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.
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!