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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 Birth of the Annual Heirbook - Part 1

The annual photobook, or heirbook as we call them, is the cornerstone of our work, designed to be a treasured family heirloom. As photobook designers, our aim is to create the best premium photobooks to tell a family's story every year, and the annual heirbook is the culmination of our hard work.

Creating the perfect annual heirbook requires a lot of planning and dedication. We can still create beautiful photobooks for all your past photographs, but creating the perfect annual heirbook is something you need to plan towards. It is about ensuring that you have collected all the photographs and notes to tell a story of your year as a family. It is an evolutionary process, even for us, and for each annual heirbook we create we learn more about what we can do during the year to improve the book for the following year. We learn what additional photos we should be taking, how we should be framing them, the kind of details we should be shooting and so much more. We learn what additional notes we should be taking, and the easiest way to keep a useful journal.

Today I would like to share with you some images of my family's heirbook for 2012. I know we're already approaching the end of 2013, but this has been a personal project very close to my heart and it took some time to collate the annual book, write all the additional text for the book and complete the final cover design for the book, and to finally blog about it. As the concept of the annual heirbook only really started taking shape in the second half of 2012, it was a more challenging task for us to go back in time and attempt to piece together all the missing bits of the story. For 2013, I have been creating my book all through the year so I should be able to share the 2013 heirbook with you pretty soon after the year end.

The first set of images below are of the mini quarterly books:


A key part of our annual heirbook concept is to have quarterly publications (whether just digital or actual print publications). There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, these quarterly publications would allow us, in our increasingly globalised world, to share our stories with all the important people - grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces, close friends - who are not able to be present in our day-to-day lives. Secondly, having these regular publications would allow us to re-visit memories with our children on a regular basis so that these memories are reinforced before they fade.

The photos below are of the large hardcover annual heirbook:

We enjoyed working on the cover design for this 2012 series of books. Coming up with a concept was the most difficult bit, as we wanted a design that was artistic and creative, that said something about the year and that offered flexibility each year to allow each annual heirbook to be 'different', yet similar enough to be part of the same collection of books.

 As 2013 draws to a close, it has been a wonderful year for us at Catch Stories. We enjoyed working with all of you, and we enjoyed creating gorgeous books. One thing however has become clear. Creating these books has proven to be very time-consuming indeed, so much so that we've been unable to handle the workload of projects. Thus for 2014, until we are able to expand our team (but still maintain the same high standard of work), it looks like we may have to be very selective in the projects we take on. We have decided to prioritise the heirbook concierge concept, and will take on just a few of these clients in the year - those who show the same dedication as us to create books of the highest quality! But in the meantime we'll keep on blogging and sharing our thoughts and ideas, and hopefully slowly spread the heirbook concept to every corner of our planet. The perfectionist in us wants to create only the best quality heirbooks, but don't let perfectionism stand in the way of a good idea. An average heirbook is better than none at all, and would still be a cherished family heirloom.

Continue to Part 2.




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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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