Some images are okay to use in books and others are not. There are three general criteria to consider:

  1. Does the content and composition of the image add value for the reader (even if the value is purely decorative)?
  2. Is the image legally available to use?
  3. Is the image of a technical quality that can be successfully printed?

1. Content and composition. Some photos are valuable as historical documents. Others help illustrate and explain. Others merely brighten the reader’s mood. But a few well-selected images will have more impact than a bucketful of mediocre snapshots. Professional photographers may snap anywhere from a hundred to a thousand pictures for every one they publish.

Look critically at each image. Does it include distracting or confusing elements that will be hard to crop out or eliminate some other way? (In journalism, science, and scholarly work, manipulating a photo has ethical implications; but in many fields it is perfectly acceptable to do a little touch-up in Photoshop to add clarity for the reader.) Does the composition draw the reader’s attention to the most important element or away from it? Does it draw the reader’s eye off the page or into it?

Sometimes you have a limited choice of images and have to make the best of what you have. One thing you can do is rotate an image that seems askew. Usually the problem is just the natural perspective when the shot was taken from the wrong place in the scene. You can improve the situation dramatically by rotating the image to make the most central vertical element, such as the corner of the room or the edge of a doorway vertical on the page.

[Previous: Controlling page depth, part 3]

[Brian Jud invited me to contribute short articles on book interior design to his Book Book Marketing Matters newsletter, a biweekly e-zine. This page is adapted from one of those articles.]