I tell this story because others might relate to it and for some, my version might be useful to them. I embraced the digital revolution in photography and have spent lots of money on ever evolving cameras and also on hardware to backup and archive all of my digital pictures. When I first began, I would print some of the pictures, but over time I printed fewer and fewer so backup and archiving was developed into my strategy to preserve my pictures.
This collection of pictures starts in 2001 and new pictures are being added weekly. There are approximately 400,000 pictures with about 20% of them worthy of retention (as judged by independent viewers).
About 3 years ago, I came to the sinking realization that once I passed, it would be extremely unlikely that anyone would pick up the effort to maintain these digital assets over any significant period of time. If I wanted future generations to be able to view the pictures, it was necessary for me to convert as least some of them to hard copy. But how?
First, I needed to gather the pictures together into an coherent collection so I could readily review them and make selections for printing. And then I needed to decide whether to print individual pictures and put them in shoeboxes (or loose print albums) or to print collections of pictures to tell a story in an album format. The kinds of stories I envisioned were albums of family vacations, best pictures for a particular year, grandkid pictures through time, family pictures through time and the list of possibilities is significant.
A bit of history. From 2001-2015, I used Aperture to manage all of the pictures, one Aperture Library for each year. With Apple’s decision to kill Aperture, I was forced to transition to a new picture management tool and after some evaluation of alternatives, in the fall of 2015 I chose to more forward with Lightroom CC, first teaching myself how to use LR with new pictures and later converting all of my Aperture Libraries into LR Catalogs. In the process, I realized that I could consolidate all of the pictures into a single LR catalog and this goal was achieved in July of 2016. This was very exciting because I could now rapidly scan through each year and find the best of the best and flag them and I have written a bit about this process in a previous blog.
Once this solution was available, I moved my focus to the question as to how I wanted to print the pictures. I liked the concept of story telling in a album format and of the many choices, I decided to direct print the images into an album rather than assemble loose prints into an album. This approach would allow me to attach relevant text with the pictures.
In the final analysis, I chose two album printers: VisionArt and Mpix. VisionArt produces absolutely gorgeous heirloom albums, but at a significant cost. Mpix produces excellent albums that may not withstand the test of time (pictures will be great, but the album integrity is less than VisionArt’s) for significantly less cost. The other very useful thing is, with careful selection of album size, one album layout can be printed at either printer with great results (there are few minor details that need to be addressed, but it is pretty simple).
After looking at several different album layout programs, I decided to use Smartalbums 2 from Pixellu. My primary reasons for this choice: 1. very large selection of album printers, 2. ability to output an InDesign file that would allow for more extensive text additions, 3. ability to edited the collection of pictures either in Lightroom (using the publish service function) or within Smartalbums 2 using Photoshop CC and 4. a relatively small learning curve to generate great looking albums. I found many times that as I generated an album that the selected image was not exactly wanted I wanted so I could re-edit the picture in LR, publish the changes and they would automatically appear in the album project. I found Jaret Platt’s comparison of Smartalbums 2 to Fundy to be a very useful conversation.
The one feature I wish Smartalbums 2 had was the ability to update its image working set automatically, in the event a new picture was added to the folder. Instead, you must manually import any new images you add as potential album candidates.
I have now done three albums with Smartalbums 2 and am extremely happy with the results. Below are a few example spreads from one of the albums, a 10x10 design.