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LIFE:CAPTURED began in August 2013 when we held our first full-day workshop at RAW Space in Sydney, Australia. Our mission is to help people document their stories and create tangible keepsakes to be treasured for generations to come. We offer intensive design, photography, and memory keeping workshops, as well as interactive online classes. We are advocates of honest photography, minimalist design, and memory keeping that's simple, beautiful, and tangible. We are the pioneers of the story book, and we offer flexible templates that enable everybody to tell their story. We believe that life is worth remembering and that it is never too early or too late to start documenting yours. LIFE:CAPTURED was founded by Rhonda Mason (of the Pink Ronnie blog) and Trish Chong (of Tealily Photography).

The blog

The official blog of LIFE:CAPTURED Inc, the modern school of memory keeping. We believe that life is worth remembering and that it is never too early or too late to start documenting yours. We blog about design, photography, and how you can preserve your story with timeless, tangible keepsakes.

Life albums: An overview of my weekly process, Part 1


| Written by Ronnie |

Today I'm sharing an overview of my weekly process when it comes to creating layouts for our family's life album. This will be the first of three posts. In this first part, I will talk about the process of documenting (ie. taking photos and journaling), selecting photos, and editing photos. If you have any questions about what I discuss here, feel free to get in touch via the comments or via email. (You can click on any of the layout images for a larger version.)

1) Documenting –  taking photos

These days, more than 95% of the images that I photograph are taken on my Fujifilm x100s. I've been shooting RAW files for over a year now, and I don't think I can ever go back to shooting JPEG files. In my opinion, the quality of my images feel completely different now, and I can't believe I missed out on shooting RAW for so long. In terms of my camera settings, I tend to leave my camera on aperture priority, because on the x100s, I can easily adjust the exposure of my images by simply turning the exposure compensation dial left or right. 

I try to keep my x100s at a central location in the house. This means that it is usually in my bag, which hangs on the door to my downstairs cubby office (which, until about nine months ago, was an under-used and under-rated storage room), or on the shelf in my cubby. Both these locations are handy because my cubby is actually right in the middle of our house, which means I can get to my camera relatively quickly from any room. In my mind, this is important when it comes to documenting everyday life; the last thing I want is to miss out on photographing a special moment simply because my camera were too far away.

For the last couple of years, I've been practising the art of taking less photos: rather than snapping up every single frame at every single opportunity, I've been learning to only capture the moments that move me. This has been a huge change in the way I photograph. Rather than cluttering up my camera, and subsequently my hard drive, with photos that will never get looked at or printed, I'm choosing to take photographs that matter and that tell a story. This also makes the whole life album process a lot simpler, because choosing photos takes up a lot less time. The risk to this approach is that for some weeks, I have ended up taking very few photos. Nonetheless, I've usually been able to rectify this situation by picking up my camera late on a Sunday and doing a quick walk around the house to either photograph the boys "doing their thing" or to photograph myself by using the closest mirror. Or, I might simply try to capture the last light in a few different rooms of the house. 

Even though I don't use my iPhone much for photography these days, I still like to keep it close by for snapping the occasional selfie with Rick or one of the boys. I love including these in our life album layouts because they often help to add visual balance to a page. Plus, I know that I take a lot more horizontal photos than vertical photos on my x100s, so having a number of candid vertical selfies on hand is very convenient.

2) Documenting –  journaling

In terms of journaling, Rick and I keep a daily record of what our family does in Simplenote (you can watch a video about that here). We do our very best to update it every night before we go to sleep; we keep a MacBook Air in our bedroom for this very purpose. Having said that, if we do miss a night or two (or three or four), we simply catch up on on the missing days the next time we update. Between the two of us, we don't usually have a problem with recalling what happened on a particular day. Even if we do both happen to have a mental blank, we simply refer to our iCal app, which tends to hold a pretty comprehensive record of what we've done on any particular day. 

When we first started keeping a daily record, we used to only write a couple of sentences for each day. The information from this would then end up in the weekly summary card. However, nowadays, we tend to include more details from each day, and we usually end up writing about a paragraph's worth of text. As a result of this, I have been including a 6x12 insert layout (I use this template) for most weeks to accommodate the larger amount of text.

3) Sorting and selecting photos

Every Wednesday during Bear's quiet time, I import all the photo files and video files from my x100s and both our iPhones into Aperture. Using the same system every week, I re-name all the files, sort them into the right folders, and tag all the files with the appropriate keywords. I also rate all the x100s images. This is part of my weekly photo organisation workflow it is part of what I teach in this online class.

With all the files from the previous week sorted and tagged, I sit down the following Monday evening to choose the photos for our family's life album for that particular week. In Aperture, I create a new album and give it a name that corresponds with the week that I'm working on (eg. 'Week 3' for the third week of the year). I then drag all the photos from that week into the album. (Remember that when you create albums in Aperture or collections in Lightroom, it doesn't actually affect where you've stored the master file. In fact, that's the beauty of having your images organised in Aperture or Lightroom. Once they are all properly sorted and tagged, you can create as many albums or collections to your heart's content to suit your memory keeping purposes or otherwise.)

Once the album is filled with the week's photos, I go through and select my favourite horizontal photos by labelling them orange, and my favourite vertical photos by labelling them green. I almost always end up with more photos than I can fit on the spread, so I just keeping culling my favourites by de-selecting them until I end up with eight horizontal photos and seven vertical photos for my weekly spread (only seven vertical photos because I always use the far left 3x4 pocket for the weekly summary card, which you can see from the layouts I've shared in this post). If I have too many horizontal photos and not enough vertical photos, I'll select two sequential horizontal photos and label them as green. Later, when I go to export the photos (which I'll cover in the next post), these horizontal photos will get exported alongside the vertical photos, and when it's time for me to create the layouts, they'll get inserted into the 3x4 layouts. You can see examples of this little trick of mine in at least seven of the page layouts in this post, where two horizontal photos sit on top of each other in a 3x4 pocket. 

While I do try to stick to a standard two-page layout for most weeks of the year, I am happy to include more pages for a number of special events that take place every year: our family holiday in summer, our family holiday in winter, our wedding anniversary getaway, and the last couple of weeks of December, which of course includes Christmas and New Year's Eve. For example, you can see from the layouts on this page that Week 23 was made up of eight pages in total, as it was the week that Rick and I escaped to Kangaroo Valley in the Southern Highlands for our anniversary getaway. And just recently, I completed all the layouts for Week 52 of 2015, and I was happy to have it all documented over 16 pages! Although it seemed overly indulgent at the time, I feel nothing but joy and contentment as I flip through the album. I guess in the long run, you never really regret printing "too many photos". In terms of workflow, it's during the photo selection process that I make the decision about the number of pages, since the number of photos I choose has to match up with the final number of pages. 

For most weeks, there are usually "extra" photos that I want to include which may not necessarily fit in with the overall look and feel of the page layout. Or perhaps a special event (eg. a birthday party or a family gathering) has taken place, and I want to include a number of additional photos from that event. In both these cases, I will label those photos yellow. Because my 8x10 insert template includes a variety of different layouts that can accommodate different numbers of photos per page, I can be flexible in terms of how many of these extra photos I include overall. 

4) Editing photos

All the editing that I do takes place within Aperture itself. Mostly, I adjust exposure and increase contrast ever so slightly. Most recently, I've been suing the Contrast+ preset from the VSCO Toolkit to give my images an extra lift without changing the colour or tone of the image. If I feel like making an image look more "film-like", I tend to stick to the Kodak Portra 800 preset that came with the VSCO Film 01 package. I used to apply it indiscriminately to all my images, but I've come to learn over the years that it only looks nice on certain photos. 

The other thing I do try and do for any given week is to give the photos a cohesive look and feel so that they don't look out of place on the page. Most of the time, this means tweaking the white balance by giving the images a consistent degree of warmth or coolness. In Aperture, this can be achieved easily by moving the Temperature & Tint sliders under the White Balance panel. If I feel that this is insufficient, I might also adjust the sliders under the Colour panel.

I hope that all this has been helpful and not too overwhelming! In my other two posts in this mini series, I will write about exporting photos, creating the individual layouts in InDesign, printing, and assembling the final layouts. If you have any questions, just let me know. And if you would like to share any of your own life album layouts, please feel free to leave a link in the comments below.

You can read all the other posts about life albums here.

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