Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 17, 2017
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By the book digital photography

Make your own photo book

I have never liked photo albums. They always seemed static and clumsy, and even the best of them didn't really allow for words -- and they needed words.

Well, the album has finally caught up to the digital era: welcome to the photo book. Imagine, a bookstore-quality book designed, photographed and written by the creative you -- and affordable, too. It sounds grand, and it is. It's what we've been waiting for.

A score of Internet-based companies, employing amazingly easy and versatile software, have upgraded photography's ugly duckling to coffee-table book swan.

Photo books should be conspicuous this month, when the imaging industry begins to strut its stuff for the holiday gifting juggernaut.

"Photo books are a $100-million business in the US," says Kyle Hall, chief marketing officer of Photo Channel Networks, the company that provides tools and systems to most of Canada's photo-book makers, now including Wal-Mart, Costco, Loblaws, Shoppers Drug Mart, Future Shop and Chapters/Indigo. The Vancouver-based company accounts for 80 percent of photo book business in Canada, 80 percent in Britain and 20 percent in the US.

"In the US, it started about three years ago," says Hall. "It's a new thing here, but it's taking off fast. You show a photo book to 10 people and they all want to do it. It's like that.

"Basically, photo books are like retail prints. They're about family, babies, birthdays, anniversaries, vacations and sports like soccer matches and hockey games. We call these 'life events' and produce templates to showcase them."

Probably Canada's most ambitious producer is Chapters/Indigo, with a website devoted exclusively to photo books. The US company Blurb raises the bar still higher with books up to 440 pages in length and an online store offering photo books for sale.


Getting Started
     1.Select and organize your images. Edit mercilessly. Reduce your final cut to only your best and most meaningful images. Go for unforgettable.

2.If you're starting from digital images, you'll need to sort through hundreds, perhaps even thousands of shots, and select the best.

3.If you're incorporating prints or transparency images, they will need to be digitized -- either on home scanners or by sending them out to a photo-finisher. Don't underestimate the time it will take to scan them yourself or the expense of having them scanned; make sure you're down to the short list before you embark on this.

4.Basic imaging software makes it possible to restore old photographs surprisingly well.

For my first photo book, Scraps of Time, my starting point was a shopping bag of damaged family prints dating back to 1860. I added some visual unity by sepia-toning the lot.

I worked from Kodachrome transparencies shot between 35 and 40 years ago for my second book, Golden Boy, covering the first five years of my son's life.


Choosing a Publisher
     1.Determine the type of project you want to create. Most photo book publishers offer everything from a small, inexpensive Brag Book up to a coffee table-sized hardcover. Prices can vary greatly, based on the size of the pages, the quality of the album cover and the total number of pages.

2.Depending on your taste and on the type of album you have in mind (baby, wedding, travel, family history, etc), you may want to choose a publisher which offers colourful "theme" backgrounds on which your photos will appear. Most will also offer plain white or black pages.

3.Some publishers offer more variety in their page templates (that is, the position of photos and text on the page) than others, so look around.

I chose the pioneering Shutterfly because, at the time, it offered the most choice in formats and layouts.

Its books range from pocket-sized 4" x 4" Brag Books to top-of-the-line 12" x 12" Memory Books with montage covers and up to 100 pages in length. I opted for the latter to emulate the feel of a big, old-fashioned family scrapbook.

The company's best-seller is the 8.5" x 11" Classic Book. It's ideal for travel photos. Its cover, with a die-cut window for a showcase image, comes in cloth, leather, satin or suede.


How It Works
     1.You will need to upload your digital images into the company's website or onto software downloaded from their website.

2.With Shutterfly, a "drag-and-drop" feature makes for easy access to layouts and templates accommodating up to 15 images per page. This is where the magic of the medium kicks in: I could crop images to suit the layout. Drag-and-drop made it fun to create, revisit and change layouts. I moved pages effortlessly, and added pages as I needed them.

3.You can select the photo captions or text in the typeface of your choice. After my layouts were complete, I tackled text--the single greatest challenge in making a photo book. Make a careful estimate of how long you think it will take to write the text -- then triple it.

One drawback is the absence of a spell-check function. I proof-read each page a dozen times and still found embarrassing spelling gaffes.


In the Trenches
In Scraps of Time, I worked with facts and family anecdotes covering 107 years from 1860 to 1967. The elasticity of the medium allowed me to incorporate large blocks and full pages of text.

My grandmother and grandfather had each been one of 10, resulting in large-scale family portraits. I gave them full-page respect in Scraps of Time. For shots of my father leaping off the rooftop of a Toronto house into a snow bank, I chose a layout of two sloping verticals to emphasize action.

Every so often, I deviated from the sepia format. I left quaintly hand-tinted prints just as they were. To emphasize the vitality that the movies brought to my uneventful boyhood, I included a page of 1950s movie posters in full colour.

In complete contrast, Golden Boy is 100 percent Kodachrome. Although shot decades ago on my beloved Kodak transparency film, the images fully retained their vibrant hues. I made the most of it with large-scale images and double-page spreads.

In focussing on journeys to the Atlantic Provinces and Europe, I mixed and melded family and travel shots. One of my juxtapositions was Florence's Ponte Vecchio in a golden dusk and my wife and son among the red-ochre hues of Rome's old Travestere district.

For this photo book, I required far fewer words, but they had to carry considerable emotional heft and layers of meaning. Sometimes I was content to let an image tell its thousand words' worth. But there were more times when I struggled with every word.


The End Product
The photo books accomplished what I'd wanted: two sprawling collections of personal images found new life and new audiences because of the shape they'd taken.

What's more, the full circle of making a picture seems to me complete in a way it never had been: if George Eastman's box camera had so long ago given us ordinary people a powerful tool to tell our stories, there was always something missing at the end. The photo book fills the vacancy elegantly and eloquently.

The irony is, of course, that the photo book calls for time--the one commodity nobody has in the busy, busy, busy 21st century.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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