I started designing albums during my time working for a photography studio, when I happened to mention my Photoshop skills and interest in doing album design. Through trial and error, plus seeking inspiration and tutorials on the web (this site is fantastic), I was able to create great storybooks for weddings. Albums can be a great source of income for you and an opportunity to provide even more value for your clients. The opportunities are not just in wedding photography either. Senior portraits, family sessions, boudoir, glamour, travel, and fine art projects are all fair game- basically any kind of images can be put into an album. And if you're one of those photographers averse to designing your own albums, or if you would just rather be taking photos, then it's one of those tasks you can outsource.
Ask around, who do your friends use for their design? Some may use companies like Revolution which have a streamlined the process to send pictures, add a description, and make a few artistic choices before they create a design for you. The benefit is the price point, and multiple designers to create any particular look or style. They even work directly with album production companies like Azura Albums whose product is (in my opinion) the very best. A privately hired designer will be familiar with your images and style, can often accommodate special requests, and will send you the final PSD files to edit as necessary. Or, you can even have your designer work with the clients directly to edit.
Editing is a huge part of the process that can be painful for some folks. Changes to the album design can be done through a series of emails, through the phone or Skype sessions, in person at your studio, or the best option I have found so far: Album Exposure. This great program not only gives you a classy and simple way to share your albums with clients, but they can also easily add their comments directly on each spread. It isn't confusing-- it looks just like a book (thus negating the whole "single page" versus "left-right spread" issue) and you aren't toggling between email, album preview, and editing software to do your editing.
Another part of editing is photo choices. Some photographers will ask the Bride and Groom to choose "all the photos they want included" which can be overwhelming. They love all of their wedding pictures, and have no clue that 547 pictures can't be squished into a 10-spread book! A designer can take care of this, by pre-designing a book with their expert skills in selecting images. When I design wedding albums, I try to create a book that tells the story through events and emotion, as opposed to showcasing too many portrait images. There is also a matter of balance--include a little bit from each part of the day: Preparations, the ceremony, portrait sessions, the reception with all of the toasts, tosses, and dances. The goal is to artfully place a few pictures per spread (usually more than 5 starts to look too "busy"), suggest when certain images may be better served as framed 5x7's (posed pics with mom and dad) and assure them that they are making a great investment to showcase their memories, especially if they have to purchase more pages than they originally intended (to fit all 547 pictures in).
Portrait books can be a little more difficult, because there isn't a storyline to thread throughout the book. Your goal is to minimize repetition. For instance, a senior album should have a good range of different poses and outfits-- choose a few of each, rather than an unbalanced collection of 32 "red shirt" pictures and only 4 of the blue. Additionally, you should take style into consideration- ie. what Photoshop actions you are running, what graphics (if any) you are incorporating, the depth of your layers, and the framing of smaller images. Consider your style, as you want your studio's albums to match the vibe of the images they are presenting. Consider your client's style, because they are the ones paying the big bucks for the book. And then consider the classic style, because let's face it, they're going to have this book forever, and they don't want it to appear dated (I'm looking at you, bride and groom in a brandy snifter).
About: Shauna is a graduate of The Savannah College of Art and Design, lives by the beach in Los Angeles, and has been working on albums nationwide for a few years now. She is currently deciding whether or not to take on the grueling task of designing an album for her own upcoming wedding. To contact Shauna, email her at: email@example.com
above album layouts © Shauna O'Brien