My Surprising Problems Creating a Photobook

Earlier this month was my mother’s birthday (a big one, but a number she doesn’t like discussing). We were already planning a trip to visit my brother and his girlfriend in Nashville. Before we went, I had a typical panic: OH SHIT I DON’T HAVE A GIFT FOR YOU.

To find out, I called her and asked. Her answer? A photo book of us from Nashville. I agreed, not realizing what I was getting into. I mean, I take photos anyway, it shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Only as we arrived at Nashville did I realize how difficult this would be for me. I tend to take photos that are artistic. I prefer street photography. Worse, I don’t do many posed portraits. With a lot of people moving around and going to places with low light, I knew this wouldn’t be the easiest thing to do.

What I didn’t realize was how much I would run into myself as the biggest problem.

Issue #1 Subjects won’t wait for you to set up your shot

One of the reasons I love landscape or taking photos of inanimate objects  is that I can take my time. I can move slowly,  adjusting my camera to get the shot I want. It’s one way I slow down and enjoy the present.

The last thing a 9 month old border collie will do is sit still and let me take a photo of him. Initially, I got frustrated that I thought I would get this amazing shot but ultimately would have blur, or other issues that would ruin the photo.

So I took a few deep breaths and went back again. I learned that I couldn’t focus on getting just one shot. I needed  a lot of photos and hopefully get a few that were good.

Out of the dozens I took, in the end, I did get some adorable shots. Just like this one of Harvey!

Processed with VSCO with b2 preset


Issue #2 In manual mode, my skills weren’t good enough

One reason I recommend manual mode is to learn.  Trial and error is a slow but effective way to understand how to take better shots and adjust the camera to capture what you want.

Yet, this weekend, I opted out of manual mode. It wasn’t easy. I kept wondering, would this make the photos less mine? Was this a cop out?

However, my focus this weekend wasn’t learning or my own skills. I needed to take the best shots I could. When people are running around, or I’m struggling with bad lighting, I didn’t have time to work in manual mode. The camera might be figuring out focus, speed, and light but I was the one responsible for framing and capturing shots.

In many ways, I know I’m still new to photography. I’m sure there are people that can use manual modes in fast paced moments. Maybe one day I’ll be there, but letting go of my pride let me take better photos.

Issue #3: Sometimes the best moments aren’t picture perfect


Some of the sweetest moments I got weren’t perfect. For instance, I was able to capture a few shots of my brother, his girlfriend, and their dog cuddling together on the couch. As you can see with low light and moving subjects, there’s a lot of blur. Perhaps even more frustrating, there’s indoor and outdoor light as well, making that blue and yellow clash.

From a photography perspective, this isn’t my best work. However, it captures a moment that’s sweet and says more about them than a perfect posed photo. I had to make a choice: focus on perfect or accept flawed photos of great moments. Knowing my mother, I knew what really mattered were those moments.

Issue #4 Accept other people’s photos


Now a photo book, especially one from Shutterfly, requires at least 20 pages. With some pages having multiple images, this meant I needed a lot of images from three days in Nashville. As the person who’s probably most interested in photography, it would have been natural to want to use only my own photos. After all, it’s supposed to be my gift to my mom, right?

If I’d done that, I wouldn’t ever be in the book. Plus, I just didn’t have enough of my own images to include. So, I made sure to use photos my mother sent me as well as photos taken by my brother’s girlfriend. Together, this gave the book the necessary number of images and also provided some variety. Now there’s evidence I was there!

In the end, while this may not be the best work I’ve ever done, I’m proud of this book. It was a meaningful gift that I could give my mother. Plus, it pushed me outside my comfort zone to take more portrait photographs than I have, well, ever in such a short time frame.

It also reminded me something important: perfection is overrated. There are going to be great pieces, pieces we love, that just aren’t technically the best. Sometimes what really matters isn’t how good of a photo it is, but what it’s able to capture. Sometimes, it will be rough around the edges. But it doesn’t make the work any less meaningful.

Has there been a creative work that pushed your limits? Let me know in a comment below!

1 Comment

  1. This was the most priceless gift I received from you, it is filled with love and moments we were together. The photos captured seconds and images of those I love and I am forever grateful of what you created.

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