How the Pros Approach Album Design

January 30, 2017

By Stacey Goldberg

Even in the digital age, there’s still nothing quite like having a physical photo album to look back on, especially when it’s dedicated to a milestone. Whether it’s a wedding, newborn, high school senior or family portrait session, photographers are creating albums that not only reflect their own personal styles, but also meet the needs and tastes of their clients. Here, four pros divulge their best techniques for producing—and selling—beautiful albums.

With its magnetic lid, color-coordinated box and ability to stand as a showcase on a shelf, the GoBook from GraphiStudio has become a go-to for Alison Carlino’s family albums. Photo © Alison Carlino

Judging a Book By Its Cover
Whether an album is produced at a mom-and-pop shop or larger design studio, photographers say that quality and aesthetic presentation of the book are two elements they don’t want to skimp on. Houston, Texas-based photographer Alison Carlino uses a larger Italian book manufacturer, GraphiStudio, and has been a loyal customer for over a decade. Not only have they been a reliable supplier for her business, she says, they also offer the variety that she needs to cater to her clientele. “They have a book for every budget and so many cover types and sizes to choose from.” For her wedding albums, she’ll offer her clients leather or crystal acrylic covers, and, more recently, she says, “The GraphiStudio GoBook has taken over our child and family portrait side. It offers a unique magnetic lid and a color-coordinated box that allows the book to stand vertically as a showcase on a shelf.”

On the other hand, Edoardo Agresti, who won first place in the Wedding Album (Single Photographer) category, says he exclusively uses expert artisans to create his photo albums. However, when it comes to printing the photos, he says he likes to “print them on my own in fine-art ink on cotton paper and set them in the album myself. I love making something unique for my clients—something they can only find in my studio.”

Ravello, Italy-based photographer JoAnne Dunn exclusively uses hand-made covers and digital prints from a trusted, family-owned supplier in Naples. “I am his main client,” says Dunn, the 2016 WPPI Gold Award second-place winner in the Wedding Album (Single Photographer) category, and the supplier gives extra attention to the details and treatment of her orders. “The albums come out looking like old fairy tale books. When meeting with new clients, I present my portfolio in such an album at my first appointment and I let the albums sell themselves.”

Edoardo Agresti uses expert artisans to create his albums, but he prefers to select, print and set the images on his own, keeping mood and tone consistent across the pages. Photo © Edoardo Agresti 

Photo Moments
Even though Agresti hand-prints and carefully assembles all of the photos in his albums, he says the photo selection is still the most time-consuming element of the album creation process. “I want to tell a story,” Agresti says, and that means he’s looking for photos that showcase not just the bride and groom, but also the location, the details and the interactions, among other things. “When the couple ‘reads’ their album, they should be able to relive the emotions of that day and remember certain moments that otherwise would have been forgotten.”

David Bastianoni, last year’s first-place winner in the Wedding Album (Multiple Photographers or Studio) category and the Album Division’s Grand-Award winner, says he also aims to tell a story with each album he creates. “The design really starts on the day of the event,” he says. “I am always thinking about the photo sequence and the double spreads.”

David Bastianoni prefers to keep a clean, consistent background on the pages of his albums to keep the attention on the photos. Photo © David Bastianoni

When it comes to choosing the right photos for the book, Bastianoni makes his own selections first and creates an album layout within 30 days of the event. He then presents both the layout and the proofs together to the client. “At that point I am open to suggestions and changes. This is one of the most important parts of the process—being open to cuts and edits—because the album will showcase your client’s memories from the event for generations.”

Carlino, whose 2017 presentation at WPPI is called “Photographing for the Book Design,” says she also intentionally shoots with the album in mind. Before putting the book together, she divides her images into various themes from the day—bridal prep, first look, details, bride and groom, ceremony, family formals, reception, exit—and picks several shots from each. “Then I present my couple with this folder of Album Selects. I have them make cuts from that folder only and this speeds up the process.” On average, Carlino’s turnaround time is three weeks after the wedding day, “so using this system and Fundy Album Design to proof online is ideal for those clients that want a book fast.”

Dunn says she sends all 2,000 to 5,000 watermarked proofs to her clients and lets them choose their own images for the album. “This has a few disadvantages, mostly for my ego because the album sometimes comes out nothing like I’d envisioned,” she admits, “but client satisfaction is 100 percent guaranteed.” Oftentimes, she’ll create a second album for her website “in the hopes of attracting more clients with my own taste.”

JoAnne Dunn leaves image selection up to her clients in order to guarantee 100 percent satisfaction for their albums. Photo © JoAnne Dunn

On the Page
Bastianoni says he follows a couple fundamental rules when it comes to laying out the album: Don’t overcrowd a page with images, and don’t mix black-and-white with color photos. Throughout the book, Dunn follows a chronological order from the event and likes to keep a consistent style, but “there’s always room to creatively break these rules with good reason.” For example, Dunn will, on occasion, mix black-and-white with color images, she says, “when I feel so strongly about the effect it creates. I feel like the clash can really bring out the beauty in the images.”

And while their photography styles vary, these pro album creators say a key element to a successful book is having a consistent aesthetic throughout. “I always use a clean background on the page and ‘play’ just within the dimensions of the photo,” Bastianoni says. For Agresti, balance across a spread is paramount. “Images need to be balanced not only by their size, but also by color,” he says. “When you look at the photos, you want your sight to move from one side to the other without any interruption, so it is very important to keep the mood and tone consistent from shot to shot.”

Maximizing the Sale
Carlino, who includes an art book in every package, says she tries to maximize the sale before the wedding day. “There seem to be very little funds left after a wedding, so we try to hit while the excitement is building,” she says. To convince clients to add more spreads, she’ll tell them how many photos they can expect and how many can realistically fit in different photo books. “By giving them that count, this convinces a good amount of people to step up or to add extra spreads to their book,” she advises.

Dunn, on the other hand, sees a different reaction from her clients. “I typically make just as much on post-sales as I do on packages,” she says. “I seldom present my client with less than 3,000 proofs, so it becomes impossible for them to choose just, say, 100 for an album. Either they’ll buy more pages, or, at the very least, they buy the negatives.” As part of her strategic approach, Dunn also offers flexibility with her package options. “I tell my clients to wait and see the proofs, then they can choose any package upgrade they like.”

For Bastianoni, maximizing sale often means going the extra mile to offer his clients more. “I’ll often present my clients with two versions of an album: one with the pages that were included in their original package, and one with extra spreads,” he says. “More often than not, they’re happy to step up and have more memories and emotions from the special day.”