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Tips For Making Yearly Family Photobooks

I take A LOT of photos of my family. Like, a lot. I share them on social media and text/ email them to family, but they don’t really feel like a true part of our family history until they are printed in a book for us all to touch. I have a collection photo books documenting our life together from the time Jared and I met in 2002 to the present, with the exception of 2015, 2016, and now 2018. The third kid totally threw me for a few years! Now that I’m working on getting back on track, I figured I’d type up a few things I’ve learned along the way that help me tackle this seemingly colossal task. I hope they help you, too!

1. Organize your files by year and then by month. Then choose your very favorites to include in your book. Simple, right? Ha! I posted on Instagram the other day asking what people’s biggest challenges were in getting yearly books made and the most common answer was figuring out what photos to include from the zillions you take.

I use Adobe Lightroom and flag my favorites from each month, export them to a folder, and upload them to bookmaking software. I take A LOT of personal pictures, so some months can have 500-700 photos in them. Culling that down to a manageable number for a book is tough. I find that the longer I wait to choose my photos, the easier it is. I’m less attached to them and I find that my attention just naturally gravitates towards some photos rather than others to kind of seal the memory in my brain. For that reason, I’m going to make 2015 and 2016 before I tackle 2018. So, if you are a few years behind, I highly recommend starting way back!

In terms of actually choosing which images to include, first make sure you’re doing just that: be sure to choose the photos that you DO want to include rather than picking off the ones that you DON’T want to include. It doesn't sound like much of a difference, but trust me, it really helps to think that way.

Second, if you’re having trouble deciding between a few images from the same moment or event, try looking at them side by side on your screen rather than scrolling back and forth. I can usually pick out the stronger image that way.

Finally, give yourself permission to include only what YOU want to include! There are some perks to being the photographer and photo book maker in the family, and if your spouse or partner or daughter or mother-in-law has a problem with what you put in or leave out, kindly remind them that they can make their own books.

To recap: approach each book month by month. Look at it as a two step process: first choose which photos to include, then arrange them in your book. Don’t try to do it all at once! It can take me several days, working a bit at a time, to get one month done. 

2. Less is more. Less photos in general in the book and less on each page. Find some layouts that work for you and rotate them throughout the book. Full page images have much more impact than a page of sixteen tiny images. If you have ten similar shots, try really hard to pick your favorite. Twenty years from now, one or two of those shots is going to be enough, I promise. If you must include them all, put them together in a discrete collage on one page.

I used to combine iPhone photos with DSLR photos in my yearly family books. It was a pain to keep the files organized on my computer and just looked messy in the book. (See above photo!) Now I use Chatbooks for phone photos and couldn’t be happier. It’s a really simple app that gets photos off of your phone and into little books with almost no effort. We have around 45 volumes so far, chronicling our lives from the beginning of 2015, and I keep the books in a basket under our coffee table. The kids flip through them ALL THE TIME. Seriously, if you aren’t using it already, get it now! (And use this link to get $10 off your first book!)

3. Back to your big photo book: Arrange your photos linearly in general, but give yourself permission to mix up the timeline to make pairings or groupings that make sense. Your books will flow much better. I don’t include captions in my books except for the first year books I make for each kid. For those, I label each month in the book and include some details like weight, length, first year milestones, and a few little stories.

4. Don’t forget to include photos without people! Try to use some photos that show details of places you’ve lived or special toys or meals. I have always loved the context details in my parents’ albums showing the places we lived and I try to include those in my books, especially since we’ve lived in four different homes and counting since we started having kids.

5. Get it done and then wait for a coupon code! I have used Blurb for the majority of my personal photo books for over 10 years. I get their 11x14 inch large landscape books with Proline Uncoated paper. Their software and book quality has improved so much over the years, which is important to me, especially after making books and albums with professional labs and seeing the amazing quality out there. My 2017 family photo book arrived just in time for Christmas this year, and it is my favorite yet. Blurb now offers fabric covers and dust jackets, which have such a nice feel. I only wish it were lay flat like the albums I order for clients. (That is an option with Blurb now – with a different type of paper — but I haven’t tried it yet! Blurb offers coupon codes fairly regularly. I usually try to wait for the 40% off codes before I place my order. (Alternatively, you could wait for them to announce a coupon code and then rush to get your book done before the deadline. I’ve done that, but don’t recommend it!)

BONUS TIP: I ordered two copies of each of my older kids’ first year photo books so they’ll have their own copy to take with them when they go off into the world one day. When I get around to making Tallulah’s first year book (she just turned 3, so I guess it’s time…) I’ll do the same for her. Blurb keeps your books so you can reorder them easily anytime.

Have I missed something? If you have any questions about my process or good time-saving tips to share, let me know in the comments!