Photobooks and the Creative Process

21 April 2014

Region: South East

With the advent of digital photography and the consequent arrival of online publishing, photobooks have become very popular in recent years. Brian Steptoe FRPS of the Contemporary Group gave a lecture on the subject, to a packed house in Beechwood Sacred Heart School, Tunbridge Wells in February, organised by the Royal Photographic Society South East region.


Looking through photo books


To begin, Brian covered the history of photobooks and mentioned some features that can lift a template-based book to a higher level, among them text and caption colouring and placement, the use of differing size images on different pages, inserting folded image content, reasons for inserting blank pages and cross page spreads and full image bleeds.

During the second part of the event the 40 attendees were divided into five groups of eight. Each group was then given a set of around 80 photographs to make a selection and sequence them for a photobook. Each group had a different set of photographs, which they had not seen before, from which to make a selection to sequence for a photobook.



Brian emphasised that, like most creative processes, designing a photobook takes time, saying "Many photobooks fail, because book design software encourages photographers to rush into editing and sequencing images before they have done the necessary preparation - preparation which can make the difference between a good and average photobook”.

As photographers, we know that during the process of selecting images for a club competition, a Distinction submission, or indeed a photobook, it is important to detach ourselves from our own images and get rid of any emotional links, however, this is often more easily said than done.



One of the most valuable lessons that I took away from the workshop is that each person has to find their own way of designing the book. Some, myself included, conceive the photobook and develop the whole process digitally, on screen. 

It was interesting in this context to see Brian Steptoe’s working process: having all the images printed out and laid out in front of you, on the floor or on a big table, helps you recognise the strengths and weaknesses of each; while swapping them around enables you to see which have strong connections - whether theme, colour, tone, subject, or focal point - which can help you group them and sequence them in different ways to tell your story. 



Naturally at the workshop there were many opinions and different approaches on how the images available should be displayed. Subjectivity: the beauty of creativity!

There is still time to enter the competition, the RPS Photobook exhibition closes on 1 Sept. All genres and styles of photography will be welcome and physical books made by any process will be accepted, including print-on-demand and hand-made creation (but not PDFs or e-books). 



Have you tried making a photobook or are you going to have a go? If you would like to find out more, see  Join in the discussion, get inspiration and ideas, or share your own experience, join the Facebook group

This article was published in the April 2014 edition of RPS Journal