The perfect photo book - 9 steps to create an outstanding photo book
What is it that creates an amazing photobook? Images? Typography? Layout? Creativity? All these things play a part, but the most important thing is planning!
A well designed photobook will present the photographs beautifully without your viewers being confused or distracted by the design itself. A perfect design for one set of photographs might not be ideal for another, so there isn’t a single design that is right for every occasion. And thank heavens for that! Design is as individual as photography, but hopefully the following suggestions will have your photobook looking as stunning as your photographs.
Having worked in most areas of professional photography, educator and editor of Better Photography Magazine, Peter Eastway's passion is for landscapes. He first exhibited with the Cavé Group in 1979, but it is over the past ten years that he has been exhibited more regularly with his award-winning imagery.
In this article Peter shares his knowledge of photographic and photobook composition gathered over 30 years as a multi-award winning photographer and Grand Master of Photography, as well as his experience as a writer, magazine publisher, ex-accountant, surfer and all round good guy.
1. Design philosophy
The best place to start looking at photobook designs is in books, magazines and other photobooks. There are many different approaches and styles, from clean and simple, to ornate and flowery. You can see a range of styles in the Momento Gallery.
Take a second look at some of the designs you like. Analyse them more closely. How big are the photos? How many per page? Are there a lot of words? What size is the text? What style? How would you describe the layout?
Is it simple with just the important elements, or busy with lots of different things going on? And what is the cover like? Does it have a dust jacket, or is it a printed cover? Is the paper stock glossy or matte, and is it light or heavy?
When it comes to a photobook, most people prefer a simple design with high quality materials so they can concentrate on the photography.
How big should your photos be? Edge to edge can look great.
So can lots of creative white space; the choice is yours.
2. A tight edit
Once you can imagine a photobook with some of your photos in it, it’s time to work out which photos you will use. One of the worst things you can do is to include absolutely every photo you have in a photobook. People don’t want to wade through pages of repetitive snapshots, they want to be entertained and surprised.
This means you need to edit your photos to remove images that are poorly composed, out of focus or badly exposed. Generally you’ll also remove photos that are similar to others – don’t repeat yourself unless you’re showing a series of images.
A few varied photos will engage the viewer.
Too many similar photos can reduce their impact.
3. How many pages?
Once again, more pages don’t necessarily make a better photobook. A book with 20 pages of really good photos will look a lot better than a book with 40 pages that’s a mixture of good and average photos.
Once you’ve counted up your photos, you can quickly work out how many pages you’ll need, depending on how many photos per page you use. If you have 200 photos, then you will probably want several photos per page, but if you have just 20 photos, then you might have a single photo per page with a blank page opposite.
Your finished book should have just the right number of pages. You shouldn’t flip through and think that’s a lot of paper for very few photos, but nor should every square centimetre of paper be covered with a photo.
If you don't have many photos, one per page can look great.
With careful layouts, many per page can look just as good.
4. Big or small photos
So, how big do you make the photos on the page? Do you leave lots of white space around the photos (like photographers used to in photo albums), or do you push your photos right to the edge of the page (called ‘bleeding’ the photo off the page)?
Some photobooks work really well with a consistent size photo throughout, so every page has the same design and all that changes is the photograph and the caption. Other photo books work better with a combination of large and small photos, with ‘full bleed’ photos and others with a generous allowance of white space.
Momento’s photobook design software really excels here, with a range of strong, effective page layout templates. All you have to do is select what looks good and drop your photos into position.
You might also notice that Momento’s software will snap your photos into position as you drag them, so the edges are automatically aligned to an invisible grid. You can also add guides to ensure consistency across all pages. Professional book designers use this technique to give their pages a ‘similarity’ which in turn holds the book together from a design perspective.
Take a look back at the books and magazines you like and see if you can recognise a grid. You’ll find that all good books stick to a grid for 90% of their pages, with just a few that step outside the grid to add a little interest.
Page layouts can look awkward without a little attention.
Using guides ensures all the pages in the book work together.
5. Design elements
It can be tempting to add in lots of bells and whistles when designing your photobook. For instance, you can add photos or patterns to the background of each page; give your photographs fancy borders and edge effects; and add in embellishments such as graphics and decorations.
Sometimes these can look really great, but refer back to your original design philosophy. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!
Design elements should be kept simple and the same elements can be repeated throughout the photobook to give it a sense of continuity. For instance, if you decided on a thin black border around your photos, you would include it on all the photos rather than just some of them.
Design elements can also include overlapping your photos and while this can be an effective technique for an album or a scrapbook, if the aim of the exercise is to present your photographs in the best possible light, a different page design is often preferable to overlapping.
Simple design elements can add a dimension to your layouts.
Too much embellishment can distract from your photos.
6. How much text?
A photobook needs some text, even if it is just the title on the cover. However, your reader will get a lot more out of your photobook if he or she can put the photos into context.
Some photographers hope that their imagery is so strong that words are not needed, but the consensus is that captions and short stories accompanying the photos can transform a photobook into something really meaningful.
It’s one thing to look at a photo of a glacier and think it looks cool, another to read that the glacier is at the southern tip of South Georgia Island, tucked several kilometres up a narrow fiord. If you’re not a great writer, at least write 10 or 20 words that will put them into context.
A few words can add a lot of depth to an image.
But equally, you may feel your photos need little explanation.
7. Text styles
Once you’ve written the captions, where will you put them? Underneath the photo or on the page opposite? On top of the photo or in an index at the back of the book? How big will the text be, and what font will you use? Selecting the right font, size, weight (bold, light etc.) and colour is really important.
If the text is too large or too flowery, it can detract from the photographs it is describing. However, even small captions sensitively positioned can create a strong design element. Again, go back to the books and magazines that you like and see how they have treated their captions.
Caption your photos to suit their content.
Too much variation in text styles can be distracting.
As with your page designs, there is no right or wrong. Design your cover to match the content of your pages and set the tone for the story you wish to tell your viewers
Some designers start with the book cover and then follow through with the inside pages; others like to get a feeling for the content of the book before thinking about the cover. Both approaches work very well, but there is no doubting the importance of the cover.
So which photo do you put on the cover? The best photo, or a photo that best represents the contents of the book? Do you put a mosaic of photos on the cover, or no photo at all? Once you’ve decided on the photo, how big will it be? Full bleed (edge to edge), or small? Where will you place the book’s title, and how big will the text be?
The design should compliment the rest of the book and Momento has lots of options to choose from when it comes to cover materials, textures and options. Be prepared to spend a little extra time on the cover design because it is really very important. People do judge a book by its cover.
9. Break the rules
Designing a photobook is a lot of fun and for every design rule you’ve read in this article, there will be hundreds of books that have broken these rules brilliantly!
Momento’s software is an idea tool for designing your photobook. It has all the tools for sizing and positioning your photos, and then refining and embellishing the book. Best of all, you can see the design on your screen as you work.
Creating the perfect photobook is one of the most rewarding projects you’ll ever do, and Momento has all the tools and products to help.