Photobook Adventures (and advice)

Spoiler Alert: If you are my father or someone who knows my parents – stop reading now! You can read this after Christmas.

I’ve slowly become aware of the existence of photo books, but for a long time saw them as an oddity, and kind of egocentric. But eventually, after seeing some well-made ones of specific events, and watching people pour over them, my attitude began to shift. I also noticed that I rarely went through either my old photo albums, which had a discouraging habit of dropping photos because the glue holding them had dried, or looking at my picture files on my computer. And some pictures I just didn’t want to put up on Flickr, even keeping them private. Plus, my parents (the intended recipients) are more book-oriented, The thought of a photo book for my parents slowly emerged, and I decided to make one. Simple, right? As you will read, not-so-much!

My previous experience with book publishing sent me to photobook-publishing site,

Lulu Photobook
Lulu Photobook

There are three things to notice:

  1. The ‘tray’ at the bottom contains the already-created pages (I made many before …)
  2. The page layouts available only sometimes allow text
  3. The photos can be found and chosen from the field on the upper right (and searching for the one I wanted was annoying in this small space which took time for each grouping to load.)

You can see, if you have really good eyes, that some of the photos have small yellow triangles on the upper left. This means they won’t look good when published. After asking friends, I discovered this meant the dpi was too low, whatever that means;-> My husband informed me that my photos had to have a dpi of 300 or above, (whatever …) So I went to some old Photoshop software from years ago and tried to re-save the pictures. Didn’t work. These were pre-digital photos. I knew the paper originals were somewhere, which led me to the next time-expanding steps: scanning!

I pulled out our old, falling apart hard-copy photo albums and started scanning at 300 dpi, but soon changed to 400 dpi because I read somewhere that the photo book pictures should be between 300 and 600 dpi, and decided to go up a little rather than stay at the very basic.

Scanning is slow; you have time to think. I thought that I didn’t have a complete enough chronology. I phoned my parents and made up some lame excuse for borrowing their photo albums. I came home with a large shopping bag full of albums. I emailed their best friends and asked if they had photos of the four of them together, and was delighted to get some photographs in the mail.

More scanning, more thinking. I decided to put all the photos I planned to use in one folder (duh!). I remembered the pain of searching in that tiny, slow-loading field and had a moment of brilliance (if I do say so myself).

Great Advice

I set up categories, in my case, chronological, and numbered them:

  1. Growing up
  2. Courtship
  3. Wedding

etc. Then I put the relevant number at the beginning of every file name. Presto, photos in approximately the right order! Less searching among the photos because they were logically grouped together. See, brilliant!

Advice over, back to experience gaining!

I felt so good, I twittered about my photo booking. A very kind friend mentioned Scrapblog. Oh! More than one site creates photobooks! Who knew! thought the naif. I checked it out and was VERY impressed. I’m not THAT naive, so I poked around the site a bit. They are primarily for online albums, but they announced that they were now printing albums. After a faux start, I checked the printing page, and sure enough, there was a “country” field showing the U.S. but with a downward-pointing triangle beside it. That felt like enough research, so I took my folder of highly organized .jpg s and uploaded them.

Scrapblog building
Scrapblog building

Notice how much more flexible this is – I can angle photos, and add as many or as few as I want.

  1. The intelligently-ordered photos are in a tray on the upper left this time
  2. I can add text boxes anywhere, anytime, and backgrounds and frames etc. Nice.
  3. The tray at the bottom contains the already created pages and makes it easy to navigate.

I loved setting up my Scrapblog! I recreated what I’d done in Lulu but with more creativity and fun. I showed the finished online version to my husband, and he was impressed! (Well, he had to be, didn’t he?) But no, he really was!

I went to the printing page, and began to fill out all the fields, feeling proud of myself, and virtuous because it wasn’t quite the last minute. I got to the country field. I clicked on the downward-pointing triangle. Nothing happened. Maybe that was connected with the state field only offering American states, I thought, and tried again. This got old quickly so I searched for the contact information. It was after business hours on a Friday, but what the heck, this is a hobby site, I tried to phone. Left a message. I emailed. Monday, mid-morning, I called. Left another message. Emailed again asking for a work-around. Monday, late afternoon, got an email explaining that the printing option was new and they would, sometime in the future, be expanding to other countries. They suggested I get some one in the States to order my printed scrapblog and mail it to me. I suggested they should mention somewhere that the printed option is only available in the States currently.

I thought of the daughter of someone I know, then looked at the calendar to see how close we were to Christmas. Swore. Swore some more. I thought of the amazing collection of knowledge and talent in the professional organization I belonged to, Halton-Peel Communicators Association, and Google-Grouped them. Within a very few hours, I was given probably 8 recommendations, including a graphic designer offering to do it for a third of his usual hourly fee! Very kind, but I was determined to manage on my own. I was delighted and impressed with the number of suggestions; there are a lot of photo book applications out there. I began to do the first thing I should have done after I decided I wanted to make a photo book. I researched and compared. I finalized on two.

I really like the look of the Blurb site. I’ve found that the evidence of good design on the website often indicates the good design of the application. (I’m a Mac user, so you see where this belief comes from;->!) I checked out the printing and delivery dates, and felt it was a pretty tight squeeze, and if Murphy’s Law intervened, I would be in trouble.

I finally went for PhotoInPress, which is Canadian-based, and appeared to offer equivalent or lower pricing and much more attractive delivery times. (Fingers crossed!)

PhotoInPress Website
PhotoInPress Website

You can see the price for the fancy version, and the delivery information.

You have to download their free software and then design the book.

PhotoInPress Book Designer
PhotoInPress Book Designer

This is similar enough to the others that I was able to quickly pick it up and create the third version of my family photo book gift!

  1. I’m in the “Edit Book” tab and it’s easy to see where to go for what.
  2. The layout is less flexible than Scrapblog, but a bit more flexible than Lulu. Layouts are based on the number of photos and whether they’re horizontal or vertical, and you can choose from a number, most include text space.
  3. The photos are stretched along the bottom, so you see more at one time than in the others, and there’s a nice feature where there’s a check on any photo you’ve already used, but you can use it more than once, if you want.
  4. Moving around in the book after creating it is a little klutzy – you have to go in sequence – but it’s clear.

So I made my order two days ago and paid for it with PayPal, and now I wait. I hope to get my copies next week.

I’ll let you know what happens.

6 thoughts on “Photobook Adventures (and advice)

  1. Thank you for posting such an excellent review. I’ve used only one photo book creation site and it was too clunky to inspire me to try publishing a second book. I’ll check out PhotoIn Press Book!

  2. Hi Kate,
    Glad it was helpful. I’ve already received notice that the book is in the mail, and that I hadn’t designed the paper cover. When I emailed back that getting the book before Christmas was my main objective, they refunded the cost of the cover! Good customer relations, in my opinion.

  3. Hi there,
    Very interesting post – I thought I knew all the photobook sites, but had never heard of PhotoInPress. Thanks! Since you’re a Mac user, I thought you might also like to know (if you didn’t already) that the photobooks produced through Apple’s iPhoto and Aperture software are excellent. I’ve used them extensively over the last two years, and in my opinion, nothing can beat Aperture for it’s design flexibility. You have to pay for the software (around CAD $199) but if you make a lot of books, it’s pretty amazing.

  4. A warning to anyone considering using’s Photo Book Studio software: I spent 5 or more hours setting up my project with the Photo Book Studio and was able to save and retrieve it over several sessions. When I logged in most recently though, all of my photos had disappeared from the project. Lulu tech support was able (several days later when they got around to my request) to make the photos reappear, but all my work laying out the pages and arranging the photos on them was lost. Lulu offered no explaination for this and said they were unable to help.

    I will move on and try another photo book operation (some of the ones you mention here sound interesting), but thought I’d share my experience to warn off anyone considering Lulu for their photo book project.

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