Our blog is here to guide and inspire you towards creating stunning photobooks or heirbooks. Offer you easy-to-understand photography and book design tips and advice. And of course share with you everything that's happening at Catch Stories. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or join our e-mail distribution list so you don't miss a thing. And check out our Pinterest boards which are packed with visual inspiration for your photobooks and heirbooks!

The Birth of the Annual Heirbook - Part 2

We've finally got some photos of the inside of our 2012 heirbook to share with you, a book of almost 200 pages. One of the key differences of this book as compared to a standard photobook is the sheer number of stories that are being told in a single photobook, through a combination of text and photographs. Unlike a photobook of one particular holiday or a particular event, where the entire book tells a single story, an annual photobook is designed to tell your family's story for the entire year. We don't want to have the photos of a single photoshoot fill up twenty pages, or a single trip encompass a quarter of the book. Rather, each 2-page spread has been designed to tell a story as well as to be a visual experience. And we think the result is a photobook that is so much more than just a collection of photographs taken in a studio, however pretty those might be. The stories and the context add depth and purpose to these books, which is why we thought these photobooks deserved a name in their own right - an heirbook.

We're not going to lie to you - collecting the photographs all through the year and keeping a journal to create these photobooks requires dedication. And putting them together and designing them is a lot of work. But the result is very rewarding - it is something that will stay with my family always. In a world obsessed with material things, it will be the most precious gift I can give to my children - the gift of memories of their childhood and the love we share.

Having designed lots of bespoke photobooks for our clients, we have found that the concept of the perfect annual photobook was one that was very elusive. I know our heirbooks may not seem to be particularly groundbreaking, but getting the right mix of artistic design, layout of photographs to tell a story, text commentary, typography and overall visual appeal really took some time. And it was only this past year that we felt the concept had sufficiently crystallised to allow us to create our very first annual heirbook. Undoubtedly, the concept will continue to evolve in coming years but we now believe we have a solid foundation from which to grow.

Go back to Part 1 (background to the heirbook and cover design).

What do you think about the concept of the annual heirbook? Do you already create an annual photobooks for your family? Do you have any ideas for other things we could include in our book? Do share your thoughts with us!

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The Art of Creating Amazing Heirbooks

Telling a good story, especially one that involves photographs, requires some forward thinking. Working on our clients' heirbooks, we are constantly thinking about how we can help them improve their future heirbooks. And the best improvements are the ones made at the source. We want to help them take better photographs and record the details of their memories better.

None of this is particularly difficult to learn. All it takes is awareness and a little bit of effort, and everything will become second nature over time. To share our heirbooking ideas with you, we have decided to blog more about our own heirbooks so you can see how we have applied the ideas.

Today, we'd like to share a few pages we recently created for a fruit-picking trip with the kids:


We like to tell our clients that the best heirbooks are created throughout the year, rather than after the year-end. If we were to create these pages in January or February 2014 (i.e. some six months later), I'm pretty sure we would have forgotten a lot of the details when trying to write those few paragraphs about our experience. Either that or the task would simply be a lot more daunting and time-consuming, and we would probably decide to leave out the text. But if you were to write it shortly after the event, it would probably take you no more than 5-10 minutes.

So here are some photography tips from these 4 pages:

  • Capture the whole environment. A common mistake people make is to simply take close-ups of their kids, perhaps to catch an expression or capture a gorgeous little outfit. This is all very well as you need these shots, but if that's all you're shooting then you lose the context and the story. Everywhere you go, just step back and look at where you are, and try to take some shots of your surroundings. Try to keep it relatively uncluttered, remember there doesn't have to be anyone posing in the shot! Remember that you're trying to tell a story, and the story is more than just about you, your kids or your family. It's about where you are and what you're doing.
  • Capture the details. Here we got some nice little closeups of the fruits, the signs and those fruit-stained fingers. Remember that you're now shooting for an heirbook, not just for a photograph. A photograph is, well, just a single photograph. You either try to get a great close-up portrait, or you try to compose a single photo that tells a story. Either way, you would include the subject i.e. your family members. With a book, you're telling a story through a series of photographs. In some ways, this makes it easier for you - each single photo does not need to be particularly creatively composed. Rather you simply take shots of the detail, and leave the composition of the layout to us! So go out capture the details. Signs are great, they tell you something about where you were and what you were doing, and including signs in your heirbooks always beats using some kind of fonts to spell it out. Also think about what it is you're doing - if you're at the beach, what about close-ups of spades, buckets, sun-cream, sandcastles and seashells. The easy thing about taking these shots is that these subjects generally don't move, meaning you can get nice clear shots!
  • Capture the movement. One thing I like doing is capturing movement. Again, here lies the difference between a single photo and a series of photos. With a series of photos, you can almost re-create the feel you get from watching a video. The way your child walks, runs, jumps or laughs - captured forever in a few photos! Truly, it is amazing. So how exactly do you capture such shots? It definitely helps to have an SLR camera, as you can shoot multiple shots very quickly and with less motion blur. With a compact camera or smartphone, you will probably have to shoot outdoors (to have sufficient lighting) and don't get too close to your subject to minimise the motion blur and to allow you enough time to take multiple shots.
  • Keep it clean. Creating a montage of photos is a great way to tell a story. But the pages can look too 'busy' if your photos aren't 'clean'. By this, we're talking about background clutter. You should be conscious of what's in the background whenever you're taking a shot. If you're trying to take a picture of a bucket, take it against a background of sand rather than a mat with colourful prints!

Notes, notes notes. Apart from photography, try to make it a point to write a mini summary of special trips, events or family days out. If you write something the same evening or the next day, the words will just flow and it'll take you a few minutes. Almost everyone has a smartphone these days - write your notes in an email to yourself, or on the brilliant Evernote note-taking app. If you've got children of school-going age, why not ask them to write something, or use some of their school essays/compositions that they've written about their summer, for instance. These would be wonderful for your heirbooks as they would be direct insights from your own kids.

Follow these simple tips and you'll find yourself creating amazing heirbooks rather than ordinary photobooks.


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7 ways to take better photos with your iPhone

Yes, it is possible to take great photos with just your iPhone camera. Sure, you could probably take better shots with a fancy digital SLR, but let's face the facts. Even if we own a dedicated compact or SLR camera, most of us also use our iPhone to do a fair amount of photography - especially for the unexpected little things, which could be exactly the kind of photos you want in your heirbooks. This is because your phone is always right by your side. Meanwhile the quality of camera technology on smartphones (such as iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 (pictured left) and the latest Samsung or HTC phones) has improved drastically in recent years.

We've gone to a fair amount of length here, because we want to leave you with quality advice rather than just 7 one-liners. But we promise that your photos will benefit substantially if you take the time to read and digest this. We want you to know that we firmly believe that you can take great photos from your iPhone. So when a shot opportunity arises, whip out your iPhone proudly and put on that photographer's hat!

Note: (i) If you're using a non-iPhone smartphone, do carry on reading as most of these tips would also apply to you; (ii) the camera we're referring to throughout this article is the rear camera of the iPhone (i.e. facing away from you). This is a much better quality camera than the one facing you (for Facetime calls).

So without further ado, here are our top 7 tips for taking better photos with your smartphone:

 1) hold your iPhone camera steady

This is a golden rule of any photography. Remember that any little twitch or movement of your camera is amplified. And to get good sharp photos, you want as little movement as possible. How still you need to be will depend on the lighting - in bright conditions, your camera can utilise a faster shutter speed, allowing it to freeze motion. But when it's dim, the camera's shutter needs to stay open for longer to capture more light, therefore movement (whether it's camera shake or subject movement) can significantly blur your photo. 

Firstly you need to hold your iPhone in a way that minimises movement from your arms. To keep your arms as steady as possible, pull in your arms towards your body (rather than extend your arms out). If there's somewhere to rest your arms or phone, or even to lean your body against, do that. If you're crouching down, you can even rest your phone or hands on one knee.

Secondly, you need to get rid of the camera shake that comes from pressing the 'shoot' button on the screen. You probably don't notice it but when you press the button on the screen, the phone shakes a fair bit. Try snapping a few times on your iPhone and observe your phone closely. A better way to take a shot is to hold down the 'shoot' button on the screen, and release it to take the shot. The camera doesn't actually snap until you release the button. Holding it down before you shoot is a great way to reduce camera shake. Practice this a few times so you get the hang of it, and observe the camera for movement until you're able to do it steadily.

 2) ensure adequate lighting

Take photos outdoors whenever possible, as natural daylight will give you the best results in so many ways. Firstly, colours will appear more vibrant and natural than shots taken indoors, without any need for editing. Secondly, the brightness will allows for much faster shutter speeds, meaning any shot you take will be far more forgiving. Whether it's camera shake or subject movement, more light will allow the camera to freeze movement so you end up with sharper photos generally.

Not all outdoor lighting gives great results, very bright and sunny days with the sun directly overhead tend to make harsh images with deep shadows. The golden light of sunrise and sunset is usually the best to shoot in, giving softer images with a lovely warm glow. But cloudy and rainy days, if bright enough, are also great for shooting in (if you can stay dry)!

If you're indoors and there's some element of planning, try to take photos in the brightest rooms. Again, rooms with ample natural daylight are best. But in the absence of this, go ahead and turn on the lights especially if your subjects are not staying still. Night shots of kids running around in a dimly-lit room would, as a general rule, be beyond the capabilities of your iPhone. Most of your shots will turn out blurry with poor colour exposure. Having said that, blurry shots aren't necessarily unusable as they can still capture the mood and feel of a situation. But if you know you will be shooting in such an environment, plan ahead and bring your SLR with a fast lens.

For the more technical amongst you, you should know that there's unfortunately no way to control the aperture or shutter speed priority for your iPhone. In a typical indoor environment (unless very well lit), the iPhone would typically default to a shutter speed of about 1/20s (and go as slow as 1/15s), and bump the ISO up or down to achieve the right exposure. Unfortunately, this isn't usually fast enough for capturing moving subjects.

3) play to its strengths

The iPhone's camera isn't necessarily weaker in all respects compared to an SLR. The technical specifications of the iPhone actually give it certain advantages over an SLR camera (at least when comparing handheld vs handheld, without use of tripods/flash etc). Essentially the iPhone's camera has a very high depth of field, meaning it is best suited for photography where everything is sharp and in focus (as opposed to low depth of field, where you get background blur). This means it is ordinarily less suited for portraits, where background blur helps to place more emphasis on the subject. But it's actually pretty good for landscapes or architecture, or where you're trying to taking a photo of something quite large e.g. a tree or large sculpture from fairly close range, but want everything in sharp focus. Or say you're outdoors and trying to take a photo of a group of kids at different distances from you. With an SLR, you'd have to reduce your aperture size significantly to get everyone in focus, which reduces the amount of light entering your SLR and results in a slower shutter speed. But your iPhone can take the same shot with everyone sharply in focus without having to compromise on shutter speed.

Here's a shot with everything (including our subject) in sharp focus. Above: Shot taken on iPhone 5 (edited) with everything in sharp focus. Would have required a very narrow depth of field on an SLR, which would have compromised the ability to handhold this shot. With the iPhone, it was a straightforward point and shoot (and compose)!

Why does the iPhone have a very high depth of field? We're now getting into technical territory, so if you're not keen to be bombarded by technical jargon then feel free to skip this and just remember the points above. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll talk about the iPhone 5 in particular. The iPhone 5 has a fixed 4.1mm f/2.4 lens, which has a field and depth of view that is equivalent to a 33mm f/19 full frame camera. Anyone who knows anything about f-stops knows that f/19 is a huge amount of depth-of-field, and that to get anything equivalent on an SLR would require a significantly lower shutter speed (more motion blur) or significantly higher ISO (more noise). This however is the iPhone's bread and butter, and it can achieve this high depth of field with a real aperture of f/2.4. This is a fairly large aperture i.e. it allows a good bit of light through and therefore permits faster shutter speeds and better sharpness from handheld shots.

4) shoot the detail

If you're busy taking photos of a child or family member at a particular event or setting, don't forget to take photos that don't actually feature anyone in them. When you're laying out your heirbook, you could try to tell the story by having one or two overly cluttered photos, or you could tell the story via a number of beautifully taken close-up photos. Take for instance an Easter egg hunt, which my son recently had his first experience of. Instead of trying to capture a photo with everything in it (him, the eggs, the banners, the setting, etc), we took close ups portraits showing his excitement whenever he found an egg. We also took some great wide-angled photos from behind the hidden egg, peeking out from its hiding place. And little details like the basket of colourful eggs. When laid out on a double-page spread, these had a far more striking effect than a couple of very cluttered photographs that tried to capture too much.

Don't be afraid to get really close-up, the iPhone can focus as close as 4 inches away from your subject! Take uncluttered shots. Look for patterns and shapes. Leading lines. Look for simplicity. Remember you don't always have to get the whole subject into your shot! 

5) de-clutter the background

Now that you know that the iPhone takes pictures with everything in sharp focus, you need to think about composition. The difficulty with having everything in a picture looking crisp and sharp is that it's difficult to separate the subject from the background. Pictures don't look great when there's too much going on. Hence when you compose your shot, look at the objects in the background and look at the colours. Look around you and see which angle you can take the shot from to reduce the background clutter.

Above: Shot taken on iPhone 5 (edited). Rather than trying to capture the whole playground in our shot, we've kept it simple as there are enough elements in the picture to tell you the subject is in a playground. We've taken the shot from a higher vantage point to capture more of the cork surface, as the sky was washed out and not particularly interesting for inclusion.

Remember, it's not just about telling your subject to move here and there. You are the photographer, don't forget to move yourself first and foremost. Try shooting from high up, or from down low. Try new angles. If there are several interesting background items you're trying to capture, why not capture them one at a time over several images?

6) check for smudges (!)

Don't forget that the lens on your phone camera is always exposed, unlike your SLR or compact camera which is usually covered when not in use. Being constantly handled and placed on different surfaces with the camera lens face down, you should be surprised whenever there isn't a smudge!

You should therefore make it a habit to check for smudges, or simply just give that corner of your phone a quick wipe with the edge of your shirt before you take any shots. There's nothing like a big smudge to ruin an entire day's photography. The problem is that many of you may not even know it, but I guarantee that you have a fair number of images that have suffered from this! Light reflects off the smudge to create a hazy washed out and slightly out-of-focus look on a section of your image. You can diagnose this as the cause if it's always the same area of every photo that looks hazy.

Note: if you use a protective casing over your phone, then the likelihood of there being smudges will depend on the type of case you're using. The best way to find out whether it's still prone to smudges is by observation. Make a mental note to check for smudges the next several times you use your phone camera.


7) quick-draw camera

Many of you may already know this, but we've met a surprising number of people who don't.

Since iOS 5.1, you can now access the camera very quickly directly from your lock screen. If you look closely, you'll see a camera icon next to your 'slide to unlock' bar. Simply flick or drag this upwards and you're in camera mode! A great way to bypass having to enter your PIN code and then looking for the camera icon on your home screen.

How does this help you take better photos, you may ask. Well a big part of photography is about capturing the moment. The beauty of SLRs (assuming you have it to hand) is that it's ready to snap in an instant. This little shortcut for the iPhone allows you to take your first shot in 3-4 seconds rather than 6-8 seconds. Those few seconds saved can seem like an eternity when you see that special moment passing you by!


With photography, the right frame of mind can make all the difference between a good shot and a bad one. If you believe that your iPhone isn't for serious photography, your mind will approach the shot in that way. But believe that the iPhone can take great shots, and you will start seeing those great shots.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post, do bookmark this page in case you need a refresher. Follow these simple tips and we're sure the quality of your iPhone photos will improve drastically. Don't forget to share these tips with friends you know who shoot a lot from their phones! And if you've got some great shots taken from your iPhone (or any smartphone for that matter), do share them with us and we'd love to publish examples on this blog to inspire others!

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