Do you ever start something thinking that it’s going to go one way, and then it takes a curve and you end up going in a completely different direction? Happens all the time right? Well, in process of writing this post, I started out with a list of “10 Things That Keep You From Making a Photo Book (And 10 Reasons Why They Shouldn’t Stop You)”. I was happily typing away during my “mommy time” after putting the kids to bed the other night when I decided to take a break and survey our Facebook fans on the subject. I posted it, went to bed and checked on it randomly the next day and WOW I was really surprised at the response – more than 65 comments so far, plus a bunch of likes and counting!
I guess I tapped into a subject that has been on a lot of your minds. So, while I almost had the whole post written in a different format, I decided to split things up a bit and really delve into one of the main obstacles that kept popping up in your responses.
So what I think most of these comments boil down to is…
“I have so many photos, I don’t know where to start.”
Looks like many of us (myself included) are knee deep or maybe even neck deep in too many photos. Okay, did I say too many photos? I couldn’t fathom that phrase would ever be uttered by me, but as we all know, since the dawn of digital SLRs and camera phones, the number of photos we all take has grown exponentially. While it’s great to have so many memories captured, it can be overwhelming and time consuming to go through and pick the best ones when the time comes to do something with them.
Here’s what I have done to help manage my 109,426 digital photos (and counting)!
STEP #1: Organize & Edit Your Photos with Photo Management Software
From about 1998 to about 2008, my photo workflow consisted of uploading my photos onto my computer into a folder on my desktop. Each folder corresponded to a memory card. I would check to see the last photo I uploaded and then drag and drop the new ones into that folder. Simple yes, but when it came time to look for a photo I wanted to use for my photo book – it was a bit of a nightmare to dig through. If this is what you’re currently doing, I can see why it’s been hard to make a photo book – whether it be your first or your fifty-first. I’ve been there before.
If you’re in this position and you want to gain better control over your photos I highly recommend using photo management software. If you don’t want to shell out any money, no worries there is free software available that can help you manage your photo library and chances are it’s already on your computer. Many of these comments also note that time is an issue (when is it not?) and yes it will take a bit of time to set up initially, but once you set up a system for yourself it will make everything afterwards much, much simpler and more efficient. Better efficiency = less time spent doing the mundane and more time for creative fun stuff!
How Photo Management Software Keeps Me Sane
I personally use Adobe Lightroom 6 (the standalone non-subscription version) so my comments might lean towards that program because that’s what I know. Although there are some differences among the various photo management programs, they all essentially have these features:
Keeps your photos in one place on your computer
- Before I had software to organize my photos, I would have to manually open all those random folders to try to find what I was looking for. In most cases, I only had the date by default as a reference point. I know I wasted a lot of time I could be using to make something with my photos, but instead I was just trying to find photos in the first place. With all your photos residing in a single location, you won’t have to search all over your computer to find them. If you’re like me, you might also have different external drives with photos here or there and perhaps duplicates floating around. Wouldn’t you love to corral all of them and be able to enjoy them again?
Knows automatically what photos you’ve already uploaded and only uploads new photos
- Most folks probably don’t immediately delete their memory cards after every upload, so often you have some photos you’ve already uploaded and ones you haven’t on the same memory card. The software can recognize if you’ve uploaded a photo before, so you don’t have to tell it which ones are new or which ones are old.
Allows you to rate, flag or mark your photos in some way so you can identify a subset of photos
- When I first upload a new batch of photos, I go through and flag each photo I like. If I took a series of shots of the same subject, this is where I’ll pick one or two of the best shots and flag it. Now this doesn’t mean all of the flagged photos all get put into photo books, but this is considered my first cut.
Allows you to tag, label or use keywords to help you locate your photos
- I also add at least a few identifying keywords to the photos I’ve just added. So a trip to New York might have the keywords, “New York 2017”, “Manhattan”, “Central Park”, “Statue of Liberty” – you get the picture. You might be thinking to yourself – that seems to tedious to label each and every photo, BUT keep in mind that you can do the whole set at once. You just select the first photo, then hold shift and click the last photo and you’ve then selected the whole batch. Then type in the keywords and the whole set of photos will have the same keywords associated with it. This is pretty universal for most software. After I add the main keywords for the whole set, I will then click on smaller groups of photos within each set and add more keywords. So all the Statue of Liberty photos will get another keyword and so on and so on. It sounds like it would take a long time, but spending a few minutes after uploading will be a huge time saver later on. You can even do this while catching up on one of your favorite show, so multi-task!
Provides editing tools to brighten, adjust color, tone and contrast, crop etc.
- Once upon a time I used Adobe Photoshop to edit all of my photos, but that took a long time to do because I had to open up each individual photo, perform the edits and then save the new photo etc. etc. Adobe Photoshop is a great editing tool, but for most standard tweaks such as brightening and boosting contrast or sharpness, it’s overkill. With photo management software you don’t waste time opening, editing and saving each photo. You can edit one photo and then either copy and paste those adjustments to all the other like photos for a quick workflow. (Adobe Lightroom also has a synchronize tool that copies all edits from one photo to all other photos selected.)
- A screenshot of the main photo editing and processing tool of Adobe Lightroom 6 is at right. Everything is adjusted via slider. Most times I make only the following adjustments: increase exposure, decrease highlights, increase whites, slight increase in vibrance and increase sharpness (last tool is not visible in this screenshot). It’s very easy if you have the right software and once you get started you can get it done very quickly.
- It’s really important to do some processing of your photos if they need it. After all, you’re spending a decent amount of time and money on your photo book. Nothing sticks out more than an improperly exposed photo.
Keeps an original, non-edited version of every photo.
- It’s nice to have an original of every photo on hand in case you want to go back and make other edits or different edits or you realize you went to far in your edits and you want to get back to it’s original state. Just takes one-click to restore.
STEP #2: Photo Book Making Part 1: Narrow Down to the Best Photos
When it comes to photo book making time, for me it’s a two-step process. First step is to gather the photos I intend to use in my photo book in one place. Assuming you’ve done the initial process of flagging or rating the best photos (which I called the “first cut”) now we can pull up those photos that you marked. You can easily click on the folder where your photos are located, then filter further by keyword or by bringing up only the flagged photos or rated photo depending on how you chose to mark them. If you’re happy with this subset then you’re good to go. If you want to make further refinements, you can eliminate photos by either unflagging them, or creating another subset by adding ratings, whatever works best for you.
You might be wondering how many photos you need to make a photo book? Well, there’s many factors to consider but let’s assume you’re making one of the most popular sized books – an 8.5 x 11″ landscape photo book, and you love photos like me so you’re going to have 100 pages. For that size book you probably only want 4 to 5 photos per page at most (so 8 to 10 per spread). Many pages should have less, such as one photo per page. (Larger books like a 12 x 12 can handle more photos per page while smaller books like a 6 x 6 might fit 2 photos comfortably. You don’t want people to have to squint to make out a face in a photo, so the number of photos per page should be proportionate to page size.) In our example, you’ll want about 400 to 500 photos total, for a book of 100 pages. Most likely you won’t use them all.
Don’t worry about narrowing down too much, you can always go back into your database and pick a few more photos to upload if you find out you have some gaps in your narrative. Since they’ll be so easy to find now, it should only take a minute to locate.
STEP #3: Photo Book Making Part 2: Export Photos to a Single Folder
After narrowing down the photos, I export them to a separate folder on my computer. This separate folder is a duplicate copy of my photos that already are organized and stored in my photo database, but I do this for convenience so I can easily upload them when I’m in the photo book company’s software. If you’re worried about this duplicate folder taking up too much space on your computer, you can always delete it to free up space after you’re completely done with your project. I wouldn’t recommend this until you have your book in hand – just in case.
STEP #4: Photo Book Making Part 3: Creative Time
Because you did all the prep work, it should be much easier when it comes time to make your photo books, prints, calendars or other photo gifts. You’ll be able to locate specific photos, quickly and efficiently and be able to spend more time on creating your book rather than going through photos.
WHICH PHOTO MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE SHOULD I USE?
I mentioned earlier that currently I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6. I first starting using Lightroom about four years ago at the advice of one of my good friends who is a talented photographer and I’m so glad I made the switch. Prior to then I was using iPhoto – the program that preceded Photos on the Mac (and Adobe Photoshop for more extensive editing). Both iPhoto and Adobe Lightroom helped me get a handle on my photos. iPhoto did a decent job of editing my photos but the options were fewer and more simpler. Lightroom on the other hand has a lot more editing features and tools to make more precise edits such as the ability to apply edits to just part of a photo and more specific fine tuning of color, hue and tone. More importantly, editing my photos with Lightroom has been very fast and efficient. As I mentioned earlier, because you can copy/paste settings from one photo to another and other batch editing processes – it saves a lot of time.
On the organizational front, when I initially got Lightroom I decided to just use it for photos from that point forward. I didn’t want to worry about the ones in iPhoto. Then last year as I was working on a family tree photo book for my sons I thought to myself, why dig around old hard drives and numerous folders for my older photos? I set out to locate any image I could find that had been scattered around and finally migrated everything into Lightroom. My oldest digital photos in my database are from 1998. I’m so happy to see my photos – old and new in one place. (Cue clouds breaking and the sun shining through…)
I should note that there are two versions of Lightroom, a standalone version priced at $142.99 and a subscription based version under Creative Cloud for $9.99/month. UPDATE 2019: Lightroom is no longer available for sale as a standalone program. If you bought it, you can still use it, but for new users the only option is to subscribe to the Cloud version. You can still buy Adobe Photoshop Elements (see below). There has been much discussion and debate in photography circles about which version is better, but it’s a bit outside the scope of this post. For me personally, I originally had purchased Lightroom 4 years ago and just upgraded to Lightroom 6 in July. I was kind of forced to upgrade because my old Lightroom wouldn’t recognize the new RAW files taken by my new Nikon DSLR. Otherwise I was completely happy with my old Lightroom. (I also am still using a really old standalone version of Adobe Photoshop.) I wasn’t too pleased to hear that Adobe was moving to a subscription model. If I’m paying for software I’d like to own it – not be required to pay for it in perpetuity. Adobe is however only releasing new features in the subscription model so if having the latest tools are important to you, then you might want to opt for the subscription model. Also, there is the risk that they will decide to no longer support the standalone version. I’ll update this post if anything changes.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is another good option for photo management. Photoshop Elements is geared more towards “casual snapshooters” providing “easy to use editing controls” according to Adobe in their product description. Essentially this program is geared more towards casual photographers or the average consumer, while the more full-featured Lightroom attracts professional and amateur photographers who want more editing options. I hear that folks who use it find it works for them and they don’t need more extensive tools. It’s also about half the price of the standalone Lightroom. More about Adobe Photoshop Elements here. Cost $79.99.
If you’re on a Mac, Photos is a free photo management application that comes pre-installed on your computer. You can also make and order photo books and prints directly within the Photos application. If you’re on a PC, Microsoft Photos is the free program that comes with Windows 10. Since I haven’t used a PC for quite some time I haven’t had personal experience with Microsoft Photos. For more info, here’s a link to a recent review of Microsoft Photos from PC Magazine.
Google Photos is also another free option that has become available in the last couple years. What’s notable about Google Photos is you can have an unlimited amount of photos automatically backed up in the Cloud for free. (For an in-depth series of posts on my personal backup process check out this article.) The slight catch is that the photos you can save are maxed at 16MB and in some cases even photos that are less than 16MB in size may be compressed further, but if most of your photos are taken with a camera phone this might not matter to you. Where it might make a difference is if you shoot your photos in RAW, then you might want to store them at original quality. If you want to do that, you are limited to 15GB of storage unless you want to upgrade to a paid subscription. Here’s an article with a good explanation of high quality vs. original size photo uploads to Google Photos. Additionally, just this past May, Google Photos has made the jump into the world of photo books. The photo books you can order through Google offer a simple one photo per page layout and start at $9.99. Shipping starts at $3.99 for economy shipping which takes 10 to 14 business days. I haven’t tried it before but I have been looking to do more reviews of more automated and quick photo book options, so stay tuned!
Delete Before You Upload
I used to keep everything, the good the bad and the ugly, but now I’ve started to pretty ruthlessly delete photos from my phone before uploading them to my computer, and also from my DSLR. I often take at least two shots of everything I’m trying to capture, but if I can readily tell there’s no discernible difference between the two, or one is better composed than the other, I delete one right away. Blurry – delete. Kid not looking at the camera – delete. Boring – delete. If the photos are of a special event I might be less “delete happy” but if I’m just goofing off or casually shooting random pics then I’ll delete more. This is one way to eliminate unnecessary photos from the get go and you won’t fill up your computer with pics you will never use.
Photo Sharing Sites For Photo Management
You might be wondering about online photo sharing sites such as Flickr, Shutterfly, Snapfish or any of the photo book companies that offer free online storage of your photos. I think they are great options as you can do some editing of your photos and they make it easy to order photo books and other gifts if your photos are already uploaded to their site. However, I would only suggest it as a third tier backup. Always, always keep a local copy of your photos (or two, or three) on your own computer. Please never rely on a third-party site as the sole storage of your precious photos. I have had several folks in the past e-mail me, completely disheartened that they’ve lost videos and photos that they’ve uploaded to big name photo sharing sites, thinking they would be safer than on their own computers, only to have images disappear after the company has done an upgrade or update to their systems. Terms of service typically disclaim any responsibility for lost photos so there’s often no recourse or way to bring lost images back. Similar situations have happened to folks’ photo books projects when a company has gone bankrupt or has been sold to another company. So, while I love the convenience of having photos already stored to your favorite photo book company, please do not use them as a sole means of storage. Note too that in some cases, the company will charge you to download originals of your own photos.
SUMMARY PLUS A LOOK AHEAD
The takeaway from this post is about the value of having a good organizational system for your photos. The more organized your photos are, the more efficient you can be in going through them and editing them. That saves time for the more creative endeavors such as photo book making! Not surprisingly time was noted as an issue for most everyone and it was an underlying theme throughout many of the comments. Now I’m not going to pretend that making photo books doesn’t take a fair amount of free time, but it can certainly be done more efficiently. Also there are an increasing number of options for more automated type photo books and as I mentioned, some of them have interfaces built right into the photo management software. Not every book has to be an epic masterpiece and some folks just want to make a quick book. In fact I’m planning to do more reviews of quick and easy book services to see how they measure up.
I hope I helped give some insight into how I manage this process. I know that not everyone will want or need this type of workflow and folks may have different preferences, but hopefully you found something in this post helpful! Stay tuned. I’ll be going through more of your comments and doing another post on another “photo book obstacle” (and how to overcome it) soon!
So, do you use any photo management software? If so which one and do you find it helpful? If not, has this post changed your mind about using organizational software? Love to hear your comments below!
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