How to make a simple annual family photo book

How to make a simple annual family photo book

This post was originally published on 3/11/17 and updated on 11/2/19.

IT’S TIME TO GET THOSE PHOTOS OFF YOUR HARD DRIVES AND INTO YOUR HANDS - Let’s make a simple annual family photo book.

How long have your precious memories been sleeping on your hard drive and in your smart phone? Can you locate a photo from 2011?  Do you even remember the photos that you took in 2011?

In 2011, after years of scrapbooking, I decided to ditch the paper and glue method and go digital. It was a little overwhelming at first, with so many printing options alone that I put off making a decision on exactly how to do it for months.

But then I realised I was making the whole process more complicated than it needed to be. First of all, I decided to to make just one family photo book per year. By breaking it down into simple steps and using a simple repeated layout, it suddenly didn’t seem so daunting. 

(You can read more about how to pare down photos here and how to back them up here). 

how to make a simple family photo book

The Program I Use

From 2011-2017 I created and printed my yearly photo books with Apple through their Photos app. It was convenient since the app was already on my laptop, it was simple to use, and the quality of the actual photo books was excellent. However, after 7 years of printing with them I found out in 2018 that their photo book service would cease, and so my search for a new printer began in earnest.

After much research I decided upon the Swiss company Book Factory, choosing them primarily for their variety of sizing and quality options.  The fact that I was supporting a Swiss-based small business was a bonus. So I downloaded their free album creator and got to work.

For those outside of Switzerland here are my recommendations for printers:

  • Blurb (Worldwide shipping)

  • MPix (USA)

  • Artifact Uprising (Worldwide shipping)

  • Momento (Australia)


My Process

Life is always busy, so simplicity is the most important factor for me when creating a yearly book, otherwise it won’t get done. By keeping the process as simple as possible I increase the likelihood that this task will be checked off my to do list each year. 

Ideally I like to work monthly throughout the year on this book, but I have been known to skip working on it a couple of months. Last year I didn’t work on it the entire year and then spent the grey days of January going through my photos, editing and making the album. Even so—sticking with my method allowed me to get the book completed in a very short time.  

Here’s how I did it.


1. Size

This year I needed to choose a new size as no company had the exact sizing as my previous Apple albums. I decided to go with the Book Factory’s Maxi sized premium album which clocked in nearly square at 30 x 29.4 cm. 

2. Organization

I keep the organisation of the album uncomplicated. Each month gets one double page, special trips and events get their own double page (or more) and each kid gets a dedicated double page during their birth month.

Obviously not every photo I have taken during the year will make it into the album, so instead I focus on photos that will tell the story of our year. The cover always features my favourite landscape scene I have taken during that year.


How to make a simple yearly photo book

3. Layout

Deciding on the actual page layouts was previously what kept me from ever finishing my photo books. When I realised that choosing one simple layout instead of creating a different layout for each page could reduce decision fatigue, my photo books were actually completed in a decent time frame.

The pages of my previous 7 books from Apple have a page layout of either 1 photo or 13 photos. This not only kept the decision process easy, but I also got quite a lot of photos onto one double page. 

This time around with a new photo book size I decided to try something new. On the left side I had 4 photos, a landscape and a photo each of the kids from that month. On the right side I created a layout with 11 photos. What I LOVED about using the Book Factory was how simple it was to actually create a personalised layout. See the video below for how simple it is: 

4. Getting to work

I always start off with good intentions at the beginning of every year when it comes to getting my photos ready for my photo books. But by around summer I loose my motivation and when January comes around and it’s time to create my albums I usually still have to edit photos first in order to complete it. 

I work one month at a time, editing photos if needed, going through my iPhone for any additional images and upload them quickly and easily to the programme. As I have a good system for organising my photos, it’s easy enough to chose my favourite photos. I also do not stress about choosing “the right” images - as long as it is a good indication of our month I am 100% fine with not having every single one of our photos in our books.

(SmugMug is my back up, but I keep my photos on my hard drive in a separate folder for the entire year. Once I make my album and back up a second time, I feel ok to delete them off my computer - see here for more info.)

What I also loved about Book Factory was the option to export the photos used in the photo book. I exported them straight onto my hard drive and backed them up to SmugMug - if something ever happened to my photo books, I have the photos there to create another book. (I also use those images to display on our digital photo frame which you can read about here.)

Oh, and hopefully this goes without saying - keep saving your work as you go on - you don’t want to loose your hard work if your computer decides to crash. 

As my aim isn't to get as many photos into the album as possible, but just some highlights, it doesn't take me too long to put together. When my book is done, I go back and ask myself “does this really show our year?”, my answer is always “yes.”

One of our mushed loved family photo albums.

One of our mushed loved family photo albums.

5. Upload

Once everything is ready to go it’s time to upload, which does take some time. But when it is done you can breathe a sigh of relief that the job is completed for another year. Now it’s time to wait in eager anticipation for the book to arrive to your home. My book from Book Factory arrived 3 days after I uploaded it to their server.

How to make a yearly photo album

6. Go back to past years

I have every intention of going back and completing books for the years prior to starting my digital albums (2011) - but at this stage it is still a dream. I am happy that I just made a start instead of trying to complete books from years before. So don’t beat yourself up for not dealing with your photos from your earliest photos—just start this year. Your future self will thank you. 

7. Enjoy your hard work

Our yearly albums have pride of place in our lounge room. We page through when we have visitors but I also will often find one of the kids browsing through them. Little Z loves them especially. She gets to see herself as a newborn, but she can even see what life was like before she was around.

These photo books are our among our most treasured possessions, and I am so happy that I’ve begun the tradition of making them. 

Don't let what seems like a daunting task stop you from getting your photos off your hard drive and into your hands. Keep it simple. Every photo you take won't be used, but the small selection you do choose will help you to recall favorite family memories for years to come.

How to make a simple annual family photo book