Making Your Own Wedding Album - Advice from a Bride

posted on: December 20, 2010

This is a guest post from Annabel, whose wedding I photographed in 2008.
(*My comments are in parentheses.) ;-)

A few weeks ago, Anne asked me if any of the pictures from my 2008 wedding ever ended up in an album. Oh boy, did they. What they ended up in is a hardbound 11 x 13 wedding album nay, volume, with a glossy dust jacket and hundreds of wedding photos spread out over 126 glorious, premium-papered pages. And the only thing more crazy than having such a hefty, museum-quality wedding album, is the fact that I did it all myself.
(*Anne: From my perspective, the paper & print quality is decent for what is available to the general public. However, as a professional I have access to much more archival quality album options, but better quality does come at premium.)



Now I know that making your own wedding album might not sound all that crazy to the average Jill, but if you’ve ever done a project like this, you might recognize that this is a task meant for only the truly ambitious (read: mentally ill) brides and/or grooms among us. Remember your high school yearbook? It was, what? 60 pages? There were probably fifteen kids on the staff killing themselves to put it out at the end of the year. And they didn’t even have jobs! So before you embark on a project like making your own album, you must ask yourself, are you feeling equal to fifteen over-achieving teenagers?

Me? I have no regrets. My wedding album is an heirloom I treasure and it’s beautiful. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. We bought copies for all of our parents- and my mother, no kidding, makes people wash their hands before they touch it. Her friends may roll their eyes but they’re lucky she hasn’t put it in a glass case, turning only one page a day, like those illuminated manuscripts in museums. I can’t blame her- while I’ve yet to frame a single wedding picture, my giantess of an album sits propped up on a bookshelf in my living room just waiting for the day when I can afford museum lighting.
(*Anne: Storing albums with this many pages upright might cause the binding to become loose, unless it's propped on a book stand that allows the book to lean back, stay closed, or lay open with the binding sinking into the spine instead of the pages pulling on the binding. Storing flat is the best way to preserve the binding.)

Recognizing that what the mentally ill really need is a forum on which to communicate their crazy notions, Anne has asked me to share my experiences making my own album with her blog readers. So here we go!
(*Anne: Annabel is completely sane, and extremely creative. ;-)


Lets start with the cons:

It takes a lot of time - I made my album when I had what some people might call “free time” but also goes by the name “life-crippling underemployment.” I don’t know that I would have had the time to devote to making as nice an album if that hadn’t been the case. Altogether, I bet I spent forty hours or more on it during this time. Even if you’re only doing a simple and short album with no fancy layouts, I promise you, this is going to take at least a day or two of your life. Narrowing down your photos alone will take several hours. Uploading high-res photos, laying them out, dealing with the inevitable technical glitches, and proofing your album will take up what will start to seem like an infinitely expanding amount of time. If this sounds awful to you, pay someone else to deal with those frustrations for you. If this sounds like fun to you- welcome to my club! Drinks are in the kitchen and you can hang your straight jacket on the hat rack.
(*Anne: even when I do the initial design for couples, it can take weeks or even months for them to look at the album design enough times to decide what changes they want to make!)

It’s not necessarily cheaper – Although I knew Anne would make a great album, I wanted to do my own. I designed my album on blurb.com, which is a fantastic site where you can lay out and print your own high quality hardcover books. You have to download their layout software program onto your computer (the program is free) and then upload your album to the site. My large format, 126 page album, ended up costing roughly $100 per copy. Considering the time I spent on it and the cost of printing, I doubt it really made financial sense to do it myself. Remember that life-crippling unemployment I was talking about? After I made my album, I couldn’t actually afford to purchase it until a month later when we could afford it. Still, for me it was worth the time, the cost, and the wait.
(*Anne: Doing the math- if Annabel's album took her a week, and if she had a job that earned her $1000 per week, than her album cost her $1100... luckily she was able to spend time instead of cash.)

Technology is frustrating – I have little bit of a background as a graphic artist and so was prepared for the technical part of creating my own album. If you are easily frustrated with technology, putting together your own album may not be for you. There’s a definite learning curve with the software on most of these book design sites. If you’re someone who picks up new technology easily and have a speedy computer with plenty of space for your photos and plenty of processing power for the software, then you’re in good shape. If not, you might want to pay someone to do it and save yourself the hassle. Sometimes the photos don’t load properly and you have to start all over again, sometimes the blurb.com software is glitchy (though to their credit they are always updating it and their customer service was great when I used it a year ago), and sometimes malevolent elves crawl into your computer and screw things up for no reason at all. That last one is almost guaranteed, trust me.
(*Anne: Agreed!! Stuff happens ALL THE TIME to delay what feels like should be a simple & quick process!)


And now, some tips

Think about design – Before I started my album on Blurb, I looked through some of the public wedding albums on there and they were all kind of, let’s see how do I say this nicely?: terrible. Well, I guess there wasn’t a way to say that nicely at all, huh? It’s not that the people making the albums were terrible, it’s just that our first instinct is to try to get as many photos into as few pages as possible. Economical? Yes. Pretty? Not so much. That kind of design leads to a really hectic-looking and amateurish product. Instead of looking at other wedding albums, try looking through some of the books the professional photographers have made to show off their portfolios on Blurb or in your local bookstore. Use their ideas to organize your album and make it the piece of art it deserves to be. These people know how to use white space to draw the eye in and to use design to create a feeling. If you have ten pictures of people going nuts on the dance floor, put ‘em all on one page and let it feel crowded and crazy, just like your dance floor was. But you don’t want the picture of your dad crying in public for the first time ever to be sized down and hidden among a bunch of other pictures- give it it’s own page.
(*Anne: EXCELLENT advice! Annabel's album was BEAUTIFULLY laid out and provided just the right balance of things that went together, highlight moments, and space to appreciate the art and the memories all in the same space.)

Put a pin in it for a few days – When you finish your album and preview it once or twice, don’t go to print and buy it right away. Let it sit there for a few days without looking at it. Then, go back and preview what you’ve made. Have other people look at it too. You’ll catch mistakes easier that way and maybe realize that two pages of people eating is not as adorable as you thought it was when you were making it.

(*Anne's final thoughts:
Most couples I survey after a few years of marriage never actually got around to making their own wedding albums. They tell me they hung a photo on the wall, or gave photos as gifts to family members, but their own wedding albums often don't get created, despite their best intentions. The sad part is... I'm equally guilty of thinking I can do my own album. I've spent 5 years helping other people make their wedding albums, yet even after being married for 7 years, I still haven't made time to do my own wedding album. We all start off with ambitious visions of having plenty of time and dedication to the project, but at this point, I'm ready to hire someone else to get it done for me just so I'll finally have the whole story of our wedding day in one beautifully bound place! Annabel's story is definitely exceptional- which is why I'm so glad she was willing to share her experiences on my blog!! Thank you Annabel- you're the bee's knees. ;-)

15 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. I have tried printing through Blurb and a few other "make your own book" sites and I have to say, that after seeing a REAL album (I'm a pro, so I have high standards) I was HUGELY disappointed in the results. I got one from Blog-to-Print and it is shabby at best. I've looked at it once and the pages are falling out already... two years later!

    So, my advice would be: ante up and buy pro-- you'll never regret it!

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  2. I totally understand when people can't afford to have a professional quality album and I appreciate that there are options out there so that at least they can preserve their images in a form other than a set of 4x6 prints or a few images on the wall. It's a great record of friends and family that may never all be in the same place again. Luckily blurb is inexpensive enough that couples could print a new book if something serious happened to their old one.

    For couples who can afford a lifetime quality album, it's definitely worth it, but ultimately it's the client who needs to be happy while staying within their own means.

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  3. As a photographer, I'm often asked about the book making process. This can be for wedding albums as well as sign-in books to be used at the reception itself. While making one's own book can be rewarding for someone dedicated like Annabel, most of my clients inevitably tell me the design process took longer and was more frustrating than they had expected. Additionally, the creativity I can add into the design is something most people don't think of until they see the layouts and then they have their "ah ha" moment where they see how certain photos really tell a whole lot more in the context of an album layout than when seen individually.

    I generally recommend blurb as the best consumer level book, but despite their refined software and print method, I still think the couple's main album tends to show MUCH better when designed & printed through professionals. However, I do think parents & friends will love the blurb books in most instances.

    Either way, Annabel's perspective is a great one for brides to mull over before jumping into creating their own albums. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience!

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  4. Great post, Anne & Annabel! I've always loved Annabel's sense of humor in her writing, so it's great to see more of it here. Her wedding photos were amazing and this post was perfect to hear what she ended up doing with them.

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  5. At this point, i wish I'd known there were better options out there than Blurb b/c I did spend so long on the process, I'd naturally like to have had the best quality. Also I'd like to add that for someone with my kind of OCD, control-freak creativity, making my album was best for us all. I could include my vows, my invitation, my program, poetry, quotes, etc. in just the right places and change them around a million times. Although I'm sure Anne would be, as always, endlessly patient and accommodating, I wouldn't wish the insanity, control-freak ways of my creative process on anyone else.

    Also- Hi Jessica!!

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  6. I am Annabel's mother and it is not entirely true that I make people wash their hands before looking at the album. If they are wearing white, cotton, acid-free gloves they are welcome to page through without the scrubbing! A number of people have asked if she is willing to contract to create albums, but since she is already hallucinating elves, I have not passed on the requests to her. How can anyone live with the ongoing post-wedding madness, requests, reversals, and drama? My hat is off to Anne!

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  7. Jane & Annabel- I love you. ;-)

    For people who want... nay... NEED full creative control, Blurb is one of the best out there because if you really want to- you could send them fully designed pdf files, which is only slightly less involved than going into full blown hand-cut scrapbook mode (definitely less expensive!) I do allow clients to create photoshop or illustrator files which I can send on to professional album companies who make higher quality albums... but the cost is still 5-10 times more expensive than this DIY option and the production time takes 5-10 times longer as well.

    I'll be producing a mini video in the future to really describe all of the differences between what consumers can get and what professionals can get, but in the meantime, I have kind of laid out the differences in binding and papers in a post on my "other" blog... http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2007/03/album-resources.html

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  8. thanks for sharing

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  9. Wow,GREAT post!This really shows the amount of time and effort that goes into creating such heirlooms. Mind if I link a post on my blog to this? Thanks so much for sharing, Annabel & Anne!

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  10. Go for it Chezley! I think all brides should gain some insight before diving into a big DIY project!

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  11. oh my!!! SO TRUE!

    Married 5+ years, wall art: 4. Wedding album: 0.

    We photographers are the guiltiest among the brides!

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  12. I know this is a really old post, but I came across it while looking for a DIY option for my wedding album. We were married in 2007 and our wedding photographer provided me with a DVD of our pictures, but skipped town with our payment in full for our album and prints before we ever received either. I don't want to shell out another $1000+ for another photographer to take on the task of our album. Do you have any recommendations? Is Blurb still the best consumer level service to make an album? Thank you :)

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    Replies
    1. Kristina, I'm really sorry to hear that. It saddens me to know that there are people out there not honoring their commitments, especially when it involves important memories.

      Blurb.com is still one of the best album options for consumers! It's a great book company and they're innovating in keeping their software, services, and products up to date for their clients!

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  13. Anonymous2:25 PM

    I used zookie.com and I LOVED it!!! They sell professional quality wedding albums to brides who only received a disk. Personally, I have seen albums from blurb and others sites and they dont even come close in comparison! My friend ordered an album from one of the more popular "make your own album" sites and was so unhappy she started over and just went to zookie after I showed her my album.

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