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Photo Album Design, Part 1

Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

Many try to design an album after the event by selecting their favorites. Those then are given to the studio, with the words: “OK, here is my selection, make the album!” That is like asking a speechwriter to write a speech, with the instructions “Here are my favorite words, use only them!”

If you selected the right photographer, you should have the fun task of starting to tell the story. It should be fun. It should also be fast. But, as many find, it can become a horrific nightmare if not approached properly. Then it can be a never-ending chore in which nearly all interest in the project is lost, and the photographer is reduced to being a clerk and production manager, trying to manage a production without production values! It is unfortunate that most projects are not completed in a few months. Your album is the studio’s best advertisement. The year of your event is when the album should be completed for you to enjoy.

Depending on the studio’s quality level and its dedication to the craft, your project may be just another job, or it could have been an important investment in time and talent, and the image proofing was just the beginning of masterpiece creation that now needs your approval to complete.

A better studio can have more options, and it may not be able to proceed until after some consultation with you.

In the basic approach, many important concepts are never considered. The advanced approach is all concept. Here are some of the important ones to consider. I am dwelling on the advanced approach first, because while some book a photographer and tell them that they only want basics, if you are reading this you may care more and want the album to reflect the depth and breadth of the event, its participants, and the craft of photography today.

There is no such thing as the “best image.” It all depends on where it is used, and how. A great image should have some personality and emotion. A complete story needs small words and big words, and your album needs main images and secondary images. The album design involves combining images of varying shapes to fit the page. It involves contrasting emotions, and complementary supportive emotions. True album design involves artistry at many levels.

Sensitivity is needed in feeling the image, not just seeing it. Many industry professionals have a big problem with that concept. They are so intent on looking at an image, they have lost any openness to feeling it!

Image emotion is created by shape, color, contrast, density, expression, and position. Combining images creates emotions that are different from their parts, and should be more interesting; but if not done with care, they will seem corny, foolish, and random.

Proofs, either in paper or digital form, are not finished images. They are not retouched or manipulated to reflect the photographer’s intentions, nor are they adjusted yet for use with other images. Today, some studios manipulate certain images to suggest what can be. Other images, or those proofed with a different manipulation, might in fact work better on a particular album page.

Proofs are the raw gems. Proofs are the rough natural ingredients from which the finished gourmet meal can be made. How images are tweaked depends on how they are used. How they are used depends on where and with what they are used, and what else in total is going to be used. So you see that everything is based on everything else, and as you sit and stare at the images, you cannot possibly imagine how it may or may not be needed in the design.

You know who your friends are, and which outfit you liked best. You know what relatives are not on speaking terms any more, and what part of the simcha was most meaningful to you. But actually, you may not know what years later will be most appreciated, or what your photographer could really do with an image that you are about to discard.

You say you know what you like. But until you see the result, you won’t know how you like it.

The photographer has serious questions as well. Suppose a week is spent designing and determining images, and you do not like it. How does the studio get compensated for its time?

Over the years, I have seen many albums where the client invested heavily in lots of images, but the album had no style, contained much duplication, had images poorly retouched, corny digital effects, and color that was all over the place, or just plain dull! That client had no idea of what could have been. Sadly, the studio was ignorant as well.

Some studios will sit with the client while discussing each image. The client feels that this hand-holding will lead to a great result. It won’t. To feel the images requires silence, solitude, concentration, focus, and time. Much time.

Even a straightforward album, with one image on a page, should be approached in an emotional way. Instead of choosing your favorites, start thinking about how the album should begin. What mood should the first images produce? What unexpected surprise could the viewer find on page two? How does page three continue the story? If you want the studio to help you arrange your album, consider what you really want them to do. Do you want someone to tell you what you like? On the other hand, if you feel you can really trust the photographer to give you heartfelt advice, and that he knows his craft, then perhaps you could just pick your favorites and let him pick the rest.

Anyone can sequence the images you’ve chosen, but that does not mean they will work well, unless you planned your selection. But if he has style and substance, you might do best to let him add whatever he believes you need to make the kind of album you will love later at any cost.

Next week: Easier image selection. v

Gary Rabenko may be reached at Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.

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Posted by on August 4, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.