I recently got back from my honeymoon with Cindy from Mexico city (amazing city, highly recommended) and finally we have some time to decompress, reflect on our wedding, and look through all our wedding photos (shot by Neil Ta, Brandon Phan, and video from my cousin Regina). And having all these photos— we wondered; how would we best immortalize our special day?
Go back to the old school
Do you remember when you were a kid, and you would sit with your parents and family members, and look through old photo albums together?
Nowadays we all have smartphones, tablets, laptops, social media— and we always see our images through a glowing screen. It is nice to see images so quickly, but there isn’t the same emotional connection with the images (when compared to seeing photos in print).
What we decided to do was to print out some of our favorite photos from the wedding (as small 4×6’s) and put them into a photo album.
Why photo albums?
Photo albums are big, heavy, cumbersome, difficult to transport when moving, and take a long time to put together. So why bother when we have online galleries and digital technology?
I know for a fact that when I’m older, it will get more and more difficult to access old online galleries. I have everything backed up in Google Drive, Google Photos, and the cloud will probably become redundant after I’m dead.
However a photo album will always be “accessible” with future generations. You don’t need any proprietary software to “open” and “load” a photo album. And physical prints will probably last far longer than anything digital (or at least in the long run, be more easily accessible).
Another thing I love about putting together photo albums is the tangibility of the process. As our world becomes more and more digital— kids nowadays don’t know how to write anymore (but they are expert text-messengers). I am guilty of this myself— I can type over a hundred words a minute, but whenever I try to write anything longhand it looks like it was written by a 5-year old.
Holding physical prints is such a wonderful feeling. I do believe that as human beings— using our fingers, sense of touch, and embracing physical objects brings some sort of deep satisfaction to us. Holding even a small 4×6 print has more of an emotional feeling than looking at an image on a 4’’ smartphone screen on Instagram. Furthermore, giving away 4×6 prints is much more meaningful than simply emailing a photo to a friend.
When making photo albums, I love lying all the 4×6’s on a table, organizing them, rearranging them, and figuring out how to edit, sequence, and pair images.
With photo albums, I love the “creative constraint” of having only a certain amount of images per page. For example, one of the photo albums I put together with Cindy had only 4 spots for images. We decided that page would only be for black-and-white photos (but we had 6 black and white prints). So we had to figure out what 2 photos to eliminate— and which 4 photos to ultimate choose.
When we are putting together our photo albums, Cindy and I also worked on trying to pair images that made sense (either thematically, chronologically, or stylistically). Ultimately we want to tell a story through the sequence and pairing of images in our photo albums— and it was really fun to do.
What I also find with having 4×6 prints randomly scattered on a table is that it allows for randomness and serendipity to make novel connections.
For example, photos on a computer are generally ordered chronically, according to file name, and in a linear manner. Therefore there is a much lower chance of a novel or interesting pair of images.
However with physical prints— they move three-dimensionally. Meaning, you can stack images on top of each other, side-by-side, top-and-bottom, and a myriad of other different ways. You have more freedom with small physical prints than with digital files.
Also another point I wanted to add is that it doesn’t matter if you shoot film or digital, or on a DSLR or smartphone. I think the most important thing is to just print your photos, and to arrange them in a meaningful manner in a photo book or album; and to treasure your personal memories for future generations and your family.
Where to buy photo albums?
Cindy and I prefer to just buy cheap photo albums at local stores (TJ Max, Ross, Homegoods) because you can usually pick up a nice one for $5-10 — and 4×6’’ prints are cheap. I usually get my 4×6 prints done on Costco.com (only if you live in America and have a membership, and I print them as “luster”, and without auto correction). You can always get cheap 4×6 at your local drugstore or anywhere else online.
There are also online services where you can make your own photo book albums (like Blurb.com)— but these services are much more expensive, and the print quality isn’t as good as just printing your own 4×6 images and arranging them into a photo book. And while arranging photos digitally on your computer is fine— once again, you don’t have as much fun as if you did it by hand.
Find personal satisfaction in your photography
If you grew up with photo albums, film cameras, and slide projectors— you might think all of these ideas are trite and obvious. But the truth is, almost everyone I know who is my generation (20s, 30s, 40s) almost never print their photos and no longer make photo albums. Even my mom prefers to shoot with her smartphone and share them via text messaging services (even though she has made dozens of beautiful photo albums of me and my sister when we were kids).
When Cindy and I have kids— I want to make as many photo albums of my family as possible. I want to make them fun opportunities for my family to sit around a table after a trip, and reliving fun experiences via small prints spread on a table.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll really go old-school, shoot slide film, and bring all of my family members into a dark room and project them onto a wall— and make photography much more communal (like in the old days).
In the meanwhile, I continue to print a lot of my photos, give them as gifts, organize them into photo albums, and just enjoy them for my own personal use.
So friend— if you haven’t made photo albums before, or you used to and no longer— I encourage you to give it another chance.
Ultimately if you find making photo albums as a waste of time, space, and money— that is totally cool. Do what makes you happy; and always enjoy your photographic process.