By Mark Levesque, M.Photog.Cr., CPP
Wedding albums have come a long way since the days when they were a simple collection of 8x10s and 5x7s in matted pages. With all of the choices available for album styles now offered, the photographer has much more flexibility in creating a stylish keepsake. The downside could be that the photographer now takes on yet another role, that of graphic designer. Fortunately, software has kept pace with the changing landscape, and there are a number of tools available to facilitate album design. A natural fit for photographers is the latest iteration of the Kubota Image Tools Photoshop plug-in AutoAlbum 3.
By leveraging the photographer’s knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, AutoAlbum eliminates part of the learning curve in album design. AutoAlbum provides more than 500 layouts as templates for designing your album, and includes a dashboard that will be familiar to those already acquainted with Kubota Image Tools products. The concept is dead simple—select a layout from the dashboard and populate it with your images. Each layout is implemented as a Photoshop action, with stops for the user to select each image in the template. Directions tell the user whether to select horizontal or vertical images, and each image is placed into the layout as a Smart Object, allowing for unlimited resizing with no loss of image quality in the rendered version. When the action completes, the user is prompted to save the resulting file as a layered Photoshop document to allow for future editing and replacement of images.
Selecting the desired layout is facilitated by the Template Library Book included with the software, as well as by the built-in search capabilities of the dashboard. Each layout includes both an ordinal number and a code that indicates what type of layout it is. The code is easy to understand, and it allows the user to find every layout of a particular type. A thumbnail in the dashboard gives you a visual representation of the layout, and using the arrow keys, you can quickly cycle through each candidate. If you've identified the desired template in the Template Library, you simply type its number in the search field and it comes right up.
Most of the layouts include a black background and a white stroke around the images. The background color is implemented as a fill layer, which allows you to easily change the color. Simply double-click on the page color layer and the color-picker dialogue pops up. Select the color you want, click OK, and the color changes instantly, a boon to Photoshop neophytes. The templates come with relevent helpful guides you can consult while tweaking the layout.
AutoAlbum is designed to provide the widest group of photographers with the ability to create professional level albums almost regardless of their level of experience with Photoshop. The recommended method of creating an album includes two main steps. First is the creation of the pages for your album as described above. As each layout is completed, the user is prompted to save as a layered Photoshop document. At that point the user is also expected to save the file as a jpeg, with a recommended quality level of 11. Once all the layouts have been completed, the user will need to open templates for the album manufacturer of choice and incorporate the page designs on each template, resizing and repositioning as needed. This works well, and is the preferred method for those who are not power-users of Photoshop.
For those who have mastered a bit more of Photoshop's capabilities, it is possible to alter the workflow slightly and achieve even more precise results. If you have designed press-printed products before, you will be aware that you need to account for bleeds when designing your work. Since each manufacturer’s requirements may differ somewhat, AutoAlbum does not account for these bleeds, thus the created pages will be slightly upsized when imported into the manufacturer’s album templates. Additionally, certain products may not require pages that are exactly square. What this implies is that an uneven amount of your page design may be lost to the cutter, which may impact the design somewhat. The solution to this problem is actually quite simple. You simply adjust the canvas size in Photoshop to the precise dimensions needed. The color fill layer provides for seamless expansion, and the fact that the image layers are Smart Objects means you can tweak them to the appropriate size without losing quality.
AutoAlbum contains some built-in resizing actions to account for differences between the 10-inch square nominal size and other size album designs. Additionally, some cropping actions are provided to allow the user to alter rectangular layouts from the 11x14 default to other form factors. Unlike the resizing actions, the cropping actions do not preserve the layers, so you need to make sure that you do not accept the crop until your composition is exactly as you want it. That being said, you are able to pull the crop beyond the extent of the image if you like, and the solid color background will be preserved on the newly created space.
One of the things that you want to keep in mind in working with this software is that the layouts generally expect to place entire images. This means that you want to have your images already cropped (and fully retouched) when you create your album pages. However, there is nothing to stop you from using a clipping mask on the placed files once the action has completed running. One of the things these actions do well is maintain the intent of the layout no matter what aspect ratio your placed file happens to be. So if you have chosen a layout with two horizontal pictures, it will maintain the width of the placed images even if the height does not match. You may have to tweak the positioning to complete the layout, but the ease with which the images are incorporated and the speed with which you can create these album pages makes it a minor consideration.
Kubota Image Tools has another winner here with AutoAlbum V3. With over 500 provided templates, it is easy to find a layout for your album pages. Residing entirely within Photoshop, there are no new programs to learn, and by leveraging your existing knowledge of Photoshop you can customize and refine your album pages easily.
Mark Levesque is co-owner of Studio Mark Emile in Nashua, N.H. Visit his website at studiomarkemile.com.