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Affinity Publisher for photographers: tips and tricks for professional presentation

During his thirty-year creative career, photographer Niall Benvie has used presentation as a means to stand out from the crowd. Here he describes how photographers can use Affinity Publisher to get their work noticed—and extend their creative practice.

I sometimes wonder why so many photographers put so much effort into the creation of their pictures—to make them personal—only to be completely generic in their presentation: with dated websites, awful PowerPoint slides, or ugly newsletters with dodgy fonts. I think that creative practice should extend further than the creation of the image. What Affinity Publisher lets photographers do is “add value” to the raw material; to make gorgeous cakes from eggs, flour and sugar.

Here are my top tips for photographers looking at Publisher.

1. Presentation is key for photographers

If you think that you don’t need a DTP app in your life, think again. It’s a bit like saying that you don’t need friends; of course, you can live without them, but with them, life is so much richer. Publisher is the friend who makes you, or at least your work (!), look good. It lets you present your photography in the equivalent of a leather-bound portfolio case rather than carrying it around in a tatty old plastic bag.

2. You know more about presentation than you think

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you’re not trained as a graphic designer, you’ll not be able to use Publisher effectively. You’re a photographer: you know how to compose a picture for balance, where to focus attention, how to establish hierarchy. It’s not so very different when you lay out a page. And every day, everywhere you go, you are surrounded by design: look and learn. I’ve learned to turn even the dullest shopping trip into a time when I can study what is working and what is not in the design around me, which fonts chime and which are discordant in their context, to see how someone else has tackled the terrifying empty page.

3. Look at layout from a designer’s point of view

I so wish I had spent time at the start of my career with a designer or editor. I would have learned that what they need in an image is often not how I want to make it as a photographer. I want to shoot it vertically; they need to use it as a spread. I meticulously compose the picture for perfect balance within the frame: they need space around the subject to lay out text. I know that this image works best as a panorama; they regard panoramas with “gutter dread” as they know that, inevitably, the focus of the picture will disappear out of sight in a spread. Using Publisher to work with your own images will make you much more aware of what works and what doesn’t.

4. Try more complex things with your images

It’s incredibly hard to get anyone to look at a picture for more than two seconds these days, so I make great use of Publisher to create complex compositions involving multiple images. Complexity is a useful device for holding the viewer’s attention, just a little bit longer. In the past, I have used image editing apps for creating my “block collages” but Publisher, geared as it is to layout, is streets ahead in terms of user-friendliness. Crucially, too, you’re working in a non-destructive, native vector environment which saves a lot of time making conversions from raster to vector.

5. Work in vector and raster

There are occasions when what I want to do (for example, to erase the end of a plant’s stem) can’t be done because the object is a vector. I like that I can hop over to the Photo Persona’s raster environment, do the job, and return to Publisher without ever having to leave the document.

6. Utilise Master Pages

Master Pages are really worth mastering because they help you to work more quickly and with greater consistency. The time you spend at the start of a project setting them up will be saved many times over as you build the pages. All slides I show nowadays are built using a Publisher template with just two Master Pages. While the layout for a slide is often pretty simple and therefore well-served by Master Pages, when it comes to more complex documents, it’s easy to become unstuck if you have created overly-prescriptive Masters. But don’t worry; there is always the Edit Detached option you can fall back on, which makes those x’s at the corner of a Text or Picture Frame disappear so you can move or re-size them.

7. Let Publisher generate colour swatches for you

The automatic Colour Swatch generator (Create Palette from Image) not only allows you to create a set of colours to work with within the application but is a very interesting creative tool in its own right. It takes the grunt work out of colour sampling an image by doing it automatically—and creating up to 256 different coloured swatches in the process. These can then be applied to objects and shapes within a piece of work, as well as text, strokes and fills.

8. Keep all your assets in one place

Publisher rewards the organised, and if you want to avoid a red light in your Preflight warnings, put all the visual “assets” (photos, logos etc.,) in a folder dedicated to the project and don’t move that folder until after the project is finished. If you don’t do this, you can end up with lots of AWOL objects missing from the parade ground of your document and have to send out search parties to bring them back to barracks.

9. Learn how other PDFs have been made

If you’re new to Publisher, you maybe don’t know that you can use it to open PDFs that haven’t been locked. This can be a very enlightening exercise if those PDFs inspire you because you can get under the bonnet to see their technical makeup: which fonts have been used and their leading, tracking and kerning; if the creator has used a baseline grid; the resolution of the pictures; and many more useful pointers.

10. Repurpose elements across your documents

Presenting your work professionally takes time, of course, but you can reduce the burden of that investment by repurposing elements from your Publisher document, in others. So, for example, when I create a PDF brochure for one of our Retreats to post online, in sRGB at web resolution, I can revisit the original Publisher file and re-export the cover at 300 dpi in CMYK for an advertisement in print, when I need to.

Final thoughts

When I began my photography career thirty years ago, we didn’t have to shout too loudly to be heard by editors. They might not let us through the door, but they could hear us. Today, the crowd has swelled to the point that if you could even draw enough breath in the crush of photographers to shout, you just wouldn’t be heard in the clamour. Publisher is the megaphone you need to lift your voice above the din.

Niall offers one-to-one online Publisher classes to photographers to help them use the application to refine their own presentation. To find out more visit

About the photographer

Niall grew up in eastern Scotland, where his parents were berry farmers. He ran and worked the farm until it was sold in the late 1980’s then studied geography and contemporary European studies at Dundee University for his honours degree. But his first love has always been the natural world—and image-making.

He has been at the centre of several of the largest outdoor photography initiatives of the last 15 years including Wild Wonders of Europe, Meet Your Neighbours and 2020VISION.

He was a Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and has published seven books and hundreds of articles. He has also been named by Outdoor Photography Magazine as one of the World’s 40 most influential nature photographers.

You can learn more about Niall and his work here and on Instagram.

Spotlight editor

As editor of Affinity Spotlight Melanie oversees the stories, interviews and tutorials published on the site. Outside of work she enjoys travelling, reading crime thrillers, Pilates and dabbling in a spot of oil painting. Get in touch with Melanie if you would like to contribute or be featured on Affinity Spotlight.

Credits & Footnotes

All images copyright of Niall Benvie and used with permission.