6 steps for making a milestone album for someone special

I’m sharing these popular instructions again — reprinted from two years ago — for photo album makers thinking of making a meaningful gift this year.

As you look to the year ahead, think about whether the most important people in your life may be celebrating a milestone.

Is your mother turning 60?

Are your sister and your brother-in-law celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary?

Is your father finally retiring?

If someone special is celebrating a milestone in the near future, it’s time to think about making Special Someone an album.

Such a gift requires a little bit of planning, a lot of cooperation from Special Someone’s friends and a few hours to assemble an album, but the result will be worth every bit of effort.

I made such an album recently for my mother-in-law when she turned 70. My husband and his brother hosted an open house for about 60 of her friends and family, and I made her a beautiful keepsake full of memories and birthday wishes for her to enjoy until her next milestone birthday.

Nina album cover

Cover

Here’s how I did it:

1. Plan ahead. Three months in advance, we sent “save the date” cards to everyone in Special Someone’s address book (we had my mother-in-law participation, but you could do this on the sly if you’re a good detective or if you have an inside man). The cards included this message:

We’re creating a memory album for Special Someone to present to her at her birthday party. Please share a memory and/or photo of Special Someone so we can include it in the book.

What to contribute: Send a message (a story, memory or birthday wishes) and/or photo(s) to Special Someone’s daughter-in-law, Album Creator. Email or snail mail accepted. If you can’t bear to part with a printed picture, mail it, we’ll scan it and send it back to you.

Don’t delay! Send your message right now, while it’s fresh in your mind.

Include your email and mailing address.

About 15 invitees sent me something during the next 8 weeks.

2. Remind: We sent invitations six weeks in advance. Included in the invitation was this message:

Don’t forget! If you want to contribute a memory, good wishes or a photo to Special Someone’s memory album, send it NO LATER THAN DATE to EMAIL or ADDRESS. Thanks to all those who’ve already contributed.

A couple dozen more people responded, including my mother-in-law’s brother who had an abundance of photos. In my situation, the only people I had to bug to contribute were my mother-in-law’s 20something grandchildren.

Typed and handwritten messages side by side.

Typed and handwritten messages side by side.

3. Decide format: I scanned all hard copies (including handwritten notes) so I could create a digital photo book. I chose to print with Shutterfly because of its fast service (when complete, the album was delivered within a week).

album black and white

4. Select a design: One theme throughout a book ties different subjects together, so I recommend sticking to one color scheme or coordinating designs. Here, using a classic background, black and white images blended beautifully with color images on other pages.

Early years

Early years

5. Organize: I used a roughly chronological approach to the album, so friends from high school (with pictures of high school) went in the beginning, messages from her card club friends in her current life went in the middle and messages from her grandchildren went at the end. It wasn’t perfectly chronological though; images of she and her brother were near the beginning, whether they were toddlers or retirees at the time.

I tried to put similar people together on the same pages (co-workers, for example, and aunts).

Album Chris

I got a lot of family reunion photos (because, of course, that’s one of the places Special Someone often sees those who contribute to such an album, so I grouped them together here with an image in the background of South Dakota, where many relatives live(d).

6. Print and present: We put my mother-in-law’s album on display at her party so all the contributors could see their own contributions and others’ in print. But we presented the album to her a couple of days before so she could absorb all the wonderful things people said about her and remain composed at the party.

In the end, her book was 50 pages long and covered almost every important achievement and person in her life. One life. One book. Amazing.

album wedding

I sprinkled appropriate quotes and titles throughout the book, but the theme I used was sewing because my mother-in-law is an accomplished seamstress (she sewed the gown I wore to marry her son and many contributors mentioned her talents and gifts). One of my favorite quotes was this:

Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakably tender hand, placed beside another thread and held and carried by a hundred others.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Comparing four different photobook printers

With so many photo book printers in the marketplace, it’s tricky figuring out which one to use. Too many choices contribute to paralysis, and that’s not good when it comes to your photo collection because unprinted images are in greater danger of being lost (depending on how many back-up systems you have in place — unfortunately, most people have no backups). The bottomline line, then, is any photo book printer is better than not printing at all.

To summarize further, just about any printer has its pros and cons. For example, some people value price above all else. Other people demand and easy-to-use interface. Still others require long-lasting quality. Not wonder it’s tricky to choose just one.

With all that in mind, I recently printed a client’s photo book with four different vendors including three that I don’t see reviewed in very many places. Just to see which one I liked best. My comparison is a small sampling of a much larger marketplace, so consider this to be one opinion among many (click here for a pretty comprehensive review of 10 top vendors and here for a comprehensive look at 12 vendors plus a lot of images). And if you have comments about your experiences with any of the following vendors (or others), please chime in.

So that I was comparing apples to apples, I used the exact same photos and design for each of the four books. That means I didn’t use the design interface offered with the individual vendor (if there is one). The design was a 20-page 8-by-8 hardcover photo book, heavy on full-color images, light on text. I designed my books in Storybook Creator 4 (now known as Panstoria’s Artisan), and I uploaded finished PDFs to each website. The cover was simply a pattern (background) I created.

Shutterfly

Shutterfly cover

Shutterfly is my go-to-vendor because I think the company offers pretty good quality for the price, and it’s very fast.

Pricing: $32.61 including $7.99 for shipping

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 4 days (fastest of the four)

Print and Color Quality: Very good. In fact, I found no discernible differences on the print quality of the interior pages among the four vendors I used.

Binding: Glued. Glued bindings lay flatter than sewn bindings. Generally, glued binding are considered to be poor quality because eventually all glue dries out, and those pages will fall out of the book. In my experience with Shutterfly, this would take decades but if you’re creating a book for future generations, beware.

Shutterfly back coverShutterfly logoNotes and irks: The flysheets are textured but otherwise kind of cheap feeling. Shutterfly imposes its presence on your book with its logo on the inside back page. And there’s a small-but-still-obvious bar code on the back cover. Like many vendors, Shutterfly offers deals and coupons frequently. Create an account, and you’ll get word of sales via email.

Picaboo

picaboo cover

Picaboo is more of a boutique printer, one not always found in other online photobook reviews.

Pricing: $26.48 including $8.99 for shipping (I had a coupon; create an account and get tons of email deals)

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 8 days

Print and Color Quality: Very good.

picaboo binding

Binding: Sewn. Seems secure, but it’s kind of sloppy looking.

picaboo glassine logoNotes and irks: For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to customize the binding. So it came out white and clunky. I suppose if you want all your books to have the same color (and you label them with titles), this might be an asset; I thought it was a big drawback. Like Shutterfly, Picaboo loudly brands itself — with a printed glassine sheet in back. No bar code, however.

Panstoria Print Shop

panstoria cover

Panstoria is the same vendor that distributes the design software I used. So if you don’t use Artisan, you can’t use the print shop because there’s no online design interface. I like the power and control of the software so this isn’t a problem for me, but novices might find this frustrating.

Pricing: $37.67 including $7.68 for shipping

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 14 days (this was the longest processing time of the four vendors)

Print and Color Quality: Very good.

Binding: Sewn.

panstoria cover sway

panstoria logoNotes and irks: I liked the flysheets; there’s also a blank glassine “protector” sheet between the flysheet and the first printed page (a sign of attention to detail and quality to me). However, the cover itself is starting to curl — ugh! The branding is obvious with Panstoria’s name and a tiny QR code on the inside back page.

Professional Photo Albums

Professional Photo Albums

This vendor is a business-to-business model, so one has to be a member of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers to access it (meaning novices can leave their project design to a pro). The user interface is more complex (which is good when you want precision like an expert would, bad when you want ease of use).

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 11 days

Print and Color Quality: Excellent. Quality is especially apparent on the cover, which came out brighter and crisper than any of the others. This leads me to believe they are color correcting on press, which speaks to the quality.

Binding: Glued.

professional photo albums back coverprofessional photo albums flysheetNotes and irks: The book is actually 8.25-by-8.25, and the minimum number of pages is 26 (not 20) so I had to create six additional pages. So even though this is the most expensive option, you get more for your money. The flysheets are the best of the bunch, a heavyweight textured cream-colored paper. There’s no logo to be found anywhere, though there is a bar code on the back cover.

Have you used a photobook printer? Liked it? Disliked it? Please share.

Memory sherpas focus on the story and its most telling plotlines

Organizing photos into categories often makes more storytelling sense than chronological order. That approach improved the final result of a project I finished recently.

A woman whose father died earlier this year wanted to share some photos of his life in a way that showed who he was, especially to his grandchildren.

Before even seeing me to create this album for her, she had divided the roles he played in his life into six categories:

  • Soldier
  • Father
  • Policeman
  • Landlord
  • Retiree

The final category was “lessons, advice, faith” which was designed for stories and memories. Each category, of course, had photos illustrating those roles.

In the end, we expanded the “father” category to “family” so we could include photos of his parents, brother and grandchildren in addition to his children. This added context to his background.

The result is effectively concise. Brevity is the soul of good photo organization. In the space of 20 pages and 50 photos, we told the story of a man’s life. In addition, we added photos of a lot of memorabilia: Images of medals, police patches, newspaper stories, club memberships. Displaying all those bits and pieces in this way is much more streamlined than a box of memorabilia. Here are a couple of pages in the album:

example 1

 

example 2

Sometimes, people mistake “photo organizing” for slotting a bunch of photos in box with a lot of file dividers (or the digital equivalent). Yes, that’s one way to organize photos. But better than that is organizing a few, carefully curated images in some way that tells a story. An album, like this one, can be the best way to organize a lifetime of photos. Even better, a printed album created from digital images is easy to duplicate. This client ordered enough copies so that everyone who loved him could have a copy and know what made this man special.

The call of the curator requires people who are selfless and willing to act as sherpas and guides. They’re identifiable subject matter experts who dive through mountains of … information and distill it down to its most relevant, essential parts.

~ Seen on Micropersuasion

Here’s how to make a special photo book for a milestone event this year

As you look to the year ahead, think about whether the most important people in your life may be celebrating a milestone.

Is your mother turning 60?

Are your sister and your brother-in-law celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary?

Is your father finally retiring?

If someone special is celebrating a milestone in the near future, it’s time to think about making Special Someone an album.

Such a gift requires a little bit of planning, a lot of cooperation from Special Someone’s friends and a few hours to assemble an album, but the result will be worth every bit of effort.

I made such an album last year for my mother-in-law, who turned 70. My husband and his brother hosted an open house for about 60 of her friends and family, and I made her a beautiful keepsake full of memories and birthday wishes for her to enjoy until her next milestone birthday.

Nina album cover

Cover

Here’s how I did it:

1. Plan ahead. Three months in advance, we sent “save the date” cards to everyone in Special Someone’s address book (we had my mother-in-law participation, but you could do this on the sly if you’re a good detective or if you have an inside man). The cards included this message:

We’re creating a memory album for Special Someone to present to her at her birthday party. Please share a memory and/or photo of Special Someone so we can include it in the book.

What to contribute: Send a message (a story, memory or birthday wishes) and/or photo(s) to Special Someone’s daughter-in-law, Album Creator. Email or snail mail accepted. If you can’t bear to part with a printed picture, mail it, we’ll scan it and send it back to you.

Don’t delay! Send your message right now, while it’s fresh in your mind.

Include your email and mailing address.

About 15 invitees sent me something during the next 8 weeks.

2. Remind: We sent invitations six weeks in advance. Included in the invitation was this message:

Don’t forget! If you want to contribute a memory, good wishes or a photo to Special Someone’s memory album, send it NO LATER THAN DATE to EMAIL or ADDRESS. Thanks to all those who’ve already contributed.

A couple dozen more people responded, including my mother-in-law’s brother who had an abundance of photos. In my situation, the only people I had to bug to contribute were my mother-in-law’s 20something grandchildren.

Typed and handwritten messages side by side.

Typed and handwritten messages side by side.

3. Decide format: I scanned all hard copies (including handwritten notes) so I could create a digital photo book. I chose to print with Shutterfly because of its fast service (when complete, the album was delivered within a week).

album black and white

4. Select a design: One theme throughout a book ties different subjects together, so I recommend sticking to one color scheme or coordinating designs. Here, using a classic background, black and white images blended beautifully with color images on other pages.

Early years

Early years

5. Organize: I used a roughly chronological approach to the album, so friends from high school (with pictures of high school) went in the beginning, messages from her card club friends in her current life went in the middle and messages from her grandchildren went at the end. It wasn’t perfectly chronological though; images of she and her brother were near the beginning, whether they were toddlers or retirees at the time.

I tried to put similar people together on the same pages (co-workers, for example, and aunts).

Album Chris

I got a lot of family reunion photos (because, of course, that’s one of the places Special Someone often sees those who contribute to such an album, so I grouped them together here with an image in the background of South Dakota, where many relatives live(d).

6. Print and present: We put my mother-in-law’s album on display at her party so all the contributors could see their own contributions and others’ in print. But we presented the album to her a couple of days before so she could absorb all the wonderful things people said about her and remain composed at the party.

In the end, her book was 50 pages long and covered almost every important achievement and person in her life. One life. One book. Amazing.

album wedding

I sprinkled appropriate quotes and titles throughout the book, but the theme I used was sewing because my mother-in-law is an accomplished seamstress (she sewed the gown I wore to marry her son and many contributors mentioned her talents and gifts). One of my favorite quotes was this:

Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakably tender hand, placed beside another thread and held and carried by a hundred others.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s 10 o’clock, do you know where your photos are?

If you’re depending on an online retailer to be the backup for your digital images, make sure you know their policies.

I got a friendly email this week from Paper Coterie that says, “A quick reminder about our 90-day photo storage policy. … Our photo storage policy allows us to store photos you haven’t placed in a project for 90 days. Photos that have been placed in projects will be saved for one full year.”

I wasn’t depending on Paper Coterie as my backup, but I do appreciate the reminder. Unless you’re paying for photo storage, there probably are limits to it.

Recently, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. I fully expect the company to emerge from bankruptcy stronger, but I would encourage a second backup for any photos you have stored in Kodak EasyShare Gallery because you just never know.

And if the only place you have precious photos is a photo card or computer hard drive, you are gambling because hardware inevitably crashes. Photo backups come in many forms:

  • Prints of digital images are backups. If you do nothing else, print your favorite digital images.
  • Storing photos in the cloud or other off-site server is a backup. Paper Coterie is among retailers who store your images for a certain amount of time before eliminating them. I checked Shutterfly and Zazzle, with whom I made Christmas gifts last year, and my projects still exist in both places. Linea (www.getlinea.com) is among other vendors who charge for unlimited long-term storage of high-resolution images. If you don’t know the storage policy of the company you use to print images, find out.
  • Backup your digital images on a thumb drive or external drive, and store the drive in a different location than the originals.
  • Negatives are a backup to printed images that were originally captured on film (remember film?). Do you still have the negatives?
  • Scan important printed images or albums. “Important” is relative, but heritage photos, baby photos, wedding albums and images of loved ones who have died would probably qualify as important for most people. Photo shops and photo organizers provide this service if you’re not interested in doing it yourself.

 

November wedding … album

It took three years, and now that it’s done, I wish I would have done it sooner.

I made a wedding album.

I love the image I chose for the cover. If you look closely, you can see Tyler’s toes (look near his thumb). He was already out of his shoes when we were taking this image on an August day in 2008.

All my wedding images were digital and in one place, so I had a head start. If you have poor quality digital images (like from Facebook), do not waste your money printing them out. And if you have to track anything down or scan in your photos, do that before you even log in. Once you get that far, it’s a project you can complete in an afternoon.

With Shutterfly and $43.43 (including shipping), I made a beautiful 22-page 12×12 album in less than three hours.

I used the Wedding Damask theme in the Custom Path. It was easy to learn and, with an excellent internet connection, very responsive. The Custom Path offers plenty of precision in placement, sizing and text.

With the Christmas and New Year’s approaching, Shutterfly offers lots of great options for enjoying your photos besides photo books including holiday cards and calendars.