Photo Book Essay Contest

Ten Considerations when Making a Photo Book

By Larry Cowles FPSA GMPSA


Thinking of making your own photo book?  If this is your first go at publishing a book, you have a lot to think about.  These 10 considerations are to help you get started on the right path and hopefully make fewer mistakes and take some of the trial and error out of the process.

1 - What is the idea for your book?

Do you have a theme in mind for your book?  Is it a travel log of your last great adventure, documentation of some local event or a collection of photos you like to take?  Before you even start any of the work to layout your book, be clear on what the book will be about.  Don’t make the subject too broad such as your favorite photographs of your trip to all 50 states.  The book will be more interesting and more practical to produce when the subject matter is limited.

2 - What type of book do you want to make?

Today book makers offer many options in the type of book you can produce.  Do you want it to be hard or soft bound?  Leather Cover?  How many pages?  What type of paper, glossy, matte or luster?  Many of your choices will determine the cost of your book.

3 - Pick a publisher

If you haven’t had a book made before, this can be the hardest part.  There are many vendors such as Blurb, My Publisher, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Picaboo, Adorama, and even Costco and Wal-Mart.  To help you choose, I have found a couple of websites that have evaluated many of the publishers and published their results. evaluates 10 publishers and rates them as to ease of use, cost, options etc. reviews 12 publishers in a more detailed fashion with their own experience with each.  After you decide on several that look good, go to their website and see if it feels comfortable and easy to understand.  Download the photobook layout software or review their on-line bookmaking program to make sure you can use it and understand how to upload images, add words and move things around.  Some provide templates where you just drop in you images and words.  Does their template fit in with the type of book you are going to make?  What size and type of image do they require?

4 - Plan Ahead

Your life will be so much easier if you plan ahead.  Think out your book and collect all the images and decide on captions and any text that will be part of the book.  Having all of this organized and knowing what order will save you many hours as you put the book together.  Some of the vendor software requires you to upload all the images at the start of the process

5 - Image selection

As you go through all your images, be tuff and decide which ones tell the story.  Don’t just pick your very best award winning images.  In some cases lesser images can help tell the story or add information.  A close-up of items might add to a much larger picture.

6 - Image Order

Layout your pictures in the format of the book.  A spread is when you are looking at the two pages that will be side by side.  Does it make sense that these two pictures will go together when next to each other.  Do you want one picture per page or several?  Maybe you want one main picture with a couple of smaller ones to help tell your story.  Do all the images flow together as you go from page to page?

7 - Layout

There are many small details that come under the heading of Layout.  When we look at the spread (looking down on the book with both pages visible) do you want full bleed?  Full bleed is when the images fill the entire page to the edges with no margin.  Do you want a margin?  What size margin do you want?  Some publishers don’t give you choices, others let you decide.  It might be good to take a piece of paper the size of the page and put a picture where you think it should go and determine your margins.  You can order books that will lay flat as you view them or books that have pages the curve from the binding.  You will need to take this curved area into consideration so you don’t lose part of your image in the binding.  What color margins do you want?  Do you want your pictures on white of black?

8 - All Photos or include text?

If your book is mainly a photo book you might consider having captions that tell the name of the image or briefly something about the image.  If you feel this would distract from the viewing of the image you might have a listing in the back of the book that list each page number or picture number and give the name or other information.  This lets the viewer enjoy the image and if they want to know more, the can refer to the picture list page.  Even with picture books, one page is usually devoted to telling something about why the book was made or sets the mood for viewing.  If your book will have a lot of text and stories do you want the text on the same page as the images?  Many book makers put the images on one page of the spread with the text on the other.

9 - Cover Shot

The image you choose for the cover should be a picture that draws you into the book wanting more.  It should also be representative of what the book is about.  A viewer can become disappointed if they see an image on the cover that draws them in but nothing else in the book is related.  The cover image should have an area where the title can be printed but not cover up any important parts or have a lot of distracting element behind the print.

10 - Proofread

Sure, we know you are going to review your text and look for mistakes and even run spell checker.  Let someone else review your book before you click send.  They me see something you missed.  They me also see something in the flow of images or placement of text.