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Getting your family photos into an album can be a huge challenge. It requires a lot of work, thought, time, and skill. Photography is quite important to me (no kidding), and I treasure my family photos more than anything, but as it stands I have only created two family photo albums. Ever.
Yeah. It’s hard!
But I believe that photo albums are one of the best ways to share and preserve your family photos, and capture your stories. So, despite their challenging aspects, I’m making it a point to create more of them. I’ve created hundreds of album designs for clients over the years, and now it’s time to put that same effort into my own photos. Here are some of the tips and tricks I’m using to create these two, and motivate myself to keep doing more, as well as the step-by-step process I use to design them! Let’s go!
This has been the key for me in terms of actually getting albums printed. If I want to make it happen, I need to do it very soon after the photos were taken. If I wait too long, it just gets pushed to the back of my to-do list, I lose enthusiasm, and then when I look through the photos to put the book together my memory has faded, making it harder to tell the story.
My two albums. I just finished the top one, of our recent trip to Vancouver Island!
So step one is to make book creation a priority after a trip, or a birth, or at the end of the year if you want to make a year-in-review type book. The more you can stick to doing this quickly, the greater chance it’ll actually happen.
(If you didn’t get on things quickly, don’t give up. It will still be worth the effort! Just make it a point to start the album sooner next time!)
Another key is to keep your photos organized at all times. If it’s a lot of work just to find all the different images from a trip, chances are you’re going to keep putting it off because that first step is just so much effort. But if it’s a simple matter of opening up one folder and you have all the photos at your fingertips, it’s not going to deter you, and you’re more likely to jump in. There are many different ways to organize your photos, but we like using Lightroom to keep an organized catalog of everything.
Have a Process
Having a good process can be essential with a big project like this. Here’s how I make my books.
Step 1. Go through the photos
First I open up Lightroom, where we have all our photos organized. (If you need some help learning to use Lightroom, and it’s organizational tools, check out our full tutorial here.) I go through them, starring the ones that I like. I don’t have any fancy rating system – generally I use 1 star if I like it, and 5 stars if I really really love it. As you can see below, sometimes other ratings creep in there too. It’s loose.
Feel free to make up a system of your own, or use that one. The key is simply to pick out the images that you like. These aren’t necessarily the exact ones going in the book, they’re just ones you like to have a set to choose from later. So don’t overthink it. If you like it, star it and move on. This process needs to be quick!
The starred photos for my Vancouver Island book.
One thing to keep in mind is that a great album is made up of a lot of variety in the photos. So keep an eye out for different types of photos. I like to look for shots of all the main characters, detail shots, scene setting shots, and action shots.
Step 2. Gather the selects
In Lightroom I then use a filter to view only the starred photos. These are the potential photos to go in the book. Depending on how many I have here, I might make some quick editing adjustments to get them at decent state so that when I test them in the book I have a better idea of how they’ll look. If there are tons, I might leave that step until later when I’ve actually chosen the final images. Either way, don’t spend too much time editing here. Some of these images won’t actually make it into the book, so you don’t want to spend ages editing a shot that doesn’t actually get printed!
Since we shoot in raw, and most programs require JPEGs to design books with, at this point I’ll export all my selects as JPEGs so I can start putting them into a design.
However you shoot and edit, the key here is to wind up with one folder of photos that are your favourites to start building your book from.
Step 3. Get ready to design.
Before you start laying out your design, you should know which company you are going to print the final book with. Each company has different sizes and file requirements, so you don’t want to put together a 12×12 inch book, and then find out the company you want to print with doesn’t offer that size, and you have to redo everything.
So do some research here, and figure out where you’re going to print.
For our personal family photo albums I’ve been using Blurb hardcover photos books printed with their ProLine papers. I like to design big albums with lots of pages, and these books let me do just that. The pages are thinner, kind of like a really nice magazine, and the print quality is excellent (and just seems to be getting better). And the paper quality is also great, so overall we’ve been really happy using them! There are tons of options out there, though, so take a look around.
The paper and print quality from Blurb books with the ProLine paper is top notch.
Once you’ve chosen your print company, it’s time to figure out what program you’ll use to design your book.
I personally use Adobe InDesign for this step. I’ve used it for hundreds of albums over the years, and I’m just so comfortable with it that I can design in it faster than with a simpler program. It’s infinitely flexible, can be used with practically any print company, and let’s me create the exact design I want. Blurb also has an InDesign plugin that makes the file setup and submission crazy easy, so I love it.
Laying out the design in InDesign.
InDesign takes a bit to learn, and if you are just doing simple albums with one company, you might want to see if they have some proprietary software that you can use. Blurb has a few different options, including an online app, and even an export from Lightroom feature, so there are a lot of different tools out there for you! If you use iPhoto, you can order albums from Apple right through the program too!
(If InDesign sounds rad to you, because it is, check out my full tutorial on using it to design beautiful albums here.)
Step 4. Tell your story.
Finally we come to the fun part! (And the hard part).
Now you need to create the design.
This is where some thought and intention can go a long way. See, you’re not just trying to slap some photos onto the page here and call it a day. You’re telling the story of this trip, this experience, this event. And by carefully selecting and ordering the images you can bring that story to life.
Don’t be afraid though. It’s not hard. We all tell stories every day, the key is that you simply need to keep that in mind as you design!
My books have generally been chronological, and that makes for a simple basic framework. You might prefer to choose a different approach or theme, but give it a bit of thought before you start. Then group images that help tell the story. Remember your variety. Adding in different types of photos that tell the same part of the story help to give it depth.
Here are a few of the spreads I made for this latest book. Check out how there’s some variety on each page to help tell parts of the story!
And feel free to add some words! I started writing along with albums a while ago, and now I always do. Yes, it takes extra effort, but I know that I’ll be able to add little details that will give the images context, and convey more about the story than photos alone. I always try to design these books to be enjoyed years down the road. I can’t rely on my memory that far away, so words help me to preserve the important details!
Sometimes I’ll be designing a spread, and realize I need another photo to tell the story that I didn’t choose in my original selection. Usually a detail shot, or a scene setting shot, to help give an action shot some context. I’ll go back to the full set of photos and find something to fill in those little gaps. I’ve found that this approach is much faster overall than working from the full folder to begin with. Choosing favourites and then supplementing when necessary helps keep you focused and makes designing faster!
Once I’ve gotten my photos chosen, I might go back and re-edit any that need some additional work. But when it comes to our personal work I don’t spend too much time nit-picking about this stuff. Read on for the reason why…
Step 5. Get it done.
The biggest thing I need to remind myself of when it comes to getting these albums finished is that done is better than perfect. Coming from designing albums for clients, where perfection was necessary, I find myself getting hung up on a lot of tiny details. I get to the end of the book and start to wonder if the writing is good enough, if there should have been more white space on every single page, or whether I should go and re-edit all of the photos to make them better. And the project gets delayed longer, and longer, and the chances of me actually finishing get less and less.
And so my mantra becomes “Done is better than perfect”. I need to get it done, not make it perfect. It will matter much more as an imperfect book in my hands, than a half finished, nearly perfect file on my computer.
When my latest book arrived on our doorstep, I eagerly opened it up, and instantly started critiquing it. This photo was too dark. This one should have been bigger. Maybe I should have done a different layout here. Then I stopped myself, and took a second to appreciate what I had made, and how much it will mean to our family over the years. And I was very proud to have finished, and eager to do the next one.
Now to expand my collection!
So there you have it. That’s how I make a family photo book, and get it into my hands. My latest book was done in the evenings after my son was in bed, and took months until I actually finished it. But I did. I have a backlog of other trips and events to get printed, but I’m on a mission, and I’ll get it done! One book at a time.
Now what photos do you have on your computer that deserve to be in an album? Get them together and start that design. Yes, it will take time, and work, and probably be difficult at times. But at the end, when you have that book in your hands, you’ll feel so proud that you did it. And years down the road, you’ll share that book with family and friends, and be even more proud. So go do it. You won’t regret it!