Photo Book Making Tips for Disorganized People Who Take Too Many Pictures

I thought maybe that title was a little too specific, but then I thought about people I know, and I decided it probably applies to an awful lot of people.

I’ve been making photo books as Christmas gifts for my parents and Dave’s parents for years and years now. And, a few years ago, it occurred to me to actually start ordering a copy for US every year, too. So you’d think I’d have come up with a great system for it a long time ago. But instead, every year I approach the project with dread and panic. Last year I posted on Facebook, on December 6, “Finally starting the photo book. The way out is through.” And then, “I have organized my photos this year into precisely two folders. one of them is titled ‘picture dump 8-14.’ This should be fun.”

I don’t have this year’s book yet, but here’s what last year’s looks like (I edited out our last name, even though I don’t really care if you see it, because I feel like I SHOULD care, maybe?):


I started this year’s book a whole day earlier than last year’s, but I also found it….surprisingly pleasant. I worked on it on and off over the weekend, and was all done by Sunday night without feeling overwhelmed at all.

I think maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this.

So I’m here to share some tips with you. Not the kind of tips organized people can use; those tips would be things like, “keep a folder of pictures for each month on an external hard drive. On the first of each month, spend some time selecting pictures from the previous month for your photo book. Come December, all you need to do is compile your carefully curated photos!” That would be ideal. But I’m not going to actually DO that. Here’s what I can manage:

1. Edit pictures soon after you take them, while you still care about whatever it is you were taking pictures of:  When I first get back from a trip, I’m still excited about it and eager to look at all the photos. I have something like a week long window before my attention span gives out and I start to think of dealing with the photos as drudgery. So taking the time to delete pics I don’t want and edit (and rename!) the best ones during that week or so after a trip or other big photogenic event is crucial. I know this doesn’t seem THAT different from going through at the end of each month and picking photos for the book, but for whatever reason I find one manageable and the other impossible.

2. Clear out memory cards frequently: I load everything onto an external hard drive (and I back up periodically to Amazon cloud storage, too), and I try to make a new folder every couple of months. I name it whatever the date is when I transfer the photos. And then I find a big old folder with two months worth of photos in it way less overwhelming than one with six months.

3. Be selective about what photos you keep: It took me a really long time to accept that I don’t need to save 400 only slightly blurry photos of my kids sitting around in my kitchen every year. I actually still save way too many, but, since I was good this year with step 1, I’m free to ignore all the non-edited, non-renamed photos come book making time.

4. Instagram is your friend: One of the big reasons my Instagram feed is never going to be all lovely design and decor focused photos and is going to continue to have random kid snapshots is that Instagram is a critical part of my photobook strategy (also, just because that’s how I like Instagram feeds–my own and other people’s–to be. If I’m following you, I want to see your pretty house AND your adorable children/dogs/cats/hamsters/etc.). I used to try to include lots of day to day candid shots that I took with a real camera in the books. Now they’re pretty much all photos of big events (vacations, fun outings, birthdays, etc.) and then I include a page each month with a bunch of shots from Instagram and that fills in the gaps.

5. Don’t be a perfectionist: I’m far too control-freaky about my photo books to ever do anything like use the autofill option when making them. But I also have to accept good enough or I’d never actually finish. One can go crazy trying to choose the perfect layout from the zillions of choices for each page, trying to select the BEST photos from every month, etc. I put very little in the way of text and captions, and that sort of kills me, because I have SO MUCH TO SAY! It helps that I have a blog where I say all the things. But, yeah, I keep captioning to the bare minimum so that people will have some idea what they’re looking at, because otherwise it would take a million extra years to finish the books. And a finished book is the goal! I don’t do any real planning ahead of time, and I try hard not to overthink any sort of system when I make the books. I go month by month; some months have lots of pictures because we did a lot and took a lot of photos; sometimes all I have is the single page of Instagram shots. But I’m always happy with how the books turn out anyway.



6. There’s always another AMAZING sale or coupon for all the big photo sites: At least this has been my experience. They try to make you panic because the sale is always ENDING TONIGHT! And it’s always the BEST SALE OF THE SEASON! And, hey, if believing this makes you push on through and finish your book sooner, then maybe just go with that. But, for example, I generally use Shutterfly for our books. When I made this year’s book over the weekend, they were announcing that the giant 50% off sale + free shipping would end Sunday night. I checked Monday and they’d extended it for another day. I checked Tuesday night, and that sale was indeed over, but it had been replaced with a 40% off everything sale….everything except hardcover photo books, that is, which are STILL 50% off. Maybe if you wait until a week before Christmas, they’ll know you’re desperate, and you’ll have to suck it up and pay full price. I dunno.

6. DO make a book; it’s worth the agony! I’m SO glad I make these every year. I get around to ordering prints of some of our best photos every once in awhile. And even more rarely, I actually put some in frames and hang them up. Getting better about that is a perpetual resolution. But I have these books, and, unlike giant folders of photos on a hard drive, we actually look at them (and, come the apocalypse when the grid shuts down, we’ll still have them!) I also always already know what I’m getting the kids’ grandparents for Christmas. They’re a lot of work, and they’re not cheap (even with my AMAZING 50% off sale, I paid around $65 each for our books this year. I always end up needing to add a bunch of extra pages), but they’re totally worth it.

Speaking of photos, I was really excited that we fit in Abe’s visit to Santa on Saturday, just in time for the photos to make it into the book:


I swear, he TOLD us he WANTED to see Santa. Dave rescued him very quickly and helped him out with conveying his wish list to Santa:


Other photo book makers? Any helpful hints to share? I’m so pumped up about how non-torturous this year’s book making was, I want it be even better next year!



Photo Book Making Tips for Disorganized People Who Take Too Many Pictures — 4 Comments

  1. Love that Santa picture – So funny. I really want to start making a yearly photo book. And my photos are all even organized by month on my hard drive already! Must make time for this!

  2. LOL Abe, poor little cute guy! I make a book like this every year too. Last year I slacked though and it’s only half done and not ordered yet 😉 This years is over half done already. I just thought I’ll make some pages every month instead of doing it all at the end of the year and it worked so much better.

Like all human bloggers, I love comments :)