Editors: Nina & Terri Jean

There is an undeniable draw to your childhood home — no matter where life leads you, no matter how many times you move, there is always that one place that truly feels like home. In this piece, photographer and photo book maker Suzanne O’Brien pays homage to her family's first home and shares with us her five tips to creating a truly memorable photo book. Take it away Suzanne:

Late last year we moved from our home of 15 years. This was the first home we purchased as newlyweds, the home where we started our family and raised our kids for the first 10 and 12 years of their lives. I loved this home and all of the memories created inside (and out) of those four walls.

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

The idea to create a book honoring this special place had been percolating in my mind for awhile, but it was one simple moment that motivated me to move this book to the top of my project list. It happened on the night before our house went on the market. My son and I were clearing out the remaining items from the garage and he became so emotional he couldn't help any more. We're talking sobbing-in-the-driveway-while-hugging-a stuffed-animal-kind-of-sad. He was able to perfectly express the feelings behind his emotions, and boy could I relate to his biggest fear - he was scared he would forget all of the awesome memories we had created in that home.

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

So I created this book as a love letter to all of those beautiful memories, to our home. The Moleskine by Milk 7x10 Portrait Monograph book was the perfect size for this small story. Inside the beautiful pages I was able to capture the visuals, and most importantly, the stories of each room.

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

Here are five techniques I utilized to create an album that, despite including content spanning multiple years, flows and feels cohesive...


Many of the Moleskine books have a fixed number of pages (60 in the case of the book I selected) so it is helpful plan ahead. To get started, I counted the number of rooms/areas I wanted to include in my story. I then calculated that each space could have 2 pages (one layout), with the flexibility to add 2 extra pages for those areas (like the back yard shown below) that had a lot of photos.

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.comHome Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

I also factored in the pages required to tell the story of the beginning (what the house looked like when we walked it in the open house) and the end of our time in the house. The end story included photos of us packing up and moving out, the garage sale we held, the marketing photos of our home staged to sell, as well as a photo and the personal letter written to us by the adorable family who purchased our home. I also created this timeline layout documenting the crazy timing of the whole process (we toured, bought and moved in to our new home in less than a month!)

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

Planning out the structure of your book like this can remove some of the overwhelming "where do I even start" feelings experienced by many people at the onset of creating a photo book.


Once I knew the rough organization of the album, I employed one of my favorite book-making techniques - establishing a design formula that runs throughout the book. Since I knew I would be designing my book in Adobe inDesign, I set up a repeatable template that worked like this... Left Side (L) = title + image of space + a few stories + QR code (see below) Right Side (R) = images of life lived in that space L + R and repeat!

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

Picking a design for your book that you can carry throughout minimizes the amount of decisions required and provides a consistency to your book that helps the reader flow through the pages.


Pulling a book together from photos throughout the years was made much easier by harnessing the power of keywords in my photo organization software. Because I had tagged all of my photos with keywords such as "House Play", "Bath Time" and "Backyard Play" I was able to more easily find those photos that highlighted all of the good things happening in our home. Consider this your gentle reminder of the benefits of spending the extra time to add some keywords to your photos!



Do you have audio or video files that tell a part of your story that just can't be captured in an image alone? Include those in your book! The night before we moved out, I rounded up my family and we walked around the house together. Each person shared a favorite memory or two in every space. From the dent in the stairwell made by a flying folding chair to the annual growth chart on the linen closet door, these stories are what make a house a home. I recorded the narratives from each room as an individual audio file on my phone, converted to a QR code, and voila our voices telling our stories in these spaces are now included on each page! You can read more about the process behind adding QR codes to your book here.

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com


Ending your book with some final thoughts or a poignant photo provides a sense of completion for your story. This book ends with a poem, Laughter in the Walls, that I have been holding in my heart since I first heard it as a new mom...

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

As soon as this book landed on our doorstep, my oldest curled up on the couch with it and laughed her way through the stories and many funny pictures of her and her brother as little kids. My son is not yet ready to read it. I get that, it will be there whenever he is ready.

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

Home Sweet Home | A Photo Book Love Letter to a Family Home of 15 years | suzanneobrienstudio.com

Website: http://www.suzanneobrienstudio.com/ 
Photo Book 101 Class: https://www.bigpictureclasses.com/classes/photo-book-101 
Instagram: @sobrien
Facebook: www.facebook.com/suzanneobrienstudio

Ever since I returned to writing for myself a couple of years ago, I knew that I would want to compile and print my journaling in a hard copy format so that I could read my words in the same way that I would read an actual book. Creating these journals was truly a labour of love in the most beautiful way, and every time I hold these books in my hand and read my own heartfelt words, I am reminded of the need to keep writing to my dying day...

When I saw this blog post by my friend Liz from Paislee Press, I completely re-imagined this project and I decided to create Moleskine books through MILK Books.

The first step was to decide on a book format. This was a simple decision, as I didn't want the books to be too big and I ideally wanted them to be vertical in orientation. Plus, my intention from the very beginning was to print books without images, as I wanted these to feel more like (written) memoirs rather than photo books. With all this in mind, I quickly settled on the Classic Photo Notebook, which was the same format that Liz used for her photo book.

 I knew from the outset that I would be creating my own layouts in Adobe InDesign, so the second step was to set up a template using the software. To do this, I needed to know what size to make the pages. After playing with the web editor for a while, I realised that all full-page images are inserted into the book with a certain amount of bleed. (This is not the case with all photo book printing vendors so it is definitely worth clarifying printing specifications like this when you use a new printing company for the first time.) So even though the final size of the notebook is 5.12" x 8.15" (ie. 130mm x 207mm), I worked out that I actually needed to set up my pages in InDesign to be 140mm x 220mm, if I wanted my text to print at the 'right' size. (If I didn't do this, my words would be 'blown up' slightly due to the bleed requirement and the text would also appear closer to the edge of the page. More about this below.)

Once I set up the page size correctly at 140mm x 220mm, I created the following internal margins: 5mm for left/right, and 6.5mm for top/bottom. These internal margins acted as a important visual guide for me; whatever appeared inside these margins was what would appear on the printed page, and the area lying on the outside was essentially the bleed.

My biggest design tip when it comes to formatting text is to always create sufficient space between the text and the edge of the page. If there is not enough space, your page will inevitably look cramped and clumsy. This is why finding out about the bleed requirement as discussed above, and re-adjusting my page template accordingly, was such a crucial step. Taking into account the page size, I decided on 17mm as my page margin.

From there, I needed to typeset some sample text and that would essentially become my design template for the books. For each page, I worked out that I wanted to have a title for the journaling, the journaling itself (ie. the body copy), and the journaling date at the bottom of the page in place of page numbers.

I already had a template from a story book that I created over two years ago to document my pregnancy with Edward. That story book was a similar size to the Moleskine Classic Photo Notebook so I retrieved the file, copied over all my typesetting, and used that as a basis for the new template. I kept the typeface and font size for the body copy as Century Schoolbook and 8pt respectively. For the page title, I kept the typeface as Times Italic, but I reduced the font size from 14pt to 12pt so that the title wouldn't look disproportionately big in relation to the Moleskine page size (the other story book was wider). Plus, as much as possible, I didn't want my page titles to have to go over two lines. For the date at the bottom of the page, I decided to go with a contrasting typeface to make it clear that it was separate to the body copy; I chose a Light version of Helvetica Neue, which is my favourite sans serif typeface. I settled on 7pt as the font size so that the date wouldn't visually intrude on the page, and I also increased the kerning dramatically so that the date would stretch further across the page. In this way, the date almost doubled as a graphic element that marked the end of each page.

Once I was happy with the page template, I set about gathering all my personal writing from the previous years and working out how to split it over a few volumes. Unlike other story books that I've made in the past, the Moleskine Classic Photo Notebook has a set number of pages: 96. This made the process just a little trickier, but nothing that couldn't be worked around. First, I downloaded all my personal posts from 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 from both my old Pink Ronnie blog and The Shoemaker's Daughter blog using a software called MarsEdit. Then, I retrieved any additional personal journaling that I'd done via Simplenote (you can read more about that in this blog post). As I looked at all the words that I had from a 'big picture' perspective, I basically culled a series of posts that I didn't feel were personal enough or that warranted a separate story book of its own. This was perhaps the most lengthy and consuming part of the entire process, as it involved reading through a few year's worth of personal writing. By the end of it, I had words to fill a combined 2011/2012 volume, a 2013 volume, and a 2014 volume. Having a few blank pages at the end of each volume didn't worry me.

From there, the rest of the process was quite straightforward. I created a separate InDesign file for each volume and pasted in the page template that I'd created. I then duplicated the page template within each of the files until I had the requisite 96 number of pages. It then became a simple matter of copying and pasting in the text for each of the three volumes. I did this chronologically so that older journal entires appeared at the beginning of each volume, and the newer ones appeared towards the end.

Once all my pages for the three books were completed in InDesign, I exported the pages as JPEG images and then uploaded these to the online MILK Book Editor. I particularly liked the Quick Create function, which allows you to quickly and easily populate each of the 96 pages with full-page images. (I will try to add a tutorial for this to our Videos page at some point.)

For the cover images, I decided to stick with photos that I'd taken of my feet to represent the personal journey that I've been on. More importantly, I knew that I would be making more of these books down the track, and it would be easy to replicate the same type of image to create a consistent look and feel across the different volumes. All I had to do was upload the relevant cover image to the online editor when prompted and then crop/reposition it so that my feet were centred in the space. Similarly, for the book titles, I simply used the online editor to typeset the year(s) in capital letters, ie. TWENTY FOURTEEN for 2014, TWENTY THIRTEEN for 2013, etc.

Less than two weeks later, my books arrived in the mail, and I couldn't have been more pleased and happy with how they turned out. They were exactly as I imagined them to be, and the use of genuine Moleskine materials is simply unbeatable. Just holding these books in my hand is incentive enough to keep writing my heart out so that I can make more of them!

You can read more from Ronnie, purchase her templates, and learn about her online classes on her website Life Captured Inc. 
You can connect with her on:
Instagram @lifecapturedinc
Facebook www.facebook.com/lifecapturedinc
Twitter @lifecapturedinc https://twitter.com/lifecapturedinc

On the first anniversary of her death, today, we are celebrating American photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark. Mary Ellen Mark was an American photojournalist whose compelling empathetic images, mostly in black and white, documented the lives of marginalised people in the US and other countries.

I’ve done photography my whole working life. It is what I do. I used to like it a lot but it has changed a lot.

Margaret Joyce’s First Communion, Travellers’ Encampment, Finglas, Ireland, 1991.
I like the idea of being able to capture a moment in time, but all that has changed now with people being able to Photoshop images so much. You don’t know what is real any more and what isn’t. But I am an analog photographer and it is about capturing the moment of reality. It hasn’t changed for me: I shoot film and I will continue to shoot film. I think it is more beautiful. It is the reason I became a photographer. I am not an illustrator; a lot of the digital, Photoshopped photography is what I would call illustration, not photography. With that kind of work the post-production guy is probably the most important guy in the process.

My big thing was to use magazine assignments almost as grants. But it is harder now to make things happen as they are so interested in celebrity, not documentary work. The climate has changed for doing serious stories. The control advertising has on the magazine medium is more, and editorial no longer want to give the assignments they used to. Now photography is very seldom used to record truth in the magazines, it is used more as decoration. The future of documentary photography is not in a healthy state.

I see better in black and white. Perhaps I’m even a bit color-blind. It’s also the subject matter that I pick that I think works better in black and white.

I just finished doing this project on the Prom, using the 20x24 camera. Having done a book on twins with this camera, I then wanted to find another project where I could really use it right. I love that camera. Unfortunately they stopped making the black- and-white film. I love the ways the prints look—they are beautiful objects, incredible tonality and detail.

Christopher with His Kitten, Sandgap, Kentucky, 1990.
You have to really finalize your decisions when using it. Not only do you have a limited amount of time to work with people, but the film is incredibly expensive. You don’t have the chance to do it this way and that way. I try to shoot four frames, have a series and something you can exhibit. You have to really be in control of your lighting—you are making and taking a picture at the same time. People are amazed by the camera. It is the opposite of digital photography. You are making the decisions all upfront and you can’t just go for it in post-production.

My main influences come from photography and film. I have done a lot of work on film sets. Fellini I adore; if I was going to say just one name as an influence or inspiration, it would probably be him. He presented an amazing world and an amazing imagination, but all based in neorealism. He’s a realist.
I choose things because they have a chance of being visual. The choice is not based on words; it is based on the visual. Sometimes I have worked with writers, and it can be very helpful. But for me a picture has to stand on its own. If it needs text it is not truly visual. For me it is all about the single image.

With celebrity images they often work just because it is a famous face, and it is nothing more. I want to do more. The thing with making a celebrity image is to get beyond the celebrity.
I was lucky with the picture I took of Fellini from behind. I followed him around that day on the set. He has a bullhorn and seems to be almost dancing, like a character in one of his films.
Irony is in my work. You are conscious of what you are looking at and why, it’s in your way of looking. Then you learn how to express it as you become an experienced photographer.

There’s an evolution over the years. There are certain things you are interested in, certain themes, and they manifest themselves in your projects. Things carry through. I would love to do more work on the circus, maybe in Russia or China. And I have always wanted to photograph the gypsy camps in Ireland.
Federico Fellini on the Set of Satyricon, Rome, Italy, 1969.

Photography has a lesser role today, less opportunity to make a difference, and there is less investment in making the real human-interest stories. Magazines like Life and Look, they are not there. I am lucky, I think, that I got to do some of the work the way I did. Lucky I just did the Prom project before the slowdown. Let’s hope somehow good comes out of that.

If you do great pictures it is fine art, no matter what. The galleries manipulate things, the market. If you deliberately set out to be an artist, that is the wrong way to think as a photographer. The work should be great, and that is all that is important. If people want it, and want it to put on their walls, that’s great too.

Download PhotowisdomDownload your own copy of Lewis Blackwell's "Photowisdom: Master Photographers on their Art"


Ever found yourself in front of an iconic monument or building, like the Eiffel tower, Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera house, and taken a great photo only to realise you’ve seen this exact image a thousand times before? Chances are, the tourist standing a metre away from you took an identical photo as well. So how do you get something different? How do you capture an image you’re proud of, an image that’s memorable, and an image that shows a unique point of view?

When I’m encountering something that’s been shot frequently and I need to be different or engaging, I use one of the following methods:

1) Shoot wider or tighter
People are so familiar with popular monuments that they could recognize it by seeing just a small part of it. Most people who haven’t been to Paris, still know what the Eiffel Tower looks like; what they may not have seen, though, is the detail of the monument or what surrounds it. Use that to your advantage. Capture the intricate details that people often don’t get to see. Zoom in on the material used, showing just a hint of what the building is.

Alternatively, give the monument some scale by shooting wide and incorporating the surrounding environment. Even if the surrounds aren’t as attractive as the monument itself, it still adds attention to the image and gives those unfamiliar with the city, a better idea of where exactly the monument is situated.



2) Walk away from the monument 
You read it right; walk away! I always try to walk at least 500m – 1km away from the monument. I can guarantee you at some point along that walk, you’ll come across a totally different angle taken from a different environment, and still capture the monument in the shot. You may see a glimpse of the monument through a small gap. You may even get a clean, unhindered view, free from tourists. Regardless, it will be different and you may even enjoy the experience a little more.

3) Allow the monument to be the backdrop to everyday life 
This is a common method used by documentary photographers. It’s certainly a key element in my own style of travel photography and my method of choice when it comes to creating unique shots of iconic buildings or monuments. Quite often tourists, touts or the general public will get in the way of your photos, so why not make a conscious effort to incorporate them in it? Don’t watch the monument, be in its presence but keep your focus on its visitors. It will require you to people watch and be a fly on the wall but if you’re patient enough, someone will do something eye-catching in front of the monument and at that moment you’ll have the shot.

4) Shoot at the golden hour 
An hour before sunset or soon after sunrise is what photographers refer to as ‘The golden hour’. If I had a choice, I would always shoot an iconic building at sunrise. The quality of light during the golden hour is typically warmer and softer than midday. It can also provide great, long shadows that add another strong visual component to a photo.  You may even capture some interesting images of the locals and their interactions with the monument when you shoot outside of peak hours.

Asanka Brendon Ratnayake is a travel photographer, represented by Lonely Planet / Getty Images. He works on assignment for editorial, NGOs, and commercial clients, with his work used in publications such as TIME, National Geographic, Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, Condé Nast and Der Spiegel. Asanka’s style is recognisable, with an eye for shooting in natural light and an interest in candid, daily life imagery.

Follow Asanka: