Here at Lulu, we love creative types. People that are driven to create and share their inspiring projects with the world, whether those projects take the form of a novel, a TikTok account, a cookbook, a brand, a journal or whatever else you can think of!
We also know that not all creative types are writers! Spoiler alert: you don’t have to be a writer to publish a book. We’ve talked before about publishing and selling a no/low content project like a journal or planner, but those aren’t the only options. For the content creators with an artistic flair, we’ve got the perfect product to help you preserve and (or!) share your content: photo books.
Not All Photo Books Have To Be Photos
Before you say “hang on, I’m not a photographer, what would I make with a photo book,” don’t worry. When most people hear the phrase “photo book” one of two things comes to mind:
1. A big, glossy, hardcover coffee table book full of high-color photos of landscapes or animals or a decade of fashion.
2. A family photo album, made slightly more fancy because it’s been printed and bound as a book instead of just printed 4×6 photos tucked into an album.
Both of these types of photo books are valuable and worth making! If you’re a photographer looking for ways to promote or monetize your art I would highly recommend a big, glossy, hardcover coffee table book full of your photos and text. And if you’re a fan of tangible photo albums you can keep on display, then a printed collection of your favorite family photos can be a beautiful way to preserve those memories (plus, they make great gifts for the whole family).
But there’s more to photo books than just those two! Keep reading (or scroll to the bottom of the post, you do you) for a whole list of ideas for photo books that aren’t just photos.
Before You Get Started On Your Photo Book
The first step of publishing a photo book is determining the best online photo book publisher for you and your project. If you’re looking for a suggestion, I know a good one…
But if you’re still exploring your options, how do you determine which online photo book service is right for you? There are a lot of factors to consider, from overall project goals to design details. Ask yourself some of these questions:
- Is your goal to create a photo book that is a personal, one-off printed copy, or are you hoping to create a product that you can sell online or in stores?
- If you are creating a photo book to sell, how do you plan to sell it? In person, at a local bookstore? On Amazon? Directly to consumers from your own website? Which publishing company offers the best distribution options to help you meet your goals?
- What is your budget for this project? If you’re creating a personal project, how much are you willing to spend on a single copy of this book? If you plan to sell your photo book, how much do you want to earn per sale? What is your target retail price?
- Pro Tip: Use our Book Pricing Calculator to determine the production cost of a Lulu project before you even get started.
How to Print a Photo Book
You’re ready to go! You’ve done your homework and determined which online photo book printing platform is the best one for you. If that’s Lulu, you will need to have a print-ready, fully-formatted PDF of your interior book file ready to go. So now it’s time to design your photo book!
I’m going to be honest with you: there is no good, concise way to offer a step-by-step guide on how to create a photo book. With the wide variety of tools and platforms out there (everything from Canva to Affinity Publisher to Adobe InDesign), there isn’t a one-size-fits-all process for creating your book. However, there are tips and best practices to keep in mind while you’re creating your photo book. So let’s take a look at a few things to consider (in order!) while creating your book!
1. Determine Your Photo Book Specs Before You Format
Before you begin formatting your book layout, you need to know how you want the final product to look. Start with your book size and shape – do you want your book to be landscape, portrait, or square? If you want landscape, do you want it larger, like a US Letter or A4 landscape? Or smaller, like a 9×7 landscape? Same questions for portrait, and even for square.
If you’re not sure what orientation to go with, look at a few existing photo books that are in the same genre as your future project – what size did they use? Also consider the photos you plan to include in your book – if most of them are landscape, a landscape book makes more sense than a portrait, and vice versa.
For the curious: in our experience here at Lulu, the most popular photo book sizes our creators use are US Letter Landscape, Square, and Small (9×7) Landscape.
9 x 7 in | 229 x 178 mm
Small landscape is ideal for photo books and product guides meant to highlight images and photos.
US Letter Landscape
11 x 8.5 in | 279 x 216 mm
US letter size in landscape format, great for children’s books or photo books.
8.5 x 8.5 in | 216 x 216 mm
Square format best for full-bleed images without constraints on landscape or portrait formatting.
Beyond your book size, you’ll also want to work out your print details. When publishing a photo book on Lulu your interior options will automatically default to Premium Ink (either Black & White or Full Color, your choice) and our highest quality 80# paper, because we want your on-paper print quality to match your on-screen image quality.
2. Make Sure Your Photo Files Are Formatted for Print
Nothing is more disappointing than putting together a beautiful photo book, getting the page layout just right, ordering a proof copy, and receiving a pixelated, grainy mess in response. Do not assume that your photo files are the correct specs for printing – take the time to check your file sizes and your PPI (Pixels Per Inch) / DPI (Dots Per Inch).
“Pixels per inch (PPI) is used to describe the pixel density of a screen (computer monitor, smartphone, etc.). Dots per inch (DPI) refers to the print resolution of an image by counting the number of dots per printed inch. The more dots the higher the quality of the print (more sharpness and detail). Most print-ready file formats know how to handle the conversion between the PPI and DPI. PDFs allow you to have print-ready files with multiple PPI values, but it’s a good idea to consider the desired results before inserting just any image size.”
Lulu Book Creation Guide
At Lulu, we recommend that your photo files are 300 PPI/DPI for detailed graphics.
3. Consider Your Photo Book Text and Story Options
Time to ask yourself another important question: do you plan on doing any writing for this book?
Maybe you don’t, at all. Which is okay! Maybe you do plan to add some text to your photo book, but just a little bit – no more than a sentence or two for photo captions on some pages. Maybe you’re planning to do quite a bit of writing, including full paragraphs of text to go along with your photos. Whatever the case may be, you need to commit before you lay out your book. And if you choose to include simple captions or longer paragraphs, you also need to write those before you lay out your book.
Writing your copy is also a great time to decide what story you’re going to tell. Regardless of what kind of photo book you plan to create, you will probably find some kind of narrative unfolding as you plan out your pages. Maybe you choose to display your landscapes in chronological order. Maybe you choose to lay out your art by medium.
Whether you tell your story in pictures, pictures with captions, or pictures with paragraphs of text, you need to think about narrative. It can be frustrating to try to rearrange your photos after you’ve properly laid out your interior file, so plan ahead with a narrative outline for both your photos and your copy.
Also frustrating: getting a proof copy of your photo book only to find that while your page spreads are flawless and your photos printed beautifully, there’s a typo in your page one caption. No matter how little or how much copy you write for your book, make sure you take the time to edit it as well. Run editing software like ProWritingAid or Grammarly, cash in a favor with a friend or beta reader, or even consider hiring a copyeditor.
4. Plan Your Interior Layout
It’s time! You have your book specs, your photos are formatted, your copy is written and your book is all plotted out – now you’re ready to get to that design step! And once again, it’s time to ask yourself an important question: how comfortable are you with editing and design software?
If you’re not comfortable designing your own book, but still want to use a platform like Lulu for our print and distribution options, consider hiring a professional to help get your book layout just right! Marketplaces like Fiverr can be fantastic for connecting you with design pros that can help you create the perfect book.
Software like Adobe InDesign or Affinity Publisher can be incredible tools for book formatting, but you don’t have to be an Adobe-pro to create a photo book. User-friendly (and free-to-use!) platforms like Canva can be a great and easy way to design your photo book.
If you are planning to format your own photo book interior, there are definitely a few details you’ll want to keep in mind, including:
Margins & White Space
Whatever book format you choose, pay close attention to the interior page dimensions. When designing a book on Lulu, you can download interior page templates for any of our book sizes. Check out this one for our Small Landscape pages:
Notice the two borders around the page, the Trim/Bleed Area and the Safety Margin. Depending on how you place your photos and copy in this template, you may see a white space bordering some or all sides of your photo. Alternatively, you may see the edges of your photo cut off along the Bleed Area.
Both choices are aesthetic options you can make with your photo layout. Just make sure you’re mindful and intentional about which option you choose.
Some of the design software available to help you create your interior files will show you the full page spread – both the left and right pages of the book together. But some of them will not. If you’re using a tool that involves creating your pages individually, make sure you stay cognizant of your full-page spreads!
Spreads can be a great way to highlight a single image or fit extra copy onto a page. One thing to consider when you’re designing a spread is the gutter – the space in between the two pages that sinks into the binding. It’s inevitable that you’ll lose some of your photo in that space, especially if you’re crossing over from the left page to the right page, so keep that in mind when you’re placing your photos and copy!
One other reminder: books start on the right page. So if you choose to design your book in spreads, make sure your first page is still just a single page. Otherwise, you may find your entire design off by one page!
While photo books are a unique subset of printed books, there are a few publishing staples that you should consider. Especially if you plan to sell your book through global distribution or make it available in local retailers – not only should you include front matter in your book, but you will be required to.
If you’re not familiar, front matter is the material that makes up the first few pages of a book – material like a copyright page, title page, table of contents, etc. It may not all be applicable to your book, and that’s fine, but I would definitely encourage you to include at least some of this material. For a deeper dive into front matter, take a look at this post.
5. Wrap Your Book in a High-Quality Cover
You’ve put a lot of work into perfecting the interior of your photo book – don’t phone it in on the cover! We all know that consumers will always judge a book by its cover, but it’s probably even more true for photo books. Would you trust the interior quality of a photo book that didn’t have a striking, high-quality cover?
Go back to those books you looked at when deciding your book size and orientation. Consider your cover options – what did they do? In many cases, photo book covers are just a featured photo from the book, whether it’s one of the best or the photo that best represents the book’s theme. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with your photo book cover!
Of course, that still applies to photo books that aren’t strictly photography or art. Consider, for example, a cookbook. How can you identify a cookbook from ten paces away, without even picking it up? Simple: there’s almost always a photo of food or a photo of a person serving food on the cover. And it’s almost always food that you can find the recipe for right there inside that book (yes, with the same photo that you see on the cover).
Ideas For Photo Books (That Aren’t Just For Photographers)
Okay, you’re totally convinced! You’re ready to print and sell some photo books online. Now all you need is that inspiration for what to make! So let’s look at some ideas for photo book projects that aren’t just gorgeous landscape photographs or your vacation snaps.
Photo Books for Artists
- Art Collections
You don’t have to be a photographer to showcase your art in a photo book! Print a collection of your digital art, scan your drawings, photograph your paintings, whatever you have! Matthew Sutton has a super fun example in Some of the Stuff I Didn’t Throw Away.
- Museum Exhibits
Preserve a limited run exhibit and provide a great souvenir for your patrons or visitors by printing a photo collection showcasing the exhibit in a book! The Maggie Stark: Keeping Time installation book is a great example.
- Lookbooks and Samples
Are you an artist or creator that does commission work? From tattoo artists to business logo designers to architects and everything in between, having a high-quality catalog of some of your best work can be a great marketing tool. For example, check out the Stay Home art book from the Tattoo Community.
Photo Books for Brands
- Best of the Year
Want to show off your best work from last year? Whether it’s an internal celebration for your employees or an external presentation for prospective clients, consider putting together a “Best of” book like this annual collection from Pioneer Balloon Company.
- Educational Resources and How To Guides
One of the best reasons to publish and sell a book is to build authority in your brand or industry. Really deliver on that point by creating a how to guide, textbook, or other educational resource for your fans! Lulu Authors Katie Pearse & Veronica Cerrer have put together a beautiful textbook here.
- Preserve Your Content
Your fans follow you and engage with your social media content because they like what you share, right? So give them a more permanent way to hold onto the content they love by printing it in a photo book! Screenshot your funniest tweets, print your favorite Instagram photos, publish your best recipes from the year, whatever kind of content you have! Paul Taylor does so here in AdWeak.
Photo Books for Schools & Educators
- Student Artwork Collections
Are you a part of a graduate or undergraduate design program? A photo book is a great way to preserve students’ work long after the semester ends! We see everything from undergraduate architecture student designs to art portfolios to graduate fashion theses, like this Painting Senior Thesis Catalogue from MICA’s Class of 2022.
We’re big advocates for switching your school’s yearbook program to a print-on-demand publisher, but we also know that’s not always viable for larger schools. There are still great ways to preserve smaller group memories from the year, like this 2021-22 Penn State Wrestling Media Guide from Penn State Athletics!
- Course Catalogs
Of course most course catalogs are digital these days, but some schools – and some students – may still prefer a print copy to browse through while making course selections for the next semester! Eastern Arizona College is one of them.
Photo Books for Historians
- Vintage or Restored Photos
Preserve historic photos and memories, and create a fun and unique souvenir for family and fans! John Bowen did a great job with Aeroplane!
- Facsimile Prints
Vintage newspapers, zines, chapbooks, and even comic books – they don’t have to stay in the past! Bring them back to life by scanning the originals and publishing a restored version (just make sure you have permission to do so, if you’re not the original owner or author). Check out Explore Space City for an awesome example.
- Reimaginings or Renderings
One of my favorite books in the whole Lulu Bookstore is a collection of artistic renderings of the final battle between the Kingdom of Alba and the Vikings from author and creator MJ King. The Highlands is a great example of mixing digital art and copy to create a unique book with a compelling narrative.
Photo Books for Content Creators
Cookbooks are photo books! I know, it’s weird to think about it, but they are! And there are some truly gorgeous cookbooks from Lulu Creators, like Tiny Home, Big Flava’ from Justin & Juby Maness.
- Workout Guides or Tutorials
If you’re a fitness blogger or trainer, a photo book can be a fantastic way to print detailed instructions for your fans and followers. Snap some step-by-step photos, or capture stills from your most popular videos! Rebekah Leach does a fantastic job of this with her Aerial Sling Manuals.
- Travel Guides & Memoirs
Okay fine, this one kind of is the classic coffee table photo book photo collection, but it deserves to be included all the same. Share your unique experiences with your fans by printing your travel photos into a book. Better yet, give them a rare glimpse at something they may never see, like Beauty in Decay: Photos from Chernobyl does.
Lauren is the Social Media Manager at Lulu, which means she gets paid to spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram every day. When she’s not browsing social media she can often be found voraciously reading romance novels, collecting books, or attempting to exorcize her cat.