Part 1 of 4: Making a photobook with Kirsti Stubbs




Being good at simplifying someone's story is a pretty niche skill set. But, then again if you went over to your friends house it's very easy to organize their closet when you don't feel connected to their items.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to show you how I’m helping Kirsti make a book. If you’re not into reading you can watch a conversation between her and I

here. Last week was the first installment of this series. I know that this is Kirsti’s story but the truth is photo books almost always follow a really predictable format so I hope you can apply some of the tips I'm providing for her below.

What Kirsty wants?

A book that tells the story about their big life change.


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If you're not into reading a long post here are the take aways from my first week that you can apply when making your own books:


  • Define your story - before you even look at your photos ask yourself what you want the book to say.

  • If your book is from a long period of time - try to define the chapters. It will cut down the overwhelm.

  • Once you define your books subject don’t organize ALL of your photos - simply search for the ones or the time period the story you want to tell spans. For example Kirsti is roaming through her photos from last December that represent that time period. She’s not paying attention to any other story lines because she’s only telling this one.

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Back story:

Kirsti moved during a pandemic, became a single parent and renovated a home. I’d like to add with complete and utter grace and determination but we’re talking photo books not bragging about our friends. Kirsti wanted to make a book that celebrated how she and the kids undertook this giant project and how they became closer in the process. Definitely a celebration book which is why we're calling it - Operation We Did a Hard Thing. But, the Reno isn't really an interesting story to tell. What she really wants to remember is breaking her foot the day after demo started to the basement they moved into and spent Christmas in, the business her cute kids started and how the contractor sat beside her kids during home school to give her little breaks.

Kirsti’s photo situation

Everyone has a way of photographing their life and projects. When I peek into someone's photo gallery I find that we can separate people in one of two ways - the person who photographs their everyday or those that photograph events. Wait make that three – or the prolific photographer who just photographs everything all the time. Kirsti had 10,000 photos from an 8 month period which puts her SQUARELY in the I photographed everything category. If you listen to our chat you’ll know that Kirsti mentioned all of these things which means it’s an important part of her story.

How we designed the book

Kirsti kept reemphasizing how she had 10k photos so I knew she was overwhelmed. The good news is that I don’t ask people to organize their photos. I learn a lot from my class participants that people literally freeze and never do the work if we treat our digital photos like physical objects. The danger of doing this is that photos age and won't print well if we don't tackle this task. So, instead I tell people to think of their digital files as organized books in a library - think Duey Decimal System - you are getting books out - not wandering the stacks to find a goodie. Why? Because, the automatic system for organizing your photos is already perfect - it’s organized by the date it was taken. So all Kirsti has to do is pull up the photos she took during her renovation.

To make it easier on Kirsti's fight and flight response I suggested that she break up her book over the 8 months and think of them as chapters. If it were a novel the first chapter would be when she moved in - second chapter would be breaking her foot, reno talk and demo - third chapter is more reno progress, the blooming friendship with their contractors and Christmas in the basement - fourth chapter work being done, kids homeschools etc.

The secondary, yet primary, storyline is what the book is really about - her family discovering Prince Edward County and their new home. Because the photos of the actual reno are boring, unless you're Kirsti, both story lines were important to tell. With that in mind we decided to start each chapter with a progress page so a grid with 3 x 6 photos. Our goal was to show progress but not take over the book with photos only Kirsti will appreciate it. The following pages will cover the life events that happened - Kirsti’s broken foot, the pandemic living, unveiling her secret reno project to her parents over facetime, days at the beach, laughs with incredible contractors. I call these gut punch moments. The images that you look at and instantly feel something. I asked Kirsti to choose her 10 favorite photos from each month that represented that month. I know she'll probably choose 50/month and that's ok too.

Kirsti's Homework:

Send 20 Reno photos for the first month of your Reno and your 10 favourite people photos that represented your daily life.

I know that this was a long post and if you got through it I would love to hear your feedback. Was it helpful? If you're interested in having me consult on a book like this - join me on an instagram live and I'll do it for free. When you own your own business finding content can be really tricky.

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