How to Make Photo Zines Part 1: Choosing Your Photos


So, you’ve decided to take a stab at making a zine that features your photos. If you’re still scratching your head and wondering how to put it together, I’ve made a two-part guide that can help you get started. Part I is about three simple tips that should help you choose the photos for your first zine.

But first, what is a zine exactly? Take it as an individual’s (or group’s) self-published magazine which can serve a number of purposes. It doesn’t strictly follow an editorial structure, and you’re free to put anything you want in it. A photo zine, for example, is a tool that a photographer can use to inform or raise awareness, demonstrate a style, showcase a project, or simply tell a visual story.

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When I began making photo zines two years ago, I wanted something that followed a theme and had some sort of story. I bought and browsed zines of all kinds, got tips from friends who made them and read about self-publishing before I finally dove headfirst into my first project. One of the first lessons I learned was that the objective can be different for each author, artist, or photographer. But for me, a photo zine is not supposed to be something that is simply visually enticing. Instead, it should be a cohesive body of work that has a strong message or story to tell. This is where choosing the photos for a zine project will prove to be crucial.

1. Figure out the topic, theme, or message of your zine.

I consider this to be the most important part of the work, and the one that usually takes the most time for me. It usually doesn’t come easy. Every zine out there has a message or story tell — what do you want yours to say? Do you want to share a compelling personal experience? Do you want to create a preview of an ongoing project? Or do you see a common theme in your work that you want to highlight through a printed material?

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2. Decide how to tell your story or message through your photography.

Once you get your message or story figured out, the next thing on your list is how you can best execute it. This is the part where you craft the narrative or visual style for your zine. You can make it sequential like a flip book, or non-linear like a collection of similar scenes, colors, and subjects. You can even play around with diptychs, photo essays, and juxtapositions.

3. Create a selection of photos.

In this process photographers often refer to as editing, you can make an initial batch of photos that fit the story or theme of your zine. Then, following the message and execution you have in mind, narrow the selection down and arrange the photos in the order that best tell your story. Some photographers prefer to print an initial batch so they can easily rearrange the photos and visualize what it would look like on the zine. This is also especially helpful if you’re planning to progress into bigger printed materials, like a self-published photo book.

In the next part, I’ll cover some basic tip, for layouting, printing, and assembling zines.

Need some examples of photo zines for reference and inspiration? Head over to The Zinery – a zine culture and self-publishing blog to read about some of the beautiful photo zines I’ve collected so far. You can also check out my shop to preview the zines I’ve made.

Joy Celine Asto

A budding writer, aspiring photographer, and part-time traveler from Manila. Finds bliss in exploring the world around her and documenting them in photos and stories. Runs on caffeine, lives on books, savors good music, and thrives in everything creative. Also a full-time cat-mom.