This is a guest post by Rex Weiner, Editor/Publisher A&I Books
You have all these terrific photos you took during the holidays, and now you want to collect them in a photo book for family and friends. It’s going to be a great gift, memorializing the precious time spent together, a keepsake for the ages to be handed down by generations to come, and so easy to do right now, using free, do-it-yourself print-on-demand online software.
But okay, there’s a problem: In every photo, your brother always makes a silly face. That’s what my brother does. In every shot, while my sister-in-law is happily smiling, and my two lovely nieces are beaming beatifically, my brother’s nose is scrunched up like a pickle over a crooked grimace, and there’s a look in his eyes as if an alligator has seized him by a sensitive part of his anatomy. Except, my brother lives in Minnesota, so it has to be a bear or something.
Unfortunately, it’s the only shot I have this year of my brother, with his silly face. My holiday book wouldn’t be complete without him—he’d get mad if he were to be left out! He’d tell Mom, and Mom would yell at me for picking on my little brother, and… wait, we’re grown-ups now. Okay, so where does that silly picture go in my holiday photo book? Indeed, the real question is: Where does any photo go in that book you’re making (and everyone’s expecting, because you promised) of the family get-together, that winter getaway to Hawaii, your skiing trip to the mountains, your Caribbean cruise, or your quiet celebration at home with Uncle Joe and the kids?
Here are a few steps toward putting it all together:
- Get your shots together: Assemble all of your photos in one folder. That’s the first thing you do. Call it “Holiday 2012,” or “The Usual Suspects,” or something simple like that. This is where you put all the photos that you may possibly want to use in your book. It’s where you can do some preliminary editing: that blurry out of focus shot… the one pointed at your toes… the shot with your kid picking his nose… your brother making a silly face, the angle least flattering to your spouse… delete, delete, delete!
- Print your photos out on paper and do a rough layout: On your home printer, just print all your photos inexpensively on regular 8½ by 11 paper, the entire universe of possible images to choose from. Spread them out on your floor or kitchen table, and start looking at them for images that go together. Try assembling them in groups or in sequence. That’s when you begin to make real choices about what works and what doesn’t work. You can eliminate shots that are too much alike. You can toss out shots that don’t match the others because you experimented with a different lens or used your cousin’s camera when yours got lost behind the living room couch. You can set aside images that you’re undecided about, leaving only the ones you’re sure of including. And while you’re at it, ditch the shot of your brother making that silly face. Now the next question comes up….
- Do your photos tell a story?: Is your story chronological? Here’s the house before the guests arrived. Here’s the dinner being prepared in the kitchen. Here are the guests arriving. Here’s everyone sitting down… here’s Uncle Joe on his first glass of wine… Here’s Uncle Joe on his third glass… Here’s Uncle Joe under the table, etc. Or maybe it’s a matter of family history: old Kodacolor prints from family gatherings past that you’ve scanned, alongside photos from this year’s reunion, to show a “Then and Now” story. But maybe it’s not a story, maybe it’s a kind of show-and-tell, in which case, you can look for themes…
- Organizing your images around themes: Everyone is outdoors, or the shots are taken inside the house. All the kids together in various shots, and all the grown-ups in others. Maybe a sequence of “action” photos, followed by a series of everyone sitting by the fireplace. “Arrivals” and “Departures” could bookend your book. Or how about “Funny Hats,” or “The pets get into the act!” There are endless ways to group your images, giving meaning to your memories, rather than the random manner in which things actually happen. Once you’ve done a book this way, you’ll probably change the way you shoot, sharpening your focus in terms of what you look for when you click that shutter. That’s what the pros call, “editing in the camera.”
- Write something! Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but you have all that space in your photo book, so why not use it? The occasion for all these photos?—tell us about it in your introduction. Captions—who’s who in that family portrait, from left to right? What is your Aunt Sadie’s recipe for that dish in the picture of your dinner table? What is the name of that romantic beach where you and your sweetheart spent that golden afternoon? Which mountain did you ski, and why is your leg in a cast? Write it all down in a Word document, and stick that in the same folder as your photos. Then you can cut and paste the text into the book, once you’ve done your photo layout. Don’t forget to proofread what you’ve written! Your cousin Hortense will never forgive you for misspelling her name.
- Choose the right format: Books come in all sizes, in hardcover and soft. Softcover is inexpensive, and probably just fine for a holiday book. But hardcover can give your books a more lasting quality, and convey the importance of your images and the value you place on the people and events they portray. A horizontal, or “landscape” format is good for all those wide-angle outdoor shots, if that’s what you’ve got. “Portrait,” or vertical format, is good for all those, well, portraits you’ve done at the family get-together. But the format most compatible with everything is a square, maybe 8 by 8, or its smaller version, the 5 by 5. For a really special book, the 12 by 12 delivers your images in a truly impressive fashion, but it only comes in hardcover. Choosing the “lay-flat” option allows you to spread your image right across two pages as the book lays flat on the table. And for the ultimate presentation, the 11 by 17 horizontal format (hardcover only) is the way to go, and layflat is the topper. But if you choose this format, your photos should have the kind of BIG quality that can be displayed in a BIG format.
- Don’t worry about… Some people spend a lot of time worrying about things when it comes to making a book. You’ve got enough on your mind already, what with the state of the economy, the melting ice caps, etc. People get anxious about paper, for instance. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to come up with artsy paper—not for this book. With digital print-on-demand, a wide variety of high-quality papers are available, but the fact is, you’ve got mainly two choices—matte or glossy. For the purpose of your holiday book, matte is the right choice. ISBN? That’s an internationally registered number used to keep track of commercially published books. You need ISBN for books sold in stores, on Amazon, but not for your privately printed and personally distributed holiday book. Copyright is for books and images that might be picked up for commercial re-printing. In fact, the minute you put your name on a printed piece of work, according to the Berne Convention, your copyright is automatic, and need not be obtained through official registration with any government office. As for photo releases, as long as everyone has their clothes on, are not doing anything illegal, and you’re not selling the book online or in a store somewhere, you don’t need a photo release. My brother, on the other hand, might sue me if I post a photo of him making a silly face, but I say, “Bring it, bro!”
- Print just one, for a start: Before you go ordering a ton of books, do yourself a favor—print just one. This will be your “proof” book. You can hold it in your hand, look at the color, the layout, and make sure your cousin Hortense’s name is spelled right. Show it to a few people to get their opinion. Once you’re satisfied, or you've made some changes, you can go ahead and order as many you need. That’s the beauty of print-on-demand technology. And one of the benefits of being a B&H customer is the A&I Pre-Paid Card, exclusively available only through B&H. These cards give you a significant discount on your single book order. You can download the free BookCreator software, make your book, and when you are ready to order, click on the shopping cart and enter the scratch-off code on your Pre-Paid Card. The cards come in three values: $30, representing the value of an 8 by 8-inch book, $45, representing the value of an 8.5 x 11 book, and $60, giving you an 11 by 17-inch book.
Happy holidays, and get busy!