How to Create Beautiful Wedding Albums

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How to Create Beautiful Wedding Albums
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How to Create Beautiful Wedding Albums.

Designing a professional wedding album for your wedding, or professionally for someone else can be a daunting task with many thinks to take into consideration. 

It can be quite complicated and starting from scratch you will end up looking online, in books, on forums and many, many places for inspiration and help. There is a lot of information out there and putting it all together can be quite a job in itself.

Things you will need to think about when designing an album include:

  1. Who will I use to produce the actual album?
  2. What will album their specifications be?
  3. What are the differences in album styles; flush, slip-in, coffee-table etc.
  4. Where can I learn album terminology?
  5. Where do I go for for prints for my album?
  6. How do I make certain that my monitor is correctly calibrated to create perfect albums?
  7. Should I use Photoshop to create the album or should I use some of the software products on the market?
  8. Can I use cheaper programs such as Photoshop Elements or will that reduce the quality of the final album?
  9. Can I use online companies such as Lulu and Blurb to create my albums?
  10. What is their quality like?
  11. How can I design an album that wont go out of date?
  12. What is the difference between a spread, a leaf and a page?
  13. Can I design an album that can be reproduced in different sizes to create parents albums etc?
All these questions and many more can run through your head when you start to think about creating a wedding album. It used to be that you dropped the film off at the lab. The lab produced a set of proof prints and when the couple chose their favourites they were mounted into a mat and glued into the album. It was a relatively simple process.

These days those albums are still popular but along comes a whole new breed of computer designed digital style albums. And along with those albums comes a whole new breed of jargon - flush, coffee-table, magazine style, spread, page, calibration, colour space, CMYK, adobeRGB, sRGB!

It can certainly seem like a minefield for the newcomer, or even the seasoned professional designing their first digital album. So to help the newcomer to professional digital album design I am going to give a quick overview of the process and answer the questions above.

Album Design - These are the steps you will need to think about in order to create an album;
  • Get the photos. If you have shot the photos then you own the copyright and are free to work on them as you please. If someone else has given you the photos then you need to obtain the photographers release to use them.
  • Computer setup. At the very least you will need a computer capable of running design software such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Adobe In-Design.
  • Software - Once you have the computer set up you need to load up the software and learn how to use it to check and adjust photos and to create album layouts.
  • Proof - Once the layouts have been completed the next step is to consult with your clients (the happy couple) to see if any changes need to be made. You may need to understand a bit about other types of software to create gallery pages so your clients can view your new album layouts.
  • Re-do - And usually once you have proofed you will need to update your layouts and proof again until it is just right. When creating albums for our clients we have had as many as 10 redo sessions and in one case it took a whole year and a half before the clients were ready to go. We offered unlimited re-do's for our album design service.
  • Once the clients are happy and you have their signed permission to go ahead you next have to save the album in a format as required by the album company and either upload the layouts or create a disc to post to the company.
  • And finally once it arrives, check it over for any damage or faults and send it out to the happy couple!!
So that's the basic process and as you can see there are a lot of things to do and think about along the way. To give you a better idea as to what you need to know and do I'm going to quickly go through those first questions I listed. At the end of which, I'm sure you'll know enough to make a more informed decision on how to create those beautiful albums your clients will cherish!

1. Who will I use to produce the actual album?
There are album companies that deal directly with the public and there are album companies that only deal with professional photographers.

If you are a new photographer, new designer then the best thing to do is to get yourself a domain name, web hosting and design yourself a portfolio website featuring your services and work. You will be asked for this information and it may well be checked by the company before they will send out any information.

As for companies themselves I can only talk about album companies I have used in the past but here's some professional companies I can personally recommend;  Laguna Albums (California - Digital flush albums), Graphistudio (Italy - Digital Flush Albums) and Leather Album designs (Canada - digital and BEAUTIFUL slip-in albums - check out the Royal from Italian album designers Mario Acerboni - this was my couple's favourite album and my best seller). Look up the companies on Google.

If you are a bride looking to design an album then you have a few options. Look in the phone book and search for photography wholesalers in your area and give them a call, ask them if they carry any lines of wedding albums. If you are lucky you may find ones that carry Mario Acerboni from Leather Album Designs or Renaissance. Both these albums styles are slip-in, meaning you get your layout printed up (perhaps as 10x10 prints) and then slip the prints into the album. Again the Mario Acerboni Royal is a beautiful album.

Also one professional company that i have seen that makes their albums available directly to the public is Cornerstone albums. Do a search on Google. This company is the brainchild of millionaire wedding photographer Gary Fong and, whilst I haven't actually seen one of these albums in person, they do look pretty good.

As an non-professional you can also look online at Lulu and Blurb as they help you to create albums/photo books online. Its a very simple process and the albums are much cheaper than the professional quality albums I have already mentioned. I have never used Blurb but I have created a few cool albums from Lulu. They look like a photo book you might get at a local bookstore.

And finally you can also look on ebay for people selling slip-in albums, matted albums and a new breed of peel 'n stick albums. With these you get your photos done at a lab as say 10x10s and then when you get the album you peel off a backing sheet revealing a tacky/sticky page where you stick your print. These can be tricky to get just right but can create some nice albums.

2. What will album their specifications be?
When you talk to the album company first, they will send you brochures and price lists and usually they also send you a specifications sheet. From the sheet you will need information such as;
  • Exact page dimensions
  • Safe area dimensions so you dont end up cutting off people's heads etc.
  • Final output types - jpeg, psd, pfd, indesign
  • Final ouput resolution - 250dp, 300dpi (usually the more the merrier)
  • Colour space - Most use sRGB but some use adobeRGB
  • Print type - RGB or CMYK

3. What are the differences in album styles; flush, slip-in, coffee-table etc.
Originally photographers had a choice of matted or matted, now the choices seem endless but your basic choices are now:
  • Matted - Here photos are glued/taped into a cardboard mat which is then taped or glued onto an album page - this is the original traditional type. You can have several photos per page.
  • Digital slip-in - Here layouts are created digitally and then outputted as prints. The prints are then slipped-in to an album, hence the name, slip-in. Alternatively you can take a single photo printed at the correct size and slip it in.
  • Digital flush, coffee-table book style or magazine style - Refers to an album where the layout is created digitally using a graphic layout program and then the final prints are uploaded to an album company. The layouts are then printed and bound together to create the album.
4. Where can I learn album terminology?
When you get specifications from an album company they usually have a glossary of terms and a good description of their design terminology. The most difficult things to learn are actually names for a page or spread. These can be very confusing for a beginner.
Here are the basics:
  • Leaf - This is two sides, front and back that create a leaf.
  • Page - This term is usually the same as leaf - ie 2 sides. BUT some album companies do sometimes call a single side a page.
  • Side - This is the simplest, a side is just one singe side.
  • Spread - This is 2 sides, opened out to create a single layout.
So to give an example of how confusing it can be, a 24 page album can be -
  • An album with 24 sides containing 24 separate photos or single side layouts
  • An album with 12 double sided spreads.(usual)
  • An album with 24 pages each containing 2 separate (front and back) photos or layouts, giving a total of 48 sides.
So make sure you read the album companies documentation very carefully when you first start to use them. One final point to note too; sometimes albums don't start on side 1 and don't finish on the last side.

Imagine you hold in front of you a beautiful leather bound album. You open the cover and the very first side (basically the inside of the cover) is side 1, its opposite right hand side is side 2 and you turn the page to see (on the left) side 3 and (on the right) side 4.

Now depending on the company your first print/layout/image will usually start on side 4. And if this is a 24 side album, that will be side 1. With an album like this, you turn the page and the next two sides will be side 2 and 3. So if you are creating double spread layouts for this style album you will have to create the following -
  • 01 - This will be a single opening layout
  • 02-03  This will be the first double spread
  • 04- 05.....22-23 - The last double spread
  • 24 - The last single sided layout.
However some companies start their albums with a double spread. This may start on side 1 or on side 3. For those companies you would create (again lets suppose its a 24 sided album)
  • 01-02 - Your first layout will be a double spread.
  • 03-04...21-22 - more 2 sided spreads
  • 23-24 - the very last 2 sides spread.
If you are ever not sure just call the album company for clarification as not all of them provide clear information.

For any other album design terminology, your best bet is to look online for album design forums where other photographers and album designers will be able to help.

5. Where do I go to for prints for my album?

Well this can be very similar to album companies in that most of the good ones will only deal with established professional photographers who have the ability to set up accounts with them. But here's a really cool piece of insider knowledge.

There is one exceptional Professional photo lab called Millers. You can google them. to find them. BUT they only deal with professionals. However, and this where they get good, they have created an online system whereby the deal out beautiful professional quality prints (on professional papers with archival coatings) to the public. This section of their business is called MPIX. Again search on google.

I used them for all my professional slip-in albums. I tried a few different companies but I found MPIX to be cheap, reliable and of a consistently high quality. In fact I once used a local lab as a comparison. The local lab charged around $14 for a print that Mpix charged about $3 for. The $3 Mpix print was beautiful with vibrant colours, the local lab was dull and muddy by comparison.

Another trick to get long lasting pro prints, go for matt prints and then during the checkout process tick the "lustre coating" button. They'll add a coating that wards off fingerprints and other stains. It's a little bit more per print but it's worth it. Also make sure you check the button that allows them to colour correct. They dont do it much but just a little tweaking here and there can help, and they guarantee their work.

I have to just point out here that I do not work for Mpix I just really, really like their prints.

But that's just for slip-in albums remember. If you are getting digital flush albums created then the album company does the printing.
6. How do I make certain that my monitor is correctly calibrated to create perfect albums?
Okay now this sort of follows along with choosing a good printer. Once you have a good printer, you can still end up with bad prints if your screen is not calibrated correctly.

For example if your screen is nice and bright, it could actually be too bright. Your layouts might look fine but then when you get your prints back DISASTER  they are dull and muddy and flat. Even worse if you get a whole $300 album back thats dull and muddy looking!!

There are two main ways to calibrate your monitor. One is to use one of the new electronic devices. But to be honest I only tried one once and it didn't do much after I had calibrated it myself.

To calibrate it yourself you can do two tests. The first is a simple light/dark adjustment. Google Photo Friday Calibration for a simple calibration image.

Next we use the comparison test. You get a print and you get an electronic file on your computer. The print should be of the file. And you make sure the file is a professional file created with a correctly calibrated system (more on that in a minute). Then you get the print and you get the file and you compare them side by side and adjust your monitor until they match.

So - where do I get a professional quality file? Well one way is to go on Google and search for Calibration Target, then click images in Google so it displays the image results of the search. Now scroll through until you find a picture that has photos of 3 babies and a young girl at the bottom. Have a look at all the different ones online and download the biggest one to your computer. You'll probably find a few pro. labs offering these. Just the fact that pro. labs offer this service shows that they believe it works.

Next you upload your calibration target to your chosen pro lab and when the print comes back you will be able to compare the file on your screen and the actual print. Then you simply adjust your screens colour and contrast settings until you get a match.

You can also email Mpix and ask for their calibration kit. They will send you a print and a CD containing the image for comparison. You will also get a pdf file of instructions.

Now, wait we haven't finished yet. There are 2 more things to consider. The first is your lighting. You should buy a daylight bulb for any light sources near where you work. If you use a regular quartz halogen bulb you will get a warm cast. This will make your print warm and chances are you will calibrate your system to match it and it will be warm. The end result will be cool looking prints. So go out now and buy some daylight bulbs.

(Another tip -If your clients every complain the album looks too warm, then ask then to step outside and have a look at it!)

Next once you are sure you have a calibrated set up you need to send some image files to your album company and ask them to do some test prints. Once they are good I would also go the whole way and design and order a sample album. As a professional you need a sample album anyway.

If you are just creating an album for your own use then perhaps just getting the album company to do a test print will be enough.

And just as an extra tip. Once you get those target prints back from your lab write the labs name on the back. If you then decide to use another lab at a later date, you can upload the target file and get the new lab to send a print. Now you can compare the labs quality side by side.

7. Should I use Photoshop to create the album or should I use some of the software products on the market?

There are many ways to go. There is Photoshop which is a terrific image editing program that can also be used to create layouts. There are other programs such as Adobe In-Design which is a layout program and there are programs from other companies that do similar such as paint Shop Pro. Then there are some highly specialised programs that have been designed just to create albums.

As an album designer you will need at the minimum two types of software:
  • Image editing Software
  • Album layout Software
They can be the same piece of software or they can be different. My recommendations for those are as follows -

Professionals (where everything you buy for your business is tax deductible)
  • Image editing - Photoshop
  • Album layout - Photoshop or In-Design

Photoshop is the most versatile piece of software you can buy forr image editing, creating albums and also creating marketing and website graphics.

Start-Up Professionals (where everything you buy is tax deductible but you are skint)
  • Image Editing - Photoshop Elements
  • Album layout - Photoshop Elements
(although why not look and see how much Photoshop CS sells for on Ebay before buying Elements because really Photoshop is the one you will want when you start working every day at album design)

People creating their own albums (without the ability to tax deduct big costs)
  • Image editing - Photoshop Elements
  • Album Layout - Photoshop Elements
(you can download a 30 day free trial of either photoshop or elements at adobe and you can get some great deals here on Ebay. You may even be able to pick up Photoshop Elements bundled free with some printers)

There are other great programs that design albums and many of the album companies have their own programs available too. However you will still need to edit your images and since you are going to have to learn Photoshop or Elements then I would suggest that you don't need to spend time learning anything else.

The fact that more professionals use Photoshop than anything else really says everything. Use what the professionals use and you will have the ability to create albums that are just as good.

One other thing to look at is whether you should design the album from scratch or design using templates. There are many templates on the market these days, some great and some not so good. Just do a quick search on ebay for "wedding album templates" and you'll see a whole variety.

Creating an album using templates is a great way to get started providing the templates are simple enough to use and allow you to create fairly flexible layouts that you can tweak. They should allow you to create classic styled albums as well as more modern flush designs.

Also the company selling the templates should offer plenty of support and advice in their use because sometimes it can still be tricky or there may be a layout you need thats not there. If the templates have the ability to be changed by the user then your imagination can run wild and you should be able to quickly create some beautiful albums.

Designing albums from scratch, on the other hand, can be quite a task for the un-initiated. How do you do it? Where do you start? What layouts can you create? How do you make sure that all photos are equally spaced and all in-line? How do you add the strokes and other effects?

My advice is this. Look for a good template pack. It really does make life simple. Find one that has plenty of instructions as to how to use them, a good guarantee and an offer of support.

Have a look for sample layouts to see if you like them; are they classic styled, modern flush layouts, highly fashionable? Do they come in a variety of album sizes? Can they be used in slip-in and flush albums?

Buying templates doesn't just limit you to those particular layouts either. Most template packs can be tweaked and changed to create totally new layouts. In fact that's a brilliant way to learn album design and eventually if you so desire you should even be able to design albums from scratch.

8. Can I use cheaper programs such as Photoshop Elements or will that reduce the quality of the final album?

Photoshop Elements will not reduce the quality of your final album. It is a very capable piece of software. The biggest plus of Elements is its price. Available for around $90 compared to its big brother photoshop which usually sits around $600.

The biggest advantage of using Photoshop is the wealth of information and tutorials available for Photoshop both in print and online is pretty good. Elements suffers somewhat in that most tutorials and books for it tend to assume that the user is an amateur creating scrapbooks or home photo albums.

But it is a great starting point, it can open most  Photoshop templates and can do most of the things an album designer would need it for. Remember you can try both for free. They are available for 30 days free tryouts at the adobe site.

9. Can I use online companies such as Lulu and Blurb to create my albums?

Yes you can. These companies are getting better and better and the quality (of Lulu) is great. The price is pretty good too. My advice, its cheap enough to try  it out and see what you think. Espcially great for parents albums too.

  Howeverif you are getting into album design professionally I would suggest that you create albums from these companies really as an add-on service to your primary professional albums.
10. What is their quality like? - See number 9

11. How can I design an album that wont go out of date?

First off you have to think about what exactly makes an album go out of date. Is it the style of the cover? Is it the really bright colours? Is it using the brightly coloured bridesmaids dress as a backdrop to some of the layouts? Is it the wine glass with the bride and groom magically sitting inside?

In general I find that something can only be out of fashion and unfashionable if it was highly fashionable in the first place. Do you get what I mean?

Okay, let me try and explain a bit more.

Here's a tale of two albums.

Album number one comes from the fairy princess collection. It has a pillow top cover with the bride and groom superimposed gazing into each others eyes (don't laugh I actually made one of these once) and inside we have all the colours and backdrops you can think off. It has the latest picture in picture techniques with multiple photos fading into one another. its the latest, fabbest in design technology and the bride and groom absolutely love it. And all their friends go "wow...  thats so cool"

Album number two comes from the Royal collection. It has a beautiful burgundy leather cover. Inside it has the most beautiful collection of images. Some are set apart on their own with a black backdrop and a beautiful thin white stroke reminiscent of a classic fine art photograph. Some of the spreads have a photograph in the background and one in particular is displayed in such a way that it gently fades away to allow space for some candid shots of the bride in a group hug with her bridemaids.
Anyone who sees it can only gasp, "wow... thats gorgeous!"

Now you tell me which one will be out of fashion and hidden in a drawer with the dayglo pink socks and the scrunchy 5 years from now?

12. What is the difference between a spread, a leaf and a page? - See no 4

13 .Can I design an album that can be reproduced in different sizes to create parents albums etc?

Ah finally a simple question. Yes you can. Simply design the album in the biggest size you need it to be and using our magic program Photoshop we can re-size the layouts to fit. Note however that the format needs to stay the same. So if we create a 13x13 for the happy couple then we can create 8x8's or 10x10s for the parents.

So there we go, there's my quick primer on album design. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you are now raring to go!

Album design is fun. It can be very difficult at the start when you are not sure what you are doing but the look on the face of the bride and groom who have waited 6 months to see the album is priceless.

The feeling that you have created something that will give them so many happy moments in years to come is like no other feeling. And I hope you cant wait to get started...

So where to now?

Well I hope I have given you plenty of things to look for to help you get started. Album companies, photo labs, software, templates etc. There's lots of things to look into and it will be a big adventure for sure.

To finish then I'd like to give you two final pieces of advice:
  1. Never stop learning. There's tonnes of tutorials, magazines, books, conventions and you should make it your job to learn as much as you can, and as a professional it's usually all tax deductible. Ask your accountant and see.
  2. Mix it up. Look for places where like minded souls gather and join the community of album design professionals. Its a fun place to be and you'll end up with lots of great advice, professional feedback and support. Start by searching on Google for Album Design Forums, Wedding Photography Forums etc.
Good luck! Happy Designing!


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