WEEKEND ASSIGNMENT: How to Create a Photobook From Scratch

By Geoff Harris

A truly exciting aspect of digital photography is the ease with which high-quality, full-colour printed photobooks can be created. There's something very satisfying about flicking through a publication with your own photos glowing on the pages. There are a large number of online companies that now offer the facility from specialists, such as Lulu and Blurb, to high-street supermarkets. Fortunately, you don't have to be a whizz at design either. Most online photobook providers offer easy-to-use templates into which you can slot your digital photos. If you've a hankering to create a photobook read on...

Dry-stone wall running along the summit of Wideopen Hill in the Scottish Borders. The path is part of the route of the St. Cuthbert's Way long distance trail, How to Create a Photobook, how to make a photobook, Photobook,

Pick a definite theme for your photobook. This image was one I shot for a photobook about the St. Cuthbert's Way, a long-distance walk in the Scottish Borders and Northumberland.

What's it about?

The first thing to decide is the subject of the photobook. Themed photobooks generally work best. A random collection of photos can be off-putting to read. Themes can be as tightly focused as a record of a wedding day or be a collection of more general (if still related) images: the landscapes of a favourite area say. If you plan to have a large number of pages in your photobook it's worth thinking about splitting your images into cohesive chapters. A book of wedding photos could be split into separate chapters about the preparation, the service and the reception afterwards etc. A book of landscapes could be split into chapters about the different seasons or into specific areas within the geographical range that you're covering.

Looking at the great pyramid on the Giza plateau near Cairo in Egypt, How to Create a Photobook, how to make a photobook, Photobook,

Themes can be quirky. This was an image I used in a photobook called 'Down the Nile with a Plastic Camera'.

What goes in?

You should only ever include your very best photos. If you have any doubts about the merits of an image, whether technical or aesthetic, leave it out of the selection. When you've made your choice of images it's worth leaving it for a day or two before having another look. You often see things differently after waiting and are more objective about the choices you've made. Try and aim for variety. You don't want a photobook full of visually similar images. Think about the mix of vertical to horizontal shots. The shape of your photobook will determine which of the two fills the page, but there's nothing wrong with leaving white space around an image – this makes a good visual contrast with images that fill the page entirely.

chapters, How to Create a Photobook, how to make a photobook, Photobook,

Breaking your photobook into distinct chapter will help readability.

What goes where?

The order you put your images is in important. You're telling a story in pictures, the order your images are in defines that story. Photobooks about events such as weddings are easier to put together as the day itself determines the narrative (though you don't necessarily have to put images in strict chronological order). More general photobooks are harder to arrange. For this reason it's worth thinking about which images work naturally together and which don't. This could be because of subject matter or even the dominant colours in the image.

lion, How to Create a Photobook, how to make a photobook, Photobook,

This is work in progress – a book about representations of lions in public places. I'm still shooting images for it. Photobooks can become satisfying long-term projects.

Should there be text?

Captions will help to give your captions context. However, your captions need to be accurate, reasonably concise and spelled correctly. It's always worth asking a friend to read through your captions. A second pair of eyes can often spot mistakes that you didn't notice.

cover.indd, How to Create a Photobook, how to make a photobook, Photobook,

The cover of your book should be striking but relevant.

Is there anything else?

Yes there is. A book has a cover. The simplest covers are plain cloth. However, as you're producing a photobook you'll probably want a full-colour cover. This means choosing an image that will represent all the others in the book. Choose wisely! Again it's worth making your choice and then leaving it for a while. If you still feel the same way about the cover then you've made the right choice.

The actual specifics of making a photobook will depend on the company you choose to do the printing. However, the hard part is all in the preparation. Once you've worked your way through the points above you'll probably find the technical side relatively painless.

Your weekend assignment this week is to choose a range of images that could be used to create a strong, themed photobook. You can either look through your collection or decide on a project and begin shooting images to fulfil your brief. If you're feeling particularly motivated (and have the images) consider creating a photobook and placing an order.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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