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A Guide to Creating Your Best Photo Books

Someone looking through a customer photo book of their children | Motif

Reading Time: 7 minutes read

Growing up, everyone’s parents and grandparents had these amazing photo albums. They had that clear film that held printed photos in place and if mom really went the extra mile, written descriptions under the photos describing the scene and date. The photo album itself was usually a couple of inches thick with a leather—or in most cases, hard, faux leather—cover, and it used metal clip rings to hold the pages of photos together.

There’s nostalgia in those albums for us even today—something about the smell and aged tone of the photos (which, naturally, say nothing about our own ages).

Frankly, why wouldn’t we take more advantage of photo books? They’re an awesome way to honor our cherished memories. But, like we have said before, we take approximately a million photos a year. Which creates a whole other pile of challenges. So, without further ado, we present our guide to creating your best photo books.

1. The best photo books have a specific purpose.

People create photo books for all sorts of reasons: celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime wedding, commemorating their baby’s first year, honoring a favorite pet, organizing and remembering a year of family memories, documenting an amazing trip, creating a gift for a team coach… the list goes on. The point is, everyone and every book has its own purpose. Make sure it has a singular purpose.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include your family trip as part of your annual family photo book—they go together. But maybe don’t combine the photo book documenting your trip to Fiji you’re creating to adorn your coffee table with the scrapbook of Fido. While those things could go together, they probably shouldn’t. Give your memories their due and the showcase they deserve. In dedicated books.

2. Just because it can be 200 pages doesn’t mean it should be.

This one goes hand in hand with the last tip. Motif allows you to create photo books up to 100 pages—and in some cases, 100 pages may be appropriate. A photo journal of your global travels, for example, could create a beautiful conversation piece with many pages holding a single photo. However, this often isn’t the case. People fall into the temptation to make the biggest book possible. Let’s consider two scenarios:

  1. Let’s be honest: No one wants to spend more than they need to… so we understand the impulse to chapter a book in an effort to fit as many memories and as much life into a single book by upping the page count. That’s one approach. Not a recommended one, but it is an approach.
  2. You simply can’t exclude a picture because every photo captures a unique moment, and you love them all. We get that, we really do. However, consider that by including every moment, you’re actually taking away focus and attention from the truly noteworthy memories.

A better strategy to respect your budget and create a beautiful album is to strategically select images and use editing tools where appropriate to focus in on the significant aspects.

3. Let the software do the heavy lifting.

Some photo book companies say that they’ll autoflow… and they do. Technically. But the flows and photo layouts make no sense. Your memories from the July 4th party are mixed in with your parents’ wedding anniversary and, somewhere, in the middle of the book is that picture from New Year’s you swore would never see the light of day. We’ve been there. And that’s why we put such painstaking efforts into making sure our photo assessment and autoflow features actually work.

The worst part (in our opinion) of creating a custom photo book—and the part that often deters people from completing their book—is just how daunting the task is to sort through your thousands of photos and pick which ones should actually make the cut. So don’t. Motif will do it for you. Take advantage.

One of Motif’s best features is its simplicity. Our software literally evaluates every photo you select for lighting, focus, clarity, brightness and more. Then it selects only the best photos to put into your photo book layouts. And when it places them, it evaluates the placement to ensure optimal display.

Understandably, you may not know exactly how many photos you want to include—but you likely have a good idea of which group of photos you want to sift through. Select the album from your Photos in macOS and send it to Motif. You’ll get an option to set your budget, page count and images per page. If you’ve given us 1,000 photos but are creating a 30-page book, yes, you’ll see a large cut in how many are included. But know the best of the best will be in there— and you always have the option to switch photos out or look for related alternatives from right in the platform. And if you love it just how it is, even better! The best part is, even if you do make a few swaps, you still have a gorgeous book in your hands—and you’ll have saved hours of time by simply not going through all your own photos. If that isn’t a win, what is?

Don’t work more than you have to—especially when you have a better way.

4. Honor your white space.

Whether your page background is white or stripes or pink or damask—it doesn’t matter. The background that isn’t covered by your images is called white space. And you need some on every page.

Remember how we mentioned that when creating a Motif photo book, you’ll have the option to set your budget and page count? You’ll have the option to set your photos per page at the same time. It can be tempting to squeeze in an extra photo or two (or 10) per page to get more in there. Resist that temptation.

In some situations, adding the extra photo may make sense. For example, if you’re doing a wedding photo book and have five must-have shots from the toasts, it’s reasonable to keep them together, rather than letting one or two fall onto a different page or get cut. The best way to organize your content and respect your page composition is to go with the Motif-recommended pics-per-page and use the autoflow feature.

Once you review your pages, you can always add another image or update the layout to accommodate an extra image or two on that specific page. Doing so takes two clicks—it’s easy, we promise. And when you look back through that book in the years to come, you’ll be grateful you went for the quality book with the beautiful layout, rather than lining pictures up and crowding the space. Remember, you’re creating art here…

5. Embrace variety.

Variety is the spice of life, right? It’s the same with books. Not every page should look the same. That’s why Motif works with themes: The various pages coordinate, but not every page will have the same background, and the photo layouts will vary. Don’t fight it: Embrace it. This is part of what makes your photo book look like it was professionally made… because it was.

6. Don’t try to out-software the software. Just don’t.

Before Motif, we can’t even tell you how many different photo book companies we tried or the number of attempted books we left abandoned before they even made it to the cart. Because the software was painful! It was like the ultimate Goldilocks and the Three Bears saga trying to find one that worked how we needed it to. We can tell you every time we printed a book, we ended up manually going through our own photos and hand-creating layouts in Photoshop before ultimately uploading each manual layout as a single photo to create our books. And even then it was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole… It was a loonnnnnng process and one no one should have to go through.

With other printers, we’d go in to create our books and know which photos we wanted on which pages… but the auto flow would put them in places that didn’t make sense or crop photos in odd ways or place them in frames that simply weren’t compatible… So we’d go through and try to make the changes through the user interface. Most of the time, the software would crash. Others, we simply couldn’t get it to do what we needed. Our point being, we’ve been there. So we can really appreciate Motif’s features.

The Motif software works (hallelujah!). You really can move a picture around with a simple click and drag. With two clicks you can add another picture or remove a frame from the page. You can click and drag a frame to change its size. It’s so easy, there’s simply no reason to try to create your own layouts. So don’t!

7. Pay attention to the materials.

Of course, we hope you’ll print with Motif, but even if you don’t, we hope these photo book tips have been useful. One more thing that applies—regardless of where you print: Pay attention to the materials the printers use.

Not all papers are created equal… and cheap papers won’t hold the ink as they should, which means your photos may dull. Ink qualities vary, and ensuring your photos print vibrantly and for longevity requires using well-sourced inks. You get the idea. There are different types of bindings. You’ll find most photo books use an adhesive binding, so make sure the adhesives will last (if you’ve ever had pages fall out of an old book and seen yellow, crumbly residue, this is why).

Quality matters across the board. So make sure you’re getting quality commensurate with what you’re paying.

8. Love it.

Last but not least: wait to print until you love it! Your photo book honors the most important moments in your life. Make sure the book is one you’re proud of and does your memories justice. Pick the colors, fonts, and layouts you love. Consider which type of cover you choose. Odds are your first photo book won’t be your last—but it should be one you love.