Generally speaking, buying books will always be a better investment than buying photo gear (#buybooksnotgear).
But at times, I feel a bit conflicted about photo books. In some regards, I think photo books are over-rated. And some ways, photo books are underrated.
Let me use this essay as an opportunity to explicate some of my thoughts and personal philosophies on photo books:
Why publish your own photo book?
I think every photographer should publish at least 1 photo book in their lifetime. But you don’t gotta find a big publisher or anything. You can self-publish yourself, use a platform like blurb.com, or design it yourself (Adobe Indesign), export as PDF, and find a local printer to print your photo book.
There is a HUGE feeling of reward when you print your photographs into a book format. To turn our digital bytes into physical atoms is great.
My teacher Constantine Manos once said:
“A photograph doesn’t exist until you print it.”
Now I don’t quite agree with that. A photograph on a computer and printed are both photographs — but just different. I also don’t think that a printed photograph is ‘superior’ to a JPEG file on my laptop. In some regards, a digital photograph can be superior to a printed photograph (you can infinitely copy a JPEG image, distribute it with billions of people, etc).
One of the great reasons to publish a photo book:
You spend a lot of time analyzing your photos, and meditating on them.
The act of curation is strong when you know you need to print an image into a photo book. Because it cost money to print photos in a photo book, you end up asking yourself:
Do I care enough about this image that I am willing to spend my own money to print it into a book?
When making a photo book, the process is fun. To look through all your photos, lay them out, and to design the book is a lot of fun. It is creatively challenging and interesting.
For example, determining when to make a certain photo a full spread vs making a certain photo a single image on a single page. Also thinking how to format images (which combination of photos creates a greater visual impact)?
When you publish your own photo book, it is greatly rewarding from an intrinsic perspective. In fact, the joy of printing the book is far more rewarding than selling the book. As an artist, we must delight in the act of creation — and not worry too much about how “successful” the book is in terms of sales, distribution, or numbers.
How to print your own book
Publish yourself. Don’t wait until you want to get “discovered” by a big press. Doing it by yourself is more fun, rewarding, and interesting.
The first step is to teach yourself Indesign, then export the final design as PDF, then find a local printer that will print the book for you.
For your first book, I encourage you to give away copies to friends and family, and to sell the book to your followers and your fans — enough to break even. I don’t think the purpose of a photo book is to make a profit. The purpose is to widely distribute a beautiful photo experience, to as many humans as possible.
Design the book in your own vision
When I first saw WONDERLAND by Jason Eskenazi, I loved the lay flat design. I decided to do it with my first published photo book (SUITS), because I loved the aesthetics — I hate photo books which have a spine in the middle and how you cannot see the full image.
Smaller is better
Another tip —
I think smaller books are superior to big photo books.
Big photo books are heavy, expensive, and difficult to read and enjoy as a viewer. Smaller books are more fun to read and to experience the images.
Do it according to your own vision
Don’t feel then there is a certain formula you must follow. Don’t worry about “success” and prestige for your photo book. Do it because you genuinely want to see your photos manifested into book form.
Do it for the love!