Photo Books: How Many Images?

I’ve been thinking about putting together a self published night photography book to use as a portfolio and to sell in conjunction with a print offer. One important question that I’ve struggled with is how many images are ideal for a fine art photography book? 20 to 30 prints seems right for a portfolio, and 50-60 images sounded like a good number for a book.

To stimulate some more thinking on the matter, I pulled 10 great photography books from the shelf, and took some notes. I was also interested in the layout, written material, and physical dimensions. But the main purpose was to pick 10 photo books I really dig, and see how many images are included:

  1. Open Range and Parking Lots / Virgil Hancock III. About 53 photos. Author preface. Gregory McNamee essay interspersed with images. 8.5×10.5″
  2. Suburbia / Bill Owens. About 130 photos. Most on facing pages. 1 page intro only. 10.25″ square
  3. Lost America / Troy Paiva. About 125 photos. Most on facing pages. Stan Ridgway forward, author essays interspersed in chapters. 9″ square
  4. Slide Show / Helen Levitt. About 109 photos. Most on facing pages. No captions. Short 1 page forward by John Szarkowski. 9.5×9.0″
  5. The Americans / Robert Frank. About 86 photos. Intro by Jack Kerouac. Captions at end. 9.5×8.5″
  6. Bravo 20 / Richard Misrach. About 35 photos. First 50 pages are the story written by Myriam Weisang Misrach. Mix of single and facing pages. 9×12″
  7. Occupied Territory / Lynne Cohen. About 75 photos. Mostly facing pages. Forward and short essay, and then images. 9×11.5″
  8. American Prospects / Joel Sternfeld. About 53 photos. Short essays at beginning and end. 10×12″
  9. Gone: Photographs of Abandonment on the High Plains / Steve Fitch. About 70 photos. Author essay plus 2 additional essays. Captions at end. 8.5×10.5″
  10. William Eggleston’s Guide. About 48 photos. John Szarkowski essay. Single images with location on facing page. 9.25″ square

Want to help with the research? Go to your bookshelves, pull out one of your favorites, and let me know the title and how many images are included. Thanks!

6 thoughts on “Photo Books: How Many Images?

  1. Photo books??? That’s one of my favorite topics.

    I self-published a book of night photographs through LuLu a few years ago. I was not “satisfied” with the print quality (I’m being diplomatic, here). I’ve also seen an example of a Blurb book. The print quality was better than LuLu, but not good enough for anything that I would be willing sell.

    I would be very interested in which printing service you end up going with. There’s definitely a trade-off between cost and quality.

    Andy Frazer

  2. A friend told me that LuLu uses a dry toner process which is the worst case scenario. I’m not sure if Blurb is using an HP Indigo or another printing technology. There’s a place in Berkeley that uses a laser printing process that’s supposed to be really good, but it’s expensive. I’m going to start the experiment with Blurb to be economical, and then proceed to a more expensive option if necessary.

    Don’t forget to grab one of your favorite books and let me know how many images are in it!

  3. Joe, here’s a few that I like:

    Richard Avedon: In the American West, 103 pix
    Ray Metzker: City Stills, 76 pix
    Garry Winogrand: The Man in the Crowd; 107 pix
    Daido Moriyama: Daido Moriyama; 83 pages, around 36 double spread pix
    Manuel Alvarez Bravo: Manuel Alvarez Bravo; 63 pix
    Yuichi Hibi: Imprint; 79 pix

    Good luck with your book…

  4. Frontier New York, Jan Staller- 55 images.
    Expansions, William Lesch- 60 images.

    Both have about 30-50% facing pages and a couple of short essays.

    I’m a 75 to 100 image guy myself. Less than that and the book feels light. Especially if you’re charging $50+.

    Which is what you’re going to have to charge for it to cover your costs for an acceptably high quality of printing. Night work is very hard to reproduce.

    The online services have improved in the last couple of years. The tech changes crazy-fast. My brother is looking into it through a local on-demand printer in LA. I thought it looked pretty damn good. They will do sample pages for you if you are a serious buyer. Shoot tom an e-mail and ask him bout it.

  5. Thanks, Troy! Seems like my 50-60 number is on target or slightly low depending on the layout. I appreciate the input.

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