Creating memories and legacy with our photos and videos is one of the most important, yet daunting tasks. Just beginning may seen so overwhelming that paralysis sets in permanently. Creating a photo book is not as hard as it seems. For me, photos and photo books are a significant way to build our home and family. It is not easy. Like most things worth doing, it is a process. Beginning is often one of the hardest steps. Whether you are creating a photo board book for your granddaughter like I did for Christmas or compiling a lifetime of pictures and stories for your parents like I have done recently, these 10 steps listed below still apply.
Just a few years ago my mother asked me to finish creating the photo history of our Vance family. One of my hobbies has been photography since I was 12 years old. Over the years I have compiled traditional scrapbooks and digital scrapbooks. As I drove home that weekend, my mind struggled just to imagine how to navigate this task. Honestly, I did not know how to start. I could not organize my thoughts. What were the categories? For the last three years, I have tackled this immense project. Working through slides, prints, digital content, zip drives, SD cards and content I could not identify even though I am a photographer was overwhelming. To complete this project, I broke it down into sections. The first job was to transfer all photos into a digital format. When the way seems impossible, it is important to sit and think and pray and regroup.
Thankfully, I am in the home stretch of this project. I have completed two scrapbooks with a third one almost completed. This month I presented the second one to my siblings along with a flash drive with just over 6000 pictures sorted into the categories that match the sections in our scrapbook. Our family history is almost captured and sorted and scrapbooked. This will be one of the largest projects of my life, but it will be one of the most important ones that I will have completed.
So many people have asked me how to do a project surrounding their family photos. My first response is that there is never a better time to start than today. If you wait until you have time, you might run out of time. As I processed my parent’s pictures, I was grateful to my father for taking most of these photos. (I wish I could thank him for his great work.) My mom spent time trying to organize them in photo boxes and writing notes on the back with sticky notes. Although they did not finish this project, their work played a great role in the finished books we hold in our hands.
While so much could be said on how to create a photo book, these 10 steps below are a fantastic jumping off spot.
- Gather all photos. If your photos are digital photos, you want to gather them to one location. This process will prepare you to delete and sort the whole of your pictures. This action is necessary even if you are compiling a smaller group of photos. Process photos based on the season or event. This is really the first step. If your family has pictures that are printed, ask to gather them to one drawer or one box until they are in one location. If you find that your pictures are not all in a digital format, consider sending them off to be digitized. I highly suggest ScanCafe.com. They are friendly, prompt and proficient.
- Determine categories. Select the types of categories. These sections could be chronologically or they could be the order in which you imagine telling the story. Categories could be a certain person, an event, an accomplishment, a trip or just the order in which the story unfolded in time. When I do a photo book I want it to tell the story without me. If the photos are prints and need to be sorted, write the determined categories on post-it notes and place on a large table. We have used a dining room table or a fold-up table. If you are scanning photos, scanning them in groups makes sorting them into digital categories on your computer desktop so much easier.
- Equipment – Gather computer capacity, photo scanner, tables, trash can, post-it notes, pens, comfortable chair. My favorite photo scanner is worth its weight in gold. Be patient. Set aside a long afternoon or evening. Or take an hour once a week to work on this project. Your project might take several weeks or months or years. In the end what matters is that you are making progress and that you finish.
- Process all photos into desktop files. Although I have completed many scrapbooks in my life, thinking of the categories is one of the most challenging. However, doing the mental work ahead of the next step will really keep the next step more orderly. In this step, new categories might arise. I found that my dad had a number of car pictures from the two DeSotos that he had owned. I knew that my brothers would really enjoy seeing these pictures. A new section for cars was created. If you are unsure, don’t be stuck. Just establish a file for “others”. The groups will become clear after a while.
- Patience. Enjoy. You are doing important work. This will be one of the most rewarding efforts of your life. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Done, not perfect. This point is key. Aim to be done and don’t worry about pictures or information that might come up later. I add a pocket to the back of each of my scrapbooks in case new pictures or scrapbook items are located. Write in the book or in the back of the book if there is more to say after the project is completed. Use a photo safe archival pen.
- Tell a story. Identify people. timeline. stories. Everyone has a story. Tell time to ask others the stories. Write them out. Don’t leave the photos alone without dates, names of people and a story where applicable. Some people you ask for a story might want to tell the story on video instead of writing it out. Record this and then write it out. Work on remembering the best in people. Don’t you want the best of you to be remembered. The book should tell the story as a stand alone. Use map pages. Give context. One of the great joys is to hear the stories. Often one story will lead you to be curious to ask more questions which will lead you to new stories. It is meaningful to have more context. Some stories are hard to hear, but almost all of them give you a deeper understanding of your family. If you are doing a book for your immediate family, write as much of the story as you can now. Others will want to know the story later.
- Start with a small story – like a trip or an event (20-40 pictures.) Trips are the best way to start. Start with the itinerary. I love to put these on a calendar style page if possible. Another “story” might be a year in review or an event which reflects significant hard work. An event could be a birthday or anniversary or graduation.
- Shutterfly is my current go to for digitally printing most books. After completing the book, I often ask a friend to edit for me. When it is ready, I put it in the shopping cart and wait for a sale that give me free unlimited extra pages. Other companies offer quality books. A gorgeous wedding book for my daughter’s wedding photos was created with an Archiver’s book. Consider making more than one copy of each book. Smaller gift books from files are always great gifts.
- Share your legacy. Consider putting all the pictures on a zip drive on a key ring with family pictures on both sides. Shutterfly has some easy to create key rings. Attaching the zip drive to a key ring ensures that it will be harder to misplace. We keep our photo zip drives in our safe. Build community in your family. Make photo books to bring some of the best memories of your family together.
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. Record the regular days and the eventful days in pictures and photo books. Write the story of your life by creating books of photos and stories.
Join us for a conversation on creating photo books @ Embrace Your Everyday podcast.
More on FAMILY in these blogs:
Songs for Life: Music for Spiritual Formation in Children
A Silent Tragedy: How We are Raising Our Children