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How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

I’ve been photographing weddings for about nine years now, and I’ve found this to be the most effective and efficient way of designing and delivering a client’s dream wedding album. The method that I am going to describe keeps you in control of the process and still gives the client what they want and need. You might be surprised to know that it only takes me about 30 minutes to design an album from beginning to end.

In fact, just to test, I created an album right now for this article to see exactly how long it might take. I had 150 images to choose from; I used 118 images, created 31 spreads, and it took me 26 minutes. Let’s talk about how to achieve this, and how to work with your clients so you don’t find yourself dealing with wedding album orders months or years after the wedding.

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

One spread of images created in Pixellu SmartAlbums2.

1. Who is in Control of the Process?

If a client has indicated at some point in the process that they want a wedding album, then the very first draft of the wedding album is 100% created by me. That includes the selection of images, design, the number of spreads created, etc. I have one friend, Tim Halberg, who creates a preview wedding album on the night of the wedding and has it ready for the clients the next day. He chooses the images and design all on his own.

To a bride or groom, every photo is important to them. So telling them to choose their favorite photos for the album is a recipe for disaster. I don’t consult with my couples about which images I am going to use, how many images to use, or the number of page spreads they might want. How would a person ever know how many spreads he/she wants? 10? 100? It’s an abstract idea to anyone who has never made a wedding album before.

In the same way, you probably don’t give your client all the raw files from their wedding day and let them choose the photos they want you to edit. The same philosophy applies to album design.

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

The opening image for my sample album.

The first time I made the mistake of giving my clients the option to pick their own images, they came back to me with about 300+ photos, many of which were almost duplicates of each other. I ended up just choosing the best images of those 300, which is what I should have done from the beginning. I also would have saved myself a month or so of waiting for the client to come up with their selections and saved them the hassle and stress of narrowing it down.

My Process

An average wedding album should have around 80 images that will fill about 20-30 spreads. Some album companies don’t even support albums beyond 30 spreads.

Essentially, I do this:

  • Create a first draft of the album.
  • Tell the clients they get two rounds of edits where they can add, subtract or replace any photos.
  • Create a second draft of the album based on the first round of suggestions.
  • Let the client see their changes and decide on any final edits.
  • Make final edits to the album, and begin the ordering process.

After a wedding, I tell my clients I will have a rough draft of the wedding album for them within a week or two. This puts me in control of the situation from the first moment.

Now, let’s talk about how to create a wedding album in a quick and painless way.

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

Some spreads have open space between the images. These are some of the getting ready images on one double-page spread.

2. Before You Begin

You’ll need three things to create your wedding album.

  1. Good software.
  2. A highlights gallery of about 100 images from the wedding.
  3. A family gallery of images (just the formal family photos).

There are three software companies that I am aware of that most of my professional wedding photographer friends use to create their wedding albums:

You can research online to see what might suit your needs best for software. You’ll have to pay to play the wedding album game, but you should earn back your investment in good software from your very first album sale. Don’t be cheap! Pixellu SmartAlbums costs about $300 and it was the best software purchase I have made (besides Lightroom) for my wedding business.

If you had read my article on How to Edit and Deliver Wedding Photographs in One Day you would know my philosophy on creating a highlights gallery. Everyone should have one. Your highlights gallery will also be the foundation of your wedding album. The top 100 photos from the wedding will tell the best story of the day, and that is exactly what a wedding album is supposed to do.

Export all of your images in Lightroom with these settings:

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

Lightroom export settings.

This will guarantee that every image will print properly on any spread of a 10×10 inch or 12×12 inch album. I personally like creating square albums (8×8 inches, 10×10 inches, 12×12 inches).

3. Designing the Album

When designing your album, go with your gut, and keep it simple. With my software, I can select a number of images, throw them into a spread and then quickly scroll through a number of arrangement options by simply pressing the up/down arrow on my keyboard. Here are some examples that show up when I use the same three images from the ceremony:

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

Six random sample page designs that my album software created for me in under a minute.

It’s really fun to scroll through the designs that the software creates for you. Simply press the up or down arrow to scroll through them. I like full bleed spreads so I chose the second option on the left. You can also grab any image and drag it to another position to swap the two images. You can see in the examples above that the software will also sometimes do square designs even if your image is horizontal or vertical. Sometimes it works perfectly and other times it doesn’t.

Things to keep in mind when designing your wedding album:

Keep a good visual balance and flow for each spread and throughout the album as a whole. Notice in the example above that I have two black and white images and two color images. In some spreads, I will do all color, or all black and white. Also, if I have a few spreads in a row with a multiple of four or more images, I like to break it up with one strong double-page-spread single image, like this:

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

Try and create a balance of pages with many pictures and some with only a few pictures in your spreads.

Side note: I didn’t export my images at 20 inches long for this sample album so you are seeing that exclamation warning in the bottom-right corner of the image because the software knows that the image is not large enough to print at the designated 12×12 inch size. If you see this warning on your images, check the sizes carefully.

This part of the design process should only take about 20-30 minutes once you get the hang of your software. All the photos are imported into your album project and usually sorted by time, so you can start grabbing photos from each scene and putting them into your book.

Don’t feel like you need to use every single image. Sometimes cutting something out makes the whole spread work better. In fact, like most things in life, less is almost always better. After you have finished your album design you should have the option to export and upload your album to the cloud for review.

4. Feedback and Edits

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

One spread of images made in Pixellu SmartAlbums 2

These are the exact words I have used to explain to my clients about how the process will go when creating a wedding album:

Okay, I have sent out draft number one! You should have an email with a link to be able to view the album and leave comments. If you haven’t seen that in your inbox please check your spam folder. Or, hey, I’ll just give you the link right now:

View draft #1 of your wedding album layout here

I do two rounds of edits, so if you see anything you want to replace, add, or delete from there let me know! I’ll make your first round of suggestions and then show you the updated version of the album online, and you can have one more go at it before I hit purchase.”

Guiding your clients in this way gives them some options, but not too many. You are dictating the terms of the album making process and they get to participate in a healthy and helpful way. This is also an effecting parenting technique with a small child. Saying things like, “You can sleep with stuffed animal A or stuffed animal B when you go to bed right now” is nice because it embeds the idea that they are already going to bed (no question about it), but they have some power and free will in the matter (what animal they are going to sleep next to). This psychology can be used everywhere, including in a classroom, in your business, etc.

Getting feedback and doing the edits

With my software (and I’m assuming the others out there) your client can view the album and submit comments online for each individual spread. Each photo will have a number attached to it, so your client can easily say something like, “Love spread number 9! But let’s get rid of photo number 1 and replace it with one more of the two of us.”

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

What your client sees after you’ve uploaded your album to the cloud.

Once your client has written comments on each spread, they can submit that and you will receive an email that will take you to the album and their comments. At this point, the changes should be pretty straightforward. You will add, subtract, or swap out any images necessary.

Then you can upload the next draft and let your client see the changes that they made. I would include language like this:

“Okay, I’ve made all the edits you requested. I think the album looks awesome! If there are any last changes you think should happen let me know, otherwise I’ll submit an order for the album tonight and you’ll have it in your hands by next week.”

Notice how my language is encouraging them to approve and finish the project. This makes the next round of changes feel like they should be made only if necessary, not like the first round.

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

I don’t always have a lot of family photos in the highlights gallery, so I make sure to add family photos into the mix when creating the album. This is very important for your couples!

5. Ordering the album

The next step is to order the album. This is a very different process than the album design. There are many many companies out there that can do this. All of them have different benefits and drawbacks. I happen to use Miller’s Lab. They deliver albums extremely fast (within a week) and have great customer service.

You need to use a special uploading software (usually free) to order your album. You can’t just order from the design software (unless you are building an album with KISS). For Miller’s Lab, there is a supplemental program to use called Miller’s Designer Plus. You tell it what project you want to create (12×12 inch leather bound album or book), drag all the exported photos into the program, and fill in each page.

How to Design a Wedding Album Simply and Painlessly

The final spreads are shown on the left. You need to create a new “fullpage” spread and drag each photo onto it to purchase your album

After you have manually input each spread you can order your album. At this point, you will have to communicate with your client about what color leather they want on the album, and any other options they can choose. Again, keep the options limited. I usually offer black, tan, gray, or white, even though there are many other options available like blue, red, etc.

Once they respond with a color and their address, your job is done! Order the album and have it delivered straight to their doorstep with some boutique packaging ($6 extra with Miller’s). If you want to deliver it yourself and make it pretty with some personalized packaging, then ship it to your own address.

Sample albums for display

The last thing to note is that you can also order discounted sample albums (check with your supplier) for yourself and your studio if you want to show potential clients how their album could look. I would highly recommend creating your first album for yourself and your studio so you can feel what this process is like from beginning to end. The sample albums are exactly the same as a normal album you would sell to a client, but they have a big stamp or sticker on the back page that says “Sample Album.” (Note: may vary from supplier to supplier).

Image: The final spread

The final spread

Summary – everyone wins

So let’s get back to how this method will help you avoid dealing with wedding album orders much later. By following these steps and controlling the process you will not only help your clients to be less stressed and get their albums faster, but you will be less stressed as well.

In order to have a smooth and happy album designing process it’s important to guide expectations from the very beginning of your conversation/process. It’s important that you take control of the conversation and let your clients know how the design process will go, according to what works best for you. You limit options but you still GIVE options. You make it easier for them to make decisions about the album and you can do this all from the comfort of your home using just your computer and the internet.

Everyone wins in this process – the couple get their album super fast, they don’t have to spend hours pouring over their photos, and you don’t get 20 wedding album orders right before Christmas every year.

That’s it! Happy designing 🙂

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Phillip Van Nostrand
Phillip Van Nostrand

built his photography business in Santa Barbara, CA and New York City, where he has shot over 140 weddings, countless head shots, and events for the past 9 years. Currently living in NY, he manages to travel abroad at least once a year and is up to 30 countries traveled. Published in the New York Times, Huffington Post, New York Times Magazine, featured in Santa Barbara Dining and Destinations Magazine, Cretus Mag, and San Diego Style Weddings magazine. You can connect with him on his blog and on instagram.

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