When Michael and I were planning our wedding, we knew photography would be one of our top priorities. But our budget was small, which meant that every penny allotted to our photography allowance went to hiring artists we trusted and making sure we got the high res digital files from them. We figured we could always invest in physical things like prints and albums later, when we were, you know, gainfully employed and had things like health insurance and a 401(k).
Fast-forward five years and not a single print or album has been made. That’s right, this former wedding photographer who waxes poetic over cocktails about the emotional importance of printed photos, doesn’t even have a coffee table book of her wedding. I’ll take the customary flogging when you’re ready.
So when we partnered up with Blurb earlier this year, and I had a chance to touch and feel one of their photo books for myself, I decided it was high time we made some wedding albums: starting with our parents, who sadly, have nary a wedding photo to adorn their walls or coffee table (well, except my mom, who printed poster sized pictures of our wedding parties and hung them in the dining room, because that’s how she rolls).
If you’ve just gotten married, parent albums are a no-brainer gift for the holidays. They’re personal, meaningful, and your parents probably really, really don’t want to have to make one themselves. We ended up spending about $75 on each of the parent albums we made, and that was opting for the biggest book Blurb offers, with a slightly higher quality paper option than their standard, and doing fifty pages of photos per album. (I personally like the look of single-image photo spreads on most pages. Blame the photographer in me.) Meg, who is not a hypocrite like me, made Blurb parent albums the year she actually got married, and notes that she spent even less. Part of the reason Michael and I waited so long to make our albums is because I expected it to take forever, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were able to make two albums in the course of exactly two feature length films (and with rush shipping, get them back by the middle of the following week).
There are a few different ways to approach parent albums. If you’ve got the time and the energy, I recommend each partner designing their own parents’ albums. As Meg explained to me, “David and I each made our own albums for our own parents, which is for sure what I’d recommend for anyone, if they had the time. The albums are a hundred percent different in photos and tone, in a way that never could have been nailed making them for someone else’s parents.” Since I have the professional photography experience in our marriage and I’d waited till my deadline, I ended up doing the heavy lifting for ours.
No matter what route you take, these tips should help make your (and your partner’s) parent album design process an easy and pain-free experience:
1. Make a copy. As a general rule, you probably want to have multiple copies of your wedding photos floating around on a few different technologies. Hard drives break and photographers only keep your images around for so long. As a matter of fact, when we were getting ready to put our albums together, I realized that Michael had taken apart the computer they originally lived on, and I have no idea where the original DVD set exists. Luckily, I had made a copy.
But more importantly, if you make a copy of your photos before designing an album, it gives you the freedom to move things around and organize them without having to worry about accidentally deleting or losing track of images. Most full wedding albums will fit on a 32GB hard drive which you can get for under $20 on Amazon (and that’s probably twice as much space as you really need).
2. Get organized. If you try and import your full wedding album into Blurb and then individually place each photo just by looking just at the thumbnail images, you will lose your mind. A little bit of pre-organization will save you hours of agony later. Since we were making two parent albums for our upcoming holidays (one for Michael’s mom and one for mine), I wanted a way to separate out photos that would be relevant to my side of the family and photos that would be relevant to Michael’s. One way to do this is by creating folders on your desktop, and then sorting your favorite photos into each one. But there are a few technologies out there that make the process even easier. My favorite is called Photo Mechanic, which is a program used by a lot of wedding photographers to cull through their images. It’s normally $150, which is definitely too expensive for something you’ll only use once, but you can get a free 30 day trial right here. With Photo Mechanic, you simply pull your folders into the software (click and drag). Then you can rate and color-code your images in full-size preview mode. For our albums, we simply coded any photos relating to my mom as green, any photos relating to Michael’s mom as yellow, and any photos that would serve as the “base” of our album as pink.
3. Choose your software. Blurb has a lot of options for designing your album, from more plug-and-play browser-based software to more robust software that you operate from your desktop. We opted for their BookSmart software (the one you download) because it has a built-in template for the kind of layout where one photo is spread across two pages, which you don’t get with their browser-based software, Bookify. I expected BookSmart to be more complicated than Bookify, but the added features actually made it easier to use. BookSmart has a ton of pre-made layouts, which we ended up using for ninety-nine percent of our album designs. But you can also customize pre-existing layouts simply by hitting the “edit layout” button at the top of the screen.
4. Make your base album. Okay, this is advice for the cheaters and procrastinators in the room (sheepishly raises hand). We wanted our parent albums to feel personalized, but also didn’t exactly have tons of time to create a totally unique album for each parent (plus, there was going to be a lot of overlap between them anyway). So I started with a “base” album, uploading all of the pictures I had categorized as pink, along with all of the photos I’d tagged as being relevant to my mom’s side of the family. I put all of the photos in order, tweaked the layout to my liking, then I saved my album as “My Mom.”
5. Make copies: Here’s the cheat: when we were done with the base album, I simply hit “file” and then “duplicate book.” Voila, instant copy. With duplicate book in hand, all we had to do was swap out the photos that were relevant to my mom with the photos that were relevant to Mike’s mom (exchanging my family photos for his, for example). We ended up with two albums that are seventy percent the same, with personal touches for each parent sprinkled throughout. A photo of my mom and me hugging for her album; a photo of Mike dancing with his mom for hers. An edgier cover image for my mom; a more classic one for his. Which was great, because by the time we finished the base album, I definitely didn’t have the energy to create a new one from scratch. And now when it comes time to make albums for our dads (the next project on our holiday gift list) we can just create more duplicates, and swap out photos as we go. Easy peasy.
I think part of the reason we waited so long to do anything with our wedding photos was because we expected the process to be really daunting and difficult. But creating our parent albums with Blurb was actually really… fun. Not only did I not have to leave my house (yay for avoiding the mall), but our wedding photos have been sitting on a hard drive for so long, that I’m genuinely excited to have them on our coffee table in a medium that isn’t made up of ones and zeros. In fact, I’m kind of having a hard time letting these ones go. I guess that means next up on the list is our own album, but that’s a Blurb project for another day. The traditional sixth anniversary present doesn’t happen to be paper, does it?
Blurb is offering a special APW-only discount on all holiday photo book orders!* Get 20% off when you use the code APW20 at checkout! Offer expires December 10th.
*Offer valid through December 10, 2014 (11:59 p.m. local time). Valid for photo books made by you. A 20% discount is applied toward your product total with a minimum purchase of $50, 40€, or £35. Maximum discount is $50, 40€, or £35 off product total. This offer is good for one-time use, and cannot be combined with volume discounts, other promotional codes, gift cards, or used for adjustments on previous orders.