Creating a Family Album

As I’ve said before, my mother’s large family has been in an uproar the last few months in the lead-up to my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday. In the last post, I described the creation of the Family 2009 series, which was really just a starting point for a project I’ve mentioned before, a book I presented to my grandmother for her birthday. The idea was to have an individual portrait of every member of our family, from my grandfather down to my youngest cousin, accompanied by snapshots of each of them throughout their lives as well as other photographs meaningful to our family.

Since I know some of you might be interested in putting together a similar project, I’m going to give you the step-by-step of how I went about completing the album.


The first step was choosing a format, then adapting a layout to fit. I chose to have the final album printed as a 12″x12″ book, so the format was pretty easy to work with. The publisher I used offers a set of downloadable Photoshop templates for each format. This gave me a blank square file with guidelines already set up so that I could be sure any images would be within the printed area of the paper. Before I could lay out each of the pages, I had to think about how I wanted the album to flow. This was the general setup I came up with:

  • A title page with two horizontal portraits (one of my grandparents soon after their marriage, and one of them with their children after their children were adults but before grandchildren began arriving).
  • A spread with two vertical portraits on the left (each of my grandparents’ parents) and a comprehensive family tree on the right.
  • 18 spreads – one for each member of the family. On the left side, four snapshots meaningful to the subject; on the right, a single large vertical portrait.
  • After these spreads, a page with four portraits of my grandparents as a couple throughout their life.
  • Then three pages with 9 small square photos (laid out 3×3) of family life over the last 60 years.
  • The last page was a timeline of meaningful events in our family’s life: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and important celebrations and other milestones.

Using this table of contents, I was able to design my individual page templates. I ended up designing six: two horizontal portraits, two vertical portraits, two different templates with room for four photographs apiece, one large vertical portrait, and the 3×3 grid of small snapshots. (I didn’t use a template for the family tree or timeline pages; these were just blank files with the image or text dropped into them.)

It was important to have these templates designed before beginning with any of the content. If I had tried to lay out each page as I got the photos, it would have been daunting. As it was, before I had taken a single photo or done a single scan, every page of the album was sitting there waiting for me.

In creating the templates, I simply made large black outlines in the appropriate sizes; the outside mats were white, and the inside was empty, so that I could align the images once I had them scanned into Photoshop.

The Portraits

In creating the new portraits, I used a simple set of guidelines: natural light, white backdrop, black and white. I also felt it was important that these portraits have a certain formal weight; therefore I asked the subjects not to fake a smile. I’ve found that the easiest way for a subject to assume a natural expression is to ask him or her to take a deep breath and then exhale, and then hold that face. Many will smile, but it will be a natural smile. Those whose natural expression is more serious will usually look far more attractive with that serious but natural expression, than they will with a forced smile.

Of the eighteen people to be included in the album, I was able to execute new portraits of twelve. My grandfather and one of my cousins have passed away in recent years, and four others were unavailable. For each of these I chose to use the most recent formal portrait I could find. For my grandfather, the last portrait that was made of him individually; for one cousin his wedding portrait; for another his senior portrait; and for the other three I was able to use portraits I made last year. Obviously these six did not have the same attributes of the other twelve, but they did have the most important: each was a formal, individual, portrait with a certain weight to it. Those that were in color I converted to black and white, so that there was a flow to them.

The Snapshots

My task was now down to collecting and scanning 99 photos (18×4 + 9×3). Luckily I have good access to the bulk of our family archives, and it only took me two weeks to identify and scan about 70 or 80 of that number. For the rest I identified exactly who I still needed the most photos of, and then asked around for pictures of that person. In at least a couple of cases I was able to pull photos off Facebook, and in all the rest other family members came through for me.

The Family Tree

Being the family genealogist in my father’s family, I already have my own personal data entered into an excellent, simple, and free program – Legacy Family Tree. It was the work of a matter of hours to enter the information on the rest of my mom’s family, and then I was able to use the program’s automatic features to create image files that could be combined to create one that spans six generations. That graphic I just dropped into one of the blank 12×12 files.


For the actual printing and binding, I used a service I’ve used before and that I can’t recommend highly enough – SharedInk. Specifically, I utilized their Professional Photographers service. But if you’re not a pro there are plenty of resources for you. SharedInk has a non-professional service; some other photo book publishers include Blurb, Snapfish, PhotoWorks, and MyPublisher. With some of these you can upload your own file layouts like I did; with some you can only upload your jpegs and use their pre-set layouts. Depending on your preference, you’ll want to check on your options before deciding on a publisher. And of course if you are a pro, I do recommend making the investment to joining SharedInk’s professional program – they offer a generous trial period so check it out.

Once I had my files uploaded to SharedInk’s site, it was a matter of choosing the cover (black linen), setting up a title (I went with a simple “The Adams Family” in silver – though I could also have uploaded another file to use for an inlaid photo), and ordering the book. Less than two weeks later it was in my hands.

The Benefit

As a family, we have thousands of photographs – I expect if you come from a large and close-knit family you know exactly what I mean. But there is a real difference in knowing these photos are lying in boxes in the closet, or even collected in loose albums in the bookcase – and having a bound book printed with beautiful photos from the life of your family.

If you have any big events coming up, or even if you’ve just been trying to decide on the perfect meaningful Christmas gift this year, I really recommend you give some thought to creating your own published family album.


~ by David Cupp on October 25, 2009.

One Response to “Creating a Family Album”

  1. Hello David:
    First I heard about the album & pics to be presented to Wonderful, sweet AUNT PHALA…yes, she was a HUGH and influential part of my life. I spent many, many happy times at her home growing up; even after moving w/family to Houston,Texas. WISH I HAD KNOWN about the album..I was around in the early days, long before you came into being..Aunt Phala has many, many extended family who cherished her then and now, wish I could have been a part of those memories. I love her dearly.
    Carol Ann Henderson Young
    Sugarland, Texas

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