One of the biggest downsides to shooting digital photographs is that most people will only see them as a small thumbnail on a smartphone. Maybe they’ll look on a laptop if you’re lucky. Even if you print a few of your favorite shots out and hang them in your home, your guests will only get to see a handful of your best images. In a recent video, though, Adam Karnacz from First Man Photography has a better suggestion: make your own photobook.
You can check out the video above. Karnacz has just self-published Illumination, his first commercial photobook, so the lessons he’s learned are obviously quite fresh in his mind.
A photobook might sound like a strange choice, but it’s actually one of the best ways to showcase your work. With a photobook, you’re able to show off your full portfolio and range. I know I’ve got a lot of sports shots that I’d never really hang on my wall, but would happily dedicated a few pages to in a book.
Also, as Karnacz explains, you have the opportunity to provide additional context by writing introductions to each photo or chapter. If you have a philosophy behind your work, it’s an easy way to lay it out. Unlike large prints, photobooks are easily portable and packable. This makes them perfect for selling commercially—or gifting to your family and friends.
Getting into the layout
Karnacz is pretty clear from the start that self-publishing a photobook is hard work. And you will almost certainly be self-publishing it, unless you’re already a well established fine art photographer. (In which case, go you!)
While you can, of course, pay someone to layout and design your photobook, you’ll have more creative control doing it yourself—and it will save you a lot of money.
Karnacz started off using Apple Pages but had to port everything to Adobe InDesign in the end to work with his printers. Although he doesn’t mention it, you can create a photobook directly from Adobe Lightroom, though having played around with it, I’d still echo that InDesign recommendation.
Ordering your photobook
Once your layout is done, only the big—and expensive—decisions around printing are left. There’s no perfect option for everyone, so you’ll have to make your own choices as to whether you want to go with a print-on-demand service like Blurb, which have high unit costs but allow for incredibly small runs, or find a local or national printer, which will give you better per-unit economics and the option for better a higher quality book, but require significantly more investment up front. You’ll also have to decide what kind of covers, bindings, papers, finishes, and the like you want—all of which can add to the cost of each book.
Since he was planning to sell his book, Karnacz went with a local craft printer, ExWhyZed, for more creative control. While he’s cagey on the specific numbers, he says he ordered an initial run of five times as many books as he got pre-orders. If you’re planning to sell your photobook, that might be a good first printing to start with too.
On the other hand, if, like me, you’re just planning to gift yours to friends, you probably don’t want boxes and boxes of books around your house.