Last month I blogged about displaying photos in your home by having them framed or printed on canvas or metal (see the blog post here!).When I did, I debated addressing the use of photo albums because I have been asked for recommendations in the past and I feel there is no better way to compile and display large amounts of photos that tell a particular story. In the end I didn't include photo albums because I felt they deserved their own post. So here it is!
Going Digital: A Simpler Alternative to Traditional Photo Albums
While traditional photo albums require purchasing a book and adding printed photos by taping, gluing or using photo corners, online photo album companies have made it easier than ever to compile your photos into a beautiful display that gives you endless layouts and possibilities. Not only is it faster, it is easier to be more creative these days. I used to be crafty with my photo albums... cutting out frames and accents with cardstock, purchasing stickers and other items at my local craft store, and writing hand captions. While this was effective and fun for a while, I found it time consuming, expensive, and sometimes frustrating. This problem was compounded if I made a mistake and had to redo a page vice just hitting the "undo" or "cut" button. I fell behind in getting my photos into albums... leaving them in stacks in a drawer.
Some of my older traditional photo albums took a lot of time to create.
Vacation album page, traditional album covers, and ahem... ancient photos of my Mom (sorry Mom!) compiled in an album when I first started creating albums.
Creating and Printing Albums from Digital Images
When my husband proposed to me, digital photos had become very popular and I began to research how to put my images into albums that could be professionally printed. I wanted the ability to create a beautiful custom wedding album that wouldn't break the bank. I researched... and researched... and researched to find just the right company and discovered SmileBooks. I was impressed with the flexibility they offered. I wanted to have complete control over the design of my album and I loved their custom options like image fades, overlays, and graphics that made beautiful "coffee table" style books. I found design was relatively easy using their free downloadable design software.
I've been using SmileBooks for about 8 years now and I am extremely happy with the results. I have created an album of engagement photos, a wedding album, and a honeymoon album. Since the birth of our daughter, I have created books to capture her childhood every year or two, ending with her birthday party photos. I typically work on them periodically throughout the year (saving it on my laptop) and then when it's complete I upload it and have it printed and delivered. Occasionally I make a copy of the saved file, modify it slightly, re-order, and send it to family members as a gift. This is a great option since most of the work is done on my own album... I don't have to start from scratch.
Options for Albums Creating Digitally
Below are some examples of what you can do with many online photo album companies (additional recommendations below).
Example pages from SmileBooks
Make your designs as simple or elaborate as you want.
Example covers from SmileBooks
Chose a simple cover in a plain color or design, use a photo, or add a background design and a photo (like I did for my daughter's album).
Many album sizes are available.
Tips for Layouts and Design
While I still have more to learn about designing photo albums, I've created quite a few in the past and hope to pass on a few design ideas to help get you started creating your own.
There are a variety of options for backgrounds.
Complimentary "accent" photos used as a background create a more personalized and professional look. Photos of leaves, flowers, and landscapes are great accents since they don't lose their appeal when covered by other photos and don't distract from your primary images.
If a photo is too "busy" try making it opaque like I did with this photo of a wall I photographed while visiting Hershey PA.
Backgrounds can consist of plain colors like this light green or a stock image like the orange stripes. Both compliment the color and style of the selected photos and are normally available through the company providing the album-building service.
For added interest, insert a full photo as a background while covering only "non-essential" areas of the photo with other photos or make a statement with a single photo used across an entire double page.
Borders and Image Masks
Image borders and masks (used to cover part of a photo) can easily be used to provide more interest to your layout.
In addition to standard square borders, some companies offers more elaborate image borders (top row)
as well as image "bleeds" that allow you to uniquely merge photos together (bottom row).
Graphics should compliment your photos, not overwhelm them. Consider the type of album you are creating when using both graphics and fonts.
Additional Design Tips
1 - Use photos taken with your own camera (DSLR, iPhone, etc.) as well as those that are captured by a professional. A mix of portraits and everyday candid photos help tell a larger story.
2 - Keep the tone of the album in mind when you create it. While you may chose to do a more classic album with simple layouts and overlays for a wedding, fun graphics might be appropriate for a child's album.
3 - Vary the look of the pages in your album, but keep the same style on double pages.
4 - Insert captions and more lengthy sentences as needed. While I keep most verbiage simple with titles and/or dates, I sometimes add little blurbs under vacation photos so I can remember the specific location and a little history.
5 - Choose a lay-flat option and thicker photo quality paper for your most important photo compilations like wedding albums.
Let Someone Else Do the Work
While enjoy designing digital albums, I realize that many may not have the time to create an album this way while others feel they lack a bit of creativity to take this on and would prefer a bit of help. If you fall into one of these categories, you're not alone. SmileBooks has several options for helping you create your albums. In addition to creating them yourself, you can use their Fast Book Builder that automatically arranges photos into layouts or you can use their Design Service which is professionally done (for an extra fee).
Once your album is complete, make sure you thoroughly "proof" it (including checking for typos) before ordering since most companies print exactly what you upload. Don't forget to hit "save" after you get your album looking exactly how you want it.
Wait for a sale! I tend to work on my book all year long and then I wait until there is a sale to order. I've gotten albums for up to 50% off but 20-30% off is typical. Find these sales by subscribing to the album company email distribution or checking Groupon. Just remember that these sales tend to only be in effect for a day or so, don't wait until the last minute to build your book.
Additional Album Companies
Although I use SmileBooks I recognize there are many companies out their that provide digital album design and printing. I encourage you to find a company that suits your needs. Check out Nations Photo Lab, MyPublisher, and MixBook or compare some reviews on top companies on Top Ten Reviews - Photo Album Software. Or you can Google or Yelp additional companies. And remember, many international companies provide very quality albums.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, tips, and recommendations for digital album building and printing! Please leave a comment to share your experiences.
NOTE: I am no way affiliated with SmileBooks and receive no monetary compensation from them.
Photo Credits: Donna Young Photography, Ken Pak Photography, Luv My Babies Photography, SmileBooks