Poignant and powerful, with a professional finished look and feel, photo books make an heirloom keepsake.
As the holiday season and new year approach, the urge to take stock, to connect with friends and family, comes naturally. Photo books offer a way to do that, both in creating and sharing it. Books express so much more than a stack of 4 x 6 prints or an emailed image on a screen.
To celebrate my father's 90th birthday this last summer, my sister Nancy created a photo book. It included digital images of albums created by my Grandma Daisy. Her meticulous cursive narrative, white ink on black paper, was crisply legible on the pages my sister included the book. So was the scanned copy of a letter my father wrote his younger brother John while fighting in World War II. Nancy wishes she had known more about the photo book process before she started. In the midst of the project, after hours of work and frustration, she realized you can't document ninety years of living in a 20 page book, you can only evoke.
Remember this: photo books work best when illustrating a chapter of a story rather than a fullbore saga. Work with themes -- life events like my dad's birthday make obvious ones. Other life event themes include the birth of a family member, legacy of life, a graduation, a friend's wedding, your own tenth anniversary. A book can make tangible your experience of a favorite trip or vacation. It can profile your professional life, serving as a portfolio of your photographs or artwork. Create an original cookbook using copies of your handwritten recipes and images of the results. For the holidays, chronicle your favorite Thanksgiving gatherings, your children's visits with Santa, holiday ski trips, winter visits to Yellowstone.
To make a book, first gather and organize the materials for your project, focusing on the story you want to convey. That story can unfold chronologically or by a theme like color or mood.
It will help your preparation process to look at a variety of completed photo books. F-11 Photographic Supplies in Bozeman displays books created by staff members. Notice the varied style of presentation, how the books read, the layout, what you like and what you would do differently. Ask the staff questions about what intrigues, concerns or confuses you. Jot notes to yourself. Then go take a fresh look at your own project. Making the time for this footwork saves time once you’re sitting at a kiosk ready to design your book.
Photos tell a story, both individually and collectively
Books express different moods, view points, themes and subjects. Each of those characteristics can help you sort and organize. You may want to edit your images to enhance those qualities. Cropping an image allows part of the image to represent the complete idea, letting a detail from the image stand in for the rest. You may want both horizontal and vertical versions of important images to give you flexibility in page layout. Include a mixture of colors, wide shots and close up details.
Software like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Apple’s Aperture allows you to rate digital images with a five star system so you can sort and prioritize. After your first sort, fine tune and then sort again. Save your results to a folder created for your project. You need about 77 photos for a twenty page book or 140 for forty pages. It may be easier to choose your images if you create folders for second, third or fourth projects that would express different chapters of your chosen story.
In planning your book page by page, consider the layout of facing pages. Will the left and right pages work together, will they “read?” What will you title your book? What image will go on your title page?
As you prepare text for your story, keep it concise. Make sure the text goes with the images you’re using. Photo books are a visual, not written story so evoke rather than document. The more text you include, the more time you’ll spend typing when you create your project. You can't just copy and paste from a document.
Be creative. Scan letters or recipes so they are digitized. Old photo albums can be photographed at a full service photography store like F-11 and recreated in their entirety as photo books, making it possible for several siblings to have copies of books that formerly belonged to one individual. As with my father's birthday book, the clarity of these reproductions is so good that you can crop out individual images from a page that contains multiple photos.
Now, organize your images and written text by page. Save your images to a portable drive or a CD. When you set out to create your book, take your sketched plans and printed text with you. When you sit down at a design kiosk to work, you need enough time to finish the book. Though you can create scrapbooks a few pages at a time, it is harder to do with photo books. Here’s where your organization really pays off. The more organized you are, the quicker your book will come together. Give yourself at least an hour, and two is better.
Take another moment to browse finished books. Notice how design themes give a book a cohesive look by coordinating colors and page backgrounds. What text choices, like font style, size and color add to the finished product?
Photo books are available in both hard and soft-bound covers . Hold and touch them. You can order a dust jacket for your book or use a cover with a framed opening that will highlight your cover page image. There are varied sizes of books, from pocket-sized up to 12 x 36 inches. Each of these choices influences the character of your book.
This is where creating a book at a kiosk rather than trying to make all of these decisions online really can make the defining difference for your project. Another huge benefit? Images are ready to work with in just a couple of minutes and edits happen instantly.
At the end of her project, my sister Nancy had twelve books. Gorgeous, professionally finished, one for my dad, his brother, each of us sisters, our children. She says, “I was really excited about the results. Holding the finished book in my hand, I started thinking about what I could put together next!”
What I know is that as my sister’s book was shared person to person at my father's birthday dinner, her sweet satisfaction in creating something so one-of-a-kind for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration we each traveled so far to attend touched us all.