When venturing into new creative fields or trying to get better at something I have just done somehow (for better or worse) so far, I like to learn a little (more) about the techniques of the craft before I get started.

Thus, I own several books on photo book making, watched numerous video tips online, and learned a lot from that.

However, there is a point where you learn the most while actually doing it.

So, here are some quick tips to get you started!

Tip #1:
Less is More

Give pictures room! It seems obvious that cramped pages are no fun to look at and that if you put too many pictures on one (double) page they cannot be effective. But still people do it.

I’m certainly not 100% immune to this sometimes when I just don’t want to start another double page for one or two pics. But generally I try to keep an eye on this. I couldn’t even give a specific number of pictures per (double) page that should not be topped. It really depends on the pictures, the size of the photo book, and your layout.

With the first book I made, I tended to be a bit too economical and felt that it would get too many pages if I had too few pics per page.

With the 2014 book, I now fell in love with having only one page-filling picture on one page.

This was born from the realization that I had taken very few pictures in 2014 and that I needed to fill the pages somehow. But it turns out this can have really great effects.

Be daring and just go for it! Just make sure the resolution is good enough. Luckily, most photo book software has inbuilt warnings that tell you when the picture is too small for the size you’d like to give it.

Tip #2:
Create Your Own Backgrounds

The standard backgrounds that most photo book softwares have to offer can sometimes be nice, but mostly they are boring and don’t fit your pictures.

But this is no problem because you can easily make your own. There are numerous ways to create your own backgrounds:

a) Use Your Own Pictures

Why not use your own pictures as backgrounds? Maybe you have pictures of your events that would serve nicely as backgrounds. Maybe not for the whole project, but for single pages or a double-page layout.

Try to choose pictures that don’t have that much on them or blur the image and make it lighter or darker so it doesn’t distract from the images on top of it.

A very nice effect can also be to use a blurred version of the picture you’re going to have on that page as a background.

b) Specifically Take Pictures to Use as Backgrounds

If you know you’re going to be making a photo book while taking the pictures, why not take pictures specifically suited to be background images? A texture, a wider landscape shot, a flower, some detail, etc.

But make sure that there isn’t too much on this background picture to avoid a too busy layout that might distract from your actual image(s).

c) Create Custom Backgrounds with Picture Editing Software

Can’t find the exact background color you’d like? Wanna make your own background with shapes, stripes, etc.? Then use a picture editing program to create exactly the background you want.

You don’t necessarily need Photoshop. Many effects can already be achieved with free or relatively inexpensive programs.

Tip #3:
Tame the Abundance

Many people, when they start with photo books, have way too many photos piling up so that it feels like an insurmountable project. Don’t make the mistake to start at the beginning and try to catch up. As new pictures come in, you’ll get more and more frustrated and feel like you’d never get there.

Rather, start with a more recent project. How about the last year in a nutshell? The last vacation trip or day trip you went on? The last birthday party, holiday celebration, or wedding in your family…

Choose a limited time span to start out with. Then go from there.

Tip #4:
Prepare and Structure (A Little Bit)

In preparation, make sure to gather all the image stock that you have and to sort the pictures in a sensible way before you start.

Firstly, this will again help you not to get overwhelmed, aid you in making a choice what to choose, and in addition make thinking up a layout a lot easier.

I like to sort my pictures by events and create a separate folder for each event. To keep them in chronological order, I use the reversed date as a foldername, e.g. “2015-05-25” followed by what the event was. That way, the computer will automatically sort by year, month, and day.

If you want to make sure you have all the important events covered, have a look at your calendar and make a list.

If you want to include comments but know you won’t get to creating your book for a while, make sure to take some notes either in a file in this same folder or in an own photo book journal so you have them at hand when you get started. You don’t have to write a novel. A few key words should be enough.

If you really have a lot of pictures for one event or topic, it can be helpful to go through them once before you start and move the ones you’re definitely not going to be using to another folder for the time being.

But also keep backgrounds in mind! Blurred shots or ones not so interesting on their own might still make good backgrounds.

Many experts advise to create storyboards for your photo books on paper to plan. If this helps you, go for it! It is more effort, but it can be helpful if you’re really unsure; and it will for sure produce a more uniform layout, if that’s what you’re going for.

Personally, though, I find that the software has become so good that this step is no longer necessary. You can draft your layout with digital placeholders or just drag the images you want on the page and then move them around until you’re satisfied.

Tip #5:
Make a Hammer First Page(s)

Due to the binding process, the first page is always a single page on the right side while the left side must remain empty.

Make use of this prominent space and add a little teaser. Like a little index, you could include a short text or quote that summarizes the year, trip, event … for you. For illustration, you could add a few pictures with landmark events.

If you do a photo book about a specific place that you went to, it might also be nice to give a little bit of information about this place. Include a map and text that you find about the place or write your own.

Tip #6:
Include Text, and Have It Be Part of Your Layout

Next to the pictures, it is nice to have some text as a little extra. Make (funny) comments on the things that can be seen on the pictures, add the names of people you met that you’d like to remember, give the names of places that you visited and the date…

But please don’t just throw text in there somewhere!

I like looking at “Customer Examples” that the photo book companies allow their user to put up on their webpages and I’m sometimes amazed at how people put so much time and effort into taking the most beautiful pictures and putting them in a beautiful layout and then just sloppily drop some text snippets in there that destroy the entire layout.

Instead, make the text part of your layout to integrate it smoothly.

Tip #7:
Get Some Inspiration

Get inspired! Leave through magazines or google words like “layout,” “magazine design,” etc. and see how the pros do it. As mentioned before, many photo book companies allow customers to upload their photo books as inspiration and/or offer own tutorials and tips. Have a look.

Try things out. It’s just for your own eyes (and maybe that of family and friends), so nothing wrong with “borrowing” some layout ideas. 😉 You’ll find that you’ll soon get away from the inspiration and make your own customized layout out of it.

My tip: Create a portfolio with magazine pages and ideas from the web that you like (after a while maybe even with some of your own pages that came out particularly well!). Have that portfolio at hand when you sit down to create your photo book so you can have a look when you get stuck.

Tip #8:
Tell a Story

In a good, interesting-to-look-at photo book you’re not simply stringing pictures together, no matter how good the pictures are, you’re telling a story. The story of a year, of a trip, etc.

Ever since I started making photo books, I take pictures differently. I don’t just look for THE picture but also for shots that could make a good background. I also take pictures of things that I’d usually not have photographed because they aren’t really special but that help me to tell my story: The rented car that took you to the hotel, the new shoes that you bought on your trip, the attractively presented meal you had in a good restaurant … This is about telling your story and to jog your memory later.

Tip #9:
Make Sure You Have Enough Pages

There is nothing to say against little books that just evoke memories of an event. But if you want something to really sit down with and look at, make sure there is enough to actually look at.

In my 2014 book, I made the mistake to only use few pictures for a number of events that I did have more of so it would fit on one or two pages. I thought for a year in a nutshell that would be enough.

However, holding the book in hand now, I find that it takes me way too little time to look through it. Make sure you have plenty to look at. It’s like an appetizer that makes you want more but there isn’t anything else you could sink your teeth in.

It’s not only pictures of special events that make the year in a nutshell book interesting, but also the little things that happened in between. Again, this is telling the story of your year—and that certainly didn’t only consist of a few special events.

Tip #10:
Go for Variety

Everybody will have their favorite photo book software and default size that they prefer to use. But don’t stick with the first best thing. Try out different formats, different sizes, different layout styles, different softwares, different covers… Stay creative.

And Now Just Go For It!

Why not start right now? Choose a trip, topic, year etc. that you’d like to get out of your computer and onto some nice, professionally printed pages and get started …