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Sharon Elizabeth on album image selection

Tips & Tricks, Featured Clients

Sharon Elizabeth is a wedding and women's beauty photographer based out of Smithfield, Virginia. She recently placed two wedding album design orders at the same time. Album Design #1 was for a bride from a few years ago who Sharon had tasked with selecting her own album images (Sharon's OLD album process). For Album Design #2, Sharon submitted her own favorite images and asked her Align designer to pick the best ones to tell the story of the day (Sharon's revised workflow). After receiving the initial designs, the difference between the two albums was VERY apparent to Sharon. For #1, she commented that "the album seemed all over the place and didn't seem to flow well." For #2, the design only needed a couple of image swaps to be perfect! 
Maybe it's because we're album nerds, but Sharon, her office manager, and all of us at Align found this fascinating and it sparked a great discussion! Sharon was SO happy that she had revamped her album process to eliminate the client's selection step. Align's owner Melissa Jill has shared why SHE chooses to select the initial album images herself, but it was neat to see a back-to-back comparison between the two strategies!  
We asked Sharon if she had any album workflow advice she would offer other photographers, and below is a resulting letter she wrote: 

Dear photographer, 
WHY are you asking your client to go through the 1000 images you delivered to them to narrow it down to about 150 of their favorites?!  
Is it because you thought it'd be easier... you thought your clients would WANT to have control... or did you think they'd love their album MORE if they designed it?! I've been there... I've been the photographer allowing my clients to select their own images. I've been the photographer finalizing albums TWO YEARS LATER. I simply just didn't have a policy in place. I always figured I'd handle the album process with each client individually. 
I was hurting myself... and my clients. Through this process of change and growth, I've discovered there are 3 ways in which allowing your client to have control over image selection can hurt the album process: 
  1. The album does not tell the story...  
    Clients may have a strong emotional connection with EVERY photo ...OR they're going to fixate on whether or not hair is in the right place and if Aunt Judy's hand is pointing the right way ...OR they're going to choose the photos that Mom and Uncle Bob want in the album. These are items that can wait until AFTER the story has been initially told... not to determine the storyline itself. 
    The album will not flow like an album should. An album should tell the entire story without a) being long-winded, b) rushing through, or c) missing pieces. It should tell the beautiful love story that was their wedding day. Your client may be too close to the story to be able to tell it accurately. 
  2. The album does not get designed quickly...  
    If you are relying on your clients to select their favorite photos, you have to remember that THEY JUST GOT MARRIED! They have a honeymoon to attend... a house to buy... puppies to bring home... and futures to think about. The LAST thing on their mind is designing an album... because well... they're not album designers (in most cases). They'll use their last little bit of down time to pick a few favorites here and there. But this will lengthen the amount of time it takes to get the ball rolling on the album design.  
    I've determined that none of my clients should be getting their album back YEARS after their wedding.... Not even 6 months. This process should not take this long. 
  3. The album will not be as beautiful...  
    I'm going to make a confession here, but I have never had an album where the client picked the images that I personally loved. In fact, most of them make me cringe a little. My heart even breaks on the inside a bit. The albums don't showcase the best images from the day and the story isn't cohesive.  
    I should LOVE LOVE LOVE what I am sending to my brides and grooms. I should be able to stand behind what I'm giving my clients. Not only am I dropping the ball if I don't love the album itself, but I'm not delivering quality service with love if I'm making my clients do so much work. I think we can all agree that a salad tastes better when we don't make it ourselves. Right!? Stop having your clients cook their own food when they hire you to be the chef. 
Take it from me, dear photographer, clients may THINK they want control over this process - but I could give you a list right now of three brides who would tell you otherwise. Before I put an album policy in place - my brides had to spend SO MUCH TIME selecting their album images! Let's encourage our couples to celebrate their marriage instead of putting them to work. They aren't on our payroll - we're on theirs, so to speak. Create your own album system and see how wonderful it can be for you AND your clients. 
How my process USED to look: 
1) Wait for client to ask about album  
2) Wait for client to tell me their favorite photos 
3) Realize it's been a year 
4) Send photos to Align Album Design 
5) Send album draft to client 
6) Realize it's been another year 
7) Remind client to approve their album 
8) Wait 3 more months 
9) Approve album 
10) Cry a little 
My process now: 
1) Select favorites during initial cull  
2) Upload favorites to PASS (so that it's the first gallery the clients see AND so that I already have my favorites ready to send to Align for the album design) 
3) Ask client to heart/favorite their favorite FORMAL portraits or any other MUST HAVE photos that are not ALREADY in the favorites gallery. Then add those to a 'MUST HAVE' gallery in PASS 
4) Send galleries to Align Album Design 
5) Send album draft to client 
6) Approve album 
7) Send to Leather Craftsmen to be created 
8) Order sample album for office :)  
I hope you can take away from my own personal failures and set aside some time to put together your own successful systems and policies in place. Not only will it allow your clients to have a beautiful, cohesive album... BUT it'll allow you to provide a polished client experience from start to finish... making you look like the PRO that you are! :) 
Best of luck --- Go be an album ninja!!! 
Blog post written by: Denise