10 Tips for a Fab Photo Book

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It’s easy to take hundreds, no, THOUSANDS, of digital photos. You’ve probably got at least an 8 GB memory card in your “real” camera, so you don’t have to worry about filling it up, and your phone’s built-in camera probably rivals most stand-alone point & shoot cameras available these days – and it’s almost always on your person. But these thousands of photos aren’t doing any good sitting on your hard drive, your camera’s memory card, or your phone. If you’re truly “capturing a memory” the point is to later…relive that memory. Am I right?

And no one seems to curl up with their loved ones in front of a computer monitor to laugh about that hilarious Halloween costume Aunt Madge wore 10 years ago, or to “awww” over their kindergarten graduation photos. Books are a much better medium for this.

You could scrapbook, printing out individual photos and storing them in files labeled by event and date, then scouring stores for the perfect papers, embellishments, and archival glue (and spending a fortune in the process), then blocking out time to painstakingly crop, round corners, arrange, and glue… and maybe in 3 hours you’ll have a beautiful 2-page spread about how Johnny lost his first tooth.

But if you spend so long documenting each little moment, how are you going to make new memories? In 10 years will you be making scrapbook pages about organizing your scrapbooking room? About how you learned to set eyelets and chalk edges of precision-ripped mulberry paper? About how you made that gorgeous “Johnny’s first visit from the tooth fairy!” page?

Personally, I think there are better ways to use that time (and money).

There are many companies out there now that will let you digitally create a photo book, and then print and professionally bind it and send it to you. This post isn’t about the different companies. But there are lots. Some let you control every minute aspect of layout. Others have a “make the book for me!” option, where all you do is upload your photos and suddenly they’re arranged in a book, complete with backgrounds, borders, and a consistent color scheme. There’s everything in between, too.

And these are books that will take up MUCH less space than scrapbooks, be much more fun to look through than computer files, and – in the case of disaster (fire, flood, a toddler who tears pages or colors with sharpie) – can be printed again and again.

Are you convinced yet? It’s time to move to digitally-created photo books.

Here are 10 tips to help you get started.

1. Narrow it down.

A while ago, I asked on twitter, “How often do you go through your digital photos and delete the not-as-good ones?” Guess what. Some people NEVER delete a single photo. Other people keep up with it regularly. For some people, deleting not-as-good photos means saving the top 4 photos from any event. For others, it means narrowing down 2000 photos to 200.

Whatever your version is, DO IT. You’re never going to enjoy 400 photos of your baby sleeping on a blanket. But 3 or 4 with different facial expressions might be worth keeping.

2. Decide on your book’s “theme.”

Will you be making a family “yearbook” with your photos in roughly-chronological order? Or a more focused book, like one all about your trip to New Zealand? Maybe you’ll make one that has a theme, like “Jamie’s School Field Trips” or “A Year of Breakfasts.” All you have to do is decide. Pick ONE. Start there. You can do ALL the others later. But just choose which one you’re going to do FIRST. That’s how you start this journey.

3. Binding matters.

Make sure you can label your book’s spine. Most companies allow this, but some types of books (often soft-cover) don’t have this option. But when your books are on a shelf together, you want to be able to pull out the one you want to flip through. Label it in a way that will remind you what’s inside.

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4. A killer cover.

Choose some stand-out photos for your cover. This is what will show when the book is sitting on the coffee table. Hopefully it’ll invite visitors or family members to pick it up and flip through the pages. Make it count.

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5. Highlight your favorites.

You’ll want to include lots of pictures to tell stories, or show the details of events or gatherings, but for the photos you really LOVE on their own, allow them to shine. Give them a full-page spread and you can linger over them when you are revisiting your book.

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6. Don’t get long-winded.

While you do want to share your experiences, memories, and stories… no one – including you – will want to look through 15 pages of Christmas Day. It’s okay to cram a bunch of pictures onto a few pages, if you want. Just make sure you’ve narrowed it down (Tip 1) so you don’t end up with 40 pictures of Suzie smiling and holding up a different gift.

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7. Include what YOU want to remember.

As I was making these books, I thought a few times, “How silly – who would want to look at a picture of ___?” But if the answer is “I would.” that’s reason enough. On the spread below, you can see I included a photo of Anneliese’s video baby monitor – which has since been replaced by my homemade iPhone video baby monitor.

I remember the first nights she started in her bed, and how I would stare at the monitor, watching her sleep, almost afraid to fall asleep myself. I remember MISSING her while she was in the next room. I remember opening my eyes in the middle of the night because of the tiniest sound, just to check on her. Also? I think it’ll be fun to look at our clunky old technology in 35 years.

I also included before and after pictures of room makeovers, “tours” of rooms, and so forth. As a military family, we’ve moved a lot, and it’s fun to look back on old houses of ours.

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8. Treat photo series as one.

If you have a collection of a few very similar photos, don’t feel like you have to just choose one. If they’re different enough to enjoy each one, go ahead an put them all in. Just make sure they look good in the book. This is similar to Tip 5 – Highlight your favorites. Feel free to take an entire page, or 2-page spread to include a photo series. Don’t scatter them among other photos across several pages. Arrange the photos so they relate to each other and your eye can flow through them easily.

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9. Don’t feel pressured to use text.

Do what you want! If you’re not a journaler, you don’t have to have an explanation of every picture (and we all know a picture is worth 1000 words, and redundancy is …well…repetitive). You can use text to mark the beginnings of months, title memorable events, or signify special days if you’d like. You can include a favorite family recipe alongside your Thanksgiving photos, or chronicle memories you don’t want to forget, in great detail. It’s up to you. But don’t feel like you HAVE to write anything, if you don’t want to. It’ll only hold you back.

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10. Just do it.

Instead of planning every detail of every photo book you ever hope to make, painstakingly researching every book printing company, and fretting over how to proceed, just do it. Did you see a Groupon for a great photo book deal? Snag it and use it. Has a company sent you a promotional email or postcard, awarding you a free 20-page book? Go ahead and pop some of your favorite recent pictures into a premade template. A few dollars in shipping and you’ll have a fun book to look through! Even if it’s not perfect, it’s better than having your photos rotting on your hard drive, forgotten.

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SAHM & Navy Wife blogging grain-free real-food recipes, cloth diapering, babywearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, crafts, decor, & more.

16 Comments

  1. Throw Away Your To-Do List (And What to Use Instead)
    Sep 16, 2014 @ 05:44:30

    […] I could edit some pictures for a photo book. […]

    Reply

  2. Kathy
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 18:40:43

    Your photos all look great and I agree with everything you mentioned. I’m trying to decide which company to use for my first photo book. Quality is very important to me. Is it the company used or just the digital size of the photo that makes the difference? Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply

    • Emily Chapelle
      Jan 24, 2014 @ 20:37:03

      Both matter. But I haven’t had any big problems with any company I’ve used. One of them printed the reds a bit over saturated but I can’t remember which company… there are reviews out there for each different company, but mainly I use whomever I have a coupon for, or if it’s a super-long book Blurb is usually cheapest.

      Reply

  3. Dawn-Hamilton Color Lab
    Jul 31, 2012 @ 11:57:51

    I love photo books but I can be even OCD with them and they end up taking hours. Ok, that’s still better than hours on one scrapbook page. My 17 year old daughter still doesn’t have a photo baby book because I “thought” I would scrapbook, yeah right.

    I’ve used Smilebook, Picaboo, and Blurb. Which one do I like the most? The photo resolution still isn’t where I want it, I think it could be better. But Right now Picaboo, but I’m going to give Blurb another try. Everyone I’ve made one for has LOVED them!

    Reply

  4. Pam
    Jul 09, 2012 @ 07:28:20

    Love this! I have made one little softcover photo book (when my daughter’s guinea pig died I made one for her entitled “Memories of Molly.” She treasures it.) I have been intending to make some hardcover ones, but never take the time. I need to! I love scrapbooking, but I am way too slow to scrapbook as many pictures as I take, so photo books are a better solution.)

    Reply

  5. Beth
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 19:27:36

    A friend just sent me a link to your blog today and I cannot stop reading! I love it! As an ex-scrapbooker, I’ve been meaning to do this with my photos and haven’t found the time. You’ve inspired me to make it a goal this year! What company do you use?

    Reply

  6. Carolina
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:48:55

    Great tips! I’m ‘planning’ on getting all those pictures in to scrapbooks
    At least those that I have printed already. The thought of having to do that
    Overwhelms me!! My daughter will be a senior this fall
    What a great idea to make a digital book of her high school years!

    Reply

  7. Jessica Crudale
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 12:24:41

    This is perfect timing! I’m currently working on “The Year that Made us Three” album at mypublisher.com and this has given me the motivation to get it done… I dread photo organization, but I know I’ll be so happy once I get it done! Would also love to hear which company you like for your digital photobooks :)) Great tips!

    Reply

  8. Rusha Sams
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 04:47:03

    Thanks for the kick-start I needed! As a Grandma, I’m snapping way more pics than I did as a new Mom. So, yes, I need to put all of these capturings into a book, and you’ve given me some terrific ideas! Thanks so much for your organization and great photos of what my next project can look like!

    Reply

  9. Lindsay
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 03:55:07

    I’d love to know what online photobook service you used for the books featured in this post. The quality looks nice.
    I’ve always been a scrapbooker (Project life) and I’ve been toying around with the idea of photobooks instead but you convinced me when you brought up how much less space the photobooks take up!
    Thanks so much for this post, you’ve inspired me!

    Reply

  10. Lynn
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 05:17:53

    I really intend to do this, but right now I’m too busy taking the pictures! My current, long-time project has been to go through pictures that were taken since 2004 (when I met my husband and bought my first digital camera) and it’s a long, long time project, but I take new pictures every day. Seems like a never ending cycle!

    Reply

  11. monica
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 18:00:37

    I love this!! My third child was very interested in a photo album of my second child…and after 3 years, I started looking through digital pics to put together one for him. I realized how much sweetness I am missing by not having the photos super accessible! I think my project this year will be putting together memory books (and you are right – a much better use of time and resources than scrapbooking. I was overwhelmed trying to scrapbook everything from my first baby…and have nothing done for the next two!).

    Reply

  12. Kylie desmond
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 10:26:44

    My favorite company is mixbook.com. Sign up for their emails – they send super great deals often.

    Reply

  13. Joelene
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 06:18:56

    Great tips! Thanks! Can you tell me the company you used for these books? I really like the look of them!

    Reply

  14. Brad
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 05:40:46

    Looks great! I especially the use of a few to a lot of photos of different sizes on one page, as well as the lack of text.

    I also like the fact that you make hardcover books out of your photo albums. It is a nice touch!

    Reply

  15. Mommy
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 04:36:27

    It’s a great idea for making a Learn to Read book with pictures a child knows, too. “Momma, banana, dog. This is my family. Who is this?” etc and personalized for the child. Its a nice gift idea for family or friends.
    But you are right about this vs scrapbooking. But if you do digital scrapbooking, there are some companies that allow you to do a full bleed on the print out, and you can use the digital page with your own elements and photos as the printed book page. That is a really great idea for what to do with those pages. (she said with new light in her eyes). Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply

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