Reinventing the Wedding Album

Creating a Modern Wedding Album
By Robert London Photography

Today’s wedding album can be a very personal showcase; where albums of the past were records of the day, showing the dress, the Bride, the Groom, and Attendants. There are no secrets to creating a great wedding album, all the decisions are personal and subjective; one person’s perfect album could possible bore another. The only secret is to make the album uniquely yours, no need here to please your Parents or be influenced by your friends or Photographer. Keep in mind though that this is something to last a lifetime, a technique that looks unique and fun today, may look dated in ten years; think classic – good design never goes out of style. As you begin always remember that your album should tell the story of the day. The story line is how I approach the photography; each image represents the thoughts, actions, and moment in time of you and your guests. Every wedding is unique and that should be reflected in every wedding album. Poorly constructed albums (and bad Photography) look as though the images were created by the security camera, everything is documented but there is no editorial emotion. The book is used more as a reference, versus common enjoyment, and emotional celebration. If you succeed, every time you look at the album –you should be moved by the experience of the wedding.

When you begin delving into the album process you will quickly learn that the hardest part is deciding which images you shall include and in what order. While debating the inclusive images (or arguing) always reflect upon the narrative; what does this image express or say? If you are having considerable trouble narrowing your images down to a reasonable quantity, remember less can be more. Also, consider that your album can be more then simply pictures by the Photographer. The invitation is the most common non-picture element used, but there are many other possibilities. Were there personal printed details in your place settings or elsewhere? Personal vows jotted down on paper, guest book entries, an original sketch of the dress, anything that you, your family or friends personally brought to the day.

In the new web 2.0 and digital world there seems to be endless choices in albums and options within the album, but it really comes down to two main types, digital and conventional. Conventional albums are photographic prints mounted to a page, the same method as our Parents and Grandparents album. There are some options available today to give the album a more modern feel. These include modern and diverse layouts, creative covers including printed metal, and the use of black for gilding, verses gold and silver. Digital albums are computer designs, which are then printed on a press or photographic paper and then mounted and bound like a conventional album. One of the advantages to digital albums is that you can use some of your images as backgrounds; it is also easier to place more images per page. The biggest difference between the two is style - where in a conventional album if one were to use all options at their disposal, the feel of the album would not vary to far versus using no options. In a digital album one has to choose a style from the beginning, some being heavy on design others very simple, even mimicking a conventional album. You really will need to see and touch them to have a full understanding, but you can get a general idea by going to my website, navigate to the album page on NYC Wedding Photographer and look through the different album links.

The two types are indeed very different; however, one not more impressive than another, it is truly subjective to a couple's personal taste. Although, some circumstances will lend itself towards one or the other, for instance, if you have 60 or more images, digital is probable the way to go. As mentioned it is easier to include many images in a digital album. Also with digital the second and third album are about 1/3 the price, so if you want multiple copies, say for the parents (they will need to be exactly the same) it is the best value. On the other hand, if you only wish to have 20 large prints then a conventional album would be more appropriate. Also, personal items like the invitation can be directly mounted in a conventional album where in a digital album they would need to be scanned and then included as a printed image. Excluding these leanings for each type of album, my experience is that you will love one or the other. I have yet to see a couple struggle with the decision; they seem to know immediately once they have looked at the various styles and types.

The process of creating your album is as follows. For digital, the Photographer sends the images you chose to the album company and they do the design work for approval by PDF sent by email. Typically two to three changes can be made, and once approved the pages are printed, bound and shipped. Some Photographers design the albums themselves, or a couple could even do their own design, then the album company would complete the printing and binding. On the conventional side, after choosing the images, then the album needs to be laid out - exploring and finalizing your design. This entails determining which images go on each page and in what order. Also, you will need to work out size of images, shape of mats, and any effects for the pictures, for instance black and white, sepia tone, any painterly filter effects, exact cropping etc. This can be a rewarding and fun process to do by yourself or overwhelming - you know who you are and your capabilities, but either way it is time-consuming.

There are a few companies that do offer some unique services; one is digital albums by Graphi. This company uses a printing press in Italy; therefore, the pages are comparatively thin (not having to be mounted) and the album can even look like a bound hardcover book if you like. I know some other companies are offering these hardcover books recently, but they are all printed on a “digital press”Ó Graphi prints on a true conventional printing press, which affords the best and most consistent quality and you can choose between a bound book, album, or both - no one else can offer these services; they also have the most design choices. Other companies offer some unique sizes and cover materials, the options these days seem to be endless, many have separate consumer websites for you to explore, or you can see samples at your Photographer’s studio.

A professional album through a Photographer will cost a minimum of $500 and I have experienced some as high as $4000. The average I would say is $1200. The price is significant and hard to control considering the quantity of images, materials, and manual handiwork. However for couples who are determined and confident enough to do the manual work themselves, I have included the following information.
Direct to Consumer Albums

There are some new products available recently if you are okay with possible a less sophisticated album and are willing to go it alone. Below are a few links to some companies that I have come across that will deal directly with the couple (virtually all will not). They offer the style of albums previously only available through a Photographer. I have no experience with their quality or service but if you are brave, it is a new option out there:

My Publisher

Wedding Albums and More.com

Somerset Albums.com

Other direct options are the online photo sharing and printing sites, however, as mentioned previously they are all using digital presses. Which means - not on photographic paper or a conventional printing press, do not fear too much the quality can still be good. My experience is that digital presses usually lack in the blacks and vibrancy; I usually make a copy of the images I am printing and tweak these to compensate for the digital press. This will vary between companies, so some direct experience would help. Some people complain of inconsistency, being excellent one order, and average the next. Any personnel feedback would help, please contact me. This reflects the big limitation of these books; there is no way to preview exactly how they will look. When I create a conventional album, I go through at least one round of reprinting a few prints before having them mounted. Another difference is that a professionally bound album will lie flat while viewing; virtually all the following albums will view similar to a conventional book.

I have explored all the mentioned sites and can comment on their ease of use, options and products offered, however, I have limited direct experience to each company's quality. I can say that although prices do differ, they all offer products at a price that is hard to believe, almost worth just seeing how it comes out.

If you are a big flicker user check that these sites can take advantage of images directly, that is a big advantage I do not mention it individually for it continually evolves.

Blurb.com This is a book only site, so they are serious about books (or albums, depending on your dialect) there are advanced design tools, iphoto integration, and opportunities for community book development. (if your photographer was not so good) Also, downloadable software to create the book on your computer then once finished upload to their site. This is a much faster method, and there is no need to worry about loosing your connection halfway to making your album. Software was a little slow and finicky but ultimately worked well. “ImageWrap” a new service where images and text can wrap around the spine is a unique option, very limited square sizes though, but they do have a large book, 11 x 13. Their market definitely is “books” and not “albums”; however, they do have wedding themes and unless you are a graphic designer you will not find any other site with more options. Aside from Flicker they also integrate with Picasso, PhotoBucket and SmugMug. If you are seeking to get something done quickly though, there are better options for with all those advanced tools comes a learning curve and slower software.

Lulu.com A service much like blurb, it is more focused on publishing, but they have a complete section on what they call "Print Books" they have been around a long time and have a good reputation.

Shutterfly.com This site does offer a 12 x 12 album, which is a standard size in the industry. Leather is also available on some sizes, but the layout options are fairly simple. Online software is easy to use, and they offer titles on the spine. There is a new feature called ”Storyboard” tool; you place the images you want on each page and the software picks an appropriate layout – a nice balance between having control of your story and becoming overwhelmed with options. Their spell checker option could save your marriage.

Snapfish.com This is another hp website, not sure why hp has competing sites. Snapfish also has a 12 x 12, they claim archival processes, but I am not sure they are more archival than their competitors. I used them recently, and the upload process would not upload a folder - a big pain doing individual images. They claim to have a downloadable up-loader - but I cannot find it nor can tech support. The process went fairly smooth although slow. They do offer leather but limited colors and simple layouts. They have a mini 2 x 3 book that I find to be a lot of fun and cheap (iphoto offers a 2.5 x 3.5).

Mpix.com I have had good experience with this lab for prints, but I have not ordered any albums from them. Their process is through downloadable software, which is my preferred choice. However, I found the software not intuitive and slowed; may work better on a pc - not sure. They do not offer leather, but there are lots of page layouts and backgrounds. I did find their auto future to work really well. Therefore, if you have your images in the order you want, and are flexible on design you can have a nice looking album with little effort for a very reasonable price.

my publisher.com They are linked above in direct to consumer for they recently offered true "albums" as well. They offer a 15 x 11½ book. No square albums though, and only three sizes. Simple layouts, background choices are themed throughout and generally decent layout choices. The auto build feature works pretty well although generally the software is not intuitive. The website offered some unique imported leather covers, but I could not find them in the downloadable Mac software. These books are printed on a four color press, in theory much better quality than a digital press like most of the other companies. Very reasonable if their quality claims are true.

Computer based:

Apple photos This software comes pre installed on all Macintosh machines. Autoflow and a map page (which is a cool idea) are now available in the latest version. Sorry pc users, unlike itunes there is no pc version. This was by far the easiest software to use, and the only one to have the ability to change the exposure (or density) of individual images. This can be important, for an image printed on a black page should be darker relative to an image printed on a white page. 11 x 8½ is the largest size and the only one available in hardcover, no leather - photo-wrapped covers are your only option. Limited backgrounds, layout choices were okay. By its nature this software works off your computer and then up-loads. The program was intuitive, easy, and fast, a painless quick way to get an album accomplished, and reasonable.

As with anything on the web, sites and services can change for the better or worse very quickly. I am confident that this list is comprehensive and accurate as of it’s writing. However, this is an evolving industry, please email me NYC wedding Photographer any comments on sites you have experiences with that are not on this list, also any feedback with your experiences on sites that are on this list.

This article was last updated January 2016