader visually to the story.

I traveled with writer Patricia Newman to interview/photograph the zoo scientists at their respective zoos before the book was written. I needed to capture images for whatever direction the story unfolded. Featuring three scientists and three charismatic animals meant a lot of time behind the lens. I created thousands of images during our time with the scientists, which equates to just as much time editing on a computer.

In addition to the images, I also shot video as I knew we would want to create a trailer for our book as well as a few behind the scenes pieces with the different scientists. You can find those on my YouTube station.

Annie Crawley, photographer for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue

Choosing the photos

The perfect orangutan

ERICA: At Lerner, production designers help choose the photos published in our books. We look for the best photo with the right content and look. We review a wide selection of photos, but ultimately many images are left on the cutting room floor.

For Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, Annie submitted over 3,000 photos, but we were able to publish just 39 of her photos in the book. Here are some examples of images from Annie that I loved, but that didn’t make the final cut.

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue photo

The book’s graphic designer liked the visual appeal and colors of this orangutan image. She used it in the design template spread (below). This image and design are what I used to select the rest of the photos.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make this photo work in the final version. Instead we chose to feature images with an animal’s full body visible for each chapter opener.

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue spread

ANNIE: Getting the orangutan images was challenging. When we interviewed Meredith Bastian at the National Zoo it was a rainy, cold weekend and the animals were inside their enclosures.

The next year, I visited four different zoos, including one in Melbourne, Australia, to photograph orangutans. This picture was from the Woodland Park Zoo, my local zoo in Seattle, and I would have loved for it to be chosen, but understand why the design team wanted to feature the entire animal’s body.

Giraffes vs. lion

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue spread

ERICA: I selected this image as the opening photo for the introduction. I liked that it showed a variety of animals in a natural zoo environment. I also needed a large horizontal image to fit the full-page design.

We ultimately chose a close-up image of Xerxes the lion at Woodland Park Zoo (below), because the text didn’t mention giraffes, zebras, or gazelle, but it did describe roaring African lions. Plus, lions are an animal with lots of kid appeal.

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue spread

ANNIE: I love the opening text: “Inside the zoo, the wild, the rare, and the exotic await.” Most people do not get to visit the savannas of Africa or the jungles in Malaysia, but they do get to visit the lions and tigers at their favorite zoo.

Because Patricia mentions these in her opening text, I spent a week at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. I talked to the zookeepers to find out best time of day to capture them active (lions sleep a lot), and I discovered many tricks and tips to photograph my favorite animals at the zoo.

Orangutan eating habits

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue photo

ERICA: The first chapter describes Meredith Bastian’s research on wild orangutans and how it helped zoos learn proper diet and exercise for orangutans. This photo shows the right content with a baby and an adult orangutan eating. I also liked that it showed animals in a man-made enclosure. The focus of the book is on zoos, and I wanted to make sure that enclosure element was present.

In review, Patricia wanted to focus on how delicately these animals eat, so we switched to the close-up image below.

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue photo

ANNIE: I’m in love with mamas and babies, so I loved a sequence I submitted with this mama and baby orangutan from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. I agreed with Erica on her choice of the mother and baby eating.

Layout review

ANNIE: During layout review, Patricia and I worked together and even suggested more images to fill some spots we believed needed more visuals. It is a team effort when creating a book and we have a great team and value everyone’s thoughts.

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue photo

ERICA: Part of the selection process is ensuring variety in content and composition. Too many photos from the same perspective can make a layout feel repetitive and boring.

This close-up image (above) caught my eye as a way to break up the repetition of scientist/animal/environment. It brought focus to the science at work in the text. It also shows the depth of imagery that Annie shot for this book. There are numerous photos of field notebooks, zoo signage, and laboratory equipment.

ANNIE: When shooting, I always pay attention to detail. If you look at any collection of images, whether it is in this book or your favorite magazine, there are wide shots, medium shots, and close-up shots. When you combine these together, they tell a visual story.

For each location and each scientist, I had to make sure I captured the overall story as well as the details not knowing which shots would be chosen by the design team.

Wrapping it up

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue photo

ERICA: The final chapter is a history of zoos and conservation. It made sense to open with a general image of zoo staff or visitors. The first version of the layout used the image above. However, it fell immediately after a rhino-focused chapter and didn’t feel like the right image to signal the change in subject.

I knew the historic image on the next page was striking (below), and I wanted to find a good companion photo for it.

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue photo

Here’s the final image:

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue photo

I like the similarities and contrasts of these two images: modern conservation vs. historic entertainment; wide, natural setting vs. small, man-made enclosures; and the perspective of which side is “caged” in each image. It shows the ongoing fascination people have with wild animals as well as the need for conservation science at zoos.

ANNIE: Zoos have come a long way–from caging animals to extraordinary facilities filled with cutting-edge science to help protect animals in the wild. I believe Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire every reader to lend their voice to help endangered species and protect our world.

I also hope that all of our readers will support their local zoos and find out more about the work zoo scientists are doing in their community. We all need to be the voice for animals and our environment!

Visit Annie Crawley’s YouTube playlist to view the book trailer and behind-the-scenes videos from the zoos featured in this book. To look inside the book, visit Lerner’s website.

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