27 July 2014

Photography + Memory (Part 3) : Making A Great Photo Book

As mentioned in my last post I've made a Blurb photo book for the husband every xmas since 2007. I was so proud of my early attempts but now when I look back at them I do cringe a little - I made some pretty poor choices when it came to design, layout and photo quality. I've learnt a lot since then and I think each book is better than the last. 

(Although I do kinda think I may have peaked in 2012, a year in which we travelled a lot. The book was titled 'Home and Away', and I used a retro departure / arrivals board type of font called Flipboard throughout. The captions were made to look like flight information displays - a page of photos of Ferdi refusing to get out of bed was captioned 'ZZ101  Ferdi sleeps in  20:12  Delayed'; our trip to the US which kicked off in San Fran was captioned 'OZ214  San Francisco  12:01  Go To Gate' (OZ214 was our actual flight number and 12:01 represent January 2012). And so on. Clever, yes?)

Anyway. Here's what I've figured out:

Less is more. This is true in so many ways. Firstly, edit your photo selection and then edit it again (kind of like packing a suitcase). You want the best images, the ones that are most fit for purpose - just a few duds in the mix can bring your whole book down. Next, keep your page layouts clean and simple. And only use a few different page layouts across your entire book. Three at the most, I think. And the same goes for fonts too.

Negative is Positive. Don't be afraid of negative space. Don't feel the need to cram eight photos on every page, or use a heap of full page bleeds. Embrace that blank space, that emptiness will help each of your beautiful images tell the story they're meant to. 

The page from my 2007 book below is, frankly, terrible. The photos are too tiny and too dark, and the layout is far too busy. The story, the images, get lost in the messiness of it all. The 2009 page is a little better - at least the photos take centre stage here. But mainly I included this page because LOOK! There's Elfi in a life jacket! 

Tell a story. Before I sit down to make each book, I run through the year and jot down the big events for each month. Then I try to find a common thread across those events or pick out one really important / life-changing thing and use that as the theme for the book

Last year we moved from Seoul to Sydney (kind of a big deal...) so the book was called 'Hello Sydney'. I continued the theme through some of the captions - images taken during our Europe trip were introduced with 'Hello Venice', 'Hello Istanbul', and so on. The 2012 'Home and Away' book I've described above is another example of how a theme helps tie a book together. 

The same idea could apply to any kind of photo book - it might be about a specific trip or special birthday - whatever it is, try and find that hook, that thread running through things. Trying to find the theme and having fun with it is definitely one of my favourite things about putting the book together each year. 

Set the scene. Not every photo has to have someone's smiling face in it. This is about memory, right? So include some shots that trigger the memory of whatever it is you're trying to capture. Was it the smell of espresso at a coffee bar in Napoli? Then include that shot of the espresso machine. Was it the non-stop rain during your Hong Kong stopover? Then include that shot of all the umbrellas, dripping wet. It might be a shot of your feet, the landscape, the furniture, some balloons, a meal, a posy, a random goat (Italy, July 2013) - whatever it is that reminds you of that place, that time

Vary your shots. Include a mix of gorgeous close ups, zoomed right in, and big picture, scene setting shots. Mixing things up will help you set the scene. (Also, see this great post from Fat Mum Slim over on Kidspot about how to tell a story in photos.) 

I really love the page below from our 2012 book. It's a reminder of one of the loveliest afternoons we've had in recent times - a really amazing family meal at Pilu at Freshwater on a gorgeous Sydney winter's day. Note the simple, clean layout and the mix of shots I've used to capture the mood.

Light and bright. I always, always find that my photos print out a little darker than how they appear on my computer screen. You don't want to overexpose your shots, but don't be too stingy with the brightening when you're editing and be very wary of including any that are on the dark side. Be aware that when you're viewing your photos on a screen against a black background they will look much lighter than when they're actually printed on a page with a white background. 

High resolution. I'm very bad with pixels per inch and dpis and all those technical terms, they make my head spin a bit. But I do know that low resolution images might look okay on your phone screen but they're probably not going to cut it on the printed page. A good quick check is to zoom in on your image a little, if things start looking blurry straightaway chances are you're dealing with a low res image that may not survive the printing process. Some book producing software will also give you a warning if your image is too small for what you're trying to do.

Basically you don't want to spend your time and money on a photo book full of vague, blurry images. So, use the best camera you can get your hands on and be mindful of image size when you're shooting, editing and exporting. A few years ago I would have said don't use camera phone shots, but the technology has come a long way very quickly - you can pretty much get away with it these days.

See how light and bright the page below is, from my most recent book? See how large the photos are? How there's a scene setting shot and a close up? How it captures the city (Istanbul) and the thoughtful repose of my (stylish) teenage stepson? Such a difference to that awful layout from 2007, yes?

And lastly? Have fun! I include all kinds of silly jokes in my books - captions about places we've been that only make sense to us, turns of phrase that have become part of the family lingo for the year - all the little stuff that glues us together. In the page above the caption says 'Hello Istanbul - We will eat all your things'. I poke a lot of fun at myself along the way too. It amuses me greatly and, occasionally, I'll even get a laugh out of the rest of the family. I have so much fun putting these books together, it's almost unhealthy...

Have you made a photo book? Do you have any tips you'd like to share? Or do you have any questions for me about making photo books? Ask away!

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