Guides, Zine

How to Make a Film Photography Zine

In episode 32 of Matt Loves Cameras film photography podcast I talk about the creative process of putting together a film photography zine with Adobe InDesign and Mixam printers.

My film photography zines

What’s a zine?

A zine is a self-published booklet of images and text produced in small print runs. The word zine is derived from the words magazine and fanzine. Fanzines date back to the 1930s, when fans of a particular movement in popular culture produced unofficial booklets about their favourite sports team, band music genre, comic or science fiction book. The first fanzine was ‘The Comet’, a science fiction fanzine launched in 1930.

In the 1970s that there was a huge surge in zine production, when punk music ruled the airwaves and photocopiers became  place in offices all over the world. Zines were usually put together by hand, then photocopied and stapled.

These days the term zine can be a little bit confusing. Many people still think of zines as lo-fi photocopied and stapled books. But the term zine has come to mean any self-published booklet of photography and text.

Why make a film photography zine?

  1. It’s a creative challenge: you will get an amazing feeling of accomplishment putting together a zine of your film photography.
  2. Grow your skills: you will learn a lot when you put together your first zine. Some of the skills involved include design, editing, writing, and marketing.
  3. It’s a brilliant way to showcase your photography: a zine brings together your photos as a collection in one volume for people to appreciate.
  4. Build ties with your community: there are many ways to build ties with the analogue photography community – through social media, through podcasts, through photowalks, and also by publishing your film photos in a zine.

Why use Mixam and Adobe Indesign?

I chose Mixam as my printer and Adobe InDesign as my design software. I’ll outline some of the pros and cons of these choices and I’ll do that by comparing those choices to using online book publishers such as Blurb and MagCloud. These are just my thoughts from my understanding of these services, I’d encourage you to do your own research and see what works for you.

Mixam are a printing company with offices in UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Typically with Mixam you will send them your zine and buy a stack of them to sell. You can do that with Blub and MagCloud too, but these services offer printing on demand, where they print a book or zine and send it straight to the customer. Many people seem to just share their Blurb or MagCloud link, not selling their zine directly.

Laying out Every Summer in InDesign.

Advantages of Mixam:

  • Sending your zine is more personal. You buy a stack of zines and tell everyone about them. When you send your zine in the post, you can sign it, add a handwritten letter, Instax prints, stickers, film, anything you like. If you use a service that sends it straight to the customer, you can’t add any personal touches.
  • You can customise the look and feel of your zine: there’s a wide range of choices like type of paper (uncoated, silk, matte), weight of paper 100gsm to 170gsm) finishes, cover options, binding options – really up to you. Other photo book companies do give you some choices, but they seem a little more locked in to set products rather than full customisation.

Disadvantages of using Mixam

  • Typically, you have to order a significant quantity to make the zine economically viable. With Mixam I’d suggest the minimum would be around the 25 mark before the cost per zine comes down.
  • There’s an upfront cost of carrying stock, whereas Blurb and MagCloud print on demand and dropship individual copies of books straight to customers.

Advantages of using Adobe InDesign for your zine

  • Adobe InDesign is the industry standard for design. You have much more creative control over how your zine will look compared to software that photo book companies provide you with.
  • You can easily create a digital PDF of your zine – if you use photo book software, check to see if they provide you with a PDF for free – I’ve heard some companies charge you for one.

Disadvantages of using Adobe InDesign for your zine

  • There’s a learning curve – many people give up.
  • It’s not cheap unless you can get a special deal.
    • EDIT: Since this podcast has gone to air, I’ve had two people recommend the open source program Scribus. Thank you Ted Smith and Francois Laverdure! Other alternatives include creating your zine in Adobe Photoshop or the book module in Adobe Lightroom – both of which are cheaper than buying the full suite which includes InDesign.

Every Summer Film Photography Zine

What’s your zine about?

Ideas for your zine are limitless! Here are a few starters:

  • Location – your town or region, or somewhere you visited.
  • Item – a collection of photos based around an item. Anil Mistry published a book of photos of mattresses at the side of the road.
  • Film – Photos you took with a particular film emulsion.
  • Camera – photos taken with a particular camera (Leica) or type of camera (half frame, 645 etc).
  • Lens – photos taken with the same lens e.g. 135mm project.
  • Tell a story about someone or something.
  • A feeling or an idea – your imagination is your only limit!

What makes a good zine?

The best ones I’ve seen are a mix of being entertaining, inspiring and useful. How can you showcase your personality through your zine? How can you pass on your knowledge? How can you inspire people to shoot more film, produce a zine, or develop their own film?

Also think of wider audiences beyond film photography. A good example of this is Charlie Thom’s zine ‘The Nuclear Option’.

Choose your format

There are so many creative choices that you can make when you publish a film photography zine, the look and feel of the final product is up to you, and the lines between a zine and a book are often blurred.

For example, my first film photography zine Every Summer is perfect bound – the pages are glued together into the spine without a staple in sight. It’s full-colour, printed on uncoated paper, and the cover has a smooth laminate finish. It falls somewhere between the extremes of a do-it-yourself stapled zine and a high-end coffee table book.

I chose the square 21cm x 21cm format as this is a good size and works for all image types. It’s good to work out how many pages you will make your zine and what type of binding you want before you start in InDesign as these choices can affect the margins of your pages. Make sure you read all the information your printer gives you about this.

I decided to use perfect binding for my zine Every Summer.

If you’re not sure what kind of paper you’d like, as Mixam (or your printer) for a paper samples pack. I went for 170gsm uncoated paper for the first run of my zine, and 300gsm satin paper for the cover with a smooth laminate finish.

Also remember that the more pages you have, the more expensive your zine will be and the more it will weigh. Mixam give you an approximate weight estimation on your order – but take it with a grain of salt. My zines were around 14g (half an ounce) heavier than the estimation, which meant they were to heavy to ship overseas economically. In the end I had a second run of my zine done with 150gsm paper to make a lighter version.

Make sure you check out the postage / shipping options and plan the weight of your zine around the most economical method of shipping it to customers.

To add text or to not add text

There are two schools of thought for adding text. One is that the photos should tell the story. The other is that text adds extra content and information that the reader may find useful. The latter is the approach I took, mostly because I love all that extra detail and I enjoy writing. I introduced each section of my zine Every Summer with anecdotes about each place, why I took images there, what inspired me and so on.

Every Summer book

2 page spread from Every Summer

2 page spread from 35mm Japan

Editing and review

Double check spellings and read every sentence slowly word by word. This may sound ridiculous, but when we read the same information over and over again, often we don’t read the words that are on the page. Instead, we read what we think we wrote instead.

You can also ask a friend or colleague to proofread and review your zine before you send it to the printers.

Colour spaces

The images we work on our computers are in the RGB colour space, but when you export a PDF from InDesign it typically needs to be in the CMYK colour space. CMYK has a narrower range of colours than RGB, so sometimes your images will look duller and less saturated in CMYK colour space.

I’d advise you to export your zine when you have all the photos laid out, so you get used to the differences in what your images look like. If there are any images that don’t look right, you can always tweak them in Photoshop or Lightroom and reimport them to InDesign to try and get a better result.

My second film photography zine 35mm Japan

PR for your zine

There’s lots of ways to publicise your zine, here are a few:

  • Have a Kickstarter style launch – early buyers get extra goodies!
  • Share it on your social media: Facebook and Instagram are good places to start.
  • List it for sale on your website.
  • Post about your zine in Facebook groups.
  • Send your zine to podcasters for review.
  • Write an article about some of the images to send to Emulsive, 35mmc or KosmoFoto. Just be aware there can be a delay in getting articles published.

Every print copy of Every Summer or 35mm Japan comes with postcards and one of 2 Matt Loves Cameras stickers!

Film photography zine resources

My film photography zines