© 2011 photobookgirl

Photo Book Layouts – A Design Tutorial – You Make the Call!



I have done a number of photo book layout posts before, but this one gets into the specifics of why I chose to place a certain photo in a particular box on the page.  Kind of obsessive, huh?  Well, for those of you who have been following me for a while, you’re not surprised.  No worries, there’s no mathematical equations to worry about, most of it is what feels right.  You’ll soon get the hang of it!

Click here for my TOP TIPS on photo book layouts and How Tos!

To make this fun, I thought I would borrow from a feature I remember seeing as a kid when my father would watch football.  Do you remember during the commercial breaks, something called – “YOU MAKE THE CALL”?  They would show a pivotal play from some past game where the referee had to make a close call, and the viewers had to guess the “right” call. Then they showed what actually occurred.

So, play along, pick your favorites and then scroll down to see what I ended up picking as the winning design.

Let’s have some fun!


Picture 21b


Picture 22b



Picture 26b


Picture 25b



Picture 23


Picture 22


Picture 21



Picture 27b


Picture 30


Picture 29


Picture 28b



Picture 26


Picture 24



So, did you choose your favorites?  Let’s see if they were the same as my picks!  By the way, these photos were taken by my brother, so I can’t take credit for these since I didn’t get to go! (sob story…)  By now, you may have become familiar with my own particular style of creating photo book layouts. By no means is my style “the style” – you should inject your own personal taste and creativity into your photo book projects, but if you find it helpful, I’m happy to share the thought process that I go through in creating my layouts.



Picture 21b

The reason why this layout wins over the other, illustrates the photographic concept of “leading room” – allowing your main subject in the photo some space in front to breathe.  Although in this case the car could be considered a secondary subject (the ancient ruin the back could be considered the main subject), the car in the foreground stands out much more to me.  So even though the photo itself doesn’t allow a lot of leading room ahead of the car, I can give the car the space it needs by putting the photo on the left side of spread. If I went with the other layout, the car looks like it’s about to run into the road marker and the composition looks too heavy in the center.
Picture 22bPlus, with most photo books (the non lay-flat kind)  you tend to lose some of the spread to the binding of the book.  So, if you were to go with layout #2A (at left), the key parts of the photo, especially the road marker one, may fall into the gutter (center) of the book.
I also felt these photos looked better in black and white.  In most photo book software, you can easily click on a single button to convert the photo from color to black and white and back.  Here’s the original in color.  The color version is nice too, but black and white won out here.

Picture 22

PHOTOBOOKGIRL TIP: Even though your camera may have settings to allow you to shoot in black and white or sepia, always shoot in color.  You can always easily convert it later in most if not all free photo book software.  If you shoot it in black and white, there’s no going the other way!



Picture 25b

This shows just a slight difference, but again, I’m trying to mind the gutter.  The photo of my parents if I were to put it on the inside, may get swallowed by the binding.  Also, I like the idea of mirroring the spread on the left – I think it flows slightly better than #2A.



Picture 21
This layout won out for me as there is a good balance among the photos with people and those without. I try to intersperse landscape photos with photos of people to break up the monotony.

Picture 23Picture 22

The one on the left is top heavy and the bottom images sort of run together.  The one on the right looks heavy on the right.  Also, the leading room on the photo of my mom looks best in the winning layout.



Picture 27b

Here’s another layout where the left and right spreads are mirrored.  I actually used the zoom tool to make the two horizontal images smaller so that less of the image would get cropped out.  You may notice that with fixed layouts (like those in Snapfish, Shutterfly, MyPublisher-Mac version), the program may crop some of your photo to make it fit into the box.  Here I did not want to lose any of the image so zoomed out to make the image smaller so the full image would appear.  The shape of the book (square, portrait or landscape) can also affect the amount of cropping that occurs.  I also like how the bold red colors of the vertical photos frame the page and gives it balance.  So, it’s a balance of color as well as layout.

Picture 28b Layout #4D is also not bad since the photos on the right are larger and feel like they balance out the two red vertical photos better than the other two.



Picture 24 There’s only a slight difference between the two layouts, but I like this one better.  The panoramic cropping of the photos shows you more of the images at left and right that were originally cut out when they took up the entire page as a full page bleed.  Since the subjects are all in motion, the lengthening of the images adds to the sense of movement from left to right.


So how did you do?  Did you agree or not agree with my choices?  Comment below and let me know what you think!




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  1. Denise Dewire
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 7:08 am | #

    Well you and I are on the same page….no pun intended! The only one I wasn’t sure of was 5….I guess because of the slight change in the photo! Guess I’m a photobookgirl too! Thanks for all your wonderful information!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted January 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm | #

      I think you intended the pun! haha… yes, you are a photobookgirl too!

  2. Kathy
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 10:05 am | #

    I agree with your choices since I picked the same ones haha. That was a lot of fun, thanks for posting!

    Btw, I just played around with shutterfly and they automatically make you a photobook from all the photos in an album…pretty cool!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted January 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm | #

      Hi Kathy! We both have good taste then! Ha ha… The auto book builders are pretty popular – most photo book companies have them. I’m going to be reviewing a service soon called Smilebooks – they actually have a design service so apparently an actual person lays out your book for you for a small additional fee and then you can go back to them and asks for edits… Interesting huh?

      • Kathy
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 7:38 am | #

        Yeah, I only noticed that now! I used the auto-build for both my shutterfly and smilebooks ones and just edited after that and it’s so nice and easy. Oh and I didn’t go with the design service at smilebooks but it is very interesting!

  3. Posted January 7, 2011 at 10:21 am | #

    How fun! I picked all the same ones you did! (except I chose 4d as my favorite, but I still count it as winning since you mentioned it in your picks!)

    Photobook layouts are my favorite things to do. And you’re right, you just “know” when it’s right!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted January 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm | #

      Ha ha – yes, 4D still counts! Sometimes the differences are really slight, but it’s definitely a feel thing! 🙂

  4. Sharon
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 10:35 am | #

    That was fun!! I liked layout 4B with the reds paired together, and larger photo of the building showing the detailed designs more, and then then the other shot of the red building right next to the first.

    • photobookgirl
      Posted January 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm | #

      Glad you liked it! I thought it would be fun to do something more interactive 🙂 If folks like these “tutorial quizzes”, I’ll be inspired to come up with more! Yes, the reds paired together have a lot of impact don’t they? I almost went for 4D 🙂

  5. Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:14 am | #

    Yey! I chose the same ones as you! That made me feel great because I’m about to make my first ever photobook and am nervous about laying it out. Thanks for all the tips! They’re making me feel a little more confident about my project.

    • photobookgirl
      Posted April 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm | #

      I think a lot of it is trusting your own instincts! Best of luck on your project!

  6. Janet
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:17 am | #

    Thanks for taking the time to do this helpful article. I learned a lot! My photo books will improve because of you!

    The only thing I disagree with is that I prefer the color images of the first set. There is not a great amount of color to begin with, and I like seeing all the browns. I might have converted these to sepia if that option existed. But, I’m more of a sepia person than B&W.

    • photobookgirl
      Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:26 am | #

      I like them both 🙂

  7. jennaCam
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm | #

    hilarious! I picked EVERY ONE the same! I’ve been scrapbooking for eons, so I’m guessing thats why. I know (what i think) ~flows~ 🙂

    • photobookgirl
      Posted March 11, 2013 at 9:34 pm | #

      Awesome, good to hear that I have your affirmation too! Great minds think alike! 🙂

  8. F. Carvalho
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm | #

    Great post! I picked the first four options just like you, so much time spent deciding… but what fun!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm | #

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  9. Phil Brown
    Posted September 16, 2014 at 3:07 pm | #

    On layout 1: I went with B. Actually, both of the photos have compositional issues that make it a draw which layout to use. Your choice of A was valid for the reasons you stated, but it bugs me. In A, both of the dominant elements – the car and the marker – are facing away from the layout (as they would with or without leading space), leaving dead space in the middle (despite the building because it’s not dominant). This, to my eye, pulls the layout apart, as though the car and marker are trying to break free. The layout lacks cohesion. A solution to make B more attractive would be to reduce the size of the image with the marker. This would provide size contrast between the two, and you could put some extra space between the two, and it would scale down the marker so that it does not overwhelm the car.

    On layout 4, I went with B. In A, the woman in the foreground is looking away from the center of the layout, visually tugging at the cohesion of the spread. D is OK, but I narrowly chose B because the woman is looking back toward the entire layout. Again, though, that photo has compositional tension because the woman and the couple are looking away from each other. B could use some text to help balance the spread.

    • photobookgirl
      Posted September 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm | #

      Thanks for the tips Phil! It’s always good to get another eye on things. Interestingly going back and doing this myself again, I think I like 4B or 4D better now. 🙂

  10. Jen
    Posted September 16, 2014 at 3:19 pm | #

    I picked all the same! Glad you posted this, I am in the middle of making my wedding album and keep starting at my layouts adjsuting them, trying to decide if they are layed out approproately!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted September 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm | #

      Good luck with your wedding book!

  11. Brenda VanHorn
    Posted September 16, 2014 at 8:17 pm | #

    I picked the same as you in every layout except #4. I chose 4D. Love your photos.

    • photobookgirl
      Posted September 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm | #

      Thanks! hope you enjoyed playing along!

  12. Posted September 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm | #

    Cool idea for a post! We agreed on almost everything.

  13. Norma
    Posted October 12, 2014 at 6:22 am | #

    I agreed with you on all except I chose 5A instead of 5B. I’m a newbie to photobooking and just discovered your site. I think what bothers me most is not being able to have that book in my hand before ordering from a company (I just did my first 8 x 8 book through Snapfish). I especially worry that my pics won’t look as good to me in a book as they do on my PC screen. I’m really more into slideshows and do lots of them just for my husband and me as we are avid hikers who photograph what we see on the trails. I want to know how to determine whether print photos that I order will have the same vibrance. ??

    • photobookgirl
      Posted October 30, 2014 at 11:29 am | #

      Hi Norma,

      Print photos normally don’t have the same vibrance as on your screen – it’s just not the same medium. What you can do to make sure your photos look their best and do proper editing, sharpening and brightening to the photos before uploading them. Also, you may like those companies that print on real photo paper if vibrance is important to you.

  14. Mary
    Posted August 5, 2015 at 6:57 am | #

    Good info here! I agree with Norma. Seeing my photos on my iMac vs a photo book (Newbie here) is a bit of a worry. However I figure if the photos look good before sending to print I should be quite content with the final results. Being able to relive memories by the turn of the page in my aging years is important to me. Appreciate all of the info you share on your site! Thank you! 🙂

    • photobookgirl
      Posted August 15, 2015 at 6:39 pm | #

      Thanks Mary – I’m glad you’re finding the info useful. Having your photos in a book is so different from looking at them on your computer. There’s just something about having something physical in hand! Best!

  15. Ant. Pedro
    Posted June 13, 2017 at 11:33 am | #

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