These last two winters I’ve been creating a family photobook for each of my three adult children. Last year’s were compiled using scans from my own library of negatives and slides of when they were young. That really was a labour of love!
This year I have brought the project up to date by gathering up images shot in the digital age. This has presented a very different challenge – namely persuading and cajoling my busy family to seek out their favourite pictures taken by them, and of them, to add to the relatively small number I have taken of them.
After gathering a ‘long list’ of nearly 2,000 images, I am now very close to having three books ready to go to print. My duty will be discharged for another year!
However excited you may be about making such a book, it IS a labour of love and determination, patience and commitment are good fellow travellers to take with you on the journey! And, yes, you will eventually be sick of the sight of your own family due to seeing the same images over and over.
So, what are my top tips?
(Hindsight required here!) – encourage your family to take lots of pictures of their life events, and to then save them and back them up (preferably into the cloud – either with a photo hosting website such as Zenfolio or Smugmug, or file storage sites like Dropbox or Carbonite).
If they haven’t named the image files with a date reference, then that will be your first task once you have received and found all the images (the ‘long list’). An alphabetical formatted date prefix enables easy searching within Windows Explorer, e.g. Change IMG_2345 to 20140802_IMG_2345. This can be done as a batch export process in Adobe Lightroom. Dated images filed in date order will make the book design stage so much easier.
Check file formats and sizes. Ideally you will be able to work with RAW files (assuming you have the software to open them), or JPEGs of at least 300k in size. Smaller than this and you should try to find the original larger file if it exists. If all else fails then take care to only print small files to a size that retains image quality.
However, one of the joys (pains) of this project is dealing with a huge range of file quality. A picture taken on a cheap compact camera or phone 5-10 years ago will be inferior to one taken on a DSLR or more recent device. Variability of image quality is inevitable.
Give some thought to a folder structure on your PC, so that you are able to keep track of all these files as they move through your workflow. Something like this:
Use Adobe Lightroom to micro-manage the workflow and to process the images to achieve a reasonably consistent style to the finished pictures that go into the book. Using Lightroom should also ensure that you can open most file types, especially RAW files from recent models.
In the Lightroom Library module, add your top level folder (in this case ‘Family Photobooks’ to Lightroom (Library> New Folder).
The same file structure will then appear in Lightroom where you can manage the images from now on:
Use the power of Adobe Lightroom to edit the images using presets to save time, rate the ‘keepers’ using the stars or flag system and then export the edited images from Lightroom to the folder ‘Edited’ again using an Export preset to save time.
Once you have assembled all the images in the ‘Edited’ folder, use the book design software available from the scores of photobook suppliers (Blurb, Photobox etc etc) to upload them and lay out your book. Alternatively, you can compile and design the book in Lightroom and then publish it straight to Blurb.
Before ordering the book to be printed, involve the family member in proofing your masterpiece – at least two stages, before and after the book design stage. They may wish to remove embarrassing or meaningless pictures! They will have their favourites that you will want to feature on whole pages. Let them see what the book looks like online before letting the presses roll.
Have fun making your family photobook. It does take many hours to achieve the finished result. But when you do, you will have created a family heirloom that will bring laughter now and be a treasure for the future – especially if the digital files get lost! I can’t wait to hold my next three books in my hand – each with 250 or so images on 100 pages.
Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions, or wish to show me your finished work.
Oxfordshire, January 2015