Self-publish a photo book / zine


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Since 2012 I’ve self-published three photo books and one exhibition catalogue. I am going to tell you how to do it yourself. I feel strongly that there is a never ending line of people waiting to take advantage of photographers who are trying to make photo books. The publishers I call the pay-to-play mob. I get it. Everyone wants to earn a living. But giving a publisher £20,000 in return for, at best, a few hundred copies of your book... well that’s a crap deal.

If you follow the instructions below you should be able to crowdfund and produce your own photography book or zine. If you make your own coffee table style photo book and sell them all yourself, you’ll make around £12,000. This money can be used to keep you alive and make new work. If you think that’s worth something you can throw me some money via the link at the bottom of the page or better still buy one of my photo books or zines? But I don’t expect anything from you. I feel like this is a public service. Someone once said don’t fight the system, create a new system that makes the old one obsolete.

I hope if you are a photographer reading this you will choose to self-publish and not give your power away. Making the photographs for a book is a huge undertaking and you deserve to be compensated for your toil. I know its really hard just getting one person to believe in your work but sometimes if you can believe in it yourself, well that’s enough! I wish this information had been available to me 20 years ago when I was making a lot of this work, but it wasn’t. But it is now! So what are you waiting for? Lets get making our books & zines! 


An introductory video talking about my reasons for doing this, a skim over research.


For a photo book its best if you’ve created a really significant body of work That it has some underlying concept. Extra ‘cool points’ if it has a consistent visual aesthetic and style. Extra extra ‘cool points’ if the concept and aesthetic align together in some way. Of course some people like to make work that has no purpose, no ideology, and no aesthetic value, that’s their call. I’m coming from the point of view that you want to express an opinion about life, the universe and everything. To impart these experiences and wisdom to your fellow humanity. For a zine, well this is a lot easier. You might only have 25 photographs in your zine and its a lot easier to complete a smaller photography project. The plus side of making a zine is that it’ll be super cheap! You can get a printers to make 100 of them for you around £130-£360 depending on the size. Sell those techno bad boys for £9 each and blammo wammo, you’ve made £700 and 100 people have your work sat on their bookshelf, in their place of work, or in the glovebox of their getaway car! 


The best way to make a photo book is to look at the photo books that have come before. And thankfully there are loads of them! Here are some ways you can look at photo books for your research, many of them for free. I’m not going to tell you what to look for as below I’m going to cover every aspect of making a photo book, from making an edit, design, layout, fonts, sequencing etc You can look through photo books and get inspiration for what to do (and what not to do).

Libraries have loads of photobooks, particular university libraries with arts courses. The British Library is a great resource and so is the V&A Museum. The camera phone has been a game changer for documenting what you are looking at, in the old days you’d need to drag the books to copy stands or photo-copiers and they would watch to see how many pages you were copying!

Online resources
Photo book histories A great resource of photobook covers and a selection of spreads from each one.

https://www.instagram.com/photobookjunkies/ A great online resource for looking at photo books online and also a great online photo book store. They share books for sale as well as books from their own personal collections that are often very hard to find. 

Josef Chladek: 300 pages of detailed photos of photo books:

Buy them in book shops
TPG Bookshop

Buy them online
Photobook Junkies


As I shot this work on film back in 2013 I needed to scan them in as all I had were scans of the film as contact sheets made on my old Epson V700 flatbed. 

Re-scanning old negatives with a Imacon scanner using Flexcolor software. 

From there I’ve printed off small prints to facilitate the editing process to have prints to move around. NOTE: When I have a wide edit of 100s of photographs I would use Adobe Lightroom to do this editing selection, its a great way of using the ︎rating system to orgnise edits. Here are some notes on making your edits:


Try and get the project down to around 300 photographs. You can do this several ways by first choosing photographs that have:

Great composition

A chance moment or happy accident

Some narrative element important to your project

They are related to or echo other photographs in the set  

Interesting lighting or atmospherics

Symmetry or mirroring of the subject matter

Or just a gut feeling, you don’t know why, you are just drawn to them.

I would suggest printing those 300 photographs as small 6 x 4 inch prints.

If shooting film, get the highest res scans you can afford to do done before you do any post-production. The last thing you want is to have to rescan for higher res to make prints with later and do all that dust and scratch removal again.


I start going through the 300 or so prints with a more critical eye, really separating out photographs that bring down the quality of the project. You are only as strong as your weakest image. Somehow in this edit you may start to see a connection in the visual style of the project, try keeping these photographs together. The aim, at least for my last book, was around 70-80 photographs.


Making a contact sheet of an edit in Photoshop to then print and use for editing and sequencing. This includes some thoughts on grouping your photographs to facilitate editing. 

Now you have a set of photographs you can begin trying to sequence them. Sometimes this can be done because the project is time based, so a chronological narrative already exists. Sometimes the work is in chapters – work made with a particular approach in mind conceptually – photographs all made in a certain town or city for example.

I like to sequence to create narratives. Sometimes my approach to sequencing is related to the subject matter of each photograph, so that as the book progresses it can conjure its own story. There’s so many different ways to read a photograph I try and go through my sequences again and again in different mindsets, almost like a method actor trying to see the book from different perspectives each time.

The best aid of to this process is to use the small prints and start laying them out on the floor or a large table. You can imagine how each page will reveal itself and the photographs. By doing this you may also happen upon accidental associations you hadn’t even imagined, so its good to keep the remaining photos from your first edit to hand as sometimes they may be needed again.

With this Bilderberg series I started grouping the work into different types of photographs: establishing shots, wide shots, portraits, details, reportage. I also made some groupings for notable speakers.


Now to create your document in Adobe Indesign. For a zine with a staple binding of a few pages and the same cover gsm paper as the body of the zine I don’t think you need to make a seperate cover. I might be wrong, but not having done this since 2014 I can’t remember. For a hard back cover book I know you need to make a seperate cover PDF document to take in the width of the books spine and what artwork goes on there. I’ll cover this later on. For now we need to focus on the body of the book and starting to think about basic layout of our photographs. 

First rough layout and sequence in Indesign and how to export a low resolution version as a PDF to email to friends for advice.

Now starting to get somewhere, a little more happy with the photographs layout and sequencing. Some big changes to the initial edit for the zine after going through this design process.


Font size and style is really important. Like all things in the creative process of making your photo book or zine it should be considered. Watch out for making the font for the body of the book (captions/essays) too big. In the video below I cover making picking fonts, making text blocks, sizing font and getting new fonts from Adobe fonts. 


As I’m using high resolution scans of negatives I need to do some post-production in Photoshop to get rid of dust and scratches, sort out the levels and tweak the colour balance. 


Although most photographers aren’t that skilled at writing I think its a good thing to try and keep doing. If you are going to be a photographer at some point you will need to articulate ideas to people either when you are trying to get access to an area/group of people you want to photograph or to pitch your project to someone to publish. I try to write in a very straight forward way, I am not keen on artspeak or jargon. I want to find the simplest way to communicate an idea. Sometimes this can be done with photographs alone but sometimes you will need additional texts. And sometimes text is REALLY important as it gives context to the work that might well be vital - photography projects on social or geopolitical issues for example.



First you’ll need to convert your RGB files to CMYK. These will be the photographs you’ve placed into your Indesign document. Each printer will have a different profile to download for this conversion. I’ve made my test print with Mixam, this is how I converted using their profile in Photoshop.

My first test print of the zine has arrived from Mixam. They were the cheaper option to print with and printing one zine cost £25. There’s someone else I plan to print a test print with of the zine but they want £50... decisions, decisions. 


When making a photo book or zine you’re going to have to make a choice about paper. What type of paper and what thickness (gsm). You can print on silk or glossy paper (coated) or on uncoated paper. Hell, you can print on transparencies and other wacky things too. There’s a huge array of different paper stocks out there and sure, you could get wild trying to decide. In the video below I talk through why I’ve made the choices I’ve made for paper stock types. Another thing you want to get right is paper thickness, in the biz this is called gsm. A very thin paper, like newspaper print, might be around 80gsm. In my last two hardback offset printed books In-A-Gadda-Da-England and When In The Lone Star State I’ve printed on a 170gsm silk paper. For my series of zines I am planning to print on 150 gsm uncoated paper. I’ve seen coffee table books on paper so thick they wouldn’t layflat, I’ve seen indy photo books with paper so thin you can see the photographs coming through the other side of the paper. Again, I’m not a photo book designer, I’m a one man band chim chim cher-ee man and I’ve made a few photo books. But hey, this advice is free. Because I love you and I want you to succeed. 


In this video I cover how to export from Indesign to make a wetproof for offset printing (also works for digital). And exporting your final PDF document for printing with Offset (I use KOPA in Lithuania) or Digital (Mixam). I use their settings for exporting PDF's from Indesign. IMPORTANT. Every printer will have different settings for this so pay attention to the instructions on their website.

Uploading PDF to Mixam

This video is for digital printing in the UK with Mixam, who I am printing my series of zines with. You see how the PDF you upload appears in their online proofing page. Please note that Mixam aren’t paying me, this is no #gift nonsense. I’m sharing with you how I make my zines / books as they are the best I’ve found for price / quality in my budget. 

Printing Offset

Printing with a professional printer in a giant warehouse can be intimidating. I’ve gone through this process with a mainstream photo book publisher and have also done it twice indendantly as a self-publisher. It can be hard when you are there on your own to work out what it is you should be doing and how to navigate the space. Below is a video I shot for socials while printing my last book When In The Lone Star State with KOPA in Lithuania. Its vertical....I didn’t plan on doing this very helpful thing for you at the time! But I think its enough to show you the proofing process I was doing on location, checking each sheet as it came off the printer and making simple adjustments. The best advice is to have a great wetproof made before even stepping into the printers, a wetproof is a large sheet with test strips of your photos from the book on it. I cover that a little in the Indesign videos further up. At 2.23 on the video below you can see the operator looking at the wetproof I’d had printed before heading out there. 


So here we go, the zines have arrived! Here’s the unboxing. I hope this series of videos inspires you to make your own, be it a zine or photo book you can do it. 

If you’d like to buy me a virtual cup of tea or pint of mead please use this paypal button. So far I’m at £10. Where I live that’s three pints of Citra! 

Edward Thompson’s.....Zines (2023 -

A new series of zines by documentary photographer Edward Thompson. Issue 1 is Bilderberg and Issue 2 is Extinction Rebellion. Each zine will be limited to 100 copies in their first edition. Pre-order now, expected delivery May 2023.

190mm x 230mm
Soft cover
Uncoated paper
36 pages
100 copy limited first edition
Digitally printed
£8 plus postage


For European or International orders please go here.


For European or International orders please go here.

the more you see, the more you know

the more you know, the more you see

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All works and texts copyright © Edward Thompson 2024