Secrets for making a photo book that endures


This is the sixth in a series about creating photo (and other) books to help you, your family, and future caregivers focus on the richness and significance of your life - instead of primarily on infirmities you might develop.

Last week's column talked about preparing photos and choosing the company whose software you will use to create and print your book. This week's column gives hints you won't find in the software's help screens.

First, create a title page including the book's title, the date(s), the location of the events (e.g., Prescott, Ariz.), and the author(s)/contributors. Why a title page? It will help everyone now and 10 or 20 or 50 years from now understand what the book is about. I also include the publication date (e.g., April 2014) and a revision number if I reprint the book to add more material.

Second, add page numbers. This is typically an option offered in the software. If you give other people copies of the book and want to point out a particular photo, it helps to refer them to a page number.

Third, on the first page after the title page, explain clearly what the book is about and what makes the events included significant. For example, if it's about a family reunion, how did the idea develop to do it? Was there anything amusing, surprising or unusual that happened in the planning stages? Who came and how are they related?

Fourth, identify each person in each photo by full name at least in the caption of the first photo in which they appear. Then use given names (first names) rather than relational names. That is, pictures including Marianne Appleworth would give her full name with the first photo, then refer to her as Marianne rather than as "Mom," "Sis," "Auntie," "me," or other names that make perfect sense today but may confuse people looking at the book in the future. One purpose of the books is to help you and others honor who you are when you may have forgotten some of your history yourself; if the photo captions don't make clear who is who, the books lose a lot of their long-term value.

Fifth, consider the tone you want to set. In our photo books, only good things happen. If a child throws a tantrum at a family reunion, you wouldn't know it by looking at the photo book. If something embarrassing happens that would upset a family member to see in a book, we leave it out. We don't claim to capture the good, the bad and the ugly. We claim to capture great memories that people will be happy to come back to time and again.

Sixth, in addition to writing a label, describe memories the picture evokes about what isn't visible in the photo. As a simple example, for a picture of the backyard of my early childhood home, I might add: "When I was 2 years old, my big brother Peter taught me to climb trees, starting with one way in the back of the yard with very low branches. Oh, the thrill! The tree was out of view of the kitchen window, so my mother never saw. By the time I was 7 or 8, I often climbed 30 feet high in maples and beech trees, up to the rooftops. If I climbed high enough in a tree young enough, even my modest weight as a small child would slowly bend the top of the tree's trunk in a majestic arc halfway down to the ground, while I hung on for the ride."

Now the photo is no longer simply a snapshot like a million others of some grass and trees behind a small house. As the fox said in The Little Prince, "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." And so while the pictures in your photo books are important, the stories you tell to describe them are even more important. They are what will make your books meaningful and cherished for a very long time.

To tell Elizabeth your story, propose a topic, or ask a question, write to: Bewley's latest book, a collection of forty articles from this column, is available locally at Hastings and at Peregrine Books and online at Amazon. It is titled Not Your Grandmother's Nursing Home: Demystifying Today's Retirement Living Options.

Elizabeth L. Bewley