On Making Your Own Photobook: What You Need to Know

Coffee table books, zines, photo books–whatever you want to call them, printing is obviously involved with the process of creating one. Photographers looking to have another way of showing off their portfolio rather than just showing off something on an iPad should truthfully consider the idea of looking at and presenting their projects in a photo book of some sort. This doesn’t mean that they need to be big, sprawling editions like the ones that you’re destined to see at a bookstore. Instead, they can be a bit more compact to fit onto a coffee table, in a messenger bag, or toted along for a trip to the beach. When you’re creating a photobook, you should really have these and a number of other things in mind.

When Should You Make a Photo Book?

Don’t get me wrong here, all photographers at one point in their career or not should make a photo book. But when? Well, here are some tips:

  • At the completion of a big photo project that you’ve been working on for a while
  • When you’ve got a very big portfolio of images. You can use them as mailers to send out to clients
  • When you’re looking to find a way to be more experimental with the images that you create
  • When you need money

To make them more valuable, you can also consider making them in only limited numbers.

Kickstarter? Or No?

If you’re considering a photo book and you’re of the more web savvy audience out there, then chances are that you’ve considered making a photo book by use of Kickstarter funds. Lots of photographers do it, we report on them often over at the Phoblographer. There are photographers who do Instant Film nudes and make a whole lot of money in the process of making the book. Then there are photographers who do things like documentary stories. Besides funding, Kickstarter has a few great tie-ins. For example, there’s the marketing involved. Companies often sit there scouring Kickstarter looking for ways to get money by building the marketing initiative of certain projects. Big blogs (my own included) also often look for these projects to report on. So if you’re looking to go big with your photo book, then try going for a Kickstarter. But in order to do that:

  • Consider the possibility of mass appeal
  • Get a gauge of the pricing you need
  • Consider setting the bar astronomically low. The reason why is because people are more likely to donate once they know that a project has been successfully funded.
  • Do a media outreach campaign
  • Post it to Reddit
  • Share it in Facebook groups
  • If you can find collaborators, ask them to help you promote it.

Choosing the Work to Be in Your Photo Book

Here’s where all of this starts to get pretty tricky. If you’re curating a project, it isn’t a good idea to put every single photo from the project in there. Why? Well, not every photo looks good in the space of a book. This is determined by a number of factors:

  • Colors: I’m going to get to this more later, but that is tied into the types of paper used
  • Vertical or Landscape: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not be that photographer that puts a photo across the layout so that it gets broken in half by a page fold/crease

And then there is the obvious stuff of curating a project. What I tell a lot of photographers is that you should look at the project and find photos that reach out to people emotionally. If it can make them react then they’re bound to sit there looking at the image and every little part of the photo. If someone is just thumbing through your work, then consider that to be death.

Layout 101

So if you’re not going to make photos go across the fold of your zine or book, then what do you do? Essentially, you’ll need to find ways to make them work on a single page. There are tons of layout options. You can put photos all by themselves or you can stack them next to other other. What I tell a lot of photographers to do though is to try to keep them as far away from the crease as you can. If you’re using a service like Blurb or Adobe’s options then they’ll give you warnings about this. Ensure that your images are also at a high DPI designed for printing. If they’re not, then lay those photos out smaller. The bigger and thicker your book is, the more you’ll need to work to keep those images away from the crease.

Oh, also don’t forget about text. Lots of photographers tend to opt out when it comes to text but as a neutral viewer, I can’t tell you how important it can be. Additionally, the placement of the text shouldn’t make the eye strain. So go a bit bigger with the font.

The Types of Paper

If you’re creating a photo book for the first time, consider the types of paper that you may want to work with. Some folks go for a luster type of paper with a bit of gloss, but consider the fact that if someone is viewing your book under a light source that the light is going to reflect off of the paper. That sometimes doesn’t do justice to the images. In my living room, I’ve got a number of zines and some of my favorites have matte pages or something with just a bit of gloss to them. Gloss can make colors look better, but it isn’t always the best viewing experience. So you’ll need to balance your needs here.

While this may seem like a null issue to some photographers, it’s a big one to others.