Showcasing your prints: Lizzie Shepherd on how to make a handmade photo book
Posted: 06 Feb 2019
Lizzie Shepherd is a professional landscape photographer, speaker, teacher, and writer, based in North Yorkshire. Lizzie specialises in landscape, nature and travel, and commercial photography, and exhibits her work on a regular basis. To create her handmade photo books, Lizzie uses Fotospeed’s High White Smooth Duo Lite paper. You can find out more about Lizzie here.
Showcasing your prints
There’s nothing quite like seeing an image roll off the printer – it takes me back to my university days, when I used to spend hours in the darkroom, developing and printing black and white photographs. The technology may be different, but the principles behind what makes a compelling print remain, and the excitement is undiminished.
Whilst producing a single print is incredibly gratifying, creating a series of prints can be even more rewarding. Better still, is to find a way to curate and showcase these prints. An exhibition might be one route; but another, more accessible, option is to create a book. If you want ultimate control of this process, then a handmade photo book is your friend.
The first step into creating your handmade photo book
There are plenty of resources available for those wanting to go down this route, but I would heartily recommend considering attending a workshop. I went to one in 2015 with John Blakemore, and another in 2018 with Joe Wright. Both of these events were no less than inspirational – I learned far more than just the practicalities of how to create a handmade book (both glue and stab bound).
Arguably the most important thing is gaining an understanding of how you might go about selecting and sequencing the images you include in your photo book. This includes accepting that you might need to leave out some of your favourite images – if they don’t fall in line with the overall theme or are visually inconsistent, then they don’t go in. I had to remind myself of this when I eventually got around to creating my first, post-course, books. I decided to create two books with identical content, with the subject being a favourite little lochan on the Isle of Harris. I opted for a concertina, glue-bound book with a hard cover, and a Japanese stab bound book with a flexible card cover.
Selecting the right images for your photo book
With a good range of images to choose from, I knew I would have to be fairly brutal when it came to selection. I started by making a collection in Lightroom, including all potential candidates. Reviewing the images on screen, I started to remove those that either didn’t fit the mood I wanted to create, or ones that were visually inconsistent. This meant leaving out a few I was very fond of, such as the image below.
Next, I made small prints of all of the remaining images and laid these out on a desk. I shuffled them around, gradually getting a sense of what was going to work and how I could ensure a good flow of content. Another five images were removed and I was down to a manageable ten. Further shuffling ensued and, eventually, I had a sequence that worked for me. I then had to consider any text I wanted to include and allocate pages accordingly. I knew I wanted a few words of explanation and a beautiful quote by Elliott Erwitt which was very kindly sent to me by a workshop client.
Choosing the right paper
I had acquired some Fotospeed High White Smooth Duo Lite paper for making both photo books. Only the stab bound book required any double-sided printing, but the weight of this paper is perfect and, even if you don’t need to print on both sides, it’s far nicer to have a uniform look and feel to every single page.
Ensuring the best flow and page spread
Most styles of stab bound books are, by nature, quite tight at their spine. For this reason, I went for a reasonably generous 27x20cm size for this book. I allowed a generous margin on each side, but particularly for the bound side of the book. It was possible to fit four images on a single sheet of A2 paper and I printed each with a thin border so I could easily cut to size on my Rotatrim.
I had to think carefully about any pages that were to be printed on both sides, as well as including the odd blank page to ensure the best flow and page spread as each page is turned.
Planning is key
The concertina photo book required even more meticulous planning. I first made a tiny mock-up with a few scribbled pages, just to make sure it would work as I intended. As the book is spineless, I was able to opt for a tiny size of just under 15x14cm. This allowed me to use a run of four pages per long side width of A2 paper, with three rows fitting on each sheet. I had to think very hard about what I needed in the way of crop lines and markers for where I needed to fold each page, using the print module in Lightroom to set this up.
You also have to allow for small tabs on one end to join the pages together and a tab on both ends for the first set of pages so that you can glue them onto the cover. Then you have to make sure you crease each page in the correct direction so that it folds properly. There really is a lot to think about and it’s extremely easy to mess it up!
Choosing your cover
When it comes to materials to use for your cover, there are endless choices available. I used book board and covered it with a textured Canson pastel paper, then selected a handmade printed paper for lining the inside of the cover. I was reminded just what a lot of time is required to make this style of book – it really is a labour of love!
I do particularly enjoy this style of photo book, however, because it lets you reveal as much, or as little, of the content as you choose. You can, if you have the space, unfold the whole thing, or you can reveal a set of images that work as a theme.
This is where pre-planning is so essential – with the placement of any blank pages and text being crucial to the flow of content. The concertina book, in particular, is extremely tactile – perhaps due in part to the inclusion of slightly textured hard covers. However, I think the fact that the viewer can choose how they interact with the book also plays its part. In my opinion, it’s the harder of the two types of book to make, and it takes up a lot more time but, for now, it’s my favourite of the two!
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