Common Book Photography Mistakes

Shooting for a book is just like other photography, surely?

Well, yes, to a certain extent. But an image, when used in a book, is never just seen in isolation. You will probably not know the answers to the following questions when you are shooting the images, so you should prepare for all eventualities:

  • What is the size and shape of the book?
  • Is the image used 'full-bleed' - ie to the very edges of the page, or not?
  • Is it the only image on that page?
  • Will the book's 'fold' - the central spine of the book - cut through the middle of the picture?
  • Does the image have text with it or on it?


The following are the 4 most common mistakes made by photographers when shooting images for publication in books:

No bleed
Insufficient range of formats
Inconsistent styles
Lack of sharpness

No bleed

If a picture is to be used full-page, i.e. right to the edge of the page, then when it is laid out, the picture must be extended about 5mm off the page, so that there is a margin of error for the printers when they cut the paper. So try to zoom out a little; do not crop your images too tightly. Never assume the image will be used in the exact format in which you have shot it.

Page with bleed

FIGURE 1: This page shows an example of a photograph used 'full bleed'. The  pink 'crop marks' show where the page will be cut and the edges of the photograph lost.

Insufficient range of formats

So you have such a great shot and the designer wants to use it really big? The only problem is that you have shot it as a portrait, so it can be used full-page. But if you had shot a landscape/horizontal version, that could have been used across a DPS (double page spread) - so much more powerful. Try to ensure that you supply various angles and shots of every scene. Zoom in, zoom out, go landscape, go portrait. And then do it all again for good measure.

When shooting that photograph that you think might be a powerful cover image, do remember to leave space for text.

book covers with and without text

FIGURE 2: The title and other text on book covers, such as the one on the left, often require a surprisingly large amount of free space. Publishers usually prefer to put the text over the image on the cover, such as on the left, rather than having to make an alternate plane, such as on the right.

Inconsistent styles

You do not want the book to be boring, but you should have a signature style, rather than letting the various sections of the book look like they do not fit well together. So do not use some kind of special effect on just a few shots. Use that effect enough so that images in that style can be scattered throughout the book.

Lack of sharpness

Sometimes an image can be blown up really large and, because people will be standing far away when viewing it on a billboard, for example, you get away with it not being pinsharp. But in a book, that image is being seen from less than an arm's length, and every bit of blurriness will show up.



Figure: The surfing image above is a crop from an old poster sold most successfully for many years around the world (and hopefully it made its now-unknown photographer a great deal of money). Seen from the intended distance of a few metres, it looks fine. But view it at arm's length, as you would do any photograph in a book, and you can see it would be totally unusable. Do not assume that an image of yours is good enough for book publishing, just because it has been used so much bigger elsewhere. Consider the distance the viewer was from the image, as well as the resolution that the image was printed at.