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Photography

How to Edit, Sequence and Assemble Pictures for a Photo Book

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Photo Editing and Visual Sequencing.
Diptychs and Triptychs: Playing with Photo Stories and Unexpected Combinations
How to Create an On-Demand Photo Book in Adobe Lightroom
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Creating a good photo book takes some planning but with a few strategies you can craft a book that takes a reader on an engaging journey. In this tutorial you will create a mock-up of a photo book using your own images. It will cover the step-by-step process of editing, sequencing, and constructing a mock-up using a set of work prints.

1. Make a Large Pool of Images

Choosing a group or pool of photos for a book is the place to start. We're looking for possibilities at this stage, so don't be too critical of your images while you are looking through them. Keep your selection wide and include anything that you think might have some potential.

Photos with a cohesive theme make good candidates for a book project. Examples of cohesive themes include landscape photography of a specific area, street photography of a specific city, or a set of portraits of interconnected people.

After you’ve gathered your pool of photographs you want to quickly look through them and remove any images that will not look good in print such as out of focus or overexposed images. Now that we've assembled all the pictures we might possibly use it's time to have some fun with them.

2. Make Your Work Prints

After you have a pool of images to work from the next step is to create low-cost work prints to be edited, annotated, and arranged. I like to take a USB jump drive to a local print shop and print out the images with a copy machine on regular copy paper. The images will be low in quality but they will show the content and composition of the photos which will guide the editing and sequencing of the book.

To make a file that I can take to my print shop, I create a PDF file in Adobe Lightroom where my photos are stored.

  1. In the Library module, select the images you wish to use.
  2. Navigate to the Print Module.
  3. In the lower left hand corner, click on Page Setup.
  4. In the Page Setup dialog box, choose Adobe PDF as the Printer.
  5. Select Letter (or A4, depending on where you are) for the Paper size and Landscape in the orientation.
Defining page size in Adobe Lightroom

Now that your page size is defined, we will set up how images are display on the page.

  1. Select Single Image from the Layout tab.
  2. Uncheck all the options in the  Image settings tab.
  3. Set the margins on the top and bottom to 0.5 inch (2.5 cm)and the top and bottom margins to 1 inch (1.25 cm).
  4. In the Print Job, tab to 150 ppi.
  5. Click Print and choose a spot to save the file.
  6. Load the file onto a jump drive and bring it to a print shop to print out work copies of your photographs.
Adjusting the page layout in Adobe Lightroom

3. Choose a Layout for Your Book

There are two conventional photo book layouts. The first uses the area on the page spread for a single image. The second displays two images per spread, one on each page. If there is one image on the right-hand page but not the left, the title information can go on the left page so the text does not compete with the image. If there is one image per page, the title information can go below the photograph or in a list at the end of the book. There are many other ways images can be presented in a book but these two simple layouts create the most clear and concise books.

A comparison of two book layouts
These two examples of photo book layouts are found in many well known books and offer simplicity while leaving room for creativity in sequencing and editing.

4. Edit and Sequence the Images

Grouping Images

The first step in organizing images for a book is to organize the photos into groups. These groups should consist of similar content because it will make it easier to choose the best ones for the book and it will help ensure you don’t miss including an important subject. This is similar to the first step of collecting your pool of images for the book, only now we’re really paring things down into smaller groups to aid in the flow of the book. So, for example, if you’re doing a book on portraits you might group by the age of the sitter, the gender of the sitter, families, time of day of the shot, and so on.

Images grouped by location
My book is about the landscape of the Sierras so here I have groups based on some of the locations that I photographed.

Pairing Images

When someone looks at a book, they are presented with two pages in a spread. Images across a page spread need to pair well to keep the viewer engaged and keep the flow of the book moving. I like to pair images based on their formal qualities, like the arrangement of elements in the frame or how the images look together.

Two images paired for a page spread
This image pair works well because the photographs are taken in similar landscapes and the light and dark tones work to balance each. The shapes made by the horizon on the left help to move the viewer's eye into the cloud formations in the image on the right.

Work through your pool of images looking for photos that pair well. If you are using a layout that uses one image per spread, you can skip pairing images and move on to culling and sequencing.

Culling Images

As you work through grouping and pairing your images, you will find some that just don’t fit. They may be repetitive or too similar. Or they could be too different from your other images and not fit visually based on their content. Having to remove images is a good thing because it will make your book stronger when everything remains cohesive after careful scrutiny. If you had 1,000 photos, it would be too large of a book to ask someone to look through. However, if you cut that down 100 images by culling the best ones the reader will have a much better experience.

Removing an image
I am removing this image of the pine trees because it lacks the interesting foreground that the other two images have.

Use Placeholder Images

As you work through your book, you may find an image that is close but does not quite fit. When this happens, you can use the initial image to hold a place for a similar photo that fits better. I like to note these placeholder images by drawing a box and cross through them. This way I know that I need to go out and create a photo that will fit that spot but for the time being I can continue working on editing and sequencing my book.

Marking an image as a place holder
I marked the right image to be a placeholder that will hold the spot until I go out and get a photo that will fit better.

Sequencing Images

The order in which photos are presented in a book affects how the images and content are perceived. Just like a film, a book has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We want to look through our paired images and try to sort out what would make the most enticing beginning and most striking ending. I like to lay my work prints out in a single line while I look for a sequence that takes a reader on a journey or presents a narrative.

A sequence of photos on a wall
I like to work by hanging my work prints on a wall. I step back to look them over and then rearrange the sequence. I repeat this process multiple times until I find a sequence that reads well.

5. Create a Photo Book Mock-Up

Now that you have a stack of photos that is paired up and sequenced, it is time to construct a mock-up of your photobook. I have all of my photos sequenced in an order that I am happy with and I am ready to compile them into a stack that will form the book mock-up.

One Image Per Spread

Start by laying the final image in your book sequence on the table and stack the preceding image on top of it. Continue stacking your images on the pile until you reach the first image in the book. Once your images are stacked, you are ready to staple them together. Simple gather the pile and put two or three staples along the left-hand spine side to attach all the pages together.

Stapling a series of pages
Stapling through the stack of pages.
A finished book mock-up
Finished photo book mock-up.

Two Images Per Spread

Start with the final image in the sequence and place it face up on the table. Place the photo that goes immediately before the last image face down on top of it. Place the image that goes before that face up on top of the previous spread. Work your way through your sequence until you reach the beginning of your sequence.

Once you have your pages stacked up, you can begin to join the pages with tape or staples. The left hand side will be the spine of your book mock-up. I find it is easiest to clip it with a binder clip to hold it temporarily while I join the right hand edges of the pages together. Work your way stapling pages so that the blank sides are together and the images can be viewed while flipping through the pages. After you join all of the outer edges, unclip the spine and start to join the pages on the left hand side. 

Stapling a series of pages
Stapling right-hand side of the pages.
Stapling a series of pages
Stapling the spine side of the pages.

Now that you have all your pages joined together, you have finished your photo book mock-up with all your images edited into page spreads and sequenced. You can put this mockup to use by flipping through the pages and evaluating how the books reads. You can still adjust the sequence and layout by taking sections apart, making your change, and joining the pages back together. Use this mock-up to get some feedback from friends and then as a guide when you create your final photo book.

A finished photo book mock-up
Finished photo book mock-up.

And that's it, you have just finished your photo book mock-up. Happy photobook making!

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