Design Tips

It’s a Snap! Capture the Perfect Picture With Your Phone.

Smile. Snap. Yuck. Delete. Smile again. Snap. Much better! It’s now that easy. Gone are the days of waiting with anticipation for the development of film to see if someone blinked or your hand wasn’t steady. Whether you grew up using a film camera or you grew up only knowing digital cameras, chances are you are using a digital one now. And with the more recent integration of cameras on cell phones, especially cameras that rival those of compact point-and-shoots, capturing more of life has never been easier. And we love easier! Especially when it means getting you more photo options for your yearbook! If someone had told us back in 2000 that in just three years there would be more camera phones sold than digital cameras we probably would have laughed at them. Because frankly, the camera phones of a decade plus ago weren’t that great (is that a pic of a cute kitten or my hairy Uncle Jim!?).

Smartphone makers have gotten, well, smarter in their technologies. So much so that many people don’t even use their digital cameras anymore. But even though the cameras have drastically improved, they are not all created equal. And neither are we as amateur photographers. What might look good on the screen of your phone, doesn’t necessarily mean it will look great in print. So we’ve compiled some best practices that make shooting print-quality yearbook photos with your phone as easy as 1-2-3, cheese! (okay, that was pretty cheesy).

10 Steps to Capturing the Perfect Picture With Your Phone

1. Know your surroundings. Are you in low light? Is the sun directly in your picture? Take into consideration where you are, what time of day it is and where the light is in relation to your phone. Adjust your phone settings to what is optimal for your location. The better lit your subject, the clearer your image will be. Which brings us to our next tip.

2. Read the manual. We know, it’s probably pretty boring. But knowing what your smartphone can and can’t do will really help. So read your phone’s manual – or at least the camera portion. Your photos will thank you. And those in them will too.

3. If You Have HDR – Use It. High Dynamic Range imaging (HDR) captures three photos at different exposures and uses the phone’s software to overlap the images. Phones with this feature give you two photos when HDR is turned on – one with the adjustments and one without. Typically colors in HDR photos will be more vibrant as it makes sure photos are never under or overexposed. HDR is especially great for landscapes, portraits in harsh sunlight and when the setting has very low light. Just be careful when taking action shots; the camera takes three successive photos so it takes longer to capture the whole image. Movement can cause the final shot to look blurry or cause a halo around your subject.

4. Use auto-flash sparingly. Although a great feature to have, it doesn’t always produce the best pictures. Unlike a regular camera, the flash on a camera phone aims the light from the flash directly in front of the device. If the area you are attempting to photograph is poorly lit, the flash may wash out the subject or capture unnatural looking colors. And the result will be a blurry or overexposed shot. There are occasions, however, in certain light settings when a flash will really lift a shot and add clarity by filling in shadows and illuminating your subject. When in doubt, snap a photo with flash and without to test which produces a better result in your current setting. And always avoid shooting into bright lights or you’ll end up with silhouettes around your subjects.

5. Find the perfect white balance. White balance refers to the camera’s ability to adjust color to match what the human eye sees naturally. The color white looks white to us in any given lighting. Camera’s shift colors in certain lighting to better compensate for this balance. And since you’ve already read your manual, you’ll know if your phone has a white balance preset function that assists with lighting (most newer camera phones do). If you must adjust the white balance manually be aware that certain lighting may cause your camera to over-compensate by making the image appear blue or red.

6. Know your camera’s resolution. For the most part, the higher the resolution (or megapixel), the more detailed your picture will appear – and better it will print in your yearbook. Low-resolution photos will almost certainly appear pixilated in your yearbook andwe don’t want that! We recommend camera phones with at least 6 megapixels for good-quality printing. The max you will need for print-quality in your yearbook would be 12 megapixels. That will get you a photo that can be blown up across an entire spread and still print clearly. Anything more than that may give you issues trying to upload it due to its large size. Here’s a rough guide for standard camera phone megapixel numbers and size to keep your photo at in order to ensure the best print quality:

3MP = maximum 5" x 7" photo (okay if it's kept small) 6MP = maximum 6.5" x 10" photo (plenty big for candids) 10MP = maximum 8.5" x 14" photo (perfect for full page) 12MP = maximum 9.7" x 14.5" photo (full spread size)

7. Careful of That Zoom. Zooming in on your subject is great when you’re far away, however the resulting quality isn’t always equally great if you’re using digital zoom. Getting too close can sometimes cause distortion and blurriness due to reduced pixels. It’s good to make sure you’re zoomed in close enough to have your subject recognizable, but far enough away that you don’t cause pixilation issues if you’ve got digital zoom. Camera phones with optical zoom don’t enlarge your subject by enlarging pixels though, so if your phone has optical zoom, zoom away!

8. Keep still. This seems fairly obvious, but we thought we’d throw it out there as a reminder. As with all photography, the steadier your camera, the clearer your image will be. This is especially important if your phone has a slower “shutter lag” or the time between when you press the shot button and when your camera actually takes the shot. Since this can be up to a second or two, make sure you hold the camera still for long enough or your shot may be a blurry mess.

9. Don't Forget to Focus. Make sure to always use your phone’s focus features before taking a picture. Many of the newer smartphones have auto-focus tools and simple touch-screen features that make it super easy to make sure you’ve got your subject front and center. These built-in focus features make blurry subjects easily avoidable.

10. Keep your lens clean. Phones spend a lot of time being stuffed into things like pockets, bags and purses. Even with a protective case, they can still get dirty, especially the camera lens. Fingerprints are often the worst culprits of a blurry shot, but the constant rubbing against a pocket can smudge even the tiniest lens. Before snapping a shot, give your lens a quick wipe using a soft cloth. One to clean glasses or made specific for electronics is ideal. If you don’t have one handy, your sleeve or pant leg should suffice, as long as it’s a soft material.

Taking photographs should be fun. The good news is, many of the newer camera phones are smartphones and take a lot of the guesswork out of shooting photos with their auto features that take into account a lot of the above. But the better you know your camera phone’s capabilities, the better chance you’ll capture the perfect shot. We want every picture you take this yearbook season to be the “one”!

Climbing the Yearbook Ladder

If you haven’t started working on your yearbook yet, you’re probably not alone. Just because over here we are in yearbook frenzy all year round doesn’t mean we expect everyone to be. Heck, you probably just finally got everyone’s name correctly matched with their face. So we figured now would be a good time to post about the beginning stages of organizing your yearbook. The Ladder Stage! We know, we know, it’s not NEARLY as exciting as picking candids or deciding on yearbook theme ideas. But it is an essential part of the yearbook creation process and will make your life a whole lot easier after it’s done.

The great thing about your Yearbook Ladder is it will help you determine how many pages to allocate to each specific activity and section (portraits, sports, organizations, academics, advertisements, student life, etc.). It will also help you organize the sequencing of sections to give a nice flow to your yearbook. Even better, it can be used as a checklist during the year to help track progress. So many functions. So helpful. So cool, right? (We’re trying here.)

To get started, whip out that Ladder Worksheet (need one? download one here) and determine the approximate number of pages you are going to need in your yearbook. Base this on the number of students and staff members you have, number of grades, extracurricular activities, special events and clubs or organizations, you will be including. It is helpful to know at this point what type of yearbook binding you will be doing. Most yearbook binding types work in increments of 4 pages, so if you aren’t sure that’s a good increment to stick with. If you know you are doing a Smyth-Sewn yearbook though, your page count should be divisible by 16. Also, keep in mind the inclusion of things like Division Pages that separate one section from the next, Current Events pages and Autograph pages when factoring your page count.

Oh! And we suggest using a pencil. One with a good eraser.

Okay, so you’ve got the page count determined (or at least a rough estimate), now what? Figuring out what will be on every page can be daunting. But alas! No more! That is what we’re here for! We’ll walk you through the “how to figure out what to include in my yearbook!?” question so you can keep some of that hair on your head.

Below is a list of yearbook content ideas to help you determine what sections to include in your yearbook. We gleaned from thousands of yearbooks to come up with this sample list so if it’s missing something or you have an awesome idea for a section…let us know! We’re sure other schools will appreciate your insight as well.

  • Title Page/Colophon
  • Table of Contents
  • Divider Pages
  • Letter from Principal
  • Opening Theme/Story
  • Portrait Pages - Staff Portraits - Student Portraits
  • Candid Pages
  • Student Life Pages
  • Sports Pages
  • Clubs/Organizations Pages
  • Events Pages
  • Advertisement Pages - Recognition Ads - Business Ads
  • Current Events Pages
  • Autograph Pages
  • Closing/Yearbook Editor Page
  • Index

So how many pages should you allocate for each section? That is completely up to you! And completely dependent on what you are including. But don't stress. You don't have to have that all set in stone right now. The same goes for the order of your sections. You can choose any order for the sections in your book. That’s part of the fun of making it unique! But it doesn't have to be concrete this early in the game. For now,  just focus on getting the sections determined and a rough estimate of pages allocated. You can always change the order and content later, even after the pages are already laid out.

Yearbook ideas are WONDERUL. We’re full of them. And we can’t wait to share more of them with you as the school year progresses. Hopefully you’ll share some with us as well!

Fall Into Yearbook...

Land on Your Toes this September with these 2013 Fall Trends

Yearbook design ideas and inspiration can be found everywhere – in a world with endless creative options you are limited by nothing. Design trends affect everything – from the top fashion designer to the electronics in your home to the vehicle you drive. All embrace varying trends each year. So we’ve compiled a list of the projected Fall 2013 Color and Design trends across the country to assist as you design your yearbook.

Fall Color Report
Fall Color Report

COLOR CRAZE Color is alive this Fall and there is no holding back. Earthy textures inspire palettes of blues, greens and browns. Bold, quirky and whimsical colors like pumpkin and bright blue with lime and violet offer an unlikely harmony. Bright tribal tones inspire palettes that mix sandy brown, fiery pink, peacock blue and vibrant tangerine. Preppy primary colors and bright white are modernized with shades of gray—or black. Quiet moss green, cobblestone gray and Shitake brown combine with vibrant fuchsia for a sleek, brooding feel. Whatever the mood you want your yearbook to convey, you are sure to find countless combinations that will bring it to life.


Go Green Deep rich shades of green are here to stay this fall, and we couldn’t be happier they have been given the green light. This hue embodies the environmental movement our country has been experiencing over the past decade; so it’s no surprise the color has trickled down into everyday design. Emerald is Pantone’s 2013 Color of the Year and there is nothing Wicked about it - though it probably bears inspiration from that popular Broadway musical. Play up this vibrant color with different shades, or make a statement by highlighting an important section using different tints.


Shades of Gray As much as you’d probably like a break from the phrase, it looks like every shade of gray is here for the fall. Around AD 700, the first documented use of gray was recorded. The rest is history. So don’t be shy about using gray – use it, and then use it some more. Whether it’s to mix up the color of text in your book, add shadow to photos, or depth to art; gray adds interest. White space? How about gray space? Choose a gray background color; experiment with it. Have fun. After all, there are no clear rules when it comes to gray areas.


Black. White. Black and White Alone Black and White are very chic colors. But together they steal the show.  Expect to see both Black, White – and a combination of the two – this fall. The color Black is so rich with meaning and significance, both in popular culture and design, going all the way back to ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman eras. It’s classic and classy –  and a staple in nearly every closet (from the tux to the LBD). But Black’s opposite, White is just as important. And just as classic. White is often associated with honor and innocence. Don’t be afraid to mix these two colors when designing – fashionistas and designers will be taking full advantage of blending these two opposites in the coming months. Experiment with patterns and overlay to create contrast, distinction, counterbalance and visual statements.



They tiptoed their way into the design scene this past year and are on full bloom coming into fall. You certainly won’t find patterns going into hibernation anytime soon. Instead you’ll see the mixing of typically distracting and busy mosaics to be a delightful dichotomy. From Plaid to Madras to Gingham to Houndstooth; we know, it’s hard to keep them all straight. Check out Alexander West’s guide to patterns to help keep track of them all!


Plaid Perfection Plaid is not by any means a new pattern – plaid, or tartan, the criss-crossing pattern, has origins dating between 400 and 100 BC. Tartan is most commonly associated with the Scottish, and was used to distinguish clansmen from one another. Throughout the years British royalty have popularized the pattern and the pattern has made its debut across the world.  Whether the pattern’s resurgence is due to the rising popularity surrounding the Royal Family, Burberry, or an idealized version of a grizzled looking man in popular television shows – we’re ecstatic the pattern is back. Play up the pattern, experiment with colors, this is one trend you should keep in your bagpipes.


Floral is Fun

The second pattern that is trending this fall is floral.  Floral patterns first made an appearance in design during the Spring of 2012 and they’re still going strong.  The pattern originated in the east and Asia, and was a popular choice in the United States in the ‘70s. Unlike plaid, floral patterns represent femininity and beauty and should be used consciously in design. But don’t let the challenge of utilizing this pattern sway you – with infinite floral options available, get creative, let the design speak for itself.


Your Wild Side

Animal prints are infiltrating design, and we’re wild about it.  Long gone are the days where feline prints were only found on clothing – from nails to stationary, the trend is taking hold. Before the 1940’s animal prints were synonymous with wealth and power; after the ‘40s and the women’s movement, animal print clothing and accessories became a staple in closets across the United States.  Animal print’s beloved predecessors, Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe, would be pleased with the recent popularity in modernizing the adored pattern. This pattern can be especially effective for theme ideas with the right mascot.  However you choose to use this idea – have fun finding the purrrfect one (sorry, couldn’t resist), the pattern demands it!

Whichever trend, or trends, you choose to use in your yearbook, remember to take risks. Trends are created when people step outside the norm. They represent a snippet of culture. So have fun using them and creating your own as you get back into the yearbook season. And enjoy your first few weeks of the school year. Because like a trend, it may be over before you know it.

The Hype About Type

If a picture is worth a 1000 words, why bother with type? Using type on a page is more than just a way to tell the story, the type itself is a design element and should be treated as such.  There are hundreds of fonts available, with so many choices, it may be tempting to use them the same time...on the same page...please don't! If you do, the design goddesses shall frown upon you and corrupt your entire font library.

(probably not)

(...okay, for sure not. please, just don't do it.)

Fonts can be classified into families:

There's a saying that says "fonts that play together, stay together". Okay, that might not be exactly how the saying goes, but our point is this: when you find a combination that works, stick with it.  The fewer fonts used in your yearbook, the more cohesive the pages will appear. While it's tempting to use all of the fonts available to you, it is usually better to limit yourself to no more than 2-3 fonts on a page. Less really is more!

If only using a few fonts sounds boring to you, let us prove you wrong! By changing weight, font family style, size and mixing only a few fonts, you'd be surprised at how creative your text can look!

Keep it simple, keep it legible. The goal is to READ what you're working so hard on writing, right? There are a few things you should steer clear of with your type.

If you'd like a printable version of these tips, you can find them here, here and here. It's a great idea to have them hanging where yearbook staff can see them. A little reminder can go a long way!

Happy Type Wrangling!

The Idea Garden Team

See Ya, Summer!

It’s official: the seasonal sections in your favorite super-store have most likely made the switch from beach towels and sunscreen to crayons and pencil boxes. It’s back to school time! For all you yearbook peeps, this means one major thing: BACK TO WORK!

Even if you haven’t even started thinking about your theme, your page ladder or who this year’s editor will be; it’s important to be proactive and start capturing this school year’s memories as they happen! Many schools’ fall sports start before the school year does, make sure there’s a staff member who has dusted off their camera (and their photography skills) at those first home games. What about the first day of school? What a great opening spread of a yearbook these images would make! Don't stop shooting at "people", shoot places and things as well. You never know when a great shot of an empty hallway will come in handy!

How great are these "photograph" backgrounds with sports images? Use stock photography provided by your publisher, or get out there and shoot your own to make it more personal to your school. Notice that using only a few images on your spread really showcases the background...we love it! Get creative with your photography!



Using many images against a photographic background makes the details almost unnoticeable. Also very cool!  If you plan to use photography as a background, make sure it's subtle enough to do so. If the photographic backgrounds used in these spreads weren't faded back, the layouts would be too busy and hard to follow.





Enjoy your last few weeks of summer!

The Idea Garden Team