02 December 2015

DIY: photo book process

Oh my goodness, you guys, the gift guides. Did your feed get blasted with gift guides over the past couple of days? I thought I might do one, so I made sure to note cute things I saw around. But then I was swamped with affiliate-link-laden blogger gift guides and now, smitten as I am with Kate Spade colorblock gloves and a little white Keurig machine, I’m just tired of them.

So instead, I thought I’d offer up something different that’s still related to Christmas presents: a photo book guide. If you have a child, you’ve almost certainly considered making a photo book for relatives for Christmas. And whether you have children or not, tis the season to take advantage of the marked-down photo products at specialty sites like these, plus your usual haunts.

I’ve made a lot of photo books in my time, which means that by now, I’ve honed a pretty good process that I can share with you today. I tend to use Shutterfly, but I’m not loyal – I’ll use whichever site is offering a discount. So today’s tutorial isn’t specific to any one photo book site, but rather an overview of the process I use with any site, from start to finish. Even with a coupon, photo books often aren’t cheap, and the thought of creating one from scratch is intimidating for the cash you’re going to drop!

So let’s get started with the most basic decision: which photos go in the book. Because most photo book programs require you to create an “online album”, I do my selection offline and create a new folder for the photos to include. Here, let me show you how I did it for a recent book of photos from our Oslo trip:


(Note I was pulling from 451 photos. Yikes.)

You can use the preview function in the browser window, or use the fancy “Cover Flow” (shown below) if you have a Mac. Either way, you don’t have to bother opening every single photo. Just copy-paste (or, if you are a Mac user like me, option-drag) the photo into a new folder.

Which ones to choose? Well, that’s up to you. I try to be selective but also choose photos that tell the story of our trip. I also think ahead to how many pages my photo book will be, and assume an average of 3 photos/page. In the end I had over 60 photos, so I expected to go over 20 pages.

In any case, at some point, you’ll probably need to sort the photos in chronological order, unless you are doing some sort of Tarantino-esque photo book with nonlinear storytelling. Sorting into chronological order isn’t an issue if you are only using one camera, as the filenames will likely be consecutive and do the same job. But if you have multiple cameras – like multiple iPhones, plus a DSLR, like us – you want chronological. You can easily do this in Cover Flow view on a Mac. See how the filenames are no longer consecutive numbers below?


Doesn’t matter who took the photo on which device, all the similar photos are grouped together!

Now. This next part is going to seem super anal-retentive, but trust me, it is worth it in the end. You’re going to rename the files. This serves two purposes – one, you can mentally plan out which photos will be grouped together on a page (or stand alone as one whole full-bleed page). And two, when you finally upload your photos to the website? They will already be in perfect photo book order, so you don’t have to click around muttering, “But I thought I had a photo from that one restaurant...” Nope! It’s all done.

So in my example below, I’ve highlighted the renamed files, starting with the oldest photos (again, chronological order). To the front of the filename, I simply put which page I think it will be on, or C for cover.


Some pages only have one photo, so there’s only one with prefix P3, for instance. Other photos that I think would be nice on a page together all get P1, or P5. I love cover flow view for this, because I can flip through the photos, keep them in chronological order, and easily rename them!

This is also when I seriously start considering how many pages I want my book to be. If each extra page over twenty is $1, is it really worth it to me to have so many photos full bleed? Maybe it is, but this is where I can really decide how many pages I want to have, and trash any photos that aren’t worth it!

Okay, now here’s the magic of all this pre-planning. When you go to upload your photos...


They are already GROUPED TOGETHER, BY PAGE, IN THE ORDER YOU NEED THEM. You guys. This is the way to go! I used to just upload the entire folder onto the website and then get frustrated trying to find and select photos. Do it on your own computer, use something like Cover Flow, rename them, and then the online part becomes so much easier!

Now it’s time to decide on the style of book you want. For me? Well, if I’m paying for a photo book, I want 99% of the thing to be photos. That is, no cutesy background patterns or frames or themes or what have you. Just PHOTOS. That means full-bleed page layouts, which are not always in the pre-set options. But! Every photo book program I’ve used lets you create your own page layouts, though sometimes the option is hidden away. In Shutterfly, you have to go to “Customize Page” in the Edit menu (highlighted below).


If you’re as into full-bleed photos as I am, you’ll want to use this option. Of course, you can keep it simple with the pre-set layouts, cutesy backgrounds, all the easy stuff! But I love the way our photos look when they fill the entire page, like so. Besides, it’s fun to see how cropping the photos tells the story!


Plus, if you make your own custom layouts, you can usually copy-paste pages to duplicate the layout and then just fill in different photos. And oh right, have I mentioned again how the photos are lined up perfectly in the order you’ll want to use them?! When I’m done making my photo book, there are exactly 0 photos left in the online folder. Done!


If you happen to be particularly eagle-eyed, you might notice that I ended up adding six pages to this photo book. But hey, wouldn’t you pay a few extra bucks to have a full-bleed, 8x8 photo of your baby sticking his tongue out?! Worth it.

Even though this method probably won’t make creating a photo book easy, at least it’s a little less time-consuming in the end. I used to spend a whole day working on a photo book, but I don’t have time for that now. If I can’t get it done in under an hour or so, it’s not happening! So the quick selection, organize and rename, upload, and paste into my favorite 4-5 layouts have made it much easier on me. Hopefully on you, too!

And with any luck, you’ll love your photo book as much as I love mine!




Or perhaps... the recipient will! Go forth, use up those holiday coupons and make your own personalized Christmas gifts!

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