This blog post on photo books has been much anticipated ever since I shared my travel books over on Instagram.
(*NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. I receive a wee commission (at no extra cost to you!!) if you click through and decide to purchase a photo book of your own. Blurb did not ask me to write this, they aren’t paying me to write this, and I would have written it without the affiliate links because I’m so stoked on my books.)
I’d made photo books in the past, but I was never fully on board. Before my trip to New Zealand, though, I knew that I wanted to try something different: the largest photo book I could find, lots of pages, better layouts. (Turns out I hit the page limit, couldn’t bear to get rid of anything, and made two books instead.) The result was even better than I imagined it would be, and I’m already looking forward to the next book.
I’m a huge proponent of printing photos. I love being able to photograph digitally–makes my life so much easier–but digital files don’t come close to prints. There’s something magic about holding prints in your hands. They force you to slow down and appreciate the images one at a time, they trigger stronger memories, and they look so much better.
But what if you have, say, 1,000 photos? What if you have an entire year’s worth of photos that you want to print and don’t want boxes and boxes of 4×6’s all over the place? Photo books.
They sound daunting, but they’re actually pretty easy, and the payoff is HUGE. Here are some of my best tips for making them with Blurb:
For my travel books, most of the photos are taken on my DSLR. For yearbooks (more on them soon!), there are plenty of cell phone photos sprinkled throughout. My DSLRs are big and heavy, and it’s not often that I carry them around with me. But pretty much everyone has a smartphone with a camera, right? And the cameras are getting pretty good. Maybe not good enough for huge wall prints, but certainly good enough for photo books.
Keep a camera on you, even if it’s just your phone, and document what you’re doing! …And then put it away and live what you’re doing.
This is one of the best things I ever learned when it comes to making photo books and wedding albums.
It all starts with the photos.
All the design tips in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the right collection of photos to begin with. Think about a photo book with nothing but zoomed out landscape shots. Beautiful, yes, but not personal. Think about a photo book with nothing but close-up selfies. No sense of place, is there?
Photograph for the story. Take photos that are zoomed out, mid-way, and close-up. Document the landscape, the random details, the people. You want to take a collection of photos so that, together, they give a sense of the place and time, what it felt like to be there.
This can be one of the most time consuming parts, honestly, especially if you have multiple cameras. Phone photos? Either still on your phone or backed up to the cloud “somewhere.” DSLR? Memory cards, various folders here and there…
You need to get all of your photos into one place so that you can see what you’re working with. Create one folder, or a series of folders, where you can organize your photos. Find a system that works for you.
My travel photos end up in one folder per trip. Yearbook photos end up in a folder for that year with a sub-folder for each month.
The first thing to do is decide where you’re getting your book printed; that will determine which sizes are available to you. I personally use and recommend Blurb for my photo books.
(As an aside, and to be very clear: these are not what I use for my client’s wedding albums! Those are of superior quality and are printed through a lab that is only available for professional photographers. Blurb is a consumer access print lab, and I’ve been pretty happy with the quality!)
Blurb has their own design software that you can use for your book. I personally use the same software that I use for wedding albums because it’s much easier, but I’ve used the Blurb software in the past. It’s a wee bit clunkier than my design software, but it’s user friendly, free, and gets the job done!
When designing your book, think in “spreads,” not pages. A spread is a set of two pages facing one another when you open the book. On each spread, you want to aim for 1-5 photos. Try not to crowd them too much, or it’ll get overwhelming. Embrace the white space! Don’t let a busy spread distract from the photos themselves.
Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, and I break it sometimes. Usually when there are more details that I want to tie to a particular story.
Another thing you want to keep in mind is the center of the book. Unless you’re ordering a lay-flat book (much thicker pages, lay totally flat, more expensive, lower page limit), you want to avoid putting anything important right in the center of a spread. It’s going to disappear in the crease.
I display my photo books to keep them close to hand (as should you!), and personally, I like uniformity on my shelves. Blurb has a cover template generator that will give you dimensions for both Photoshop and InDesign if you input your book size–I used this to design a template that I can modify for all of my books.
If you use Blurb’s design software, the sizing is already done for you: your cover and book are designed in the same file.
My covers are fairly simple: large image on the front with the book’s title, and a plain white spine with the title again in black. I want these books to be on my shelves for years and years, and something minimal and neutral is going to look good for ages.
You absolutely don’t have to do what I do though; you can get as creative with this as you want!
Ordering with Blurb is super easy.
If you use their software for the design, you can order straight from there! If you use anything else (like me), you need to upload your design and cover as separate PDFs.
Once everything has finished uploading, you can preview your book to make sure everything looks good, click ‘order,’ and boom, you’re done.
And that’s really what we’re going for here: DONE.
Because “done is better than perfect.” The truth is, my photo books will never be “perfect,” but because I made a commitment to myself to get them done by the end of the year, they were printed and in my hands less than 2 months after we got back from New Zealand. My yearbooks are a work in progress, but I’m trying something new in 2020, and I’ll keep you updated!
MY BOOKS: CHEAT SHEET
Don’t worry, I’ve got you. If you’re staring down a massive folder of images, have no idea where to start, don’t have time to figure out new software, and just want your books, I have a special offer for you:
I’m not advertising this everywhere, but I can design your book for you. No, really. I’ll even order it so you don’t have to worry about files and making sure it all looks the way it’s supposed to. How cool is that…?
Here’s how it works:
If you’re interested or want to learn more, you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org