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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre Weddings & Other Family Events Talk 
Thread started 03 May 2011 (Tuesday) 20:56
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Tims Wedding Album Design Tutorial

 
tim
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May 03, 2011 20:56 |  #1

Album design is tough, especially for new wedding photographers. Often photographers have no idea where to start with design, and the books i've read really don't help all that much. The aim and philosophy of wedding album design is where many people fail, so that's where we'll start.

This guide should be consider a first draft, a rough guide, and a work in progress. It's not meant to be complete, just a starting point. Many people will disagree, but this is personal taste, and is meant as a helping hand to beginners rather than photographers who are already comfortable designing albums in their own style. This guide was written in about 45 minutes on a day when I was otherwise quite bored.

Album Design Philosophy and Aims

The main job of a wedding album is to tell the story of the wedding day, using images we took for them. We're not trying to fit all their photos into the album, we use the best images of the day to tell the story.

We're not trying to show how many photoshop features and effects we can use to make the album look "cool". Wedding albums will be around for decades or generations, so we have to design something that looks good now, but that will also stand the test of time.

Predesigning albums is a service to customer. We're the professionals, and customers hire us for our photography and design style. It lets you design an awesome album based on the best images, which is much much easier than trying to work with a selection of images the customer gives you. The key to predesign is making sure you tell customers before they book, in their booking confirmation letter, and again before their wedding that you will predesign the album but that they can make any changes they like. Also make sure you're clear about any extra costs for pages or images if the album ends up being larger than what's included in their package - this is really critical.

Album Size and Orientation

This is very much personal taste. Albums can be square, vertical/portrait, or horizontal/landscape. I prefer horizontal albums, as they look different from the books we see in everyday life, so they look a little "special". I find this works well with my style, which is to shoot mostly landscape images. If you shoot mostly portrait images then vertical might work better.

The ratio you choose is important (eg 14x10" or 18x10"). I prefer to stick with something close to the native 3:2 of my camera sensor, which makes full page images easier, but makes images spread across two pages more difficult. Vertical and square images have less of an image with having one image over two pages. The one 18x10" album I did looked awesome, but it was quite difficult and time consuming to design, as I wasn't used to that size.

Album size is a personal choice. I offer 14x10" and 18x12" albums, and I probably sell 90% of the smaller size. This is partly due to cost, and partly because many people don't want an album that large. Storage can be an issue for album this large!

I don't use books any more, as I don't trust their longevity, and I want to give an impression of quality, not cheapness. To me, proper albums with thick pages made from photographic paper and archival materials are essential. My albums are mostly matted pages, with an occasional or part full page image which is done magazine style with no borders. Queensberry call this their "duo album".

When you're taking photos you really need to "shoot for the album". For example I often do a page of bridal prep images with six small images on one page with one larger image on the other page, but for this I need all the images to be landscape. Integrating one portrait image on the end isn't too difficult, but it looks better with everything the same.

Key Principles

To me, each layout (two facing pages) tells a story of part of a wedding day. Some parts of the day where a lot of images were taken will have multiple layouts, the images are usually group according to activity. In general though you tell a story with each layout.

In general the images are arranged in chronological order, though I will move images around slightly within each part of the day. The main exceptions for me are the single front page before the first full layout is usually a nice portrait of the couple, and the last page is usually a "walking away" photo or a private moment the couple shared on the dance floor or during their sunset portraits.

Simplicity is the overriding principle I like to bring to my album designs. Images on an angle, faded edges, and "scrapbook" layouts that look like photos laid out on a table all detract from the story. "Trendy" techniques such as spot color and textures will also date the album quickly, these are better left as prints, so they can be swapped out once peoples tastes change. Simple stroke borders are better than any kind of elaborate borders, though borders are optional. Simple white backgrounds are generally best, though black is ok I find it more "depressing" than white. I rarely mix color and black and white images on the same layout.

White space is important to albums. Images need space to breathe, so they're not squashed in, that leads to a busy, cheap looking album. On average I find 2.5 images per page/side is about right. Sometimes I have one image cover two pages, and for reception speeches I will have 12-16 images, but in general empty space is important.

Consistency is very important to an album, both per layout and throughout the whole album. If you have a thin black border around your images, it should be there on every image on every page. Consistency applies to borders, image sizes, image spacing, and to some degree the image layout - you can't have 25 simple layouts then one crazy random layout, as it will look out of place.

Balance is another concept I use, but I find it difficult to describe. It's related to symmetry, but you can have a balanced, asymmetrical layout. A symmetrical layout is always balanced. One way of putting it is that the covered area of the page covered of each side of the layout should be similar, though sometimes a full page image on one side of the page with a few smaller images centered or offset to the outside of the opposite page also feels balanced. This is personal taste and quite difficult to express.

Symmetry is a good principle too. You'll go against it fairly regularly, but it's a good place to start each page layout. Balance is more important that symmetry, but I find 25-40% of my layouts are symmetrical.

The concept of flow is also a little hard to describe. Basically it means that the eye flows smoothly around the album layout, rather than jumping all around to try to capture what's there. I also use flow to express that where the images on the left and right hand pages aren't full page images, the top edge of the uppermost images and bottom edge of the lowermost images on each page should be aligned, and spacing should match. The eye "flows" smoothly from one page to the next. Again this is a rule I regularly break, but it's one I consider on all pages.

Image processing is also important. You have to properly process all images for an album so they're properly exposed, with good color, contrast, and the same white balance. I don't mean set all images to 5500K, I mean make sure the photos look consistent within a layout.

Tools

PhotoJunction is a very commonly used album design tool, and can be used to design albums for almost any album company, or for custom made albums. As a bonus it's free, and the tutorials and community support is good. Part of the workflow is exporting to Photoshop files (this is optional), so for people who want full control you can do the basics in PJ then tweak it in Photoshop, which is MUCH faster than doing everything in PS.

There are multiple album design programs available though, so try them out and use the one you like.

Practical Advice - Where to Start

For each layout start by deciding what story your layout is trying to tell, as this is key. You may decide that that part of the day has too many images for one layout, in which case tell the story of a smaller part of the day. For example instead of trying to tell the story of the whole ceremony, you might do layouts for the entrance, a wide group shot, general ceremony, the kiss, the signing, and the exit. Sometimes combining them will make practical sense.

Next, in your album design program place all the images to tell this layouts story onto the pages. Sometimes you'll have one main image on one page with several images on the other page, sometimes you'll have symmetrical or similar layouts on each page. Drag and drop your images until they look good, then use your alignment tools to get things set up right.

If in doubt, less is best. One or two images per page, arranged simply, will make a nice layout.

Feedback from an experienced photographer/designer is invaluable. For your early albums do a draft then post it up in the critique forum for people to comment on. No matter how bad the album is some people will say "awesome, great job", so concentrating on the less positive but constructive feedback will help you improve the design.

My Workflow
The quick version...

  • I prepare my color corrected images, and output the images I want to put in the album as jpeg files. Any major retouching is done at this stage
  • Run PhotoJunction, create an album based on the resources in there. I use Queensberry, but you can use any album maker. Some provide resources, for some you'll have to create custom resource (check the PJ site for how to do this)
  • Import the jpeg images
  • Design the album, as per above
  • Export proofs from PJ, package as a watermarked pdf using Adobe Bridge, email to customer to review
  • Tweak design as required (then do another preview)
  • Output as psd files via Photoshop
  • In Photoshop I do final edits of the spreads, including sharpening and anything else I feel like
  • In PhotoJunction I send me order to Queensberry. If you use another album manufacturer you may need to have prints made to send to them, FTP you images for them to print and bind, or use some custom solution. With Queensberry everything is done from PJ, so it's very easy.


Example Album
I deleted the example album by mistake. Oops. I'll put another up some time.

Final Words

For inspiration and examples visit at the "I Own a Queensberry" (external link) Facebook page. On this page QB feature some of the best images that photographers all over the world submit to them, so you'll see a wide variety of albums in various styles.

Good luck!

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Downs ­ Photography
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May 03, 2011 21:27 |  #2

First! Good write up like always Tim.


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May 04, 2011 06:38 |  #3

I agree; an excellent write up, Tim. Thanks for devoting the time and sharing your insights.

And I would echo everything you've said. Just to add a little of my own personal view:

- As you've expressed, it's a personal preference but I like to work with square albums. I include a number of two-page panoramas in my designs and a square album accepts them very nicely. For me and my tastes/style, I just find a square album easier to design.
- Relating to flow and story telling, categories should fit into pages. For instance, I'll have a 2-page spread of the bride dressing, another spread of the bride's detail, a spread of the groom's preparations, etc. I wouldn't have a spread of the bride dressing with a few more images spilling over onto the next page along with details, etc.
- Shoot the day with the album in mind. Think about what would be the ideal first image in the album, or just as importantly the last. Think about environmental shots that would become great backgrounds for large spreads.
- The one area I'll disagree a little is on the matter of white space or density. And maybe it's just a style thing or owing to the different clients each of us attract, but I know mine are not interested in white space. And that's not just because they want density. My clients don't tend to care how many two page panoramas I design in or how many spreads have only two images, but they explicitly do not like when I design in white space.
- Design big. My typical album purchase is a 12x12 with an average of 44 pages. I only show 12x12's and I my pre-designs tends to be up around 50 pages.


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May 04, 2011 08:49 as a reply to  @ Peacefield's post |  #4

I have one small tidbit to add, and this was actually more of Tim's advice that he gave to me a couple years ago but I think it makes a lot of sense and that is keeping things consistent with color and b&w images and not mixing them on a spread...if you designing a spread with a b&w image then the rest of the images on that spread should be black and white...and the same goes for color. It fits into what was mentioned about consistency...and IMO makes a really big difference in the overall cohesiveness of the album.


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May 04, 2011 09:16 |  #5

helloagain36 wrote in post #12345192 (external link)
if you designing a spread with a b&w image then the rest of the images on that spread should be black and white...and the same goes for color.

While I agree that this is generally true, I also believe that it's not a hard and fast rule. I might have a B&W of a close-up of the hands during the ring exchange flanked by two color shots of the couple looking at each other or something like that.

I find that you can successfully and effectively mix color and B&W with the right images if there are only two or three on the entire spread and there's some logic to why one is B&W and why they other is color. It certainly doesn't work if you have 6-8 images on a spread and just a couple are done in B&W or sepia in a seemingly random way. It also doesn't work with sepia, IMO; but color and B&W can.


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May 04, 2011 09:43 |  #6

wow Tim thanks, some good info there..


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May 04, 2011 12:53 as a reply to  @ tolyD's post |  #7

Good info tim. I will keep a lot of this in mind now that i have a good program and i know how to use it. I was using templates and programs provided by album Mfg programs and quickly felt limited in what i could do for the clients. Now that my photoshop skills are better, im more comfortable and Very happy with my set up now. Im a big fan with backgrounds that have some texture in them, like lace and walpapers which are easily turned white, or off white. I know you are a big fan of all white.

Anyone else using 10x10's and 12x12's ? We have a couple of 14x10's and 95% of my clients choose the square format albums. Weird. I think the 14x10's look a lot nicer.


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May 04, 2011 14:18 |  #8

umphotography wrote in post #12346704 (external link)
Good info tim. I will keep a lot of this in mind now that i have a good program and i know how to use it. I was using templates and programs provided by album Mfg programs and quickly felt limited in what i could do for the clients. Now that my photoshop skills are better, im more comfortable and Very happy with my set up now. Im a big fan with backgrounds that have some texture in them, like lace and walpapers which are easily turned white, or off white. I know you are a big fan of all white.

Anyone else using 10x10's and 12x12's ? We have a couple of 14x10's and 95% of my clients choose the square format albums. Weird. I think the 14x10's look a lot nicer.

I use square albums. I like that I can make them a 12x12, and a parent album of 8x8 without redesigning the whole album.


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May 04, 2011 16:21 |  #9

Peacefield wrote in post #12344678 (external link)
I agree; an excellent write up, Tim. Thanks for devoting the time and sharing your insights.

Design big. My typical album purchase is a 12x12 with an average of 44 pages. I only show 12x12's and I my pre-designs tends to be up around 50 pages.

Thanks :) Yes design big, but make sure your customers know what you do, what control they have, and costs up front, otherwise you get some upset customers. Even if you tell them three times some still forget and get upset that you've designed an awesome album but it'll cost them an extra $3000 to have it like you designed it (that's not a typo).

helloagain36 wrote in post #12345192 (external link)
I have one small tidbit to add, and this was actually more of Tim's advice that he gave to me a couple years ago but I think it makes a lot of sense and that is keeping things consistent with color and b&w images and not mixing them on a spread...if you designing a spread with a b&w image then the rest of the images on that spread should be black and white...and the same goes for color. It fits into what was mentioned about consistency...and IMO makes a really big difference in the overall cohesiveness of the album.

Peacefield wrote in post #12345336 (external link)
While I agree that this is generally true, I also believe that it's not a hard and fast rule. I might have a B&W of a close-up of the hands during the ring exchange flanked by two color shots of the couple looking at each other or something like that.

I find that you can successfully and effectively mix color and B&W with the right images if there are only two or three on the entire spread and there's some logic to why one is B&W and why they other is color. It certainly doesn't work if you have 6-8 images on a spread and just a couple are done in B&W or sepia in a seemingly random way. It also doesn't work with sepia, IMO; but color and B&W can.

I did mention this briefly above. I find mixing B&W and color on a page makes it look dated very quickly. If I do it I generally put B&W one side, color the other, but it's very rare that I do. I don't use B&W actually, I use my own blend of sepia, just a little orange split toned in with ACR.

umphotography wrote in post #12346704 (external link)
Anyone else using 10x10's and 12x12's ? We have a couple of 14x10's and 95% of my clients choose the square format albums. Weird. I think the 14x10's look a lot nicer.

10x10 seems pretty tiny to me, 12x12 is about the same area as 14x10 but I like the longer dimension. You really do sell what you show, and I only show 14x10 and 18x12, but if someone really really wanted a square album i'd do it for them.

Red Tie Photography wrote in post #12347208 (external link)
I use square albums. I like that I can make them a 12x12, and a parent album of 8x8 without redesigning the whole album.

Queensberry will do a duplicate parents album no matter what size your album is, they just scale it down. My 14x10 albums end up 7x5. 18x10" albums end up a bit narrower.


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May 04, 2011 18:27 |  #10

excellent write up, thank you TIm




  
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Aug 07, 2011 16:57 |  #11
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This is a useful topic :D


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Aug 07, 2011 20:48 |  #12

Great stuff Tim.

Practice makes perfect. I too order from QB and use PJ exclusively. But unlike Tim, I design high end Press Books as I find album too restrictive in storytelling.

There's something about holding a finished album in one's hand. It is beautiful.


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memoriesoftomorrow
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Aug 07, 2011 20:51 |  #13

A good write up... although I work very differently in a quite a few aspects which would be considered bad form. I only use books, don't like having to much white space, have inconsistent page design, use a variety of processing... but it works.

I look at it this way there is no magic formula to designing a good album in my opinion. Yes some things work and some don't however a good album is one which the clients love, they rave about and other people take one look at and go "Wow, we have to have this photographer!".

What a designer may think is irrelevant to the bottom line, the clients pay the bills not a designer. Feedback from clients is far more valuable in my opinion. Likewise a view from an experienced photographer is far less important than an opinion from a profitable and financially successful photographer. What sells is what is important if you are running a business.

I've lost count of the number of expos I have been to where you could easily have swapped albums between photographers stands and no one would have noticed. I don't offer albums at all for this very reason.

Personally I think the way album design packages are advancing it is getting easier and easier to put together designs. If you want our albums to be a USP then they have to be in some way differentiated from everyone else's. Be it through an exclusive or limited supplier or in the design of the album or book. As time goes on and more and more people become adept at using the free packages to design albums. The pressure on the wedding photography industry will be to release high resolution digital files so people can do it themselves. This I feel is inevitable in the medium to long term.


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Aug 07, 2011 21:14 |  #14

memoriesoftomorrow wrote in post #12894183 (external link)
A good write up... although I work very differently in a quite a few aspects which would be considered bad form. I only use books, don't like having to much white space, have inconsistent page design, use a variety of processing... but it works.

I look at it this way there is no magic formula to designing a good album in my opinion. Yes some things work and some don't however a good album is one which the clients love, they rave about and other people take one look at and go "Wow, we have to have this photographer!".

What a designer may think is irrelevant to the bottom line, the clients pay the bills not a designer. Feedback from clients is far more valuable in my opinion. Likewise a view from an experienced photographer is far less important than an opinion from a profitable and financially successful photographer. What sells is what is important if you are running a business.

I've lost count of the number of expos I have been to where you could easily have swapped albums between photographers stands and no one would have noticed. I don't offer albums at all for this very reason.

Personally I think the way album design packages are advancing it is getting easier and easier to put together designs. If you want our albums to be a USP then they have to be in some way differentiated from everyone else's. Be it through an exclusive or limited supplier or in the design of the album or book. As time goes on and more and more people become adept at using the free packages to design albums. The pressure on the wedding photography industry will be to release high resolution digital files so people can do it themselves. This I feel is inevitable in the medium to long term.

There are definitely different styles of album, this is just what works for me.

I've seen plenty of albums designs that the photographer said the customer really liked, but made me cringe. The customer loves their photos, and probably can't think how to do a better design themselves. I think if the customer saw a really nice design with the same photos they'd then realise the first wasn't great. I've also seen the types of book designs average people make, most people go way too complex.

I don't differentiate based on my supplier, partly because in NZ most photographers use Queensberry, so they're seen as the standard. I differentiate based on me, and on my photos.

Many people just want someone else to do it for them, otherwise it'll never get done. Albums can also be reasonably profitable, though they do take quite a lot of time, so the faster you are the more money you can make.


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Aug 07, 2011 23:44 |  #15

I've see too many cringe-worthy samples on the QB feed. In fact, one client proclaimed how beautiful a particular design was purely because there was not a shred of white/dead space. Yuck.


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