(This is going to be a really long post with some big photos embedded in it so skip it entirely if you’re not into scrapbooking and, if you are, come back when you’ve got some time to read. If you’re here to read my Writing 101 prompt responses, I’m skipping today’s prompt, having responded to it earlier.)
I wrote earlier about the supplies and what not I use to put together her scrapbook of her first year. Now, we’ll move on to the process I use. It’s nothing super fancy and I really have no idea what I’m doing but, hey, it gets me pretty good results and doesn’t take forever so I see that as a win. Everything’s behind the jump.
Taking Photos, Capturing Notes
I tend to take photos with at least four different devices: my iPhone, my iPad, my DSLR, and Matt’s DSLR. The best photos come from Matt’s camera because, well, it’s an SLR and has multi-shot mode. Next preference is my camera which is slightly lower quality but still has all of the bells and whistles that I can adjust. Then my iPad which is a full year newer than my iPhone and has a larger screen. But, mostly, I take photos on my iPhone because it’s almost always with me when I’m with Squirms. I bring it in my pocket around the house or it’s in her diaper backpack. For both “real” cameras, I shoot in RAW mode which has all sorts of benefits but means you may have to do some converting of formats to get your photo editing software to recognize your photos which I’ll talk about later. For the iDevices, I try to use the rear-facing camera whenever possible because the quality is far better than the one (forward-facing) that faces you.
I try to take photos every few days, even if they’re basically the same sort of photos I’ve taken in earlier months or weeks. I really try to capture her doing new things (like this week: up-on-all-fours crawling, messing with the newly installed baby gates).
For notes, my ideal is to keep track of what’s happening by recording it daily though I’ve really slacked off. I used to have a great system where I’d use one of my Moleskine notebooks to create a little weekly calendar. I’d record what happened each day in the assigned spot, whether it had to do with Squirms or not. This helped me to remember that stuff I forget – especially her firsts and milestones. Here’s what a newly started page looks like.
When I’m not so great at the note taking, I have to rely on what I’ve captured in photos and my and Matt’s memories which is decent but not great. I had to make the entire August page this way so it was a bit of a mess. The pages probably don’t feel any less authentic in the long run but it always bugs me when I’m having to fill in holes because I didn’t take the time to make basic notes. (Having a Squirmy Sunday post every other week should give me extra incentive to take better notes, which is about half the reason I started it in the first place.)
My photo organization schema is pretty simple: year then month. Yeah, really. That’s it. The most photos I’ve ever taken in a single month was 500 and that was the month Squirms was born so you can understand why I don’t have a need for a more complicated system. I also only tend to go through all of my photos once a month because it’s hard to get time to myself, upstairs (so Squirms can’t have just gone down for a nap) where it’s not a better use of my time to do things like empty the dishwasher or fold laundry.
See, everything goes in one folder for the entire month. Even back when I was doing photos once a week, it drove me nuts to have them in separate folders after I had gone through them because I’d have to go through a bunch of different little sub-folders to find a particular photo. (Yes, two of the computers on our network are named Constantinople and Rhodes. All of the computer Matt’s ever had have been named after ancient cities. Sparta, Alexandria, and Carthage have all existed at some point.)
Reviewing Photos and Editing
Like I said before, I tend to go through all of the photos I took in a month at one time. I start by pulling the photos of all of the devices and throwing them into that one folder.
Because I have an older version of PhotoShop Elements (version 10) and our cameras aren’t in the default listing for the software, I have to convert them from the native raw format to .DNG, Adobe’s globally recognized raw format. Thankfully, they have a great little (free!) converter (link is to Windows version) on their site. All you do is select the folder your raw photos are in, a naming convention, and press submit.
After I get everything into that one folder, I go through the photos and do a basic review, doing either all of the JPG (from my iDevices) or the newly converted DNG files (from our cameras) first. For the JPGs, I just use the folder to look at the photos to get a general idea of which ones I may want to use on pages.For raw photos, I review first then go back and edit, though Adobe does give you the option to edit when you’re viewing the photos in PSE. Again, I make my list on a scrap piece of paper. At this point, I’m just checking for photos that are (mostly) in focus and (mostly) have good lighting. To give you an idea of my reject rate…in August 2014, I took 133 total photos and saved off 27 for potential inclusion in pages.
Once I have a general idea of which photos I want to use, I go back and actually open up all of the photos in PSE. For raw, I use the built-in editor to fix exposure and color (though I have no eye for it, just try to get things like skin tones to look close to how they look in real life). For JPG, I sometimes use the adjustment filters to fix things.
Once the photos are ready to go, I save each off as a JPG and title them something basic like “photo_” then a counter. This gives me an idea of how many photos I’ve got to fix onto pages and makes it more obvious which are the edited versions. (Though I’m rethinking this tactic entirely as it makes it hard to know which photos they were, originally.) I save as the highest quality PSE will let me.
At this point, I usually upload everything to my SmugMug that made the initial cut so my family and friends can see them. It breaks up the flow a bit but only take a few minutes, anyway, as all of the photos I take of her are in one giant gallery, anyway.
What Goes Where
Now it’s time to plan the actual pages. I use a very fancy technique where I draw little sketches out on whatever blank paper or sticky notes I have nearby. I almost always use the standard layout – honestly, because I forget I have the other ones – so my template is those four 4 x 6 spots and four 3 x 4 spots. I’ve only used a few non-standard pages and those have been for special events.
My first page usually has a title card in the upper right with something to indicate the time period the next few pages will cover. Then I usually have one art card and one block of journaling per page. Of course, my example pages don’t follow this schema because there were too few great photos to make 3 pages, there wasn’t a special event to justify using a non-standard page, but I still wanted to include all of the best photos.
I just write the photo numbers in the space, making notes of the locations of title cards, art cards, and journaling. Basically, just enough for me to be able to figure out what I meant days if not weeks later when I actually put the pages together.
Oh – about those 3 x 4 spaces. The journaling and art cards are already pre-cut so that’s not an issue but I do have to edit photos down to fit. They aren’t “true” 3 x 4 but a shade under. I print all 4 x 6s so I take advantage of the fact I have PSE to edit two photos onto one. I just create a blank canvas of 4 x 6 size then insert the pics on, resizing them to fit. Then I save these off as PhotoShop files before saving as JPGs using the lame convention of “collage_” then a one-up number.
Printing the Photos
I almost always print using Costco. They’re cheap, located right next to my work (for weeks when I’m not too busy to do pickup), will ship you a good number of 4 x 6s for free (if I’m too busy to do pickup, though you don’t get the photos for 10 or so days), and, if you’re fancy, you can use their calibration profiles for their printers to calibrate your own monitor (using software/hardware like this) to make sure the photos look the same on your computer. Other folks who care about photo quality really like Persnickety Prints or Mpix though I’ve never used either.
The same time I print the photos for scrapbooking, I also order and ship all of the decent photos I took in a month to my parents and my in-laws. Again, free shipping and cheap prints and it really makes their day to suddenly get a dozen or so Squirms photos in the mail. I also print Matt and myself a copy of the best photo from that month to put off/show off at work.
Putting Pages Together
The hardest part for me – though, really it should be the easiest – is putting the pages together. The pages are already planned out, there’s nothing to cut, just slide the photos and cards in, write up some journaling, and I’m done. Except it’s never that easy for me because I usually have a hard time doing the journaling because I want it to be “just right.” I get stuck with how to start, too, and I find myself looking at Ali Edwards’s prompts almost every month.
I start with getting the photos, art cards, and title card in first, then work on the journaling because it really helps me to frame what I want and need to write about. And gives me something pretty to look at while I do the writing. And, if you compare my sketch to the finish pages below, you’ll see that I sometimes change my mind about what’s going where. In this case, one of the photos was really poor quality so it got nixed for an art card and I didn’t have as much to say on the second page so it also got an art card.
(Photos are super blurry because I was rushing to take them, just after I finished the pages, as Squirms was waking up from her nap. And I’m too lazy to get better lighting and reshoot them.)
See, it’s not that hard at all. And there are great tutorials out there if you want to get fancy and add text to photos or that sort of thing. I just keep it simple so that I’ll actually keep up with it. Maybe next year, when I plan to switch from a “All About Squirms” format to a “All About the Leese Family” format, I’ll get fancier.