Album: Designed or Not?

By Gary Rabenko

By this article, my fifth one about albums, you should have settled on images that convey the essence of your simcha — from the varying personalities of important family members to the dynamic interaction of your guests and the moods of many moments.

You have probably selected duplicate images. Some may be very similar — or only seem so at first glance due to subtle but meaningful differences.

It is vital that you try to experience and feel the image, as later you and others will experience it, as part of the whole story, and how you would listen to that very person pictured were he or she right in front of you.

Regarding duplicates, don’t worry about them just yet. How will your photographer use your chosen images? Best intentions can only lead to unmet expectations without the right follow through and post production.

Try to establish with your photographer what his or her internal process is. On the one hand, removing similar images from your collection can easily remove the perfect foil, contrast, or supporting image to another vital image, which an artistic design would thrive on.

But “designed” without thought and feeling, those “duplicates” will likely result in a weaker creation where similarity only seems stupid.

So how will your album actually be made? Who is creating it, and with what tools and intentions? Discuss duplicates with your photographer and how they should be handled.

Now could be a good time for you to use the other side of your brain from the emotive that I stress to the analytic side. Review your selections. Who in the family needs more representation? Which friends need to be added either because they mean so much to you or because seeing themselves in your book would mean so much to them?

Album design is a relatively recent concept. In the 1980s, storytelling began coinciding with increased attention to wedding photography as an art form. Color printing had greatly improved and with print perfection came the realization that there was more to photography than image quality dependent on film exposures and color balances.

A handful of event photographers started to consider the content, composition, and the thinking involved in making imagery that — as I have been saying for decades — could mean more!

Photographers would net 500 images on a good day. Most events were amply covered in 200. Late into the 1990s, many candid moments were staged or suggested and even posed. Portraits could be stiff and heavyhanded, different but no better than when done by today’s many digital photographers who have little interest in learning the subtleties involved in posing and portraiture.

In the late ‘80s, photo associations with robust local, regional, and national members held lectures, classes, and competitions. They stressed design factors founded in art theory, psychology, and the emotion of imagery, with minute attention to lighting, perspective, camera settings, film processing, and custom printing techniques.

All that worked together to enhance image creation and the compositions of the most skilled and experienced photographers who easily had more than 240 months of such meetings over 20 years before the first digital photo was ever made!

When you now get 5 to 10 times the number of “proofs” than just 15 years ago, it can be overwhelming! By some standards, albums may be bigger. But for many reasons, the increase is negligible. At any size, only a single image on a page can have the impact of a solo image!

Sharing a larger page with an additional image or three may not lead to a potent presentation of the main image.

How many images should be created? What is the photographer’s job? How can a client who asks for a basic set of photos get just that, and will image selection be easier or more challenging? How can someone who really appreciates great candid photos get them?

Considerations for your next event, but also realizations of your image selection as you imagine a finished masterpiece. Beautiful designs can be disappointing when printed on cheap paper in economy albums.

Conversely, the most impressive binding will not make meaning from mediocrity. The more sensitive a photographer is to the use of content in design, the greater the appreciation of printing quality.

Naturally, even the best photographers must rationalize budget over beauty and might have to offer better albums as an upgrade.

In album design, the word “design” should mean something, just like the term “photographer” should mean something.

Album design can mean complete control over every detail you see, or it can be done by crude software with little skill. It can be built by dropping images into templates or by creating fresh layouts for each page.

It can be built from the ground up, starting with a blank canvas, or built on an existing layout already used for countless other albums. As you choose your photos, consider what skill, talent, experience, and mindset might be brought to implement your album design.

How do they do it? Ask. What thought will be applied during the process? If there will be a lot of thought, then that means much time is spent on the images before you preview anything. Don’t plan to change everything later; instead, plan on not wanting to have anything changed!

What preferences and priorities should be known before design is started? If there will be little thought and lots of automation, then how will your feedback later make much difference? What will you judge then? Can you share that now so it will be mostly right later?

I am trying to help you complete your album selection with purpose, which is essential to getting the sum and substance of your whole photography investment, so I also must explain what you should be expecting from the photographer during the process and what not to count on.

Just as thought is essential in meaningful album design by your photographer, meaningful album creation rests on prudent image selection by you, which you now see should consider the mindset of those doing the designs, so consider the photographer’s expectations as well as your own.

If family members are being skipped, key moments omitted, or transitions obviously lacking, it could be good to notify your photographer of your thinking during the initial design rather than with patchwork later. This will also help you realize any glaring omission in your selection.

Most albums I have seen lack meaningful design, even though I know that term had been used in the process! Much seems arbitrary or with little reason. Clients rarely choose images that work together, and can omit the most powerful, inspiring images.

Studios know clients will want changes later either due to having the wrong images or not having been given the right instructions (such as intermix families, or keep families together), as well as due to ambiguous taste in styles.

So many album designs are approached with the mind to just do anything because the client is no doubt going to kick it back later. By then it’s a repair, not a Rembrandt!

Few understand the whole process—and it is a process, not a single step—to achieving the desired result of loving your album rather than accepting that it’s just O.K.

Rabenko Photography & Video Arts is located at 1053 Broadway in Woodmere. To learn more, contact, 1888RABENKO, 8887223656, or visit


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