It's July and I didn't finish a single thing in June—unless you count the 800 million fires that have to be put out during a cross-country move month, more on that soon—but I had the foresight to invite a spectacular guest for July's interview before things got crazy: Suzanne O'Brien! Her inspiring tips and experience will have you revisiting all those photo books you've meant to tackle over the years.
Please introduce yourself and give us a little background about how you became a photographer and photo book maker!
Thanks for having me Elizabeth! I got my first camera in 5th grade and can vividly picture the shoebox under my bed stocked full of envelopes ready to mail film to the print lab. I would anxiously await the return of my prints, share the doubles, and scrapbook the others. Photo albums line my shelves beginning from that age. Since then, the quality and formats have changed (and improved!) but at my core I have always been an avid memory keeper.
My professional career path followed a more left-brained direction – BA in economics, MBA, career in finance and technology. I am lucky now to be home with my kids and pursuing this satisfying creative career. As my kids grew, so did the amount of shelf space required to house our family stories. I realized if there was any hope of my kids enjoying these memories someday, something needed to change. In 2011, after completing 2 ginormous 12×12 Project Life albums, I transitioned to primarily creating digital photo books. The small size and ability to order multiple copies are just two of the many reasons I love this memory keeping format.
As friends saw my books and shared the guilt they felt over images languishing on their computers and phones, the idea for my photo book business was born. I wanted to try to help, one book at a time! The photography side of the business grew organically from the book business as I began sharing more of my work online.
I thought long and hard about turning my hobby into a business. My decision was to pursue only photography work that I was passionate about – “Day in the Life” sessions capturing families in their everyday routines. These 3-4 hour sessions tell a story of family life and translate perfectly into photo books – making both pieces of my business complementary.
Your area of expertise—getting photos off hard drives and into the hands of people who will enjoy them—is difficult for many people. What do you think the biggest “trouble spots” are for people when it comes to finishing a photo book project?
The biggest challenge is almost always in getting started. This is the same for me as with any of my clients. In fact, my focus word for 2015 is “Start” because I wanted a constant reminder to just dig in and start somewhere!
Typically, once people get over the initial hurdle of gathering their photos and getting them into the photo book software (or handing them over to me), they have the momentum to keep moving ahead. It feels good to make progress on a lingering to-do item.
Another trouble spot is wrapping up the final details (i.e. I just want to track down that one last picture from our Hawaii trip that I know is out there somewhere) and pressing the “Publish” button. The best advice I have to get you beyond these sticking points is to remind yourself that done is better than perfect. Your kids aren’t going to miss that last Hawaii picture and no one is going to care if you used Helvetica Neue or Garamond font. Don’t leave these memories stuck on your hard drive, where no one gets to enjoy them.
What tips can you share to make these photo book projects more manageable…and by extension, more likely to get finished?
Here are 3 of my favorite tricks to help you get to the finish line…
- Start small. Pick a discrete event, such as a vacation or special birthday party to create a warm-up book project. Telling a story with a clear beginning, middle and end with a manageable number of photos will set you up for a successful project and give you the confidence to tackle bigger stories.
- Create a design formula. Choosing a consistent template for your words & photos removes decisions and speeds up your process.
- Break your work into small, discrete tasks. When you get overwhelmed and stuck in the middle of the work, try listing out the remaining steps. Rather than writing “finish 2014 book” on your daily to-do list, only write what you can reasonably achieve that day, i.e. “import May 2014 photos to book” or “proofread text.”
Do you find it difficult to finish projects with your own family’s photos when you spend a good portion of your time working on client photo books?
Can you read my mind? Yes, this has been a big challenge for me since starting my business 3 years ago. Hence the reason for my goal shared below. I’ve managed to sneak in small books (tip #1 above) around client projects, but have really struggled with my Year in Review books. In fact, that last annual album I have is my 2011 Project Life album, yikes.
I have admittedly suffered from design analysis paralysis. I have so many ideas about what I want these books to look like, and these ideas keep changing, my skills keep improving, etc. I also want these albums to be consistent sizes each year so choosing the right book vendor feels like some crucial decision. Sound familiar to anyone? I’m happy to report that I listened to my own advice and have finally started on my 2014 album, frequently reminding myself that done is better than perfect.
Care to share any vague or specific (either is fine!) project goals for 2015? Do you have any lingering projects to finish up in your home or business?
Yes! I am feeling brave enough to share this goal publicly for the first time – I’m striving to complete one personal photo book a month in 2015. As I write this in June I’m on track to achieve this goal and make a serious dent in that long list of book projects! Here is a quick look at my completed projects so far…