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Photo Books

Lots of students choose to present their work in photobooks, and there are lots of suppliers and applications to support this, however, many make common mistakes and there are some simple principles to bear in mind. Here is a list of dos and don’ts compiled by tutor Katrina Whitehead, after considering student submissions at March assessment.

What other common mistakes do you think photographers, students and designers make? What are your favourite photo books and what makes them effective book projects?

Posted by author: Alice Morris
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39 thoughts on “Photo Books

  • A really useful series of dos and don’ts. I would only take issue with is the one on texts and it’s not so much disagreeing as just really about getting the balance correct for the project as some projects need a lot of writing eg Keith Greenough’s exploration of the east end, and others need much less. A thought provoking piece…

  • It would seem that my feeling that book design is best done by book designers and that unless you are very confident about your abilities (over confident some of my book designer friends might say) supplying the images, text and some indication of layout is best, is not shared by the assessors at least at level six. Judging by their comments, they expect the actual book rather than the contents that one might supply to a publisher so the above is doubly important…as is leaving enough time for creating “lots of books, experimenting with different book publishing websites etc”

    • I agree with you in some respects Peter but how are students going to learn how to create a book if they don’t present it to someone who is an ‘expert’. Regarding the time creating books and experimenting with different book publishers. There’s quite a cost involved in that.

    • peter you write ” … they (assessors at Level 6) expect the actual book rather than the contents that one might supply to a publisher …” and why not!? In reality, a publisher is likely to challenge one’s conception but probably the more one says the better unless one makes a dog’s dinner of the design !?

  • Agree with anomiepete re this is a useful series. First time I’ve viewed a Prezi presentation – it does look good but I found the zooming in and out necessary rather dizzying! Also agree about the text and getting the balance right.

  • It could be argued that as more and more photographic projects find their way into book form now, as the medium of popularity and choice, that learning the skills of book design are more fundamental than the craft of the print? (Just putting that out there…!)
    Useful list indeed. At level 3, whatever the mode of presentation, it needs to be to a professional level. I would certainly urge students to consider collaborating with bookbinders and designers (and writers too perhaps), just as you would work with specialists in a professional print lab, for instance.
    It is also worth mentioning that as part of the restructuring of the Photography BA degree, students will have the option to enrol on ‘Book Design 1: Creative Book Design’ as (one of several) an elective option at Level 1, which will I hope, provide useful tuition and guidance and set students up well for the challenges of working with this medium.

    • I used a book presentation for TAoP and the lack of guidance at this point probably cost me the two marks between a 2:2 and a 2:1. (This isn’t a moan – we live and learn). I made an educational template on Blurb for assignment 5 of P&P but the restriction on the minimum order was a shame. I note the comments about including book a publishing module within coursework and I think this would be a fantastic opportunity to help us set the standard for submissions.
      If the course adaptation is place within level , then it is a little bit late for me. Certainly my work it veering towards books and any advice on researching and approaching book makers would be appreciated. I am not really interested in learning the skills for desk top publishing as I am trying to keep my time sat at a computer to a minimum but I would gladly work with a book maker.

  • I think that Jesse makes a good point about the skills of graphic and book design and to this I would add basic video and web design skills as well. All of which suggests that there is going to be a greater and greater need for students to study far beyond the confines of their degree programme (this is not just an OCA matter but true of bricks and mortar students as well). This means a greater importance has to be given to matters of time management, not leaving the decisions about final format of projects and their presentation until a month before assessment submission for example!
    The elective options at level one is a good development but perhaps a bit early for some to choose the appropriate module for their practice and I wonder if we don’t need to give some thought to how we can make short additional modules available in the future and/or point to other sources of additional training/skill acquisition resources, perhaps specialists in these areas could post such links etc. on the student site and perhaps flag up third party courses in the weekend bulletin from time to time.

        • There used to be a lot more freebies from companies like Adobe who gave free seminars to encourage one to use their software; companies that offer software training are quite expensive but one can find local adult education groups that offer tuition. Online videos, paid for not just the freebies, can help.
          I have done courses in both Photoshop and InDesign as well as Premiere and Lightroom; the students edition of Adobe CC is worth it if you use these programmes on a regular basis. They give the ability to go beyond auto layouts etc and create what one wants rather than what a programmer thinks is right.
          What I am currently interested in is a course that teaches book making, the physical putting together of books, with a view to putting photographs inside them.

        • I’m with Amano here. There are certainly lots of videos out there. I’ve also been to two excellent courses on creating books of various types. What I would be very interested in is a course like the one Amano suggests – making books and then putting them together with photographs inside them. Even professional photographers have someone to help them with this. I remember Elina Brotherus talking about the artist who helped her to edit her books and have observed how some of our own tutors will look at photographs and then create their own edit of them. I want to know more about what they’re looking for; what’s guiding them.

        • Amano/Catherine, my local college runs evening classes in bookbinding from time to time, obviously not specifically photography related but if you’re interested in the practical side you could look at something like that.
          Sadly nothing on over the summer term here which is a pain since my tutor has suggested hand making a book for one of my assignments – im going to go for trial and error!

        • I have done several sessions on book-binding Emma with inspiring tutors. It’s the what to put into them and how that I need to learn as I commented earlier. Johanna Ward’s hand-made concertina books were so inspiring but, when we discussed this with her it seemed that she was guided by her subconscious in many respects, but that must have been founded upon her knowledge and experience of creating books I guess.

  • The most offered criticism of ‘photo-books’ from students and professionals alike is the image quality. For some reason photographers of all levels seem to think that the print quality should mirror that of prints – to Jesse’s point. Chloe Dewe Mathews’ ‘Shot at Dawn’ photo book is one of a few photo books whose aesthetic not only takes that into consideration but develops and enhances the work’s narrative with it.

    • ‘For some reason photographers of all levels seem to think that the print quality should mirror that of prints.’
      A well made point. Of course professionals aspire to their work achieving the best repro possible but aren’t expecting the quality of a fine art print, consequently one makes allowances in assessment for that.
      What one can’t make allowances for are the short comings highlighted by Katrina’s posting.

  • I am doing Documentary at L2 in which, as part of assignment 3, the instruction is “For this assignment you need to publish a pdf book dummy i.e. a self-contained pdf document which shows your images in a pre-arranged sequence. Liaise with your tutor regarding the technical aspects of producing the dummy.” I have not done this part of the assignment (but I have asked my tutor), as I feel that I have done all that short of printing a pdf of the assignment unless there is a programme called ‘pdf book dummies’! (there are several under the heading ‘PDFs for dummies’!!) Also, does including this aspect for an assignment lead us to conclude that OCA is heading towards allowing book submissions?
    I am hoping to hear from my tutor soon about this aspect of my assignment 3 submission. I have made 3 Blurb books but have not considered making one up for my assignments as there is so much controversy within OCA about it – I remember that Jose Navarro was very much for them when we were at the Brighton Photo biennial in 2012.

  • I agree Anna, self published books do seem to be a touchstone within OCA and the inclusion of a course at Level 1 as Jesse suggests, must be a very big step in the right direction to remedy that.
    It has to be right that if a student wishes to present work in book form, and justifies it – same as justifying any form of presentation then they should do so. As Catherine suggests, without formal course work surrounding it how else is the student to develop a form that is as valid as prints.
    However whilst the production of a pdf ‘dummy’ has severe limitations (not least reproduction values) it does allow the student to experiment and develop sequencing and narrative ideas, which can’t be a bad thing.

  • If any of my students are contemplating making a book I ask them to send me a PDF of it first for my comments.
    It’s possible to author multi-page PDFs through various software routes on a stand alone machine.
    Mind you what they send to print isn’t always what I’ve approved which can cause some surprises.

  • All good advice here… I would just add though – SEE AS MANY PHOTOBOOKS AS YOU CAN!! The poorest ‘photobooks’, I get the distinct impression, are from students who haven’t really looked at many phonebooks, and hence have low aspirations that are way off from our expectations in terms of quality. (I’m talking about really bad books in particular here – novel fonts, and ‘Assignment Whatever by J Bloggs, student number 101-101)
    On that point – there is a really good photobook festival in Bristol on 12th/14th June – http://www.photobookbristol.com I probably can’t go and it’s not that cheap so it won’t be an OCA study visit – but I would certainly encourage students to go

  • Seconding Jesse’s advice to look at lots of other photo books as models; with the rider to remember to really look at them as someone who’s going to be a producer, not slipping into punter mode and just looking at the images and forgetting about the layout and the type.
    At the risk of reiterating everyone from above the most glaring errors are having a different layout on every spread through out the book, probably encouraged by getting over excited using an online layout wizard for the first time, too many different and/or incompatible fonts and making the type much bigger than it needs to be.
    Proper observation of any well designed book of photographs, noting these aspects, should result in a much more acceptable design and layout.
    Of course there are brilliant books designed by highly experienced professionals that can flout all the conventions but best to keep it as simple, clean and concise as possible.

  • There is a free event at The Photographer’s Gallery … for tutors only !! Maybe a tutor from the OCA will step up to the mark?
    Exploring visual language and the relationships between images, this hands-on session will introduce a method for collectively editing and sequencing a set of photographs.
    The maquettes produced during the workshop will be bound using the traditional Chinese bookbinding technique.
    This workshop will be led by Alex Bocchetto from Akina Books.
    Free, booking essential
    How to book:
    This workshop is suitable for photography teachers working with Key Stage 4 and 5 only.
    Please note, only one teacher may attend from each school. Places are limited and are offered on a first come, first served basis.
    To reserve a place on this workshop please email projects@tpg.org.uk using the subject line: ‘Photobooks’.
    Please provide the following details:
    your name,
    the school at which you teach,
    the subject and level that you teach,
    and your contact telephone number.
    This workshop has been programmed to coinside with The Chinese Photobook exhibition.

  • I like to make phonebooks of assignments as it is a convenient way to put them together and also a nice product as well as helpful practice. As I remember, my tutor at the time (Peter H?) suggested I made this clear to the tutor/examiner by stating this fact – e.g. “I am using the format of this photobook to present my work and not suggesting the book itself is to be considered as art”
    The attraction of handmade books is that one can fill them with “prints” not images that have been ingested by an online sight before being printed out by a machine over which one has no control (profiles are not easy to come by!)

  • I have used photobox for many years and find that they often offer from 50% to 70% off a classic book with 60 pages. I started making memory books for my husband who has alzheimers. The think I like about photobox, is that they are reliable, the programme they have to make your book is very easy to use, and if you pay a couple of extra pounds, you can have upto 3 months to make your book, instead of rushing it in a day. Its worth waiting for the special offers and it can save you pounds

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