A Look At The Year That Was: Photobook 2021

I’ve written before – at length – about my love of photobooks. I’ve also given lots of background into my process for organizing all the pictures that go inside them (spoiler alert: organizing pictures is about 75% of the battle).

This is the part of the blog post where some of your eyes will glaze over. Feel free to skip and come back tomorrow! Photobooks are definitely not for everyone, but they are one of my favourite things to create as a self-appointed “Family Memory Keeper.

While the process can feel daunting, it’s the satisfaction of the end product that keeps me motivated.

A quick note about my personality – I am always on the hunt for a bargain. So while I would pay double for photobooks, I still want to feel like I’ve found the “best” deal.

In December 2020 I noticed my publisher of choice – Blurb – had a 35%-off sale right after Christmas. I wasn’t even started at that point, so I didn’t have a chance of making this deadline. I scrambled to get my book pulled together in early January…and then sat around twiddling my thumbs and listening to proverbial crickets for the next 2 months while I waited – impatiently I might add – for another coupon code. On principle, I absolutely refused to pay full price.

A new code eventually came on offer and all was once again right with the world. But I vowed not to make the same mistake twice.

So this year I started preparing in the early fall. It was nice, actually, to work away at the photobook in manageable hour-long chunks here and there. And, when the 35%-off sale popped up right after Christmas, I had only holiday photos left to assemble.

On December 29th I clicked the order button and had a smug grin of satisfaction on my face all day…

…until I happened to see the coupon code that popped up on January 1st for 40% off (and maybe free shipping too?).

But it was done and it’s here and, as usual, we’ve all been loving it.

Abby hunting down the duplicates.
Back cover of 2021 – love this picture!

I always, always, always end up with duplicate photos. It can take months for me to spot the double, but this year – TWICE – I had duplicates on side-by-side pages. I was encouraged when my husband wisely pointed out it makes the book extra special. And it does, funnily enough. I don’t try to do this (that would take all the whimsy out of it), but it is a fun little treasure hunt in a weird sort of way.

I promised Abby a Hershey’s chocolate kiss if she could find the set of duplicates I had spotted. Guess what – she never did find my set of duplicates but being eagle-eyes McGee, she found TWO additional sets of repeats. Yeesh. Lots of treasure hunting, I guess?

I thought it would be fun to show a few spreads so you can get an idea of how I structure my layouts. I have a Highlights page at the very beginning of the book that lists the main events from our year (see this post for more details) – things like John winning a photo competition, our family going skiing for the first time, Levi’s run-in with poison ivy. Beyond that, aside from a few page captions, I don’t use any text in my books.

I’m not including pages that show pictures of anyone outside our immediate family and I was shocked how few pages this left – although there were periods of feeling isolated by pandemic restrictions again this year, we really did manage to spend a lot of time outside with friends and family over the summer! So I’m missing huge swaths of time and adventures here, but you’ll get the general sense of our year and how I record the memories from it…

A look back at 2021 (WITH a bit of commentary)

These two pages are from spots we had only ever visited in the summer. The photos above are from Baxter’s Harbour, which has a beautiful coastal view and large(ish) waterfall. I had never considered going in the winter, but it was beautiful.

Harbourville, the spread pictured below, was equally incredible in the winter. I’m not sure if you can fully appreciate the context of the kids sizing compared to the enormous cascade of ice. The picture on the top right of the page shows the kids playing in the bottom left corner and they look like little ants. That waterfall/icicle was huge!

I try to add in lots of “non-human” shots as well. I find it compliments the overall aesthetic of the page. It also helps that John takes incredible pictures. Everything you see is a happy combination from both of us – he deserves lots of credit!

I like to take pictures from various angles (my Head skis below, my boots on top of the pebbled beach above – a bit hard to see from this vantage with the reflection on the photobook).

I don’t hesitate to use multiples of a similar pose. For example, I have two shots of the kids and John crossing a log (and yes it was precarious and yes they could have all ended up soaked and yes it was worth the risk). In the second picture, they have their arms out in their balancing pose and Abby is making a crazy face. I liked both pictures and so I kept them both. No dithering, and to me it’s fine to have things that capture slightly different nuances of the same moment.

A handful of pictures get full-page spreads – like this one of Abby on our front lawn on one of the two days the crab apple tree was in blossom.

I use text sparingly, but will often have a “header” page for lots of related pictures that follow. One day on a family walk we happened upon a quarry. The kids had a great time roaming around (we stayed off the dirt piles!). Subsequent pages are all random photos taken on other family walks that didn’t necessarily have a unifying theme like this particular walk did…

Again – pictures of the kids + pictures of scenery/flora. I also love pictures that don’t necessarily catch their full faces but highlight how small their hands still are or some other preservation of their kidhood. The pictures on the right are both of Levi during his obsessive Rubix cube phase. I love the view from between the vines of our hanging plant. He sat on the couch without moving for almost an hour. Later he moved to the footstool in front of me while I read a book. You can sense the concentration in both pictures, but it’s not overt. This round of commentary has less to do with photobooks and more to do with my/our photography style, admittedly!

I try to group special events together. On the left, I have pictures from the night we made up a “menu,” let the kids order from it and set up a tent in the living room for an overnight sibling sleepover. This was during our total lockdown in May, so activity selection was limited. I also organized a surprise Christmas-in-May. When they woke up (one random Saturday) I had set out stockings and a few gifts from my miscellaneous stockpile. I also made Cinnamon Coffee Cake (our traditional Christmas morning breakfast) and had Christmas music playing. Their reaction was speechless and it took minimal effort!

When the scenery is the star of the show, I try to make sure I still get pictures of people. John specializes in landscapes and architecture, while I gravitate toward pictures of people. It’s a great match. I took both pictures of the kiddos, and he handled the rest.

Here is more grouping by theme: a trip to a local lakefront cottage and a trip to the pool. These could have been weeks apart, but I put them close together for the shared element of water.

When we have a big event – like a major vacation or our annual trips (3 this summer) to my parent’s home, I try to subdivide photos into lots of categories.

Below is a spread of are our “calm lake” shots. Other spreads might involve wildlife (and contain pictures of Levi catching fish, frogs, and snakes), outdoor work (splitting and piling wood with my Dad and getting water from the natural spring on their property), another might be swimming, and another might be all about crafts and games with my Mom.

I find it so much easier to have lots and lots of subcategories.

We also really enjoy taking panoramics, which are surprisingly easy to capture with an iPhone.

The spread below is all local seaside destinations. I love that the kids are represented, even at a distance. The sunset picture on the right was such a special, special moment when we chased a sunset with Levi while Abby was at a pizza party and I love having the memory preserved.

Even if we return to a place for a second or third or tenth time, if we take pictures, I will commemorate the experience in our photobook. Every single year I have a spread for Peggy’s Cove. The kids look older, the weather is always different, we might take closeups of unique nautical things – no matter how you slice it, Peggy’s Cove deserves its own page.

Another “trick” is to have catch-all pages. These are miscellaneous pictures that don’t necessarily belong anywhere; I don’t give them as much dedicated space – typically using a 3×3 grid – but I want to retain the memory.

Sometimes I also can’t decide which picture I like better and will relegate a solid outtake from a main event (birthday, Christmas, vacation) to one of these collage pages. Mostly, though, these pictures are things we captured that have deep meaning but are either not of great artistic quality (low lighting, someone partially out of the frame) or don’t have a common theme.

For example below: John’s tiny deep-dish birthday cookie (he got a bigger celebration earlier in the week with pecan pie and turkey and all the fixings so don’t feel too sorry for him); three gold stars (I’m always talking about my love of gold stars and someone texted me these); the first time we lit candles in our favourite Danish candlesticks; a cool omelet face John made for the kid’s supper; Levi getting water from the spring (on his birthday); our week of Hello Fresh and Abby making supper; my e-mail from Sarah Hart-Unger asking if I would like her copy of the Sprouted planner (yes, please); a picture of my quotes book; a selfie post-haircut.

When I go back to old photobooks these are always some of my favourite pages, even though they’re just a hodge-podge.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not afraid to put in lots of repeats. I could have halved the pictures and only had one page to memorialize our tour of downtown holiday greenery (#GoWolfville), but every picture offered me something different. I love the one of me being silly with Levi, and I love the one of us being more serious (I’m rarely in pictures with the kids). I love the one of Levi far off in the distance (top left) and I love the one with both kids because…I love pictures of my kids together. Again, it’s my/our book, so I get to make these choices! I’m aiming for my good, not some idealized “perfect”.

Same thing below – I could have just put in one picture of our backwoods filled with snow (where is Robert Frost when you need him?)…but why not all three?

Finally I do black-and-white photos at the back. These are almost exclusively from John.

And that’s a wrap. On our photobook from 2021. Lots of great memories and I’m already looking forward to more special adventures in 2022.

If you happen to make photobooks, any tips or tricks? Alternatively, do you have any questions about photo organization or creating photobooks? This is a topic I could discuss for hours!

30 thoughts on “A Look At The Year That Was: Photobook 2021”

  1. All the photos are just gorgeous! Do you start out with a set number of pages in mind, or does it vary according to how busy the year has been?

    1. Great question! It varies. This year was 195 pages; last year was about 250 pages (we did a lot more “adventuring” in 2020).
      Some photobooks do have caps on length, but Blurb I think can handle up to 400 pages?
      These books are also physically smaller than Shutterfly books, so I naturally need more pages because the physical layout of the pages is smaller…

      Blurb has a relatively low per-page price, so I just use as many pages as it takes. When I used MyPublisher (which went out of business and was swallowed up by Shutterfly), I made 100-page books every year as that was the maximum number of pages available.

  2. Those photos look great! I always print off pictures and then put them in photo albums, and it is SUCH a pain in the ass. I usually put it off until it’s a huge job; if I did it more frequently it wouldn’t be such a THING.

    Oooooohhhhh how I hate when I order something and THEN I get a coupon code! That happened to me with my Christmas cards this year.

    1. Same thing happened to me with my Christmas cards this year. I got a coupon code in the mail less than 24 hours after I placed my order. I actually called the company (Vistaprint here in Canada) and they gave me a credit (retroactively assigned the value of the discount) which worked perfectly because I had another order still to place later in the season!

      I grew up on photo albums, but I find this a lot less work (overall) and they also take up A LOT less space!!!

  3. It looks so great and what a great way to organize your memories. I’m not going to feel at all terrible for my random mishmash of prints that are just sitting in albums undated!! (That’s a lie. Of course I’ll feel bad about it, but not bad enough to do anything about it!)

    1. I’ve posted lots of times about how there are lots of “good” things I don’t do. This is something I do (that’s not “good” per se)…and I skip A LOT of other things. Trust me.

  4. Okay, well, I now have a huge inferiority complex! I’m completely serious when I say that my husband occasionally jokes that it’s time to finish Paul’s baby book (and he’s now a freshman in college.) So that’s where I’m coming from! I guess this is one of those things i just have to let go of and admit it’s not my forte. BUT! I can still appreciate your photobooks. They are absolutely beautiful. Here’s my question- did you take any kind of photography class, or is it just something you got good at over time? Or is it just a matter of taking hundreds of photos and keeping only the best? I’m having the stirrings of inspiration… I’m going to just click on your link to Blurb and check it out. Thanks for this post- you never know, I could still put together a photobook of the last nineteen years!

    1. Oh my goodness – no pressure to do photobooks. I promise your son will be A-okay without a baby book.

      A friend of mine did a book for each of her grown kids for Christmas a few years ago. It took her a few nights for each book, I think, and she wasn’t overly picky. Just a single book for the first 18 or so years of each of her 3 kiddos lives. You can definitely do it! But also…don’t feel pressured to do it. We all have our “thing” and this is definitely one of mine (but I also don’t do Peloton workouts every day or run or do strength training or regular yoga; how’s that for MY inferiority complex).

      No photography class. I’ve learned a lot from my husband who is great at photography (also just an amateur, neither of us have ever had any training). I will say that new smartphones have amazing cameras that go a LONG way in capturing great pictures. They’re so easy to use and have portrait settings etc. Every single picture you see is from an iPhone. I do take lots of pictures (4-5 for every one I keep at least, sometimes more, especially if it’s an “action” shot like of the kids sledding).

    2. LOL at the end of your comment!! I also literally had a moment reading this where I thought, well, would it be totally IMPOSSIBLE to go back now and make books from 2008 (when my oldest was born) -2022??? 🤔🤔 hahaha..

      I’m just currently trying to go through my older photos and get them sorted/backed up, better organized, duplicates deleted, etc for now. I absolutely love the look of these books though. I’m tempted to maybe at least go through and make books for our vacations! But I love the day to day stuff too. Elisabeth, What’s the approximate price for a say, 200 page book? My problem is that I am very indecisive when it comes to these things (if you have seen my travel post recaps, I basically photo dump dozens even in a blog post because I just cannot narrow them down to save my life!!).

      1. Great question.
        I haven’t gone back before 2012. That’s when I started making photobooks and I have no plan to ever go back and do things before that point. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. By that I simply mean – there is no requirement to do anything other than 2021, for example, if starting a photobook habit appeals to you! But feel free to skip this job entirely.
        Here are the last three years (with discount codes of about 30%):
        196 pages – $113
        238 – $115
        198 pages – $106

        So the price has gone up slightly, and this doesn’t include shipping (which often comes on free). I get over 1000 pictures in my books, so I find it a great bang for buck!

  5. I think we are opposites! I will chose the best photos and don’t include any duplicate poses. So, my photo books only tend to be around 30 pages for the year. Question though – have you ever looked into printing your blog?

    1. I haven’t. I haven’t even been blogging a year…but the thought is intriguing. Have you? I’m open to suggestions, if so!

      Definitely very different. I am all about preserving just about every memory I can with the pictures. But I know LOTS of people that make much shorter books with only the top pictures from a year, which always look lovely and don’t take nearly as long to look through either (and would cost less as a bonus)!

      1. I would like to print it at some point so that it isn’t lost forever – but you have way more posts than I do! So far the best looking option is Pixxibook.

        1. I looked up Pixxibook and will definitely look into it for this year! I think it’s a great idea to have this preserved…

    2. I was actually thinking of looking into this, too. I haven’t yet though. When we went out to Maine in August, I wrote very detailed posts each day (from the WordPress app, on my phone!) with tons of pics from our trip and detailed recaps. I was thinking I’d like to look into at least printing those and maybe putting them in page protector/binders or something.

  6. you are sooooo advanced!!! i haven’t even chosen pics. I know you do it every month, which I intended to do but never did. I feel embarrassed that we are near end of January and I haven’t started. maybe I’ll start this weekend.
    this is such a special tradition, both of my girls love to read them almost every week, so I have to do it! thanks for the reminder.

    1. There is no expiration on when these books can get made. I was excessively early this year, but needed to get something off my plate.
      I’ve also just become so regimented with my photo organization because we take so many pictures now (all via iPhone, so it’s just so easy to take lots and lots of photos). If I don’t stay on top of it, I just don’t think I’d ever manage to catch up…
      That’s so sweet your girls love to look at them. We look at them A LOT when they first arrive and then leave the new book alone for a few months before we get interested in it again. Since I look at the spreads/pictures SO much when I’m making the book, I get a bit tired of it after a while and need a little break!

  7. Beautiful book! This is tempting me to switch over to blurb for next year! I like the very classic, minimalist layout of the book. I currently use Shutterfly and have for the 3 years I’ve been making photobooks! Ours is set up chronologically. And I work on it throughout the year, 2 months at a time. So in March, I will work on Jan-Feb, in May I will work on Mar-Apr, and so on. So I put that on my to do list for the month – so March will say “complete Jan-Feb photo book pages.” At the end of each month, I create a folder in google photos of favorites from that month and that is what I use to create the pages for those months. I do add text in which is why I try to do this throughout the year. I will put in notes about what was going on in our life, funny things Paul said (but have struggled to keep track of that so those kind of comments are sparse). Shutterfly always has an unlimited pages deal multiple times/year, so I finish the book around early Jan and then wait until I see the unlimited free pages deal to order the book.

    Overall, I like our approach but I don’t necessarily love the layout options on shutterfly. So I need to look at blurb and see if I can easily import photos from google (I assume I will be able to!).

    Phil will tell you our kids’ lives are over documented. Lol. But I know they will be glad to have these photo books to look back on when they are older. Paul already enjoys looking at them, but can only look at them under supervision! And I always make a mistake or 2, as well. Duplicate photos or something to that effect. I guess it’s part of the charm. 😉

    1. I used to LOVE the unlimited extra pages deal from MyPublisher (which was swallowed up by Blurb).
      The big thing I love about Blurb is I don’t have to upload photos to a site. I backup/store all my photos in OneDrive, but have everything very thoroughly categorized into folders and subfolders. Blurb has a downloadable software option (you can also do it all online), so I can just drag and drop photos into the layouts and then the uploading happens all at once at the very end of the process when I’m ready to order.
      It took me a while to get used to the program (I had used MyPublisher for years), but now it’s my go-to and I find it very user-friendly.
      I don’t think we can over-document the special memories? Especially in picture form?!
      I’m telling myself the duplicate thing is definitely part of the charm. It makes it very original and since it’s only something our family really picks up on, it’s almost like a bit of an inside story, which the kids seem to find hilarious.

  8. I have only ever created one photobook, the entire book was from one family holiday. My children were really young at the time and it took me weeks to put together, I think it put me off doing another one. We had a month in the Bahamas three years ago and I have often thought about doing a book for that but have not got any further than that! You must have newer iphones than mine, I use a DSLR for all my photos, my phone is not nearly as good.

    1. The newer iPhones are definitely more powerful. Before I used my phone, I just had a point-and-shoot, but I do think the iPhone pictures are much better than what I could get on my old Canon.
      A DSLR is wonderful and I wish I knew how to use one properly; the iPhone is a bit of a “cheat” but I still love that it makes pictures of everyday things SO accessible. I ruined two digital cameras with sand getting in the lens, and stopped taking pictures at the beach. Now I almost always have my phone along and that is one thing where I feel ZERO guilt with my phone use – taking pictures. I don’t use it that much for pictures, really, in the span of a day, but love documenting everyday things that happen in the course of our daily life.

      The books are a lot of work, though I think it gets faster for me each year. The key for me really is being very meticulous with organizing my photos, which is a job I (mostly) enjoy.

  9. This is amazing. I am wondering how much time you put into one phonebook.
    I used to make a lot during my teenage years and early 20s but than kind of lost that passion or maybe it was the time.
    I still want to make our wedding album but can’t decided what images go in and which ones don’t. It’s been 8 years next week. So this post gave me some pointers and maybe I finally get it done.
    I did make one album for my best friend for Christmas this year because I knew she wouldn’t have time to make one from our little vacation at my parents country home. it was really fun and I wish I had made one for myself too.

    1. Hmmm. The actual photobook this time likely took me around 20 hours to make? Maybe a little more.
      That said, I do spend probably at least an hour a month tackling pictures. I am relentless in my organizing which makes the photobook so much easier to put together. But that 12ish hours is spread across an entire year, so it’s very manageable.
      I did our wedding album YEARS after we got married. Anything else that came before my first photobook (2012, I think), I don’t plan to make an album for. I’m content to just do a year at a time now and we have a few albums from trips etc that happened before I started with photobooks.
      My sister-in-law usually makes albums for trips only; each trip gets an album which is a very fun idea. I like having everything from daily life all in one place, but I think for people that do a lot of travelling, this is a great way to use photobooks to capture memories.

  10. I love that you make photo books every year and how much effort you put into them. You know, when Levi mentioned in school that you like to “rest a lot”, he should have also mentioned all the projects that you get completed like the photo books every year.

    I usually do photo books of (family) vacations. I think if I had kids, I would totally be like you and make annual photo books, but because it’s just me and Jon (and Jon’s not even that much into photography), it would just be a collection of selfies and landscape shots from my runs LOL

    1. Ha! Shocking that my 7-year-old did not call to mind everything I do!
      Yes, the kids provide a lot of the fodder for the photobooks and my John is very into photography. It’s a great creative outlet for the two of us, but my SIL only does photobooks for vacations (she and my brother don’t have any children), and it seems to make a lot of sense for their picture-taking style (a lot of pictures on vacation, but not a lot of day-to-day life).

  11. Coming back to this post to say that you’ve inspired me to put more thoughtfulness and care into my phone pictures. I’ve been treating them as 2nd tier photos because they’re obviously not as high quality as some I can take with my SLR, but surprisingly, even though I don’t have a fantastic camera on my phone, with a little more care and planning I can get pretty nice pictures. Also started using a Google Photos app which is significantly better for organizing and editing than the standard photo app on my phone.

    Great iob on your photo book as always!! It’s a work of art!

  12. The time and care you put into these books shows… and you will treasure them! I love how you mix in pictures of scenery and people, and how it’s truly a collaboration between you and John. The stories of the duplicates are hilarious too – go, Abby! 🙂 I also love how you highlight the, well, highlights of the year.

    Like so many here, I need to curate and organize my photos. Just another “someday” area of my life that I know I will regret not addressing sooner rather than later!

    1. Photos are so much harder to stay on top of now, I think. When everyone used film, there was a very logical timing to when to get photos developed and added into albums. Now we take SO many more pictures and there aren’t clear lines delineating when we should organize them.
      Doing it monthly has been a great rhythm for me, but I also try to whittle it down to just my favourites before I even take them off my phone. This has also really streamlined my process.

      Thanks for the kind words. We do love these books and I’m so glad we’ve gotten into a happy routine of making one each year.

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