How to design a wedding album?

Before you start designing, choose your photos

During a wedding usually a lot more photos are taken than can fit into a wedding album. Therefore, it is important to filter your pool of wedding photos for those that you want to base your wedding album design on. Do so as follows:

  • Remove unwanted photos. Get rid of photos that are not suitable for your wedding album design, e.g. blurry, strangely tinted or irrelevant photos, duplicates/very similar photos, etc. When removing photos be careful not to delete the "decorative" photos. "Decorative" photos don't have people on them, e.g. photos of empty tables, buildings or objects and might therefore seem less important than those that have. Don't delete them, because they can make good backgrounds and often add color to your wedding album design.
  • Put your photos into chronological order. Every wedding album tells the story of the weddings and therefore should show things as they happened in correct chronological order. "Non-chronological" wedding albums make no sense to the reader. Designing a "chronological" album with unordered photos is very difficult, therefore take the time to put the photos into the right order, renaming them if necessary.
  • Decide on a general design style. Make up your mind how your wedding album design should look in general, e.g. whether it should be classic or modern. Knowing the general style allows you to determine two things you must know before going ahead with your wedding album design: how many spreads (double-pages) should your wedding album have and how many photos should go on each spread.

Deciding on the general style(s) of your wedding album design

Choosing the right general style(s) for your wedding album design is crucial to get an idea of how many photos should go on each page and how many pages your wedding album should have. Several factors should be taken into account:

  • The nature of the wedding. Choose a design style that suits the wedding. A traditional wedding is often best served with a traditional wedding album design (a lot of black backgrounds, small number of photos per spread, no rotated photos), whereas the wedding album design for e.g. a beach-wedding probably works better with a less traditional general style.
  • The quality of your photos. If the quality of your photos is very high, you should choose a general style with a small number of photos per spread, because that way you can make them larger. Large high-quality photos look fantastic, especially on flush-mount wedding albums. If, on the other hand, the quality of your photos is mediocre, you might as well put more of them on each spread to keep them small. Also, with mediocre photos you might want to choose a general style that allows for photo enhancement effects, i.e. transitions, shadows, blurred edges, etc.
  • Combine several general styles in one wedding album design. Variation makes your wedding album design more interesting. The combination of several general styles can add quality to your overall design, especially if you are designing a wedding album with lots of pages. When using several styles, make sure that they remain separat on spread-level (don't mix styles on the same spread). Also, it is important that the styles are applied consistently (e.g. if one of your styles uses white backgrounds and drop shadows, make sure to do so consistently on all spreads that use this style).

Last but not least, if you design an album for somebody else, don't forget to ask his/her opinion, maybe showing a couple of preliminary spreads before going ahead with the rest of the album.

Before you go into detail, distribute your photos

Distribute your photos over the spreads of your wedding album before you start with the design details. If you jump straight into the detailed design work without deciding beforehand which photo goes where, you are bound to end up with too few or too many spreads at the end. Therefore, create as many empty spreads as your wedding album design is supposed to comprise and distribute your photos over them. While doing so, ensure that:

  • The chronological order of your photos is maintained.
  • Photos that clearly belong to the same block are not split between spreads. A wedding album design (as well as the wedding it is made for) is often split into blocks, e.g. the preparations, the ceremony, the celebration, etc. Each of those blocks should, if possible, get one or more dedicated spreads. Blocks that are split across spreads make the album harder to read and understand. Also, quite often photos taken on different locations don't match very well, e.g. the photos taken during the preparations will hardly match with those taken in the church.
  • The number of photos per spread stays roughly the same as planned. Before starting to distribute your photos, you have decided on the general style(s) of your wedding album design and how many photos you want to put on each spread. When distributing your photos, make sure to stick to those decisions, otherwise at the end the number of spreads won't be correct. Of course, there are some spreads that often have fewer than average photos, e.g. spreads with family group photos. To even the balance, there are also spreads that can easily fit more than average photos, e.g. the "individual-photo-of-each-guest"-spread or the "disco-dancing" spread.

Finally, start designing your wedding album

Finally, we have arrived at what most people have in mind, when they think of creating a wedding album design: going through each spread one-by-one and arranging the photos to "make it look nice". During this process:

  • Give more space to beautiful and important photos. A good wedding album design depends on the quality of its photos. Therefore, you should give beautiful (clear, brilliant, interesting) photos more space than to mediocre photos. However, while doing so, one must keep in mind the "emotional importance" each photo has. Naturally, you (or the person you create the wedding album design for) would prefer a whole spread photo of the first kiss to a portrait picture of the priest, since it is of far greater emotional importance. Look for photos that look great and also have a great emotional importance. Those are clear winners that should be shown more prominently than the other photos on the spread.
  • Set a background image or a background color. Depending on the overall style of your wedding album design your should almost always put a photo into the background or assign a solid background color (maybe with a fading effect). Spreads with no background at all (solid white) rarely look good, since the photos seem to float in midair.
  • Add decorative photos. If you have decorative photos (those that don't show people) that match the contextual block you are currently working on, don't forget to add them. Decorative photos add color to your wedding album design and often make great backgrounds.
  • Improve the photo quality if possible. Most photo pools contain several very important yet badly taken photos (e.g. too dark, too bright, missing contrast, strange tint). Use the photo-quality enhancing functionality of your wedding album design software to make those photos look better. As said before, the quality of your wedding album design hugely depends on the quality of your photos.
  • Divide the space. From the perspective of a wedding album designer, each double-page spread is a huge horizontal rectangle. Filling it with photos can easily result in a mess, in which individual photos become difficult to distinguish. That is why you have to divide the space with a series of techniques that are described in the next section.

Divide the space

There are several techniques to divide to space on your spreads to ensure that the spread layout as a whole looks clear and each photo is distinctly visible:

  • Group by color: very busy layouts, especially those with no borders or dividing lines, are easier to read, if you group your photos by color. Move photos with a similar tint, contrast and brightness next to each other.
  • Make photos black & white: you can achieve a similar effect as described in "Group by color" by making groups of photos black & white. Also, black & white backgrounds can help foreground photos to stand out.
  • Fade photo edges: another way to make foreground photos stand out is to fade the edges of the background photos. This is especially useful, if you want to use more than one background photo on the same spread.
  • Add borders & shadows to photos: borders and shadows not only decorate the photo they are applied to, but also set them apart from the background. Using borders and shadows is always worth a try, if you have the impression that it is hard to distinguish the foreground photos from the background.
  • Photo rotation: rotating a photo spices up your layout. It sets the rotated photo apart from the other photos on the spread visually as well as contextually. However, rotation is best used with caution, since too many rotated photos can look messy.

General rules for the wedding album design process

  • Have a break! Creating the design of a wedding album can be mentally exhausting, since it requires a lot of imagination and concentration. Therefore, you are unlikely to create a high-quality wedding album design for a 50 pages album in an uninterrupted 10 hours design session. Take a break and come back to your design after a couple of hours or even a day. This will help you to come up with fresh ideas, result in a better design and make the design process more enjoyable.
  • Skip spreads if necessary and come back to them later! Once you have spent some time on your wedding album design, you are likely to come across a spread that is tough to complete. You will find yourself moving photos around for a long time without finding a satisfactory solution for your layout. When you get stuck like this, it is best to skip the spread and come back to it later.
  • Be consistent! Make sure that you follow your design decisions throughout the entire wedding album design, e.g. make sure all borders have the same thickness and the margins are the same on all spreads. As said earlier, variations make your wedding album design more interesting, but they should be used at least on a couple of spreads. For example, don't make all backgrounds black except one. Otherwise it looks as if you play randomly with the functionality of your wedding album design software.
  • Fine-tune at the end! You can spend a lot of time doing minute adjustments, e.g. making sure photos are aligned and sized properly or centering the photo content. Do so at the very end of the design process, when it has become apparent that you are not going to change around everything.
  • When in doubt, use a black background! Black backgrounds can help you make your wedding album design look better. Almost all photos look good on a black background. Mediocre quality photos look better on black than on any other color, because of the contrast. So, when in doubt, go with black, because you can't go wrong with it.

And finally..

If you follow all those suggestions and guidelines carefully, you are sure to create a high-quality and professional-looking wedding album design. Be prepared to put in some time and don't forget to experiment. Wedding album design is not rocket science, but it is not a walk in the park either.

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