More on creating a School Yearbook: planning for the Year

Thanks to Penelope in the Philippines for prompting us for more ideas about making a great high school yearbook.

Perhaps the best yearbook ever made would be one that involves everyone in your school collaboratively capturing images and choosing the very best images at the end of the year. Digital technologies make this a real possibility, but putting together a great yearbook still requires planning.

We sympathize with planning problem – just last night we held a party to commemorate a new Exclaim web site – – and, as we were thanking everyone with bottles of photo-labeled wine and photo-engraved crystals, we looked around and realized that no one had a camera. I had even left my cell phone in the car.

So much for the perfect world, but you can enlist students and staff at your school in the beginning of the year so that your yearbook task at the end will be more productive and enjoyable.

Organize early
Assemble a committee (or multiple committees!) to design the yearbook and submit ideas. Committees are great for yacking about ideas and generating enthusiasm, which is exactly what you want at the beginning of the yearbook process. The main goal at your first yearbook committee meeting is to encourage everyone to think about the yearbook throughout the year. Your design ideas will probably change completely by year end, and, if your committee is like most committees, only the true believers will remain by then. However, your first meeting will kick off the process of taking pictures to document your year

You have one over-riding goal: make sure people are taking pictures at every event so you have plenty of representative and high-quality images to choose from later. Camera phones and the popularity of small digital cameras will help your students take multiple images of everything. Don’t underestimate camera phones either: the new two and three megapixel phones take excellent, printable photos, and VGA and 1.3 megapixel images can be used for small illustrations or in photo collages to describe an event or tell a story.

What to depict
A yearbook is all about people. When you flip through it years from now, you’ll want to remember people as they were. You will peer at those pictures and look for clues about the real nature of the people you used to see every day. With that in mind, focus on the people and look for genuine, natural images.

Don’t worry about “quality.”
This may surprise your students. Most people don’t really enjoy looking at posed, perfectly-framed shots of students smiling on queue. Those images lack authentic emotion and don’t tell us much about the people depicted. Instead, go for quantity: you will find among a sequence of images one or two good, interesting photos. You can always crop and manipulate the image later, too.

Assign a member of every team, club and class to be the official photographer for that organization. (That’s one more thing they can put on their college resume: “Team Photographer.”) Their job is not only to get pictures of that activity, but to get a photo of everyone who participated. At the end of the year, you want to make sure that you don’t leave anyone out. Sure, you’ll have their official photo, but a great yearbook will also have pictures of people doing interesting things.

Obscure facts
What would people find interesting about your school or the people in it? Do you have a student who lives another life outside of school as a concert pianist? Do you have students who volunteer at something that is not related to the school? Was your school founded by gypsies? Get pictures! Your readers will enjoy learning things that they didn’t know about your school. Start the Obscure Committee!

Surprising Images and Candid Shots
Human interest first.
Encourage an eye for the unusual. Candid shots are best and most interesting. I like surprised shots where the subject is looking directly into the camera – a face looking directly out from the page, a face that is candid and not composed for the perfect picture, is arresting and interesting. We make contact through our eyes.

Show movement: dancers dancing, runners running, teachers gesticulating. Even portraits can be made more interesting with motion. At the end of a portrait session, photographer Philippe Halsman would often ask distinguished people for one special picture: would they jump for him? Many did, and the images were often more interesting that the official portraits…

Jumping Duke and Duchess of Windsor 

Jumping Nixon      Jumping Marilyn Monroe

Core values
What are your school’s core values?
Do you have a motto? Are you a military academy or religious school? Does your school simply reflect the values of your community? Try to depict and capture these values. The nature of your institution may change over the years, and you will want to remember its character while you were there.

Every school has landmarks, but your school’s truly important geography may not be where you imagine it.
Sure, you want a picture of the main building, but you might also want to depict the water tower, the basement, the teacher’s lounge, a favorite pinball machine – the places that people frequent and might really want to remember. Encourage your Landmark Committee to get the out-of-the-way places as well as your Tower of Learning.

The Seasons
People and landscapes change over the year. Tell that story with sequences of different haircuts and of landscapes in wind, rain, snow and sunshine. Establish interim dates to get your committees together to remind them that a whole new season and a new series of activities is about to begin. 

Since students today may spending as much time with keyboards as books, a few screen shots of emails, IM conversation and the school web site and online activities would be representative today.

Gathering Images on dotPhoto
You can give your committees a communal place to put their photos on dotPhoto by establishing albums for each activity, and then turning on “guest uploads” in each album. This will enable committee members to upload to the album, but they will not be able to edit or delete images. Of course, there can be abuse of this privilege because anyone can upload images, but you will still control every aspect of the account, and you can delete images or remove this privilege if things get out of hand.

To turn on guest uploads for any album, go to the album settings screen, and click on “Allow Guest Uploads.”

Alternatively, you can create multiple accounts for groups, and download images from those accounts when you want them. This would also enable camera phones to upload directly to each dotPhoto account. (dotPhoto does not currently allow multiple camera phones to upload to a single account.)

Monitor your photo collections as the year progresses
If you monitor the images coming in, you will notice natural shortages and certain strengths developing. Make up the shortages, but play to the strengths, too. You’re looking to create an entertaining book.

The Photo Editing Committee
You’ll need a representative group of people to select the best photos and to
edit them.
Try giving each committee member one or two pages of design freedom. Why not let the social sub-groups in the school demonstrate their particular design sensibility? Online editing tools at dotPhoto help remove red-eye, crop and clean images.

Captions can be fun and interesting. Let your humorists run wild with your final photo selection, then edit them again to add back some real information. As long as the captions are not hurtful, your readers will enjoy looking at the photos and comparing your students’ witticisms.

The written word
Yearbooks are mainly photo books, but words can be inspiring, topical and evocative. Wouldn’t it be fun, for instance, to ask the senior class where they will be in 25 years? Excerpts from a speech by a distinguished guest can be memorable – perhaps you can request an advance copy of the graduation speech. In looking back at my high school yearbook, I enjoy the senior quotes and the words that students chose for themselves. How about choosing the most interesting High School “High Points” and “Low Points”?

Fact checkers
If you’re compiling lots of printed facts, you’ll need to check your facts before going to press. Ensure that the photos match the correct names, and even that student activities reported match actual student participation.
Yearbooks tend to become the permanent public record.

Make a yearbook “Show” and share it free to promote your book
Take the best 200 photos and create a dotPhoto Show that you can share online. (These are free to create and share.) You can narrate each photo by attaching a microphone to your PC, and even upload your school song as an MP3. If you create and share these free shows throughout the year, you can keep the enthusiasm going for the yearbook project. At the end of the year, students can buy a DVD to share with their family and friends on television.

Make a List
Unfortunately, most yearbooks start with a list and live by the list, which is why I’ve purposely left it to the end. You need a list to ensure that your yearbook includes all the seniors, the staff, and the school-sponsored activities. However, remember that your yearbook is meant to be fun. The more fun you have – and the more fun that you appear to be having in your yearbook – the more it will be treasured and enjoyed.

Look at Some Other Yearbooks
Take a look at what others have done. To which pages are you instinctively drawn?

High School Yearbooks 1959-2000

If you have further questions or suggestions about creating customized yearbooks, please leave them here!

How to Make a School Yearbook or High School Annual

UPDATE  August 2008  dotPhoto has imported the best book-making software in the world.  But don’t believe us, download the dotPhotoBook software free at and read the review:

In a crowded field of photobooks,
dotPhoto Books from dotPhoto
easily outshines the competition.

“The DotPhotoBook offers more features and capabilities than most other products on the market. The options in binding and book size combine with the nearly boundless flexibility of design and a easy to use book creator software to allow the home photographer to create excellent photo books. The quality of the materials used in the books is excellent and would match or exceed what you find in a bookstore.”

Free software download:


Last year, I volunteered to help with the yearbook at my daughter’s tiny high school.  Sometime later, the person who usually handled the yearbook retired, and then, a few weeks before the end of the year, two students presented me with a couple of photo CDs.

I searched the web for instructions on making a yearbook. Finding none, I put together this list of ideas that could apply to making any yearbook.

You might also want to refer to Print anything in a dotPhoto book. It explains how you can create any page that includes both text and graphics with your current layout software

Suggestions for creating a yearbook at dotPhoto:

  • Get a photo in the 5” square cutout on the front of the book.  This leaves plenty of room for signing autographs and messages around the cover photo.

  • Start by editing the photos:  pick the best and discard the rest.  Crop the best images.

  • Keep the happy photos – even if they’re not the best photos.  The quality of the expression will be more important that the quality of the image.  Memories are about emotions, and capturing emotions is the goal of a good yearbook.

  • Look for interesting sequences to group together:  the same person in sequence can tell an amusing or interesting story.

  • Sort the photos into logical groups:  teachers, staff, games, trips.  This will help identify sections that you might want to add, and will also create opportunities to create photo montages.

  • Every yearbook has some whimsical photos.  Try adding a few digital effects:  a halo, artistic effect or dramatic lighting can add interest.  Paint Shop Pro is great for this kind of thing.  PSP Free download 30-day trial

    Photo effects from Paint Shop Pro

  • Create a page or two about events of the year. Wikipedia is a great source. Your graduates will be reading these pages in 20 years with interest.   Wikipedia 2006 events

  • Student photos are easy to lay out.  We chose the 6-per-page layout on dotPhoto so that we’d have room for captions.  You can use the dotPhoto Re-arrange feature to put the photos in order, and then drag-and-drop them into the layout.

    Dropping and dragging student photos into dotPhoto’s 6-per-page layout

  • Photo montages add interest.  Start with a blank page and cut and paste the most interesting parts of your best photos. Re-size to fit spaces that you’re trying to fill in.  Don’t worry about creating a perfect page;  the randomness of the montage is engaging.

    Photo montages lend interest

  • Add a parting shot on the last page.  Pick one iconic photo or a group of interesting photos to say good-by.  We picked some goofy pictures including a photo of the yearbook committee in glasses.

    “Parting shot” montage on the last page.

Our students were thrilled with their yearbooks.  They were used to getting output from a color copier, which, given prices for color copies, was probably more expensive!  This year, they got a hardcover book with stitched binding that told their story, and will help them remember the friends, teachers and events of this school year.

There are several great benefits of making a yearbook at dotPhoto:

  • It can be done quickly.  While professional yearbook companies require months of advance notice, you can create and print a dotPhoto Yearbook in two weeks.

  • Since you’re not printing months in advance, you can print more of the year.

  • A dotPhoto book is all color.  Most yearbooks are full of mainly black and white pages.

  • Typical yearbooks today are $75;  dotPhoto yearbooks start at about $25.

  • Typical yearbooks require commitments of hundreds of books.  At dotPhoto, you can order exactly as many as you need, and order one more anytime you want.

  • You can also use the same images to create a dotPhoto Web Site (See My Web Site tab) or a dotPhoto Show about the school year.

Your best deals at dotPhoto

Sooner or later, we all want prints.  We want to know that we’ve got copies somewhere for the day that the world runs out of power or we can’t read our CDs or whatever – it’s just nice to have printed copies.   

We observe that behavior in our customers.  People pile up digital images and then, every few months, print a bunch of photos.  Here are two secrets for printing at the lowest possible price. 

“Bulk” Printing
Years ago, dotPhoto invented “bulk” printing, which is now sometimes called “prepaid”.  You buy the rights to print a number of prints – usually 4x6s.  Many people ask whether the prints must be the same image:  no, you can print 500 different images or 250 doubles or whatever you want.  You can use some bulk credits now and some later;  you’ve got a year to use them up. 

As I write this, 500 bulk prints are selling for just $49.95 or about 10 cents each, but there are also packages and smaller monthly print plans that are real deals.  To check out current bulk prices, click here. 

The Secret Best Print Deal:  lower cost than loose prints!
The very least expensive way to print photos – and far and away the best – is in a photo book.  At today’s sale price, book prints work out to just 8.83 cents per image and include the book with stitched binding.  Even when the books are not on sale, the price per image is just 11.77 cents each – it’s like getting the best deal on prints plus a free photo album plus having someone put the prints in the album for you! 

Here’s how this works.  In a cloth book, choose the 12-photo-per-page layout.  You also get one larger photo on the title page for a total of 229 photos. 

Incremental pages are even less:  at 99 cents per page with 12 images, the next image is only 8.25 cents.   

For current photo book information and pricing, click here. 

The easiest way to produce a book is to start a new album and copy the photos and albums that you want to print into it.  It’s easy to put together the 229 images you want, order them by capture date and print a book. 

For information on how to print ANYTHING in a dotPhoto book, click here.

Printing ANYTHING in a dotPhoto book

The problem with online photo book printing is that most web sites lock you into specific layouts. We all try to compensate with multiple page designs, but, sooner or later, you want to show something that doesn’t fit into a rectangle. For instance, you might want to publish a book of poetry, a high school annual or just a few pages of text among your usual photo layouts.

With inexpensive desktop software tools, you can print anything you want in a dotPhoto photo book.  Fortunately, dotPhoto’s pages print all the way to the edge (“full bleed” in printer’s parlance), so you can design whatever you want on a full page using software that you already know on your own computer, convert your designs to a JPG, and upload that image as a page in your dotPhoto book.  Your page design could have a collage of photos, text and photos, all text – whatever you want.

Here’s a sample page that I designed for the custom album of a small high school.  It included two web graphics that were “upsized” to 300 dpi, a photo and text. The page was laid out in Adobe InDesign CS 2, and the final print product looked terrific. (This example is sized for the web because the 300 dpi version would be too big to display.)

This is great because it means that you can use Pagemaker, Adobe InDesign, Word, PowerPoint, Paint Shop Pro – whatever you already know that works for you.  You don’t have to learn a lot of new web software or work with the sometimes tedious online book interfaces. Just design your pages with what you know, convert to JPGs and upload your pages to dotPhoto.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • You’ll need software to convert your original designs to JPGs, which we’ll discuss below.  (You can try it for free.)

  • Convert to 300 dots per inch (dpi) for best printing and, at a minimum, 200 dpi.

  • The pages in the dotPhoto “Yearbook” product are 11.5 inches wide by 9.5 inches tall.  Try to output your pages to that size, or create a blank page of 11.5 by 9.5, and paste your date onto the new page.

Converting your software’s output to JPGs
The folks at 602Software have a pretty good JPG routine that allows you to “print” directly from your software to a JPG; in other words, you’re getting a new printer driver that you use when you want to make JPGs instead of paper prints. They’ve been honing this through five versions and it works well, too. The only problem I had was getting the output to be exactly 11.5” x 9.5”, but this can be solved by creating a new JPG to size and placing the old image in the middle of it.

You can try 602Print Pack 5 here for free, and it’s $39.95 if you decide to keep it.

Converting PDF files to JPGs
Programs like Adobe InDesign CS2 are perfect for page layout and poster design.  InDesign will even export JPGs, but even the maximum resolution allowed is too small to print.  The solution is to export to PDF files, which allow higher resolution, and to convert the PDFs to JPGs.  There are many utilities for this, but some simply don’t work as advertised.  We like the ABC Amber PDF to JPG product, which works well in the trial version (the trial version adds an advertisement at the bottom of your JPG.)  It’s cheap, too – just $19.95 – but the company takes a few hours to process your order and send the registration key.  Try the free download here.

Centering the first-page image in your book
dotPhoto Yearbooks include a “cut out” that is exactly 5 inches square that shows a portion of the image on your title page. Since a typical digital image ends up measuring about 8 and 3/8 inches by 6 inches, it’s a challenge to get a 5 x 5 image to show through the window, but you can get close by creating an 8.375” x 6” image blank image with the 5” x 5” image in the center.  Even better: allow for a quarter inch “slippage” around the square so that no white space shows around the box.