Thursday, May 24, 2012

[Mis]adventures in album-making

Hello All... a very distressed lady greets you today. I'm so frustrated that it only made sense to get it all out... I plan on doing some good ole' fashioned bashin' today!

Ready? Here it goes!

I was supposed to do this long, tedious experiment today that then fell through, so I had some time on my hands to... do a whole lotta' nuthin'. I decided to look at wedding photos, since it's past time to start thinking about albums.
It's really hard nowadays just to find an image of an old fashioned album... I won't say 'crappy' per se, but I think we all know that the days of glued-in-pictures albums are history. Taking the place of these not-so-sturdy albums is the flush mount album of course:
This should come as no surprise to most. Even the super cheap companies like Shutterfly and AdoramaPix use this fancy shcmancy technology. Those albums you can get for probably a maximum of $100. We use them for vacation photos and gifts for family members... but they don't exactly qualify as wedding album quality. No offense to these companies and others like them, the purpose of Shutterfly and AdoramaPix is ease and affordability. Shutterfly photobooks are the bare bones; thin pages, regular binding, but still great quality, and hardcover to boot! Adoramapix pages are slightly thicker, quality is slightly better, and they have the added bonus of having lay-flat pages with no seam in the middle so you can add panorama shots. Pretty cool, but still, not high quality enough for a wedding album.

So I set off on my search for professional album companies. The first place I looked was my own e-mail archives. Ben had originally told me his album pricing, and I knew there was a reason I had disregarded it in the beginning:
Eww... I don't get it! Those prices are ridiculous right?! But I'm not faulting Ben, I know that those prices are standard... Wha?!?! How?!?! That's just the way it is I guess (except I know for a fact that that Blurb book only costs a little over $100... who you tryin' to fool, Buddy??). I was most upset at the limited number of photos you're allowed. Finally I remembered the only other professional album company I had ever heard of, Muujee:
I didn't know it at the time, but this was to be THEE ONLY professional album site I would find that allows a normal person (as opposed to a professional) to order their own album. Their prices are not much better (if you want the good stuff), BUT the key difference is that they allow you to add more pictures per page. For $500 less than Ben's albums, I can get the same album with 30-40 more images. So the company's concept is slightly different obviously, and because it's direct to you rather than through a photographer, it's a tad cheaper. I was still baffled though when I realized how much it would cost to get an album for us and three parent albums... Ready?? $3,000. Yes, that's more than I make in one month. That's more than three month's rent.

So I still wanted to find something else out there that was reasonable but still high quality. I mean, do people just save up their pennies forever and only buy albums years after their wedding?? Well, I was determined not to get discouraged just yet. I found a resource online that had a whole list of online retailers of flush mount albums!
As you can see, I went to every single site within the US and only one even let me create an account and log in as a normal person and see their prices. Seriously? Fine! I'm not a part of your system!
(My computer? I very nearly threw it on the ground). Anyway, the point is, since I only sneaked into one company somehow, I don't know how their price versus quality really compares... but the prices shocked me. Direct-to-photographer prices are ONE FIFTH what photographers charge brides. Now, I guarantee some photographer out there will tell me I've got it all wrong, that this is some isolated incident, that I don't understand everything that goes into it... nice try. I finally changed my search terms around (I don't remember to what) and found some other sites that don't need special logins and registrations to order... all the prices pretty much maxed out at $600 for 12x12 albums with leather covers and thick lay-flat pages and up to 60 pages (~120-180 images).


And my favorite, Black River Imaging:

Also, the same resource that I mentioned above, Modern Album Designs, that had that whole webpage of unhelpful other websites, they also help individuals, even if it's just by hooking you up with a photographer, you can still possibly get discounts... I dunno' though, I haven't checked. Probably not with my luck. Anyway, I was particularly peeved because one of the websites that's only for professionals had something I'd never seen before but instantly wanted:
HOMEMADE PAPER ALBUMS!!! These are from Core Albums, and they just in general have really cool stuff. They all have a very modern, yet homemade feel but are still super professional on the inside. I contacted them pretty much begging them to let me order through them or at least hook me up with a photographer that I could order through, and I'm waiting to hear back... Very discouraging and disappointing.
Pity me yet?? Well continue pitying, because then, fueled by the idea of rustic design, I changed my search terms yet again and I found this!!

Ohmigod Ohmigod OHMIGOD!!! Are you serious?! Rustic on the outside, modern on the inside flush mount albums from Loktah. If you're thinking 'Oh, how fun! They kinda' look like your invitations!' Well then rub it in, why dontcha'! Because every single one of these is out of my reach. These guys are totally upfront about only working with photographers...

**Side Note: By the way, they humiliated me twice over by making me realize I've been spelling loktah (or lokta) wrong this whole time! In my defense, the website I was buying it from was spelling it wrong, but still... how'd you guys let me do that all this time?! You know what's hilarious too is that once I spelling it correctly, I couldn't believe how many vendors online sell it! I had such a hard time finding it when I needed it for invitations... Well no wonder! I feel so ridiculously dumb now!! **End Side Note!

Point is, this would have been pretty ideal. I have contacted them as well to find out if I can pair up with a photographer in my area, but, no word yet :(

Part of me feels like I'm going behind Ben's back and the other part of me resoundingly reminds me that there is no way I'm paying $2000 for an album with only 60 pictures in it. Sorry. I have no idea how much these last two companies cost but for me, the design element automatically justifies the cost. After seeing the Loktah products, all I wanted to do was learn how to mount a book myself; that was the whole thought process behind making my own invitations, why not DIY this too?!?!
Well, I wish, because if I could, I think I'd've found my calling in life... *stops and looks up... thinking... re-evaluating...* I also just remembered my new cousin-in-law is a graphic designer... I wonder if she needs an assistant...

Well, anyway, while I contemplate a new career move, I desperately searched the last place I knew might possibly help me (do you like the drama I'm setting up here??). Also I was on a handmade kick, where does every self-respecting, smart, bored woman go when she wants something handmade?! ETSY! My lovely Etsy was less helpful than usual in this realm but I finally found one designer or, let's just go ahead and give them the all-inclusive title of middle man, who "sells" custom wedding albums:

They have contracts with these companies (some of them I already mentioned earlier in this post!) and they get through the red tape for you, and the albums are still only around $600. Now, another thought strikes me, that maybe the reason these albums are cheaper is because they are not as good a quality. But, consider this, this website only lists these companies but says they can order from any other company as well (they must have some sort of design studio or something that allows them to be eligible for a professional login) so I'm contacting them as well to see if they can order an album for me through my two favorites; Core and Loktah! I'm not getting my hopes up but this is exactly what I'm hoping for, and at a price that makes so much more sense! (Also, consider that if a Blurb book gets marked up 500%, how much are those $2000 albums really worth??)

I'll keep everyone informed, in the meantime, I just wanted to get off my chest how frustrating it's been to try and figure out this whole album thing without taking out a loan! So now I need advice/help/suggestions: How did you do your wedding albums?? Old fashioned slide-in? Through a "fast and cheap" company? Through your crazy-expensive photographer? Through a middle man?? How did it go?!?!


  1. Ashley,
    I am a semi-pro in the wedding album arena. Really, I am a school teacher, but I attempt photographing all my friends' weddings.
    Because I am not 'pro', I run into the same problems as you.
    So far, I buy the self mount Renaissance Ventura Album from Perfection Distributing Inc. I create designs on Photoshop, print from Costco (minimal price and nice prints) and mount the pictures myself. When the album is complete (10 full page designs) the album is about $300 for materials.
    My latest wedding, I am attempting to use BayPhoto Pacific Albums.

    Hope this helps,
    Naomi Williams

  2. Hey Ashley - I fully appreciate your concern about a budget because after all, most everyone is on a budget. But I stumbled about your page & as a pro photographer I just want give a my perspective.

    Yes there is going to be a markup on wedding albums.

    1 - its a business and in order to stay in business you have to make a profit. Your photographer has bills to pay, mouths to feed and a roof over his head just like everyone else and he can't simply break even. Photographers who can shoot at break even prices are probably doing it as a side job, don't know the business end of things yet or aren't serious about it and are most often the ones you hear about up and disappearing, sometimes leaving people with nothing.

    2 – A HUGE part of the pricing is that you aren't paying solely for an album. They spend hours designing that album for you. I don't know who your photographer is so I can't speak for his style but most pros put a great deal of effort in selecting placement, size and even adding graphical elements to make a well thought out, flowing and timeless wedding album. How much time did you spend alone just on trying to find an album company, and you haven't even started putting photos together yet for the pages. Your photographer has done this research and probably continues to upgrade and look for new products for his customers. The album alone can be very time consuming and the process of ordering, shipping and receiving all take time. Shouldn't he be paid for his creative ability and time taken to create an album start to finish?

    3 - Quality albums cost a lot of money to even us photographers. You won't find many albums below $400 BASE price (min # of pages, basic covers etc) some start as high as $1000 just for the materials and printing! Markups do vary by photographer - I can guarantee that not all photographers make a 500% markup on products. My market would simply never support that where I live. There are some photographers that make a very good living off of what they do and there are many factors for that. I make a modest living - I can pay my bills but I'm certainly not jetting off to tropical islands every other week or driving a Benz around town. :-) Most of the good photographers in my area are in the same boat - we make a modest living and have bills and budgets just like everyone else - we choose this profession because we love it and we love sharing our passion. We aren't in it to rip anyone off or get rich quick.

    I don't want you to take this as an attack by any means - I feel that since getting married is pretty much a one time occurrence (we all hope), most people just don't have the understanding or background to appreciate the cost and time that goes into this business.

    My suggestion is to talk to your photographer candidly - tell him what you can afford and what you were hoping for. Again we are people too and we understand budgets - not that we can give you something for nothing but maybe he can come up with an alternative your wallet and your heart can both love! If you have the print rights to your photos then check other places like which is affiliated with a pro lab but allows the general public to order.

    Best of luck and congrats on your wedding!

    1. Wow Melanie,

      You seemed to miss the point of a blog altogether, didn't you. First and foremost, I can and will say what I want about how unhappy I am about the price of something. You've never complained about the price of gas going up? How much a sandwich costs at Cosi?

      Second, I am actually good friends with my photographer and we have talked ad nauseum about what goes into an album and why it costs so much. I consider it an insult that anyone would accuse me of accusing him of trying to get rich quick. I also have a cousin who is a graphic designer and so has the ability to get accounts with these album companies. I am fully aware of how much the albums cost at base price and I believe I mention that... several times. I am also fully aware of what goes into putting the album together; once again, photographer friend, graphic designer cousin... pretty sure I mentioned them.

      I am fully supportive of my photographer charging whatever he wants for albums. I think you completely missed what I was talking about though because my beef is with not being able to get an account myself. I know how to (and how I want to) put MY wedding pictures together into an album format. If I so choose, I believe I should have the option to put that effort and that time into making my own album. I can afford MY time, I already paid my photographer for his time.

      Here raises another point, wedding photography used to be about family portraits, cake cutting, and garter throwing. Photographers made their money from prints (before the good old days where you automatically get a DVD of all your hi res images). My parents told me their photographer cost them virtually nothing, but they paid out the nose for prints and albums. Now, information is more readily available to those who want to use it and photographers are more editorial. I paid my photographer to take fantastic, amazing, breathtaking photos of our wedding day, and he did that, he gave me that. I paid him well for that. Now I choose to put my album together myself, but nope, I'm not allowed to, because brides can't possibly know anything about putting an album together, right?

      I am confident my photographer and others just like him are getting by just fine because they are charging for their talent now, AS THEY SHOULD because they provide an excellent product. The album, in my eyes, is something anyone with computer knowledge and patience can do (if they want to). And just like EVERY OTHER WEDDING SERVICE OUT THERE, I believe that if I can do it myself, I should be able to save money by doing it myself.

      What bothered me most about your comment is that you seemed to think I wanted to cheat my photographer out of his due. I will say again, and I'd be really really surprised if you didn't already say this too, he charged me for his services, albums COST EXTRA. I am not taking food off his table by not getting an album through him, and no one can make me feel guilty for not wanting to fork out money to have someone else do something that I feel I should have the option to do myself.

      Lastly, I don't care about the reasons the album companies do it this way, I don't care how much the photographers mark up their albums. I want to make it perfectly clear (even though I thought I had in my post, I'll say it once more), what I was ranting about was the fact that I am not even given the option to do this myself. If I can sit down with my wedding photos and design an album and pick my number of sides and my cover options, etc, etc, etc... then I believe I should be able to, and pay whatever the album company charges for a high quality album. Who am I hurting by wanting this??

      Now it's my turn to say I'm sorry if YOU feel attacked, but next time, try and remember the point of a blog and do not ever tell me what I feel is wrong.

      Thanks for the comment,

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