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.
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.
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.
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.
I deleted the example album by mistake. Oops. I'll put another up some time.
For inspiration and examples visit at the "I Own a Queensberry" 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.