Nigel Barker Thinks a Photo Book Is the Perfect Gift for Travelers — Here’s How He Makes His

It’s safe to say photographer Nigel Barker has inspired a lot of people, from wannabe models and photographers to the best professional models and photographers working in the industry today. Known by many from his time as a judge and photographer on America’s Next Top Model, he has shot fashion editorials for magazines across the planet.

But while it's Barker's professional work that put him on the map, his most important photographs are the ones you’ll never see on newsstands — the ones shared between him and his family and friends, and the private moments captured on yearly trips to Point Clear, Alabama.

So it makes sense that Barker teamed up with Mimeo Photos, a free third-party Photos app extension for macOS. With Mimeo, users can easily create stunning photo books, calendars, or cards using the photos that are already saved in their Mac’s Photos app.

In an effort to finally do something with those travel photos we all have saved on our computers, we sat down with Barker to pick his brain about how to make the perfect photo book and why they make such good gifts for travelers.

Courtesy of Nigel Barker
Courtesy of Nigel Barker

Travel + Leisure: What are the benefits of creating a photo book?

Nigel Barker: "I don’t think there is a single professional photographer who would disagree that photography is nothing without printing. Of course we have social media, which is a form of 'digital printing,' but the essence of photography is to capture a moment in time and by printing those images we can savor them, reminisce and remind ourselves and others of moments we thought were special and worth saving."

Why do you make photo books for yourself?

"With a photo book you get to put those images into perspective and create a narrative around the moment. As a fashion photographer I am used to producing stories for magazines and a photo book helps us all tell the story of the moment, trip, or event. I don’t just make them for myself, I make them for everyone — as gifts to grandparents from their grandchildren, for friends we visit on our fun weekend adventures, to clients who love a behind-the-scenes of a campaign we worked on together, to myself. I have several photo books in every room of the house and am currently making one for my wife of the past 25 years we spent together."

Courtesy of Nigel Barker
Courtesy of Nigel Barker

What tips do you have for creating the perfect photo book?

"First of all, gather all the images you want to include in the photo book and, personally, I don’t edit them down too much. The reason is that when you are laying out the book it’s nice to have options on size and shape — and although certain images look best by themselves, when creating a layout another crop might work better.

The cover sets the stage. I spend time swapping in and out the cover shot and sizing the font for the title, because once that is done the rest of the book falls into place. Small anecdotes of your thoughts, of where you were or who you were with, are really good to add as text next to the photos. You don’t want to look back at a book you did years ago and not quite remember who you were with or where exactly you were!"

Courtesy of Nigel Barker
Courtesy of Nigel Barker

How do you pick the theme for a photo book?

"Photo books can be whimsical, fun, matter-of-fact, or professional, it just depends what and who it’s for. I have created silly but really fun and eye-catching photo books for friends who have come to stay with us for the weekend. They tend to be short, 20-page soft-cover books a bit like a comic strip. When I take more substantial trips to foreign countries I use more classic, timeless layouts, usually favoring big white borders to help frame the landscapes and set the tone.

When creating a photo book for a friend, family member, or client, I try to think about who they are and what they are into when picking a theme and if you can’t find a pre-designed layout you can always create one from scratch using our blank canvas selection."

What is the best way to lay out a photo book?

"I lay out my books differently depending on the project, but there are some general rules I use. The cover sets the stage and is usually a defining moment. The first page is normally quirky with a sense of humor and then, starting on page 2, I go back to the beginning of the trip and start to lay out the book in chronological order. I tend to put the more informal, behind the scenes, and scrappy pictures together on collage pages and next to them put single grand shots as statements. As I lay out my photo books I break the story into chapters or events, often using a certain type of photo to indicate when that is happening like a [black and white] shot, a portrait, or a full bleed landscape."

Courtesy of Nigel Barker
Courtesy of Nigel Barker

What advice do you have for picking the right photos?

"The right photos are the ones that you like and mean something to you. I judge my photos less on technical perfection and more on emotional impact. A photo may be soft or slightly out of focus but perhaps the evening was a blur anyway… the point is that a great story isn’t about perfection, it’s about bringing the viewer on a visual trip with you. That can be a complete replica of your experience or it can even be better than it actually was."

Do you have any tips or tricks for taking the perfect travel photo in the first place?

"Always carry a camera with you as you never know when a great moment or vista is about to happen or come around the corner. Look for the unusual and no matter what you are shooting think about how that specific moment makes you feel when you shoot it. By concentrating on the emotion a sunset, mountain range, ocean makes you feel you will hopefully be inspired to try and capture a shot that evokes that feeling when you see it in your photo book."

Travel + Leisure readers can use the code TRAVEL20 to get 20% off a Mimeo photo project.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.