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10 Tips for Painless Photo Albums: A Guide for Professional Photographers

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For a lot of photographers, album design is synonymous with headache. The hours (and hours!) spent designing are usually followed by weeks (or even months) of revisions, making for a painful experience for everyone involved. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Khara Plicanic, author of Album Moxie: The Savvy Photographer's Guide to Album Design and More with InDesign, offers ten tips to make the album creation process a joy.
In today’s digital world, tangible keepsakes like photo albums have a greater significance and higher value than ever before. Leveraging them in your business can simultaneously build your brand and boost your bottom line—all while thrilling your clients.

If you’re interested in creating something that will be truly valued by your clients—not just now, but 50 years or more down the road—albums are for you.

But before you get yourself tangled in an overwhelming nightmare of album design hell (surprisingly easy to do), get hip to these 10 tips so you can get started on the right foot.

1. Don’t be a wuss. Make a commitment.

To effectively incorporate albums into your business, you need to make a commitment to doing it well. There’s a big difference between struggling to churn out an album (with a heaping dose of blood, sweat, and-likely—tears), and designing one so effortlessly that it almost makes you feel guilty. To pull it off, you have to have a system, a plan, and an overall strategy to keep things from getting out of control (which can happen all too easily). Commit to investing some time up front to get yourself off to a good start, and you’ll save yourself boatloads of time (and headaches) in the long run. Reading this article is a good first step.

2. Rethink your definition of “album.”

When people think of designing albums, they often psych themselves out before they even get started by assuming that all albums have to be big, expensive, and crazy time-intensive. The truth is that they can be whatever you want them to be. They can vary in size, shape, and--of course—price. Material costs run the gamut from $50 or less to well above $500. What you choose will ultimately depend on your needs and goals.

I love making a splash with custom designed, over-the-top gorgeous, totally drool-worthy coffee table books for my wedding clients, but I want all my portrait clients to have an album too. For them, I make smaller, simpler, self-mount albums featuring a single image per page (20 of my favorite images from their session). These kinds of albums take twominutes to make (literally) and are as adorable as they are affordable. Bottom line? An album doesn’t have to have a zillion pages, cost big bucks, or take forever to design.

3. Turn them around quickly!

Albums have the ability to send your clients over the moon with excitement, but the longer you wait to deliver them, the less of an impact they’ll have. (Nothing says, “Big whoop” like delivering an album a year after the event.)

If you really want to knock your wedding clients’ socks off, get in the habit of having their proofs and album design finished within a week (before they get back from their honeymoon). Your word-of-mouth marketing will soar, as will your spirits when you realize how much less stressed out you are!

4. Use the right tools.

I love Photoshop as much as the next gal, but it was created for editing images—not designing multi-page layouts. Do yourself (and your clients) a favor and stop torturing yourself by forcing Photoshop to do things it was never intended to do. Don’t bother with third-party Photoshop plug-ins and add-ons that attempt to make it slightly less sucky for album design. Just remind yourself that Photoshop is not, and never was, a multi-page layout program.

Embracing professional layout tools like InDesign will do wonders to speed up your workflow and reduce your stress. For example, what would take eight hours to build in Photoshop can be accomplished in less than one hour with InDesign. Once you make the switch, you’ll never go back.

When the album design is finished, spare everyone the headaches and hassle of jpgs or pdf proofs by taking advantage of an online album proofing service like Banti Album Proofing. It will make life easier for everyone.

5. Don’t let clients pick images.

Letting clients choose album images sounds like a good idea, but the truth is it can easily be the single biggest hold up in the entire album design process. How many times have you waited weeks or even months for clients to give you a list of their favorite images?

Clients are busy, and although they’re anxious to get their album, when you ask them to choose images, the task seems to quickly fall to the bottom of their to-do list. Often, if they do manage to put a list together, it tends to be a random assortment of their favorite photos, rather than a collection of images that tell a story and work well together in a layout.

Save time (and everyone’s sanity) by making the first draft with whatever images you choose. The results will speak for themselves.

6. White space is your friend!

Designing an album is not about stuffing it with as many images as you can cram on a page. White space is not the enemy. Don’t let the strength of your images be watered down by volume. Get rid of images that aren’t serving a purpose or don’t play a key role in the story you’re telling. As Bruce Lee said, “Hack away at the inessential.” Then, use the white space to put the focus on what counts—the remaining images.

7. Stay away from fads.

Remember selective coloring? So 90’s, right? Big hairy drop shadows, images with lowered opacities, swirly-doodles and the like can quickly date your designs. If you want to make something classic that looks as good 50 years down the road as it does now, take a cue from Leonardo da Vinci and focus on simplicity. As he said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

8. Be consistent.

One of the most basic principles of design is repetition. While it doesn’t mean repeating the same image or same layout, it does mean being consistent with things like image treatment, alignment, and spacing. Using repetition as a design principle is key to creating consistency.

The sample layouts below all feature a white page background and images with the same treatment (no strokes, drop shadows, or layering). On the spreads where the images are arranged in a grid, the spacing between images is also consistent.

Imagine how odd it would look if a spread appearing in the middle of these layouts had a different colored background or the images on one spread suddenly had drop shadows and strokes while the others didn’t. The viewer would be left wondering, “What happened? Is this a mistake?”

9. Don’t let the ball drop!

Designing an album quickly is awesome. Waiting forever for clients to give their approval (or make changes) is not. So once the design is finished, don’t let the ball drop! Keep things moving along by being clear in the beginning that album edits are not an all-you-can-eat buffet. Limits are a must. I recommend one to two rounds of edits, max. Anything more than that should have an additional fee.

In addition to setting limits on edit rounds, it’s crucial to give clients a clearly defined time frame in which to make their change requests. I recommend two to three weeks. Prevent the time frame from stretching into six or more months by instituting a fail-safe action: letting clients know that if you don’t hear from them within that time frame, you’ll assume they love the album as much as you do—and will order it, as is. Ironically, this seems to actually reduce the amount of change requests from clients. Since adopting this strategy, more and more of my albums are approved in record time with little to no changes.

10. Limit choices.

If you’re new to album design, building your first book and making decisions about which options to go with can feel particularly overwhelming. How many pages? What size? Leather or metal? Silk vs. canvas? Linen or matte? Square, vertical, or something else? When you think about how it stressful it can feel for you as the photographer, try asking yourself how it might feel for your clients.

When I first started offering albums to my clients, I was under the misguided notion that if an album company offered a certain option, I had to offer it to my clients. (You should’ve seen the marketing piece I built for that—yikes!) Since then, I’ve realized that I can better serve my clients by removing the hassle of decision making from their shoulders. After all, they did just finish planning a whole wedding, right? I think they deserve a break!

Instead of giving them a smorgasbord of choices, I present them with what I think works best, and we go from there. The result? Clients are able to get albums they love, in record time, with very little hassle. And who wouldn’t choose that?

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