“You must have such amazing photos of your children!” clients would say. I smiled and nodded politely but I would think, “If they only knew I haven’t printed any photos of my baby.” My personal photos were a disorganized mess and the majority were not treasured or enjoyed simply because they were not printed. At least I had them, right? Okay, let’s be honest…when was the last time that you and your family sat around your computer “ooh”’ing and “aah”’ing at pictures of your baby? You haven’t? I didn’t think so. I can’t remember the last time I did either. I don’t think I ever have!

The Mess:

Just before my first child turned one, I discovered Blurb and knew right away that this was how I would preserve my everyday photos of my family. I loved the idea of having all of my photos in one place without spending a fortune on prints and slip-in photo albums that end up falling apart anyway. I made my first book and LOVED having that pretty book sitting on our shelf, easily accessible every time I wanted to look back at my little blue-eyed baldy. I can’t recall exactly what happened that got me off track, but fast forward a few years and I found myself drowning in folders with subfolders of photos. I managed to complete a second book before the birth of my second child but by this point, I was almost two years behind in printing my photos and was adding to the mess by the day. The second child added to the headache of how to organize my photos.

Initially, I had been keeping my photos in order by my son’s year of life (1st year, 2nd year, etc.). With the addition of my daughter to the family, I thought I would keep my files separate—his and hers—and then make two different books. But then I realized that I would need to make duplicates of whatever sibling pictures I had so they could both have them in their books and I would also need to duplicate family photos. There were also the iPhone and Instagram pictures I loved as well as my non-family photos that have been part of my photographic journey that were accumulating. I would need to make a separate book of those. In theory I was now going to be making three Blurb books a year. This system was simply not going to work! I had already proven that I did not have an efficient system; my photos were sitting in an external hard drive unprinted and many of them unprintable because they were RAW files.

If I can give myself a little credit, my business folders were impeccable and I knew exactly where every session and every business file was located. So why wasn’t I able to do the same for my personal photos? I wanted to keep my personal images neatly organized to reflect the organized person I am (really, I am!) but I was over complicating matters. The light bulb finally went off in my head: K-I-S-S (keep it simple, sweetie). Perfection and idealistic expectations (like color correcting every single image) had to go out the window. The priority was organization and printing. With months (yes, months!) of consistent work I was able to implement a new system of organization that has taken me from disarray to neatly organized digital images and clean and simple photo books. I combed through years worth of personal photos, culled and converted files from RAW to jpeg, designed book pages, and had several Blurb books printed and delivered to my house. They sit pretty on the shelf right next to that very first book I made of my son’s first year of life. There are still the photos from 2012 to get through, but now it is only a matter of making the time to finish that year. Since I love my new system, I don’t feel overwhelmed at the thought of sitting down to work on my 2012 book.

I want to share with you my simple process of organizing and printing my photos so you too can take on the challenge of getting your family photos organized and printed. I am going to give you step-by-step instructions of how I get my photos from my camera into a Blurb book.

From Camera to Computer:

My goal is to upload images the same day as they are taken. Using a card reader, I upload the files from my memory card into the current month’s folder. I also upload my iPhone photos regularly into the corresponding month’s folder. The way my folders are organized looks like this:  Personal Photos > Year > Month > 001 January, 002 February, 003 March, etc.

So that the month folders stay organized, I number them and then name them. For example, January is “001 January”. This way, the month of April doesn’t go to the top of the list because it starts with “A”. It works for me to keep the folders in the right order and makes it easier to go down the folders if I need to go into one of them to locate a specific image. I have a very good memory, for the most part, so if I need to go back to an image that I know I have, I can usually narrow it down to a month or two of when I took the photo.

View of EHD Order

Once the images are uploaded, I go through deleting any bad ones, cutting down on multiples to one or two if they are similar images (you know, where the kids’ expressions vary slightly but yet it’s painful to get rid of them because they look so cute). I make adjustments in ACR and save as jpeg files.  I rename my files at the end of the month by sorting view from oldest to newest so they are in chronological order:  using Bridge > View > Sort > By Date Created

Files are then renamed to “Month Year ###” (i.e. January 2013 035).

Making the book pages:

With the first two books I made, I used the Blurb BookSmart software for the photo layouts, but I found that I was spending more time moving images around, trying to figure out which ones went together and then choosing the page layout for them. It was tedious, time-consuming and boring for me. Now I simply go into the folder from Bridge, select the images I want to pair together on a single book page, and run Moirai Compositor in Photoshop. I’ve saved the steps in an action to speed up this process. Once I select the layout and make the composition, I flatten the layers and save as “page# month year” (i.e. 001 January 2013).

Moirai Compositor

I have gotten into the habit of making my book pages at the same sitting as when I go through culling and making adjustments.  At the close of each month I have my individual images culled, adjusted, and saved as jpegs and I have created the pages for my yearly book using those individual images.

Backing up photos:

What set me off to get organized and printed was a big scare I had last year. I thought I had lost all of my daughter’s birth and newborn photos. I can still recall the sick feeling in my stomach. I never want to have a scare like that in my entire life. Luckily I had been in the habit of backing up my photos to a second external hard drive but it was in a haphazard way that was just as messy as my personal photos on my main external hard drive. I cannot stress it enough–make sure you are backing up your photos consistently! Set up Time Machine Backups on your Mac, subscribe to an online backup system like Carbonite or similar, or make it a part of your workflow to manually back them up. I have a second external hard drive setup now that mirrors the main external hard drive I use to store my images. At the end of the month I drag over the month’s folder into the corresponding year folder in the backup EHD. I have Time Machine Backups set up with the second EHD as well. I also upload all of my images and book pages into sets on Flickr. They are private sets and I’m the only one that can view and access them. Worst-case scenario I would be able to download my images from Flickr, or even better, “slurp” my book pages into a Blurb book.

Folder + File Order

Making a Blurb book:

Because my books end up being close to, if not, maximum page count, I use the BookSmart software from Blurb. For smaller, simpler books you can do the design right on their website. I also love that you can “slurp” a blog, Flickr stream or Instagram feed right into a book.

Since the bulk of the design work is done each month, it takes less than an hour to upload the pages into the book, upload the finished book layout to Blurb and place my book order.

These are the simple steps I take:

  1. Open BookSmart
  2. Choose a book size—for my family I use Standard Landscape (10×8)
  3. Upload images from computer one month at a time—this prevents any software crashes or computer crashes for me.
  4. Select all of the images and then use the “Autoflow” function—it does all the tedious, boring work.

Once I’ve inserted all of the pages and made the book cover, I preview the book and make any final page order changes, upload by selecting “order book” from within BookSmart and then complete my book order (specify the number of copies and submit payment) on the Blurb website.  Then I take a huge sigh of relief and wait for the book to be delivered right to my front door.

Blurb Book Preview

Another great things that I absolutely LOVE about Blurb is that I can always go back and order a second or third copy of my books. While the paper quality is not the same as a photographic print, I’m not so concerned with my kids flipping through the pages on their own because I have a backup copy or can easily order another. I want my kids to enjoy going through the images of their childhood now. When they grow up and have a family of their own, I’ll be able to hand them over a clean copy of each book. If you are making books with a smaller quantity of pages, you can take advantage of Blurb’s upgraded Premium and ProLine papers.

Finished Blurb Books with Page Layouts

Lesson Learned:

Sadly, at some point or another before coming up with my new system, I lost the photos of my son’s first haircut. I have the photos of the day before the haircut, the day after, but not THE haircut itself. Luckily I had posted a few images on a personal blog I kept but it does not have all of my favorites.

Despite that minor loss that I will take as a reminder to prioritize my personal treasures, I am so glad I took the time to get organized. It is a true joy watching my family sitting around looking at the many pictures I’ve taken over the years for us. After all, they are the reason I pick up the camera in the first place. The countless hours it took to get me here have been well worth it.