A snapshot of photobooks

Sites let anyone put their pictures together

April 14, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Ever wanted to be a published photographer, to see those pictures that everyone tells you are so great put into a book that can then be given an honored place in your home library?

Sure you have, admit it. And thanks to all those photobook Web sites that have sprouted online in recent years, you can. More than a dozen companies offer their services online, and most photo retailers (including Ritz Camera) allow you to create books online or at the store.

The basics are pretty simple: Take those pictures from your digital camera or scan other photos, and using programs downloaded from the company Web sites, you can design your own book, even adding text if you want.

But not all photobook services are created equal, in terms of price or what they allow you to do.

To get an idea of the possibilities, we took a series of photographs shot during a December 2008 trip to Death Valley, Calif., and put together three books, using three services. Although each offered an auto-layout option, which designs the book for you, we chose to design the books ourselves. After all, we're at least as creative as a computer program.

Here's a look at what the three services offer, the pluses and minuses of the available options and general comments about the quality of the books and the degree of difficulty involved in putting the books together. Creating a photobook is relatively simple. As always, however, the devil is in the details:

Web site: : mypublisher.com

Style: : Classic Hardcover (11.25 inches by 8.75 inches)

Minimum number of pages:: 20

Price: : $34.75 (plus $8.99 shipping)

Delivery time: : Six business days from order to delivery

Major pluses: : Blank pages at front and back of book don't count when calculating price; beginning tutorial is helpful and straightforward; offers lots of discount coupons and deals; even after ordering, lets you review your archived book online.

If only they could do something about:: Limited options - design templates could be more imaginative, and only 12 typefaces are offered.

The perfect photobook for: : The beginning photobook designer, as well as repeat customers (who can take advantage of the frequent specials).

: Web site: : blurb.com

Style: : Standard Landscape with dust jacket (8 inches by 10 inches)

Minimum number of pages: : No minimum

Price: : 0-40 pages, $29.95 (plus $6.41 shipping)

Delivery time: : Four business days from order to delivery

Major pluses: : No number of pages is too few; offers an online store where you can put your photobook up for sale; your dust jacket can include pictures and blurbs on the flaps (a service other sites charge extra for); quickest delivery time; also, there's a link that, with one click, puts the same border around all your pictures.

If only they could do something about: : It's nice to require title pages and end pages, since they make the books look professional. Unfortunately, since they count among the pages you order, it cuts down on the amount of space for photographs; the page templates aren't very imaginative, and often require that photos bump up against one another.

The perfect photobook for: : The budget-conscious, as well as those who think the whole world is waiting to buy a book of pictures from your vacation.

: Web site: : photobookamerica.com

Style: : Medium Landscape (11 inches by 8.5 inches), Debossed Hardcover (essentially, a picture glued to the front cover)

Minimum number of pages: : 40

Price:: $70 (plus $18 postage)

Delivery time: : 15 business days from order to delivery

Major pluses:: Offers a wide variety of sizes, including hard-to-find vertical photobooks (not so important for landscapes, but essential for books featuring a lot of portraits); allows customers to design their own pages, without using templates; when it comes to text, offers at least twice the number of font types as its competitors.

If only they could do something about: : The delivery time (sure, they're being mailed from Canada, but three weeks is a long time to wait); you can order a slipcase for your book, but it costs an extra $30; the 40-page minimum makes it more expensive than the other services, but you get what you pay for.

The perfect photobook for: : Creative types, who don't want to be told what their pages will look like. Here, the options are practically unlimited.

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