Coffee table book photography & conceptual imagery

Great coffee table books all have one thing in common – captivating imagery. And being typically image led, the photography and other imagery in a coffee table book is arguably more important than anything else.

The majority of clients who commission us to create a coffee table book have at least some pre-existing imagery. Whether photography from previous photoshoots, licensed from image libraries, from historical archives or, in the case of artists, created by themselves. Depending on a specific book brief this is sometimes all that’s needed. But behind most of the coffee table books we create there is a wider, overarching book concept, something that elevates a brand beyond mere products, services, facts or artworks.

The role of conceptual imagery

Expressing a coffee table book concept and telling a brand’s story emotively often requires supporting imagery that is more conceptual in nature. Either conceptual in terms of the actual photograph selection, or conceptual in the way it is used alongside existing photography or other imagery.

A photograph of an imposing mechanical digger is contrasted with a ballet dancer to illustrate the ultimate skill and precision required to extract precious slabs of stone safely and without damage – (MOVING MOUNTAINS, Reveal Rox)

You don’t need to understand the book concept above to see how powerful and evocative conceptual imagery can be. Only once a book concept is established is it possible to conceptualise coffee table book photography in this way.

Our book concept stage includes a mood-boarding exercise exploring broad design themes and creative approach. It is during this stage that we visualise different ways for how a book concept might be expressed. This is often done through a combination of a clients pre-existing photography (primary imagery) and other more conceptual photography (secondary imagery). At this stage we are less concerned with final image selections and practicalities surrounding where the conceptual images come from, and much more focussed on finding beautiful, evocative ways to express the book concept through imagery.

Image sourcing & budgeting

Obviously at some stage practicality and imagery budget must be considered. We are very mindful of this and will always propose multiple imagery concepts to suit various budgets. Assuming more image assets are needed, there are broadly three options – an art directed photoshoot, image sourcing or commissioned illustrations/image makers. In our experience as professional book makers, some of the best coffee table books we have created include a combination of all three. Concepts may well also include an element of photography retouching to work effectively.

A perfect photograph of latte art serviced on board a Bombardier private jet beautifully illustrates ‘the smoothest ride ever’. Achieved through retouching the client’s own product image (the jet) with stock photography (the landscape and coffee cup) – (‘ABOVE’, Bombardier)

Coffee table book photographers & image makers

We are aligned with a trusted network of professional photographers and image makers, each with different specialities – from private jets and superyachts through to product photography and portraiture.

We can also assist with sourcing stock photography and image licensing, whether that is from well-known image libraries such as Getty Images, Alamy or Camerapress, free image libraries such as Unsplash, Pexels or Pixabay or more specialist libraries such as Science Photolibrary or Gap Photos.

Stock photography has a reputation for looking very staged and obviously like stock. However, careful and meticulous image searching can turn up some fantastic results and there’s absolutely no harm in using stock photography or other types of stock imagery in a supporting role. Sourcing good stock images is a significant investment of time, but often necessary when a commissioned photoshoot is out of the question due to either practicality or budget.

The role of augmented reality in coffee table books

Although we are print designers at heart, we are also great enthusiasts of emerging technologies, and in particular digital art. Through the use of Augmented Reality (AR) we can bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds to create a spell-binding coffee table book that can come to life with animation and sound.

If you are considering commissioning a custom coffee table book we would love to help. Please complete the enquiry form at the bottom of this page and we will be delighted to answer any questions you may have.