February 01, 2011 — You’ve shot their wedding. You’ve wowed them with your images. Now it’s time to design the bride and groom’s wedding album. For many photographers, dealing with wedding albums and the design process is not something they look forward to for many reasons. The couple may select too many images, or even worse, select all the “boring” shots. During the design process, you may hit a “designer’s block,” causing you to spend futile hours in front of the computer. And once the design is done, there’s a chance your couple might dislike your hard work and come back with pages of revision requests. All these possibilities can cause photographers to shy away from dealing with wedding albums.
While these reasons may have some validity, selling albums as part of your wedding packages can greatly enhance your bottom-line profits. In many ways, you’ve already done the hard work (that is, shooting the actual wedding); thus, the wedding album is almost like free money that would otherwise be left on the table. So, as much as you may dislike the album- design process, it’s probably something you should learn to do well, especially during these rough economic times.
In this article, we will discuss major tips and techniques aimed at helping photographers make the most of wedding albums and the album design process.
Good Images = Good Design = Good Albums
My first tip may overstate the obvious, but it does need to be emphasized. Having good images to work with will greatly make the album design process easier, and will improve the chances that your bride will be completely happy with your design layout. Sure, your bride may not be America’s Next Top Model, or the venue might not be featured in Martha Stewart Weddings; however, getting the best images you can from your client’s wedding day will set a strong foundation for your album-design process.
Shoot For The Album
Keeping in mind how you shoot your images on the day of the wedding will make life much easier during the album design process. For example, take plenty of wide-angle shots so that they can be used as full-page spreads to detail the wedding venue. (When in doubt, zoom out the shot; you can always crop during post, but you can’t “zoom out” afterward!) If you offer horizontal albums shoot many horizontal shots; likewise, shoot enough vertical shots if you offer vertical albums. Find and capture interesting textures and patterns throughout the wedding day. During the design process you can make use of these as block elements to fill in empty spaces or to frame sets of images. Your images do not always have to occupy the dead center spot on the frame. If there are interesting colors or textures surrounding the subject, back up and capture some of that so it can be used as backgrounds for other images.
Show What You Want to Sell
Big albums can really convey the dramatic impact of your images, and they command a bigger price, and hence, a bigger profit. (The same applies to albums with unique cover materials, papers, etc.) Yet, many photographers complain they cannot sell such big albums because their brides would never buy one. Sadly, most of these same photographers only show “regular” album sizes (10 x 10-inch, 9 x 12-inch, etc.) to their clients, and only mention to them that they can upgrade to larger sizes.
The lesson here is that brides will usually buy what they see. Imagine placing a 15 x 10-inch or 16 x 20-inch album next to a regular 10 x 10-inch one. The “wow” factor that comes with the larger-sized albums will make many brides cut their budget from other sources in order to get what they want. Remember, most purchases are based on an emotional response, not a logical one.
Are you proud of your 10 x 10-inch studio sample album? Don’t be, because that’s what most photographers have in their studio. Chances are, by the time your potential brides visit your studio, they have already seen a handful of similar albums. In order for you to stand out, you need to offer products that stand out. With wedding albums, there are two ways to achieve this: Offer albums that are physically different from your competitors, or design your albums so they look much better than those of your competitors.
To offer albums that are physically different, you will need to keep updated with what album companies are offering. For example, calendar-style “flip albums” are all the rage right now. Every year, album companies come up with many new formats, cover materials, etc. Even if brides may not order one of these newer-style albums, it may just be the distinguishing element that keeps your studio in her mind as she makes her album decision.
The other album factor that can differentiate your studio from others is what’s inside the album. Keep in mind that most photographers are not graphic designers; thus, most album designs are mediocre at best. If your designs are able to rise above that sea of mediocrity, then your studio will probably rise to the top of your potential bride’s list as well.
Know Your Tools
How well could you shoot a wedding if you were suddenly given a brand new camera? Probably not very well. Most photographers need to be so intimate with their cameras so that they can operate it in complete darkness. Sadly, that cannot be said for the software they use to design their albums. Whether the software is Photoshop, InDesign, Photojunction or FotoFusion, most photographers tend to learn just enough to get by when designing an album.
This is probably one of the major reasons why many photographers are turned off by the album design process. Not knowing the software thoroughly causes many design issues: an overly primitive, jumbled design, image misalignments, fear of design changes from the bride, etc. The lesson here is that you should know your design software, as well as you know your camera.
Some quick questions to ask yourself regarding your design software: How quickly can you align a grid of 3 x 3-inch square images? How quickly can you size three images (with different dimensions) to the same size on a page? How quickly can you replace every single image on a spread with different images? If you have to hesitate to answer these questions, it might be time to hit the manual or search the Web.
Design to Transcend Time
Ever seen a wedding dress from the 80s? As with fashion, album designs can be done in a classic and timeless manner, or completely miss the mark and become an example of a design faux pas within a couple of years. Think of spot coloring of just the bride’s flowers or the bride and groom’s faces faded on top of the church altar as examples. (Our apologies to those of you whose clients actually request these effects.)
Your album will become your marketing piece; once you let go of it, you no longer have control. Thus, you want your designs to be timeless, so that your brides will be proud to show off your product years after their wedding.
So, what makes a design timeless? When in doubt, always keep things simple and clean. The design should focus attention on your images, not on how the images are presented or any special effects applied to the images. (Remember the soft-focus effects from the 80s?) Fading effects may be used sparingly. Darker photos should fade to a black background, while lighter photos should fade to a white background. This will minimize the transition of the images. When using colors, avoid anything too loud—it’s best to stick with neutral, earth-toned or matching colors from the images. Another common design pitfall is using borders that are too thick for the images—instead, stick with very thin borders instead.
Dealing With Too Many Images
It’s time for the bride to select her images for the album, and she comes back with 200 images for her 30-sided album. What do you do?
Don’t fret. From a business perspective, this is the perfect opportunity to upsell your bride with either a larger-sized album or by adding more sides to the existing one. Explain to your bride how messy it would be to include all her images into the default album, and price your upgrade fees so that it is affordable to your client. In fact, many photographers purposely choose to “pre-design” the bride’s album with more sides to show them how well it looks, in hopes their clients will upgrade their album.
If your clients expect you to squeeze too many images into their album with no upgrades, then chances are, you did not set the right expectations with the client. Be sure that your studio sample albums clearly show the number of images recommended by you. If needed, you can even design a sample spread showing the difference between a crowded and busy design versus a clean and elegant design.
Too Many Revisions
No one likes rejection, and when brides send back pages of revision notes to your album designs, it feels exactly like being handed a big failing grade.
There are a couple of perspectives on this. First, be sure that your wedding contract has clauses that cover items related to album design. For example, deadlines for submitting images to you, expiration of album credits and number of revisions allowed by the bride (and additional cost if more revisions are incurred). These album guidelines should be verbally expressed to your clients at the time of their booking. Too often, photography contracts only include specifics about wedding day coverage and payment schedules, but do not include album design guidelines, which will come into play after the wedding day.
Second, if, out of an entire year, only one of your customers requests too many revisions, then it may be less trouble to just deal with those revisions and move on. As with any business, you will have your share of problem clients, but if they amount to a very small percentage of your total clientele, then it is probably not worthwhile to worry and fuss over about.
Hopefully this article has motivated you to look at album and album design in a new light. As previously mentioned, albums can be quite profitable for a wedding photographer so it is definitely worthwhile to offer them to your clients. Still, it is understandable if your schedule is overloaded, or you might not be technically inclined to design albums. In these cases, try having others do the work for you. Most album vendors offer an album-design service, and there are many reputable album-design companies out there that will handle the entire album design workflow for photographers. Thus, being “busy” or “not knowledgeable enough,” are no longer excuses for not offering albums to your clients.
Chung Chan is a retired wedding photographer who currently runs Modern Album Designs (www.modernalbumdesigns.com), a boutique album- design company that offers custom album-design services for professional photographers.