Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Photo Books 101

The revolution in self-publishing has opened the door for professionals to create commercial-quality photo books for portfolios, promo pieces and leave-behinds


The only notable downside to Blurb for professionals working on a deadline is that you have to wait in line while your book is printed. Rush shipping options are available, but only after you wait at least a week for your book to be finished. After that rush shipping, my bound, semi-deluxe, large-format hardback photo book cost $117.

The book arrives eight days after it's ordered, well packaged and nicely produced. The photo quality is fine, though not quite comparable to what you'd get with high-quality desktop inkjets and professional labs, which is to be expected. Overall, the book is excellent.

Bay Photo

Bay Photo (www.bayphoto.com) offers so many photographic printing options that it's easy to get lost on the home page, which does list an 800 number, so I call to inquire about book turnaround times. I'm pleasantly surprised by a three-day print run followed by standard two-day shipping. Bay Photo clearly caters to pro photographers, and being able to call and speak to a real human being is helpful, too.

Bay Photo requires use of their Bay ROES lab connection software, which downloads software much like Blurb does. The interface isn't overly graphical, but it does pack a lot of power into a fairly tight space via drop-down menus. The nicest thing for many pros is that they may already have the Bay ROES system in place, particularly if they shoot weddings and seniors, and order traditional print packages from Bay.

Using the software is quick and professional. There are tons of options, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. And once you learn it, it's probably a snap. The interface definitely doesn't hold your hand, but that's what 800 numbers are for.

Making The Layout. First, you pick a cover. I decide black is too harsh for my portfolio's portrait content—though it's hard to go wrong with basic black—so I choose a softer cover called "dark halflinnen." Bay Photo offers the option to imprint your name on the cover, though I can't control the font options very well so I decide against it. And I don't want the portfolio to look like a wedding album.

With the cover set, it's on to individual pages and loading the images. For layout, since it's a portfolio, I prefer to keep it simple and just do full bleeds. That approach makes this step fairly efficient. You progress page by page, add your photos, and then add that page to your shopping cart. In the end, the order of the items in your cart determines the order of the pages in your book. This, again, is either easier or more difficult, depending on whether you're used to the Bay ROES system or whether you prefer a visual handholding layout. When my book arrives, I realize I hadn't considered precisely which images would pair best in a double-page spread. A visual layout tool may have helped with this.

I had chosen hinged pages because they're only 50 cents more, and figured they would be better and lay flatter. They are, and they do. Bay offers another service that hints at the pro lab nature of the business. You can order options such as retouching and color correction on the images you upload for your book. That's an impressive feature that can be helpful and save you a lot of time.

When finished with the layout, I choose paper coatings, page textures, premium 6-color printing (for $6 extra, why not?) and commit my order. The rush option is nice, but three days is plenty fast.

Impressive Follow-Up. The Bay ROES system never gives me any alerts about file sizes or anything else, so I'm surprised to receive a call the next day from that helpful 800 number. Turns out, I made a stupid mistake and accidentally deleted the book cover from my cart. I tell them the cover I wanted and I was back up and running—but only briefly, because the next day I receive another call about another stupid mistake. I uploaded one web-sized image. Alerts in the ordering process might have saved me a couple of days and their customer service a couple of phone calls.

When the book arrives, I'm floored. It's gorgeously constructed, with beautifully high-quality photographic prints as pages, and attention to detail in the binding and construction that's befitting a professional portfolio. I'm thrilled.

 

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