Creating a Family Yearbook: Tips from two Moms

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I am very excited to introduce you to one of my oldest friends, Jessica, today as we are going to discuss our methods for creating family yearbooks for our families.  When I got to thinking about doing a post on the yearbook I created - I couldn't stop thinking about how disingenuous it would be to do the post without consulting with Jessica, since she was the one that encouraged and inspired me to put the effort into finishing.

For a little backstory, Jessica and I became friends in high school and spent our afternoons together writing in composition books about boys we had crushes on and sneaking to the mall to secretly buy compacts and lip gloss.  Thinking of those innocent, girly moments makes me so hopeful that someday in those awkward initial teenage years - maybe Gemma will find her own Jessica to share and giggle their way through that stage of life.

I started thinking about making a yearbook for our family after seeing this pin and also after looking at Jessica's yearly photobooks she creates for her daughters.  She is a Shutterfly girl (like me) and her books are so beautiful capturing all of the milestones and important moments in her girls' year between each birthday.  And shortly there after I realized that I have so many photos saved digitally but not really printed anywhere and that was the fire that got me started thinking about creating our own family yearbook.

I am excited to discuss this topic alongside Jessica since we have two different approaches to creating our yearbooks.  When I was feeling uninspired after my initial start - it was Jessica who talked me through some of her design layouts and templates that got my mind spinning again to continue working on it.  It's a daunting task; to look at your year's worth of photos and get them organized - but I think all you need is a little encouragement and proof that it can be done to keep going.

From the interviews below; I think it will be helpful to get familiar with each of our styles and figure out which feels more like your own -

Jessica's approach is simplistic with a focus on the pictures.  She likes symmetrical templates with clean, straight lines and even spacing.  Jessica keeps her book streamlined and flowing by ordering her pictures chronologically (highlighted with the date) and using minimal to no captions.  Her main focus is on the photos and the people in her family.

Tabitha's approach is similar to the layout of a high school yearbook.  She likes customizing templates by changing photo size and adding stickers.  She organizes the pictures chronologically but groups together common events when applicable (house projects, bathtime photos, etc).  Tabitha uses lots of captions and text throughout.  Her main focus is on the events and the things that her family does during the year.

Why do you make a family yearbook:
J:  I like to have photo sessions with the girls - I'd get them all dressed up and take like 150 pictures and pick 1 or 2 to display in the house.  I'd always have a bunch of goofy ones, that I wouldn't want to enlarge but wanted to have printed, but printing a bunch of pictures is useless to me - they just end up in a box in the closet.  So, my original intent for 2012 was to have the photo session in the book and sort of do a coffee table/'proof book' kinda deal.  As I started to make it, I realized I didn't want to skip the holidays or random candids (bathtime, playtime, dinner...) that occasionally would result in a really good picture.

T:  We do a lot of things during the year - that's how we mark time passing in our family; by the things we do and the places we go.  Outside of social media (and the blog) the pictures that we take throughout the year go almost nowhere.  Our kids don't really spend time looking at pictures, nor do we spend time as a family looking at pictures together of things we've done.  This makes me very sad - so I wanted a way that we can sit together to look back at all the things we do together as a family.

What is something you like to remember when you're making your books:
J:  I try to remember the purpose of it...I'm not entering a contest, so it does not have to be perfect.  It will be perfect for me, due to the content.  It's for me to remember when we were just a young family and how my girls' grow up and how we grow old.

T:  I try to remind myself that I don't need to include every tiny thing that has happened to our family throughout the year.  I remind myself not to stress about how to include all 64 pictures that I took during our 'mud pie' session this summer.

What size & type of yearbook do you have:
J:  8.5x11 Landscape Hardcover with a Padded option (additional $4.95, but it makes it look a little more professional)

T:  I went with the 12x12 Hardcover.  It's huge and at first I was little taken aback - but its since grown on me and I've come to really love the dominance of it.  It's size definitely sets it apart from any other book we have and makes it feel sort of magical.

How do you start the book (title page, beginning pages, etc):
J:  I start my book by totally skipping the first page in hopes that by the end inspiration will strike.  I started my 2012 book out by spending a few hours trying to describe what my intent was for the book...failure.  I read it a few weeks later and thought...who cares?  I know what my intent was...just put more pictures.  So I came back to the first page when I finished the rest of the book and put 12 pictures around the perimeter of the title page of pictures of the girls throughout the year (I think all of them were instagram pictures!) and I put them in black & white to look 'classy' - hahha!

T:  I start my book with sort of an introduction to what our family was like for the year.  So the title page has a picture of all four of us, followed by a page of Brandon and I that we answer a few questions together (like, What was our hardest challenge that year? and our favorite husband&wife moment..etc).  Then I even gave the pets a page with their own glamour shots (hah!) and the kids each get their own page with a bunch of my favorite pictures of each of them.  It includes a little blurb about their knicknames, likes/dislikes over the year & milestones.  (I totally borrowed that idea from Jessica's daughters' individual books - thanks Jess!)

How do you make transitions through the book?
J:  I start with choosing the pictures I want, and since I am doing it by date, it sort of has its own flow.  I try to make the 2 page spreads coordinate - sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.  I guess I am describing what I did with the date/chronological order set-up.  That really simplified things for me, and it put the focus on exactly what I wanted it on:  my pictures.

T:  It took me a while before I figured out how I was going to transition from month to month and then I started noticing that I had a few pictures each month of things we did or places we went that didn't necessarily warrant an entire page in the book, but they were certainly things I didn't want to leave out.  That lead me to making a month page at each transition to include a couple pictures from things we did that month and a little note about the day or trip.

What is something you wish you would have known when you started the book:
J:  The only thing I really wish I had known was that the internet is not always reliable and I should save more often than I'd probably like to (since that also takes a little time for the saving process to do its thing).  I did lose a page or two (or ten) and had to recreate them by not saving every 10 minutes.

T:  I think I would have made sure I was uploading pictures to the site regularly before I started making my book.  Especially now that I'm working on older years - so many of my pictures from years gone by are on various hard drives or were only partially uploaded to the site...I've seen it takes a lot of your focus and creativity away when you have to stop every few minutes to go try to locate a picture you want to use.  I'm working on uploading pictures more regularly now for my future self.

What do you like to experiment with when working on the book:
J:  My yearbooks are pretty simple, some pages only have 1 picture on them.  I also don't like to use a lot of words because I end up looking back at what I wrote and thinking - 'you are suck a dork.' hah!  To avoid that self-criticism, I only put the date on the page.  At the end of the book, I do a page or two of photos that I like but didn't make the actual book and I make every effort to completely randomize them.  Outside of that, I do really like the new photo effects that Shutterfly offers (vintage, fade, sunshine, etc).

T:  At first I was really hesitant to do any customization or use any of the embellishments that Shutterfly offers.  And then I just dove in head first and fell in love.  I love jazzing up the background to include stickers to highlight whatever the event or activity is on the page.  I'm surprised that I like stickers so much (who knew?!) but I really had to just jump right in and I'm glad I did - I think it brings a fun and silly element to the book.

monster hand stickers (left) and summer-y stickers (right)
still T:  I also realized mid-way through book creation that there are things that I write on the blog that don't go anywhere else (like posts from an important day, or about my kids, or Brandon, or about us) and I really wanted them to have their own place in print somewhere.  The yearbook seemed like the perfect place, so I included some of my favorite posts from the year on dedicated pages throughout.  Sometimes I had them on top of a picture (faded out a bit) and other times they were just stand alone with a plain background.

How often do you work on your book:
J:  I try to work on my book every couple of months so I don't get too far behind and overwhelmed, then I am not thinking about the page I am working on, but more about how much I still have to do!  Plus, I only get small chunks of time to work on it anyway.  When I start, I just try to pick the pictures and the order that they will be in the book.  I found that if I spend too much time on the background or stickers, etc - it's typically wasted since I end up changing everything over the course of the year.

T:  ugh - I'm the worst.  I waited to start my book in late December last year and didn't get the whole thing finished until mid-April of this year - hah!  I think I'll probably do the same thing though now, sort of just seems to work since then I am in the same creative mindset for the whole book.  I am going to try to stay consistent with uploading pictures throughout the year though so that at the end of this year - I only have the book to work on instead of both uploading and book creating.

What does a yearbook give you that you don't get otherwise:
J:  I now have something visual that I can keep over the years..the final printed product is nice compact, clean looking book that documents our year and I can keep it in our living room for visitors to enjoy.  No messy boxes of mixed up photos or photo albums filling up my closet...and I can share the select pictures without all the blurry or bad ones that for whatever reason I can't bring myself to delete!

T:  Happiness.  hah!  But it honestly makes our whole family happy to look at it - and we laugh at the funny pictures and memories.  I loved our 2012 one so much that now I'm working on one for previous years (2011 & 2010 at least) because there are so many pictures that Grey doesn't have access to when he was a little baby.  Its such a nice visual reminder of how happy we make each other as a family.

We hope this post helps other Moms see that a family yearbook is a completely attainable and worthwhile goal for your family.  Jessica and I both use Shutterfly - but we are not getting endorsed in any way for this post - we just use what has worked best for us in the past and have had great experiences with them.  There are lot of different options for book-making (like Blurb) or some folks use photoshop, and there are certainly people who do better with the traditional scrapbook with real materials.  Whatever works best for you - and maybe it will take trying a few different options out yourself.

As a sidenote - if you need a reminder that YOU (the mumma) should be included in your yearbook now matter how you might not look your best or if you're still carrying around some extra baby weight (ahem, tabitha), or you're making a really weird face in all the pictures from the fourth of July...READ ONE OF MY FAVORITE POSTS by Allison Tate and then get yourself in there!!

Lastly, your yearbook doesn't have to look any particular way or be some extravagant thing - it only has to be manageable and realistic for what you can do (in both time and creatively).  There are so many possibilities and options - but the only thing that really matters is that its about you and your family.

You can do it!!

Good luck Mummas; the treasured memory keepers :)


  1. It is nice to read helpful hints from two other mamas who are just as concerned as I am about getting digital photos printed somewhere. I used to do massive photo albums but found that we don't reach for those like photo books. I love the creative aspect of Shutterfly as well as the ease of use but sadly my photo books from them have started falling apart :( I have switched to Adorama which does not have near the cool creative choices that Shutterfly has but their quality is so much better and they print on real photo paper. If I had my way Shutterfly and Adorama would pair up. I know how much effort doing a photo book is so thought I would mention it. I have never done a year end book but plan to start the big job of doing one from 2006-present. Wish me luck :)

  2. I am currently doing this for our family, but I have such a hard time choosing/limiting the pictures! I end up making 3 books for one year (and maxing out the pages in each book) :-) HELP!

    1. hi Corissa,
      I have definitely been in this place before! In order to get me on track to have only one book for each year - I've moved to created books by category: and I also try to choose pictures that the kids will enjoy. I have lot of pictures that I think are beautiful or of every tiny little thing that we've done (or like 20 million from a single trip to a pumpkin patch for example) but I try to choose the very best one or two from a single thing and also pick the pictures that the kids will like and bring back the most vibrant memories.

      This past year we spent two days in NYC and then an afternoon at an amusement park with the kids and their grandmas. Two of the biggest pictures on those pages were pictures of my kids coming out of the haunted house ride at the amusement park with their grandmas because that's the funniest memory for them of the whole weekend (!!) so even though we have tons of great shots for the rest of the time - some of which are included on the double page spread - the highlights are the pictures I know the kids will find joy from and be able to remember clearly the actual memory that I want the books to bring back. hope that helps! good luck xxoxox