My last few weeks of 2021 were spent immersed in the world of photography books. And, for a change, I wasn’t looking at other people’s books but designing one of my own. Well, our own, because I refer to the Natural Landscape Photography Awards that I run with Matt Payne, Alex Nail and Rajesh Jyothiswaran. After we realised that we could raise enough money to be able to print a high-quality portfolio book to go alongside the competition, we just had the challenge of “what was it going to look like?”. I have a fairly large library of photography books and so I spent a few days trying to find some inspiration. We knew we wanted the book to be more than just a simple ‘catalogue’ of images and we had already approached a few judges and entrants about writing essays to include in the book so the main challenge was one of ‘style’.
You would think that there wasn’t much you could do with a photography book, after all the main thing is that the images appear as large as possible and there are a lot of them. But it turns out that the books that I really enjoyed coming back to had something extra about them. They had a rhythm of presentation, a subdivision of content into logical sections, supplementary content alongside the photographs that didn’t get in the way but gave a little bit of context. For example, Joe Cornish’s first light has a short description next to each image but also a secondary image that “didn’t quite work”. This added a little extra context about why the main picture worked in comparison.
I should thank Eddie Ephraums at this point as whilst researching the types of design I liked and thought worked the best, the books he edited were, in my mind, some of the most interesting and best designed. He uses classic design elements sparingly to create published works that complement but don't overpower photographic portfolios. Have a look at Joe Cornish's "First Light", Light and Land's "Developing Vision and Style" "Working the Light", Paul Wakefield's "Landscape" and David Ward's "Landscape Beyond" and "Landscape Within".
A designer colleague told me once that the content of a photography book can be considered the words of a story and that without punctuation, paragraphs, grammar and chapters, even the best writing would be almost unreadable. As a designer, we need to think of everything that isn’t the photographs themselves as the grammar and punctuation of the presentation. One of the most significant elements at our disposal is pretty much invisible and yet has the biggest impact. White space is one of the, if not the most important aspect of graphic design. It informs the composition of the page and as such, it is essential to use well. For instance, as much as many photographers want all of their photographs to be as large as possible, varying the size, alignment and distribution of photographs on the page. Let’s have a look at some of the ways we can present photographs.
Example Photo Spreads
As you can see - if you mix these up you can get quite a lot of variety. Full bleed images can be a little bit of a pain because you do lose a couple of mm where the picture meets the edge of the page but they can look good and if you choose your alignment well, you don’t clip important features of the images used.