Alias: 'Disco Dude'

Uncompromised Quality Photography
By Photographer Dan Harris

A home-studio photography business in Jacksonville, FL
1124 Riviera St.  Jacksonville, FL  32207 (904) 398-7668

Do it yourself albums & reprints?

By Jacksonville Florida Photographer Dan Harris

Too often the shortcut ends up being the longest way around!

"I just wanted to tell you - I wish I would have read your advice before my wedding! Your advice about not doing it yourself is the absolute truth. My husband and I had a terrible time finding a photographer we liked and... we did not get the service we expected. She would take the photos, let us pick the proofs we wanted reprints of, and then we would get our own album without her help. I thought we might save about $300 doing it this way, but we cannot even find a place to buy a reasonably price album and I think we are going to really get a head ache putting it together ourselves. (not to mention I really think she had a bad day and we had to search for photos we liked to have enlarged)."
- Holly M.

Q:Here's the question:

"Let me ask you your opinion on this.... Several of the wedding photographers I have talked with have given me the option of having the negatives (or digital files) right after the wedding. I could then take them to a good quality lab in Austin, TX (that many professional photgraphers use) and have my reprints made there. What they suggest is I would be paying for their time, proofs, and negatives. Then when we were ready we can make our wedding album and have additional prints made. They have also suggested giving us wedding album manufactures websites that we can order our own wedding album later, if we choose to. My question is how do we put a top-quality wedding album together making sure it is completely archival and the pictures are protected well. Right now I'm just not sure if it would be best to try and assemble our album or have the photographer do it.

My fiance and I are both very creative. I'm an interior designer and have taken some photography classes. So I'm not afraid of putting an album together. I just want to ensure the pictures are protected etc. You seem to be so knowledgeable and your site was so detailed that I would like your opinion on this."

A:Here's my response:

Someone giving you this advice isn't doing you a favor but may ultimately be doing you a dis-service. Let's look at this logically, first figure out how much you are 'saving' in the package price and then create a hypothetical album and call the places they suggest and see how much it will really cost you to "do-it-yourself". Most top-of-the-line wedding album manufactures don't sell direct... so you will still have to buy through a re-seller. The typical mark-up on the album will be 150-200% of cost +shipping/handling. (The SAME price your photographer would be charging you!) So the real savings may be in the printing of the photographs and the assembly. You can find a 'cheaper' album in the retail market... but it is just that CHEAP!

The longevity of the prints will be determined foremost by the paper they are printed on (my lab uses KODAK ENDURA for 100-200 years lasting quality, depending on how they are stored) The next biggest longevity factor is how they are stored and protected . What material are they mounted on and how are they attached, we use double-mattes (insures the photos don't rub together) that are archival and we UV satin/matte coat every photograph. This protects each photograph from harmful UV rays, moisture, fingerprint oil/acid, and the elements and gives the photographs a matte finish which makes them easier to view without reflections (Typically this application costs an extra $2-$3 per print from the lab) I pay an experienced person $40-$60 per album to assemble and use a very expensive $40/roll library approved archival tape only on the edges of the photos.

In my packages my Large matted albums with the re-touched and UV coated photos sell for $80/page including everything. So a 20-page Art-Leather Futura album is $1,600. including all photographs, engraving options, cover choices, assorted mattes, reinforced pages, assembly, everything. If you buy the album only from me I sell it for $800.00 plus shipping ($35). So essentially my brides are getting the photos in their albums for less than half the regular price! We only make a little bit of money on the albums when everything goes right and we don't have any major re-dos. I have had 'problem' albums cost me much more than I charged. In the end my customer got exactly what they wanted with the least amount of problems and headaches at the best price! A do-it-yourselfer doesn't have that guarantee!

Saving money by doing it yourself sounds good in theory... but it's like any do-it-yourself project, after you have finished doing the project the first time you then know enough about it to maybe do it correctly the second time but you still won't have the years of experience the professional has to determine what would look best.

Albums can be tricky... we let brides completely design their own album. We have a form they fill-out so they can add their artistic flair to their own album. (send me your address and I will mail you the form) The bizarre part is that even the most artistic and thorough brides create technical problems with their designs... some of the biggest being: image aspect ratios and album matte cropping and Horizontal openings for Vertical photos, etc. because they just don't have the experience to know the "tricks of the trade" or the design problems to watch out for.

What happens when you ordered a 5x7 from the lab which due to the aspect ratio of 70% vs the standard 80% along with the matte opening reduction the photos will lose up to an inch of image on the sides and maybe a half inch at the top for a standard rectangular 5x7 (you'll lose more for round, or other matte configurations) So now the photo won't fit in the album, so you go back to the lab to have it re-printed but there just isn't enough 'image-area' around the edge of the subjects to get it to work, so you either have to spend lots of money on digital editing to 'add' image to the photo so it will fit without ugly white edges or you will have to find a different matte design with a different aspect ratio to fit the photo... but the people you bought the album from may not want to sell you just one matte AND may have a minimum order, etc. How do you make it work? The money you thought you were going to save by 'doing-it-yourself' is now eaten up in project problems (assuming you have the knowledge and resources to solve those problems).

Many 'professional' labs that sell to the public have 2 prices, one for the 'low-volume' walk-in buyer and another for the 'high-volume' professional purchaser. Standard services to the professional are often unavailable to the retail purchaser.

Half the battle of photography is taking the good picture... the other half is printing it 'at its best'. At the time the photo is created there are lots of factors that affect the final outcome: film, exposure, type of light, digital sensor, type of light, intensity, temperature, colors, angle, lens, filter, camera, shutter speed, zoom, aperture, film speed, grain, ISO sensitivity, etc. And all these factors change with different brands and types of product, equipment and different operators. The same is true at the lab: development of the negatives, times, chemistry, temperature, climate, type of enlarger, processor, paper, speed, grain, contrast, filters, sensitivity, etc. and once again all these factors change with different brands and types of product, equipment and different operators. Many a lab has made bad pictures look good and good pictures look bad.

When I take photographs, I have the 'end-result' in mind... if the lab automatically lightens or darkens that photo to match their 'normal standard' it may be a completely different interpretation of what I had envisioned often turning a dramatic photo into a blah one. Years of experience in photography and with my lab combine so I know just what I want, how to take the picture to get those results, how to communicate to the lab so they match that expectation and when to demand a re-do or correction.

Great Wedding Photography isn't just about taking Great pictures it requires lots of technical know-how, skill and experience. I can look at 600 photos from a wedding and determine which photos can be improved through cropping, editing, special effects or changing to B&W from color or to Sepia, etc. This ability helps move my work to a much higher plane than my competitors.

Unlike many of my competitors I edit, crop, and re-work the 'marginal' photos BEFORE we print the proofs... When one of my brides buys her negatives (after her 1-year anniversary) and pulls out the one negative from her 'favorite' photo in her album and takes it to the 'BEST-lab-in-town' she is often amazed, disappointed and surprised when it looks only half as good as the photo in the album... often they call me because their lab tells them they have given them the wrong negative. In the end they end up mailing me back that negative so I can send it to my lab to process so it will match the 'original' photo in their album.

What is the real value of the album? How much would it be worth to you to have a magnificant album from your grandmothers wedding?

IF the album is important to you then don't skimp on it! You would be better off spending the most you can afford on the best you can possibly find and have it done by a professional exactly the way you want it, because the years of happiness it will bring you will far outweigh the money you exchanged for it. (On the other hand, if it's not really that important, don't waste the money -- make a scrap book with poor-quality ink-jet prints!)

In the end it's often ones desire to be cheap that costs them the most.


This complete website ( and all content (including photographs and verbiage) is copyrighted and cannot be used without permission. ©2003 Dan Harris PhotoArt All Rights Reserved
Dan Harris PhotoArt, LLC (904) 398-7668
1124 Riviera Street Jacksonville FL 32207