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Align's Owner Melissa Jill: My Album Story

Tips & Tricks

Hey guys! I'm Melissa Jill -- the Owner of Align!  
 
I wanted to take a second to introduce myself to those of you who may not know me. 
 
I started out my career as a professional photographer based out of a Phoenix, Arizona where I shot weddings for 16 years. And just recently, I retired from weddings to focus on Align Album Design full-time. I started this album design company back in 2012 as a way to help other professional photographers get a handle on their album workflow because I know from experience how tough it can be. Small business owners have A LOT of balls in the air at any one time.  
 
I really value albums and always highly encouraged all of my photography clients to include one in their package. But my relationship with albums hasn't always been a happy one. I struggled like many photographers to learn how to sell albums profitably and efficiently and at times it was a rough road! More on that later!  
 
I now live in Huntsville, Alabama with my husband, Bruce, and our one year old little boy, Beau. They are my world:

Our days are filled with raising a human, running a business, planting a church, and keeping up with family and friends. Oh -- and eating my husband's amazing cooking! I totally lucked out in that department! 
 
So that's a little about myself. I LOVE what I do, but like many photographers, album design and workflow has been a pain point of mine. I remember sitting down to do my very first album after a client requested one during my first year in business and thinking... "This is going to be easy, I'll just throw this together." Turns out it wasn't so much. There was a HUGE learning curve and every time I thought I had one thing mastered, another issue popped up.  
 
First there were gazillions of options -- which company do I use, which style album do I pick, which cover, which paper type? Do I design it myself or outsource it? Which software do I use or which company do I outsource to? How do I manage proofing with my clients? In addition to all of these choices, I hit so many obstacles with my client workflow. I waited FOREVER for clients to pick their images. Then when I figured out I needed to be pre-designing, I waited FOREVER for them to finalize their design. There were endless rounds of revisions, clients wanting to stuff every last corner of the design with images, and the list goes on and on. I was left wondering -- IS IT EVEN WORTH IT to sell albums?  
 
Clearly I answered that question in the affirmative. And I've lived to tell about it. And not only that, but I figured out how to make albums PROFITABLE. For the last couple years we were in business, my studio's yearly profit from albums was close to $25,000. I share this only to encourage you that it is possible. And it IS worth figuring out how to navigate through the obstacles and frustrations! 
 
Over the coming weeks I hope to share a few things I've learned along the way that have helped make my album workflow profitable and efficient. These tips will apply to Align clients, but they will also apply to those of you who design your albums yourselves. And while what I share has worked well for my studio, it's not the only way to do things. I hope this blog can be a place where we can have a conversation; where we can learn and grow from sharing our knowledge and experiences with one another. Life is always better lived in community. So I hope you'll join me, follow along, and share your insight in the comments!  
 
To make sure you don't miss out on any of the upcoming tips in this series -- many of which I guarantee will be life-changing! -- click here to sign up to get them sent straight to your inbox! 
 
And exciting news! If you're a photographer who wants to start offering albums without investing hours of guesswork and trial and error -- we have a solution for you! Check out the Album Start-Up Kit and start maximizing your profit today! 

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Blog post written by: Melissa Jill
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Elizabeth Gelineau's Six Tips for Styling Albums

Album Designs, Tips & Tricks, Featured Clients

We have seen SO MANY beautifully styled images of albums, but some of the best have to be from Mobile, Alabama-based Elizabeth Gelineau. Her styled flatlay images have us swooning and we are so excited to share her tips for creating these types of images in today's post!  
 
Two weeks ago we shared the first part of this series where Elizabeth talked about why she takes time to photograph all of her clients' wedding albums and the various ways in which she uses the images to educate her clients and market her brand. You can get caught up on that post here! 
 
And here is Elizabeth to share six tips for styling beautiful images of albums: 
 

 
I have always loved styling detail shots on wedding days, and I've taken that same approach with the album images I create. My basic set up for photographing albums involves a window with indirect light (a north-facing window in my office is my favorite) with a white reflector placed opposite the light source. This gives nice even lighting across my flatlay scene. If I need to photograph an album at night, or on a stormy day, I will set up my Profoto B1 with an extra large parabolic umbrella fitted with a double diffusion material to create my own soft light. 
 
I love styling flat lays so I use this time to get creative. Sometimes I have plenty of free time to shoot an album during the week when it arrives. Other times, an album arrives during a hectic season. When that happens, I take a more minimalist styling approach. If I receive multiple albums at once, I take that as an opportunity to style a scene that includes more than one album! Here are my go-to tips for styling album flatlays: 
 
1 - Select a background that will complement the album cover material and the color theme of the wedding. 
 
The first element I choose when setting up to photograph an album is a background board. I have several linen boards I've made myself, as well as a couple from Heirloom Bindery. I also love the faux marble board by Replica Surfaces and the suede styling mats from KISS Books. The background provides a neutral background for the album flatlay. I often choose a color that will compliment both the album's cover material and the photographs that are inside the album. For a super clean background and a light and airy look you can even use a piece of white foam board from the craft store.

2 - Select a ribbon that compliments the color of the wedding and cover material. 
 
I almost always use ribbons in my album flatlay images. I love the texture they provide! I often use the same ribbon on an album flatlay that was used on the wedding day for bridal detail photos. My styling kit has a variety of neutral tones, as well as various shades of pinks, blues, and greens. My favorite sources for styling ribbons are Honey Silks Co., Illume Silks, and Silk & Willow. I also love using styling cloths, or scraps of tulle purchased from a fabric store. A fourth of a yard will give you plenty of material to work with for flatlay styling.


3 - Select props that won't pull attention away from the album. 
 
Build a styling kit for flatlay photography and pull from that when it's time to photograph your album. I love having wax seals on hand (I have these in my personal stationery kit), as well as an assortment of small ring dishes, trays, and vintage stamps. I also have a small collection of scissors that I love to use! If you're starting to build your styling kit, check out local antique stores and stores like Home Goods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls. The clearance aisles at these stores are my favorite spots for prop hunting! I frequently pull in my own personal items as well, such as jewelry, stationery, or journals. 
 
If I have extra time, I'll often pop outside to forage for a few stems of greenery, or blooms from my garden. If I have multiple albums to photograph at one time, I may stop by my local florist to buy a stem of eucalyptus, or tea roses. For less than ten dollars I can have floral elements that can elevate the styled shot. When working with florals, I am extremely careful to not let the flowers and greenery touch the album. I'm especially careful to not select blooms with a lot of visible pollen, which could easily stain the album.  
 
If I was sent a copy of the wedding invitation, or save the date card before the wedding I try to incorporate that into the album flatlay. I've also used koozies or a program from the wedding day when I had them on hand.


4 - Use styling blocks to keep the album level. 
 
Styling blocks are the key to keeping the album level. Without them the book tends to tilt to one side or the other when not opened to the middle spread. I also use styling blocks to elevate some of my props, giving a layered look to the flatlay.

5 - Use a tripod so that your hands are free to adjust props. 
 
If you're new to styling flatlays, you may find it helpful to use a tripod and live view on your camera to see the composition and placement of props before actually taking the photo. My favorite tripod is a Manfrotto model and I use a cross bar from Tether Tools to position my camera directly over the album (with a five pound counterweight placed opposite the camera to make sure the tripod doesn't tip over from the camera weight).  
 
If I'm pressed for time, I keep the styling super simple and shoot free-handed, often using live view. I make sure to enable the grid in live view for shooting freehanded so I can use the lines to ensure I'm holding the camera as level as possible and keeping the framing the same for each spread I'm photographing. For flatlays, I'm usually shooting at an aperture between f/3.2 and f/4.


6 - When in doubt, keep it simple.  
 
Sometimes I have a whole flatlay styled and then realize I have too much going on in the scene. Don't be afraid to keep things simple. My very first album images incorporated more props, but I've gravitated to a simpler style over time. I also frequently photograph the album on a plain white board with no props so that I can pair them together for using on my album website in a way that will look cohesive. 

 
 

 
 
Wow! I'm feeling SO inspired! Thank you so much for sharing your best tips for creating beautiful flatlay images of albums, Elizabeth!  
 
To see more of Elizabeth's beautiful work, make sure to follow her on Instagram here!
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Design by: Andrea (View More) // Design style: Classic (View More) // Blog post written by: Melissa Jill
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Systematized Solutions: How to Solve Business Problems Wisely

Tips & Tricks

Hey guys! Melissa Jill here! I've recently shared some of my strategies for solving common album workflow problems. But there are sure to be others that you've experienced that I haven't covered. No matter how hard I work on my photography business, problems inevitably arise. Welcome to being a business owner :). But the secret to really succeeding long-term in business is not just found in solving individual problems, but in systematizing solutions to each problem that arises so that you prevent it from happening again. That's how a business becomes more profitable and efficient over time. 
 
Think for a minute about an issue that you've recently dealt with in your business. Has a client been unhappy about something? Have you been frustrated that someone didn't understand how things worked or didn't get back to you in a timely fashion? Do you have that issue in mind? Good! I'm going to try to help you today to systematize a solution to it so you never have to go through something similar again. 
 
There's an analogy I like to use to help me explain systematizing a business, and help paint a picture of this effort as an ongoing process. I like to call it The Principle of Plugging Leaks. Let's say for some reason that you are in a dry river bed (just go with me on this). You know the water is coming, and you want to build a dam to help stop the water and protect something valuable to you on the other side. So you gather rocks and debris -- anything you can find around you -- to set up a sturdy dam. When you're done, you step back and admire your work. You look at it from every angle, trying to access where the holes might be. You do your best to build the dam well, but you don't really know how it will hold up until the water comes. You might even feel a little over-confident that it will be impenetrable. "No water is getting through this thing!" But when the water comes gushing through the river bed, you instantly see where the weaknesses are, because little streams of water are coming out the other side. For the most part, the dam holds up, but you are left plugging leaks. Occasionally another leak will crop up and you will need to plug that one, trying to make sure it holds up over time.  
 
Since this isn't a remarkably sophisticated analogy, you've probably figured out that the dam is the system you build for your business. Plugging the leaks will be an ongoing process -- we will never be completely done solving problems as business owners. But the goal should be to plug each leak or solve each problem by tweaking the system so that that specific issue does not arise again. 
 
Here are some of the common album-related issues that I myself have experienced and heard are common to other photographers: 
- Waiting forever for clients to pick their images 
- The client doesn't love the initial design and wants too many changes 
- The client wants to cram as many images as possible onto each spread, resulting in a cluttered design. 
- The client makes endless numbers of changes to the initial design. 
- The client is unresponsive and doesn't finalize their album in a timely manner. 
- The client is surprised or frustrated that the photographer designed their album larger than what they ordered and is trying to sell them additional pages. 
- After delivering a larger album design with the option to upgrade, the client doesn't respond quickly and ends up deciding against upgrading. 
 
If you continue to experience one of these issues, click on it and you will find another article with a solution I have systematized that has effectively solved it and removed this pain point from my workflow. If you don't see your issue above, or if you run into other non-album-related issues in your workflow, try to strategize a way that you can tweak what you do to prevent that same issue from happening again.  
 
1 -- Could you create a template email that you send out to your client at a certain point in their experience (or a .pdf you share with clients in your initial meeting) to better educate them and help you achieve the optimum result you desire? 
2 -- Could you create some type of incentive or deadline to help move things along and motivate your client? 
3 -- Could you change your contract to make something that a client has misunderstood more explicit so that expectations are better managed?  
 
Hopefully this gives you some ideas about how to systematize a solution to the specific issue you recently experienced. And next time a problem arises (and we all know it will), rather than beating yourself up or playing the blame game by being frustrated at your client or another vendor, you can use your energy to pre-empt that problem in the future by tweaking your system. 
 
Thanks for reading today! I hope you found something helpful here! As always -- this is a community and we love to hear from you and share a dialogue in the comments below. Have you had issues you've found creative solutions for? Share a comment so we can all benefit from your amazing wisdom!
If you found this post helpful and would like to receive tips like this straight to your inbox, click here to sign up!
How to solve business problems by creating smart, systematized solutions
And exciting news! If you're a photographer who wants to start offering albums without investing hours of guesswork and trial and error -- we have a solution for you! Check out the Album Start-Up Kit and start maximizing your profit today! 

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Blog post written by: Melissa Jill
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When Should You Update Your Sample Album?

Tips & Tricks

Showing a studio sample album is crucial to selling albums. Seeing and holding a sample album allows clients to visualize their own album in a way that no amount of description can do! Many photographers understand this and create a studio sample album when they first begin offering album. But as their business progresses, they become unsure of when to update it. So how DO you know when it's time to create a new sample album? 
 
Here are four indicators that you might need a new sample album: 
 
1 -- Your style has changed 
Photographers may be entrepreneurs, but we're also artists. As such, our style and skill level develop over time. When you reach a point where the images in your sample album no longer represent your current photography, it's time for an update! For example, when I shifted my photography focus from digital to mostly film, my sample albums no longer reflected my work. I got new sample albums and loved the way they were a reflection of my best, most current work!  
 
2 -- Your album offerings have changed 
This one might seem like common sense, but it's important! Your sample album is there to provide an example of what you offer. When your clients feel the weight of it, touch the pages, stroke the cover, admire the design -- all of those should be indicative of what their own album would include. So if you change the dimensions, cover materials, etc. of the primary album you offer, you should also get a new sample album to match. This is especially true if you change album companies!  
 
3 -- Your target client has changed 
As I mentioned in my blog post, How to Choose Which Wedding to Feature in Your Sample Album, your studio sample should feature a wedding in which the details and couple are relatable to your ideal clients. If your ideal client changes -- if you now want to attract clients who are edgier, more traditional, more whimsical, etc. -- those are the kinds of images you should be showing in your sample album. That way when you have those kind of clients in front of you, they will resonate with the work you show them and be more likely to both book with you AND purchase an album.  
 
4 -- You're tired of your old sample album 
Sharing your passion for albums is so important in helping your clients to value them! Your enthusiasm shines through! Similarly, if you're feeling stale and bored with your sample album, that feeling will come through to your clients, as well. So if you look at your studio sample and feel just "meh", refreshing your sample album is sure to revitalize the way you share albums in client meetings!  
 
If any of the four indicators above are true in your business, it would be wise to get a new sample album -- one that represents your style and skill level, your album options, and your ideal client ... and that also makes you excited about offering albums! 
 
 
If you found this post helpful and would like to receive tips like this straight to your inbox, click here to sign up!
And exciting news! If you're a photographer who wants to start offering albums without investing hours of guesswork and trial and error -- we have a solution for you! Check out the Album Start-Up Kit and start maximizing your profit today! Note: This Kit INCLUDES a beautiful custom designed sample album! 

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Blog post written by: Melissa Jill
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Sharing Your Passion For Albums On Your Website

Tips & Tricks
photography website, album page

So many photographers struggle to get their clients to value albums enough to buy one. The reality is that if we want to sell albums, we need to tackle this challenge of establishing the value of an album in the minds and hearts of our clients head on.  
 
I've addressed this in a past post by offering Four Tips for Getting Your Clients to Value Albums and Buy One. And in essence, they all come down to communicating your own PASSION FOR ALBUMS.  
 
Today I want to talk specifically about one of the best ways we can do this: Creating a spot on our websites just for albums! 
 
Adding an album section to your website can be a quick and easy task. It can be as simple as constructing a blurb on your "Info" page like I have done for my photography business. I can easily point my audience toward this information within various blog posts in which I reference albums. This helps reinforce my passion for albums to potential clients because chances are when they search for package and pricing information, they will see the album page and will understand up front that a wedding album is the number one product I most want my clients to walk away with. The thought of purchasing one will already be a seed planted in their minds before they even meet with me!  
 
So, what all should this designated page on your website include?  
 
Here are 5 important things to incorporate when sharing your passion for albums on your website:  
 
1 -- Your "WHY"  
Whether you are talking about albums in your initial client meeting or are communicating this product/service to your clients through a different avenue, your WHY is always going to be important. I truly believe that an album tells the story of a wedding day in a way that no other product can and lives on to tell that story for generations to come. I make sure to share that belief with my clients throughout my interaction with them in various forms. I encourage you to know exactly what it is you value about albums and then build a strong, clear expression you can share with your clients, both in person and on your website! Feel free to check out my website for some inspiration! 
 
2 -- Album Options  
While I believe it is wise to keep your album options simple, I also believe it is important to communicate those options in a way that is easily understood. Spelling out exactly what you offer frees up everyone from unnecessary overwhelm. I have picked out one album size, one cover option and one paper type that I LOVE from my album company, had a sample album created with it, and that is one of the two options I give my clients. The other option is a completely different album from another company -- again with one size, one paper type, and one cover option. Whatever your album options are, showcasing them clearly and in an easily consumable way will make choices easier on your clients! 
 
3 -- Noteworthy Details  
If there are any specific details that deserve a special shout out for each of your album options and/or the album company you use, this is a great place to do so! For example, when sharing about the Queensbury album option I offer my clients, I mention it is a high end, leather covered album that is custom made in New Zealand. I also highlight specific distinguishing features such as the textured white matte pages of the album. Each album is unique and has special characteristics that might attract potential clients. This designated space on your website is a great place to highlight these features!  
 
4 -- Additional Album Options 
Are parent albums an option within your packages? Gift books? These are all things that are worth mentioning when sharing your album information and all the various options available for purchase on your website. The more you can educate your potential clients about what is available to them within your products and services, the better!  
 
5 -- Album Images  
When it comes to helping clients visualize the product you are hoping they will purchase, words can only do so much. Using high quality images that show off the beauty of your albums is essential! It is the online equivalent to sharing your sample album at the initial client meeting. If you are in search of inspiration for some ideas on how to take photographs of your albums efficiently, look no further than this post where I share some fun tips and tricks for photographing your albums! 
 
 
Hopefully this has helped give you some good ideas on what is important to include on your website in order to communicate your passion for albums effectively!
5 elements to consider when creating a space to share your passion for albums on your website
If you are new to albums all together and could benefit from even more help creating an album page on your website, check out our Album Start-Up Kit! Included in the Kit is text you can customize for your website and blog. Use our worksheet to help you develop your own personal "why" that will serve as a compelling way to communicate the value of albums to your clients, and then choose between one of two copy-and-paste text options that effectively overcome the common question of why albums "cost so much" in a non-salesy way. 

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Blog post written by: Melissa Jill
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