Technology can be a double-edged sword at times, and while these days there is a wider choice than ever of well-priced and good-looking digital photo books and albums available to professional photographers, Joe Public has also discovered how easy it is to go online and to order up their own product.
As a professional image-maker and creative individual you do have some serious advantages over the average person in the street however. For a start your whole business is based around producing great pictures and you’ll understand how to show them off to their best advantage. If you regularly produce digital books and albums you’ll also know your way around the design software and will know what you are doing in terms of creating a story line and a flow of images through the pages. You should also have some killer sample books and albums to show your client, and it would take a brave individual to look at these and think that they could do better.
Increasingly photographers who want to move up the food chain are taking a stance and are refusing as a matter of course to just let clients have a CD-only package. A good wedding album will act as a showcase for your work and your business as well as delivering profit.
Digital books are the most cost-effective option and are ideal for those photographers offering weddings on a reasonably tight budget, say sub-£1000. For a full-scale wedding album the sky can be the limit, but unless you really are targeting the very top end of the market you’ll need to keep an eye on what you’re charging to cover the wedding in the first place and then keep your album cost in ratio to that.
Because the market for books and albums is so huge we’ve decided to split our test into two and to concentrate solely on books in the first part. Prices here can be remarkably reasonable, meaning that you could offer a book as part of a wedding package and still make a good profit. Remember, however, that cost is not just restricted to what you’ll pay the book supplier: designing a book also takes time and skill and you should factor that in.
• Sara Reeve has been shooting weddings full time since 2009 and although she includes a CD with all of her wedding packages around 50 per cent of her clients still order a wedding album or book.
• Emma Meston, who runs Emmest Photography, promotes albums and avoids offering a CD-only package. The number of files clients receive on a CD increases in ratio to how many albums are purchased.
Premium Photo Book with Clamshell presentation box
My experience with PhotoBox has always been pleasant and I find the company very user-friendly. Having used the print service prior to creating a photo book, I have always been impressed with the quality and speed with which I receive my prints and the competitive price I pay.
The PhotoBox website is very ‘Applesque’ – clean and perfectly easy to navigate around with guiding prompts throughout. The user is able to upload and order anything within a matter of minutes, from canvas products through to acrylics. The company has put a lot of thought into generating a foolproof, friendly approach to ordering, something that I believe will ultimately serve to put more pressure on the remaining high street consumer print outlets.
Creating a Premium Photo Book is dead easy, with helpful videos and online tutorials if you should need extra guidance. With over 40 individual design templates to choose from, complete with tasteful graphics, it’s easy to create a unique book in your chosen style.
After uploading images into your palette, you can then organise them without fuss into the order they should appear. The main dilemma presents itself when you find you are faced with the choice to either hit the ‘auto’ button, (allowing the software to create your book for you at ridiculous speed) or to drag and drop images into place yourself.
Personally I am never happy with a computer deciding which images go where (as somehow they always get it wrong!) so in normal circumstances I will design the layout myself. However, the Premium Photo Book comes with 90 pages, which equates to a considerable amount of images (180-250ish) if you want to be even slightly creative. Therefore the time I spent placing the images in this book took
twice as long as any other, due to
the amount of pages I had to get through, thus making the ‘auto button with a few tweaks’ seemed the best way forward.
There is no option currently of less pages and it is for this reason I believe the book is geared towards the general public who have a lifetime to design their loving creation, not professional photographers who have no time. There also appears to be no trade price (as yet) on the product: food for PhotoBox thought perhaps?
When it comes to the delivery of PhotoBox products I have always experienced a reliable and speedy service, and this is definitely one of the company’s strong points.
The book comes complete with a stylish Clamshell box for no additional charge, which opens like a book itself. With an attractive padded finish to its matt cover, the book has a lovely feel and is the perfect size (29.5cm x 29.5cm) for a wedding album. I would have liked more choice in landscape and portrait formats, but this may indeed be an addition to the range in future.
The heavyweight paper (260gsm) in matt adds another tick in my book as I tend to go for a more classic finish, rather than something with added sheen. The simple layouts and subtle design let the images speak for themselves and don’t clutter or appear at odd angles like some designs do. For this reason I can see the simple layout of the book standing the test of time.
The print quality is punchy and sharp and I felt it presented my images well. However, as with any book, with printed paper there is no layflat option, so images are kept to their actual page and cannot be spread across for panoramic effect.
I was definitely taken with the Premium Photo Book and I believe it gives exceptional value for money, especially at 90 pages. It is finished beautifully and the inclusion of a presentation box is a big plus. Emma Meston
Landscape hardback book
What struck me initially with Bob Books (aside from the name), and has stayed with me consistently throughout, is the option of ‘choice’. From paperback to hardback, digital print on photographic paper to gloss coated on printed paper, they have explored all possibilities with the photo book and there are more options than I ever imagined!
The website is set out simply but informatively, allowing the user to quickly determine costs according to the vast choice of style and size. I opted for a landscape book with 300gsm photographic paper and downloaded the powerful ‘Bob Designer Software” (BDS) onto my desktop. There are three options when designing a book through ‘Bob’: firstly you can go through the online process using simple pre-set layouts in a similar manner to the PhotoBox auto option. However, working this way you still have to place the images, and there is no auto wizard at the house of Bob.
The second option is to use the ‘BDS’, which downloads in minutes and saves itself locally on the desktop giving you easy access anytime. Having never used this piece of software before I found it fairly straightforward to navigate around, enough to produce a simple layout to which I could add my images. My favourite tool was the ‘grid view’, which enables the user to place an image accurately for precise and even design when creating their own templates. I also noticed that the software has many more design capabilities, including professionally designed templates, enabling the resourceful photographers amongst us to elaborate on our creations.
Thirdly, for an extra fee you can opt for your very own ‘Professional Bob Designer’ to select and create your own unique design, potentially saving you heaps of time.
The ordering process with Bob is a breeze and, under normal circumstances, you are updated regularly on the delivery of the item. However, in my experience my online tracking failed to work but the team at Bob quickly traced my package’s whereabouts.
Upon receipt it was obvious to me straightaway why I had chosen the recommended option of photographic paper, as the clarity of the images is superb. It was printed on layflat 300gsm photographic lustre paper using a silver halide print process, (not just digital/ink jet print here!) and, for the uninitiated like me, this means your images are exposed onto the paper itself.
Like my PhotoBox creation, I love the simplicity of this book, which showcases images beautifully and it’s easily the best quality you can find for the price. I like the lustre paper, which keeps it classy and not tacky but I feel something more could be done with the cover options.
I realise it is a photo book and not an album at the end of the day and that Bob isn’t offering silk, mirrored or titanium covers with a choice of soft cloth and polish. However, from the outside it looks to me like a kid’s storybook I could have just picked up, which doesn’t do the print quality or subject matter justice. In addition the book comes with no extra presentation case option, which would make it feel a little special…
I like everything about Bob Books; the website, the software (which takes a little bit of thought to use!) the choice, the price and the product. I am very impressed with the print technology and adore the photographic silver halide process, which is the closest thing to actual prints I have seen in a book. However, this is a product that does definitely look like a book, which doesn’t suit wedding images. I would like to see more choice of covers and finish and possibly a presentation box option, so I can justify charging two to three times as much to my client. Emma Meston
Photo Productions promotes itself as a quality book and album maker geared up to offer an all-inclusive design service to its clients, matched by a substantial and long-lasting premium product.
The company has looked to distinguish itself from the ‘mass-produced’ photo book suppliers, by offering clients something unique in product and service.
My initial experience with PP was to marvel at just how easy the whole process of album designing becomes when you put it into the hands of an expert. Everything is astonishingly straightforward, from the choice of album through to its bespoke design, carried out by one of Photo Productions’ ‘in-house’ designers.
The simplicity and ease of uploading images onto your account through to receiving the proofs is apparent and a complete life-saver for the busy wedding photographer, dogged down for days over a client’s album. The design service was fast and efficient and from my initial upload, I was able to view my album proofs (sent by pdf) in just days.
I was pleasantly surprised to notice the design had obviously been thought through and created by a design specialist (aka human being) rather than a virtual online assistant or ‘wizard’. I was relieved to see my images placed using a simple but contemporary design without over-clutter (I chose Classico style), with the colours matching one other perfectly in a very complementary manner. This led to just one design change, which had more to do with my eye for sharpness than design, and before I knew it, my album was in production, having saved me hours designing it myself!
The book arrived in good time, taking a little longer than the others I’ve looked at here but it is quite a different product, which becomes obvious when you leaf through the pages. It is also the heaviest album I have ever handled and this I am sure is to do with the double-page photographic paper ‘inserted with PVC for extra strength’ according to its specifications on the website. Added to that a full front and back bevelled crystal acrylic cover – this isn’t the sort of album you would pack in your case to show the relatives from overseas!
The print process PP uses is the silver halide process on matt, and whilst it gives an accurate colour representation I didn’t feel the same quality of colour POP! that I felt from its contemporaries. It may just be the matt paper but, there is currently no option of an alternative with Photo Productions, which could well change in the future.
Generally speaking PP seems to make one good product in a range of sizes well, but I do feel there is a lack of variety in choice of paper, finish and cover. However, the USP has to be the service offered to photographers as an ‘all-inclusive’ package, from upload to delivery.
Photo Productions’ pricing takes this product out of the consumer photo book market and somewhat closer to Graphi-Studio or the upper range of GF Smith products. However, in comparison with the top album makers you can easily expect to pay twice the album’s worth for the privilege of its bespoke design. This therefore makes the prospect of design, calibration, colour correction and delivery completely desirable and excellent value for the price.
Photo Productions’ product is impressive in quality and quite substantial as an album. It is not something that comes cheap but I feel it is in a different league overall from product to pricing, to the other books I have reviewed.
PP offers fantastic value to any photographer wanting to relinquish album-designing duties for minimal cost and have their work load lifted. Emma Meston
12x12ins Zen Layflat Impact and presentation box
From the good selection of albums on offer from Asuka Books I chose a 30 page 12x12ins Zen Layflat Impact, a new product in the range which is pitched as a more luxurious option with layflat binding and a choice of covers (genuine leather, animal-friendly leather or the new range of material covers). The Zen Impact also comes in a customisable presentation box, which includes a placeholder for a DVD.
AsukaBook is all about giving options to the user – you can design an album in many different ways which should suit most people – and there are templates to use in Photoshop, a plug-in for Indesign, an in-house design service and the company’s own software, Asukabook Maker 2, which I opted for. Within five minutes of downloading AM2 I’d loaded up my photographs, found the templates and had started designing my album – pretty impressive stuff.
On the whole I found the software pretty intuitive and easy to use. The overall theme is modern and unfussy and the software has the largest range of templates I’ve ever seen. Almost too many! There is also a nice feature to add image effects and adjustments, although I didn’t really use this. The range of masks and borders is kept to a minimum and you’re given a fairly subtle set of options, including the ‘Sloppy Borders’ designed by Kevin Kubota.
The software isn’t perfect – trying to adjust or tweak the templates to fit your photograph wasn’t the easiest thing to do, and I struggled to use the guidelines and alignment tools. But overall I was really impressed and it only took about three hours to design the album from scratch.
One thing I would suggest is that you choose your colour profile wisely and check this first, as once it’s set there is no way to change it. AsukaBook doesn’t deal with colour correction but does offer clear instructions regarding how you can review your images with the printer profile.
AsukaBook doesn’t offer the fastest turnaround for photo books – three to four weeks – but unless there is a particular reason why you need it back in a rush this shouldn’t be a huge issue. Designing the book and the whole ordering process was fairly straightforward and the result, with presentation case included, looks spectacular and will impress your client. I liked the fact that there is a slot included for the CD to be added, although this could be an issue if a photographer has decided that they won’t include this in their package. The book itself is nicely printed with laminate glossy pages and the brushed metal silk cover is very striking, with the couple’s name embossed on the cover. The layflat binding I chose meant that the book opened out nicely and I could run pictures across the gutter.
I really like AsukaBook and the whole process of designing an album was very simple. Its products and website look contemporary and stylish, and the level of customer service was excellent and felt very individual – you definitely don’t feel like you are dealing with a big corporate organisation. The books are produced in Japan, yet the turnaround time of three/four weeks is pretty efficient and definitely a timescale you could work with.
The only thing I would point out is that, without the presentation case, the book on its own would be difficult to charge a premium price for. Given the outlay in terms of time to produce the book and the cost involved I would need my client to be happy to pay £600 or thereabouts for this production. For a book you would have to say that this is rather on the high side, but if you take the entire package into consideration then this should be achievable. Sara Reeve
30x30cm Rubens Deluxe Lay Flat Photobook
Photovalue offers a wide range of products but its website and the way it has categorised them is initially confusing and not that user-friendly. I trialled a 30 page 30x30cm Rubens Deluxe Lay Flat Photobook Album, which has gloss laminated pages for a higher-end finish. This product sits at the top end of the company’s photo book range and comes with an Italian leather cover in Black, Cream or Brown.
At the design stage you can use Photovalue’s own album design software for PC and Mac, and this was easy to download and install. I was up and running within ten minutes and the software is good and very intuitive – you decide your product and size, and then you’re straight into the design. If you are familiar with Loxley Designer Pro you will have no problems navigating this software as it is very similar.
There is a good range of templates to choose from, and the software automatically has filled each of the 30 pages with a template already. I quite liked this option and found it did save time, although most of these templates have a slightly outdated feel to them and are set up to have a large image behind several smaller ones, rather than a sleeker more contemporary look. However, that said it is really easy to tweak each template to your personal taste.
There are some very bold choices of backgrounds you can use (although I’m not sure I’d ever feel the need for a ‘giraffe fur’ variety in a wedding album) and, again, a big selection of quite interesting masks and borders, which might appeal to the more creative album designer. I found the whole process very easy and the entire album design took under three hours.
The book is delivered in a cardboard protective box, which keeps it safe but doesn’t enhance the impression of value for the customer, which is a shame, because the overall impression of the book when you take it out of its box is that of a quality product. The option of a separate presentation case, in the style of the AsukaBooks or PhotoBox products, would make a big difference.
The book itself feels good, and the front cover is weighty and substantial. Once again a layflat option allowed me to design the book with pictures going across the spread and the super gloss finish looked good and added a luxury feel.
The album was quick to design and appeared good value for money when it arrived. The £400 I would charge a client for this product would give me a decent profit margin.
My only gripe with Photovalue is my perception of its overall brand – the website looks a bit low-cost, and even the name of the company is not one I’d promote. My dealings with customer service were minimal – a testament to how good the software is as I didn’t need to check anything. Sara Reeve
Taken from the April 2012 issue of Photo Professional magazine