All About Albums..

I’ve been putting this post off for a while now – albums confused me soooo much, it took me MONTHS to even figure out the terminology let alone what I was going to offer my clients – I’m not sure how coherently I can organize this post, but I’ll try!

Session Albums

I first realized I needed to offer albums after reading Easy As Pie (more on that in another post) which is a guide on how to set your pricing and is simply brilliant.  The thinking on that is that you need to offer a package that has SOME way for your clients to have every image in their gallery even without buying your most expensive digital package. These albums are called “session albums.”

Session albums differ from say coffee table albums in that they don’t require any design time on your part, and they should be priced accordingly.  I include an 8×8 session album in my 3rd most expensive package that is $1045, but I include a 10×10 coffee table album in my most expensive package ($2400.)

There are tons of different ways you can offer the session album – I personally offer a choice of two options:  a matted Jlee Addison Elite album or a Finao Elements Self Mount.  They are two very different looks and the price points come out to be somewhat similar (the JLee is more reasonable, but the Finao comes with more cover options), so I figured I’d give my clients the option.

JLee Addison Matted Album

Initially, I was drawn to the JLee because the matted album seemed so simple – if you know your sequence of images in advance, you can have them preassemble the album so all you have to do is slide in the images! In reality, having to know the exact sequence of images and their vertical or horizontal orientation in advance might be a bit limiting.. plus, I found it actually a bit difficult to get the images in the mats!

The plus of a matted album is that the 5x7s are removable so they can be swapped or given to grandma or whatever else the client wants to do with them.

Once inserted, the mats on this album have nice rounded corners for a very polished modern look. Here are some images of my sample album that is done in the brown fabric cover and white mats.  I should mention that both the Jlee and the Finao come with black or white pages – I prefer the white as I feel it’s more modern and less like your parents’ wedding ablum – but that choice is totally up to you!

I think that you can tell even from my crappy product photography that the pages of this album are very sturdy and thick, like baby board books. This is the quality of album that you want to give your clients as opposed to say the thin pages of a shutterfly or even professionally press printed “book.”

I forgot to mention that the other bonus of this album is that it’s QUICK. Once I determined the sequence of images, I ordered the album and Jie had it assembled and at my door about 4 days later.  I ordered the 5x7s from my print lab and they arrived at around the same time, so the total turn around time is super fast.

Finao Self Mount

Finao offers many different types of albums, including the more expensive flush mount albums (these are printed so that the image extends all the way to the end of the page and there is no gutter) but because this is an album included with a more affordable package, I was looking for an album with cost of goods that wasn’t too high.  That’s where the self mounts come in.

Finao calls their self mounted albums  “Elements” as opposed to their flush mounts which are called “One”.

The first thing that you will notice at finao’s site is that their albums come in a dizzying array of options that can quickly become quite expensive!  I chose to stick with the a basic 10 page (20 side) album with a cut out opening in the front and offer the “Non leather” cover options which include silk brocades, faux animal suedes and faux leathers. Obviously the leather options are more expensive and would be something that I would offer with only my most expensive package.

Because each album is custom made, I had heard stories of very long turn around times.  But my Finao got to me in about 7 days! I choose the “middle earth” cover fabric in “riverdell” which is a very nice turquoise.  The opening I decided on was a bit larger than I would like for the size of the book – I wish I’d gone with the smaller one so keep that in mind!  I haven’t even filled it yet, so that’s why the gaping black hole in the cover in these images :)

I don’t have an image handy of the inside, but the “self mount” means that basically you order the images yourself from your lab and then peel back the sticky paper and apply the images to the album. It sounds weird and scrapbooky, but trust me it looks really nice!  I’d also heard horror stories about screwing them up when applying the images, but I followed the instructions on the video tutorial on the Finao site and it took me about 10 minutes to put together. The most important thing is to not rush and apply an image upside down or anything like that!   But I was really happy with the results.

A note about sizes

I went with 8×8 albums because that leaves enough room for a nice 1 inch border around a 5×7 image size.  obviously with the Jlee matted album, the border is provided by the mat. But for the self mount, you need to order an 8×8 image because the mount covers the whole 8×8 area so you have to create that “border” yourself.  You can do this simply by opening up a 5×7 image and increasing the canvas size to 8×8!

OK, on to Coffee table albums..

As I mentioned before, coffee table albums are custom designed and are therefore quite time consuming to put together! That’s why I only offer them in my most expensive package.

Not only do you need to take the time to put the album together, but you’ll need to purchase some sort of album template (unless you plan on designing it yourself from scratch – but that’s even MORE time!)  The template I’ve been using so far is one from Simplicity Design that I personally LOVE.    But there are many many album templates out there, the album cafe has tons of great ones!  Just make sure you get the right template for the specs of the print lab you are going to use!

So for my coffee table album, I debated on using a Finao One, which I may do in the future, but for now I’ve been using WHCC’s new press printed hinged ALBUM (not book) which has gorgeous thick pages and a virtually seamless gutter. That means that I can have a full page spread and don’t lose any of my image in the crease!

You can choose any of WHCC’s press papers to print on, but I have to warn you that WHCC is notorious for adding too much red/magenta to their press products. This seems to vary by paper type and the only one I’ve been comfortable using is the watercolor paper. I happen to really love the watercolor paper and my clients do too, but please test any other papers out for color on something small like a card before you go and order a big album!

The other wonderful thing about WHCC’s albums is that you can do a custom image cover, so the whole thing is a very impressive presentation for the cost.

Here are a few images of my sample album:

custom cover


gutterless seam

In that last image you can see how “invisible” the center crease is!

A note about number of pages..

These albums come in either 20, 30 or 40 sides (not pages, pages have two sides, so the number of pages will be half).

I decided to offer 20 images in my session album because I only guarantee 20 images in my client galleries. While I often include more – up to 50 even –  I only wanted the album to include the 20 strongest images.

The coffee table album design I purchased has designs for up to 30 pages, but many of the pages have more than one image per page, so 20 pages comes out about right for the number of images in the gallery. Plus, when putting an album like this together you’ll see that not all images work together in an album – so you don’t want to put yourself in the situation of having to find a place for EVERY last image in the gallery. It might turn out to be a rubix cube like puzzle that will leave you scratching your head for hours.

So, that’s my little tidbit about albums. I hope it helps some of you that are just starting to put together your packages and products!

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Jill says:

Hi there! I just got my BOOK – not album – from WHCC and the images are just overloaded with magenta…and I am sad.
Are you saying that by ordering the album w/watercolor paper, the magenta issue is not a problem?

Thanks for the heads up! Miller’s is AWESOME, so you should look into them as well if you don’t currently use them.

Jennifer says:

I went to JLee and didn’t see an option on switching the layout from vertical/horizontal or assembly by Jie for the Addison album. How were you able to do that?

ariana says:

@Jennifer, it’s an option at checkout to pay for assembly, which I believe is an extra $10 or so? Then in the notes area you put the horiz. and vertical sequence as a string of vs and hs.. so vvhhvhvh etc. as an example!

ariana says:

Aimee – Millers calibrates to a different standard than almost all other labs, so I’ve not wanted to use them since I don’t want to recalibrate every time I need to order from them.

Jill – small world! :)

Kelsea – I know, it does seem to be never-ending doesn’t it?

Salt Lake – I do calibrate and soft proof. It’s something that I’ve seen pretty much every other photographer acknowledge about WHCC press, so I know i’m not alone!

I love WHCC, but I have not tried their press printed products yet. Do you calibrate and have you soft proofed with them? I have and I’ve not had any surprises with any colors from them (trust me, I’ve had color issues with other companies!) but You got me thinking about the red/magenta hue in the press printed products. If you calibrate every 30 days and you’ve soft proofed with WHCC soft proof software, then that is a problem!

Kelsea says:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Through your blog, you have helped me more than you know. It’s amazing how MUCH there is to learn in this business — taking pictures is really just the beginning. (But I need photography like I need air….so here I go :) Thanks for helping to make sense of it all!

Jill says:

I am so amazed to find this post! I’ve been to your blog several times before and just happened to find you tonight because I’m having trouble ordering a WHCC book (not album)! I was frustrated and googling for help and found your post. Woo hoo!
Thanks for explaining so much!

Aimee says:

You HAVE to try Millers!!!!!!!!!!!!!

jeannie says:

Thank you for such a helpful post! I have been DRAGGING my feet on getting my albums together, much for the same reason….feeling overwhelmed by the choices. I have been using the Finao, and am considering WHCC for press printed, Asuka or Album Crafters for coffee table, and Dream or Cypress for high end fine art style. Do you have any feedback for those vendors? Good to know about WHCC’s red/magenta issue. Thanks again! Always look forward to your posts :)

ariana says:

Aimee, I just haven’t found a photographic paper album/vendor that I love yet! The WHCC watercolor paper is really unique, so no, it’s not photographic but it has a whole other thing going for it. Not better, just different :)

Jeannie, I don’t know about Album Crafters, but I did look into Dream and Cypress and the COG was just too high for me! I am also super picky about my colors, so having the album company print and bind is another issue – I’d have to test them all first for colors.

Aimee says:

I personally use Millers for albums and WHCC for prints. I have found from the pess printed to the flush mount albums to be very nice however I personally wouldn’t choose to give a client an album on press printed paper. Can I ask why you don’t use ones with photo paper for your coffee table books?

pam says:

aw, thanks, ariana! will keep that in mind. :)

ariana says:

Thanks for posting Lindsey, I’m sure you’re right about the lead times varying.

Beth, both are very thick – I think both are quality products, they are just very different looks!

Beth says:

Thanks for the info, Ariana! I’m about to order samples for my session albums but I’m not 100% sure about them. I’m interested in the idea of the matted/slip-in albums. They seem to be a thicker album than the hinged album — is that the case? It’s hard to tell from the photos since the spine isn’t shown.

Thanks again — this is a great post!

Lindsey says:

Great info! Just FYI, I ordered an elements album from Finao and it took over 3 weeks to get to me. The last time I ordered it was much faster so I think there processing time must differ at times.

ariana says:

Glad you asked Molly!

WHCC will let anyone sign up for an account. I’d recommend trying out their press printed albums.. for the quality, I think they are quite reasonable! The catch is that you have to have photoshop or elements or some other program that you can edit the layouts in.

As far as super simple quality consumer products – i’m not really sure :( hopefully some one else can chime in!

molly says:

Ariana, these albums are awesome for photographers. But what do you recommend for people like me who just want to create a first year book for their babies with non-pro photos we’ve taken throughout the year?

There are so many to choose from and I want one that is easy to use and not so time-consuming. I also want good quality that will last throughout the years! Any help is appreciated!

ariana says:

@Pam #2, yes you got it! The session album is both smaller (8×8 vs 10×10) and just requires less of your time because it’s one image per side and not a whole layout you have to tinker with for hours!

Thanks for asking about Jasper sleeping.. no, that’s going to be a whole other post. He refuses to sleep unless I’m in the room. It’s like we went all the way back to square one. Yikes!

tamsen says:

thank you!!! this is awesome for someone who has been debating albums for the longest time! enough to kick me in the butt and get some samples done this winter!
i really appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge!

Pam says:

Great info!! A few questions (I’m still at least 2-3 years away from turning “pro” but am trying to gather as much info. as I can along the way.):

I’m still not 100% clear on the difference between the session & coffee table. Is the session album much easier to put together (less design time) and you can physically place the photos on the pages, thus the lower price tag? The coffee table is much more time consuming thus the higher price tag?

Thanks for ALL your wonderful info. (Oh, hopefully Jasper is sleeping better at night?!!)

ariana says:

Pam, that’s so cool – I had no idea you did that! You should design album templates now – digital downloads are totally the way to go, like making money in your sleep LOL.

If you ever do come up to NY let me know, I’ll cut you the becoming-mom reader mom of triplets discount :)

pam says:

Man, things have changed in the last 3-4 years! Before I had the boys (almost 3 years ago) I designed custom wedding albums (I used Zookbinders and WHCC for the prints) and there were no good templates and certainly not this many options for printing.

If I ever win the lottery, I’m bringing the boys up to NY and getting your most expensive package. :)