This is something that I don’t do nearly as often as I should. Ever since digital photography won me over about eight years ago I have been very resistant to going the traditional route of printing out a bunch of 4×6 prints from a trip and sticking them in a photo album. Traditional photo albums do serve various purposes. They are a way of storing lots of images from a trip or period in your life. Many different compositions, poses, groups of people, etc. can be included. But the trouble I have is that they don’t do justice to the really great pictures you take. The semi-boring (or totally boring) photos, which are often included because you feel obligated, are presented right next to the fantastic ones, all in the same tiny 4×6 format.
These days the best option is to create a photobook that represents a theme: An individual trip; a certain time period; a particular event; a person or group of people, especially family. You have all the flexibility in the world to arrange the photos in the order and size that YOU want. Small obligatory photos can be included along with your full-page breathtaking shots.
Many different websites give you the opportunity to make very creative and personal photobooks. If you are concerned about price you can often buy a discount offer from the likes of Groupon or other services. In fact it was a Groupon offer for Shutterfly.com that got me to create a photobook of our recent trip to Europe. It was a challenge to complete, mainly because I’m not too adept at putting something like this together. You literally start with a blank page, and you have to create something interesting on that page and at least 20 more. If you are not naturally creative you might find this daunting.
Shutterfly has a fairly sophisticated system for creating photobooks. I am fairly experienced dealing with complicated websites so I did manage it pretty well, but I think this one does a good job in helping a novice user understand what to do and what options are available. I’m not here to give a detailed tutorial on my Shutterfly experience, but I would definitely recommend that you give it a try at least once.
I would like to offer some pitfalls and challenges that I think you should watch out for. Here they are, in no implied order:
1. The coupon or voucher code. You may be using a pre-purchased voucher, such as from Groupon, but this requires that you create the EXACT same type of photobook that you purchased, or else the code will not work. My biggest problem with Shutterfly was that the voucher was for a “hardcover 8×11 photobook”, but although I selected a hardcover book there were a variety of cover types. ONLY ONE of the available cover types matched the code, and it wasn’t obvious which one it was (hint: it was the basic photo cover). This wasted a lot of my time
2. Don’t wait until the last minute. This goes for whether you have a time-sensitive voucher code, or just a time sensitive photo project. Plan to finish your project about a week ahead of time. This gives you time to go through a few drafts and reviews until you are sure you like what you end up with. Also, if you wait until your voucher’s expiration date remember that there are hundreds if not thousands of other people doing the same thing, trying to finish their photo books. This bogs down the servers and makes everything much slower and more frustrating.
3. Selecting and arranging photos. This is the difficult creative part. You may be putting dozens of photos onto lots of pages. You might want to make the book flow chronologically, or by some other method, but this might be difficult due to the orientation of the photos (vertical vs horizontal) and your desire to make some smaller or larger. You might want to pre-select and upload MORE photos that you plan to use, including some that are similar, and then you can more easily omit some if the arrangement doesn’t work out perfectly.
Most websites will give you plenty of options for placing photos on a page, with a multitude of choices of page layouts for different numbers of photos per page. Look at all of them – if you’re having trouble you may need to think outside the box and crop some photos more vertically or horizontally than you expected.
4. Think panoramic. Sometimes you have photos that really would look so much better in a narrow horizontal cropping, or panoramic format. A typical rectangular photobook is oriented horizontally, so two panoramic photos would work very well on the same page. Give it a try.
5. Save, save, save. Save often. You never know when the website is going to hang up or if your browser is going to crash. Saving every few minutes ensures that you lose very little in case something bad happens.
6. Not photographic. Be aware that photobooks are not made with high-end printing equipment – this would make your book prohibitively expensive. It will not look like your store-bought coffee table book. The photos will be created with small dots that are very noticeable up close. At typical viewing distances the photos are acceptable, but certainly not with the sharpness of a lab-printed photo.
Step up to the plate and try creating a photobook. You’ll be happy you did.