Artists United with Love for Japan
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From the Vault: Workflow: How I Work With Photos

My blog readership has grown exponentially over the past two years.  So I thought I might share a few older blog posts now and then, under the assumption that most of you haven't seen them!  And many of them are still very relevant. Today I thought I'd share (or really re-share) a post I wrote in December of 2008.  It's about how I work with photos and my process is pretty much the same today as it was then. I've made a few edits and additions which you'll see in this lovely red italic writing! Enjoy!

A woman named Diana wrote me an e-mail with the following query:

As I took a look at your work I couldn't stop wondering what is your workflow. I guess what I would like know is how do you decide which pictures to use, how do you edit them, or decide which ones will be in black and white, where or how do you print them, size, etc...
I just started scrapbooking about a year ago and now I am having a hard time getting organized with this matter. I can't decide which pictures to use, printing, color, sizes, etc...

It's a great question.  Photos are the basis of everything we do in scrapbooking and I have found that if I can get the photos "right," the rest of it seems to come together very quickly.  So, here's my process...

1. I take a million photos of nothing.

I use the camera in my iphone almost every day to snap photos while I'm waiting for the bus, or of a big fancy plate of food at a restaurant, or whatever else seems to strike my fancy. My "real" camera is a Canon Digital Rebel XTi and it's fantastic.  I highly recommend it.  I try to take all my photos without the flash and so good lighting and a steady hand are important.  I don't usually take photos with a project or story in mind.  I know that lots of people do and I think it's a great idea.  But I tend to be more of a mindless photographer.  I shape my story when I edit my photos.  But you'll see that in step #3!

2. I upload to iphoto.

I'm a Mac girl and so I use iphoto (comes pre-loaded with all Macs) to transfer my photos to my computer.  iphoto is a very simple program and I like the user interface.  I don't keyword my photos.  I know that I ought to (and iphoto has a great tagging system) but it's too time-consuming for my tastes.  I leave my photos in iphoto, unedited, until I'm ready to scrap them.

NOTE: Once I've scrapped an event or moment, I transfer those photos to my external hard drive (EHD) and delete them from iphoto.  My EHD is arranged by year and then each year is sub-categorized by event or subject (i.e. "Mom's birthday," "Random Photos of Julie," etc.)  This keeps me organized.

I like to organize by event because that's how my brain works. When I go looking for a photos, it's usually by event.  Your brain may work differently.  I can see how organizing by date or person might be better for you!

Also, deleting the photos from iphoto once I've finished scrapbooking them (a) frees up space on my computer, and (b) means that I see new and other photos when I sit down to look for photos to scrap.

3. I choose the substance of my layout or project.  Then I choose the photos.

What does that mean?  The "substance?"  I always start with a story that I'm trying to tell.  Let's work through an actual example.  Here's my substance:

Chicken fried steak and biscuits and gravy are childhood favorites of John's that he can't get very easily in New York City.  So, on this trip home, he ordered all of it at once!

So, now I want to choose photos that best tell this story.  Here is a screenshot from iphoto:


You can see that I have eleven photos relating to the story of John and his huge breakfast, but which ones best tell that story?  Well, since the focus of the story is the food, my main photo will be one of the food shots.  I just need to choose the one that makes him look the most gluttonous. For supporting photos, I will want to include at least one shot of him, or maybe two.  Uneven numbers (3 photos total) tend to be pleasing.

Here are the photos I've chosen to use:


4. I edit almost every single photo I scrap.

Once I've chosen my photos, it's time to edit them.  iphoto does allow you to do some simple editing, but I prefer the control of Photoshop.  I primarily use Photoshop CS3.  But, almost all the basic editing I do can be done in Photoshop Elements as well.  

I start by editing my focal photo: The food.


You can see that I cropped the photo, and adjusted the lighting.  Now, there are two strikes against this photo being the natural focus of the page: (1) it's very busy and (2) it's of inanimate objects.  Therefore, I need to do something to the two photos of John to ensure that this photo remains the focus. An easy way is to use color.  The eye will look at a color photo before a black and white photo.  So, I will make the photos of him black and white, which you can see that I've done here:


I also cropped the photos, particularly the second one - it's a much tighter close-up of him than the original.  This keeps the focus on him rather than his surroundings.

5. Time to print!

Now that I've edited my photos, it's time to print them.  I print at home using an Epson PictureMate Deluxe.  It's a small printer that prints 4x6 photos.  Virtually all of the photos on my layouts are 4x6 or smaller.  To save paper, I often create a 4x6 canvas in Photoshop and place several smaller photos on it as below:


BTW: Ali Edwards has a great video tutorial on how to create a canvas of photos like this in Photoshop Elements.

Okay, this is where I can see my growth as a blogger and a teacher.  Because I didn't really answer the last part of Diana's question.  How do you choose the sizes?  (And it's weird that I showed different photos all of a sudden at the end, right?  And where's the layout that goes with these photos?  I'm not sure I ever made one!!)  So I will try to address the size question now.

In general, I use four sizes of photos for any of the following reasons:

  • 4x6 Reasons: It's a fabulous photo and needs to be featured.  I only have one photo for my page.
  • 4x3 Reasons: This is the aspect ratio of an iphone photo.  It's an okay photo, but making it smaller will make it look better.  I may have more than one photo for my page, but it may also be the only photo.  I want a white border around my photo (when printing one photo).  You can fit two 4x3 photos on a 4x6 canvas (no white border).
  • 2x3 Reasons: I have multiple photos to scrap.  Four 2x3 photos fit perfectly onto a 4x6 canvas.
  • 1x1.5 Reasons: I have a ton of very similar photos and I want to make a fake photobooth filmstrip.

Sometimes I'll veer outside of these norms, but rarely.  I know that some people like to plan out their whole layout without the photos (using a piece of paper as a placeholder) and then print, but my brain won't work that way.  I need to play with the actual photos.  In terms of the John story that we've been discussing.  I would probably make the food photo a 4x6 print and the two black and white shots of him 4x3.

Once I print my photos, I cut them out (if I've printed multiple photos on one canvas) with scissors and get to work!

So, that's it!  That's the process I use to get my photos ready for scrapping!  Let me know if you have any questions!

Thanks for stopping by!


P.S. Here's a link to a tutorial from me on the Charity Wings blog.

P.P.S. I'm headed to California today for a whirlwind of classes at CREATE!  I have a bunch of posts set to publish while I'm away.  I will definitely tweet photos and updates while I'm gone.  Will try to blog about the CREATE experience along the way, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men....