The ability to make your own coffee-table book is now within reach with today’s digital tools.
At one time or another, every photographer, professional, serious amateur or hobbyist has dreamt of having work published in a beautiful coffee-table book. Seeing your images pop off the printed page in an elegant, professionally created photo book is just a major rush. Many wedding and portrait photographers I talk to still get a thrill when they see their client reverently turning the pages of a just-finished album. For most of us, though, creating a book is still on the list of “things I will do someday.” In today’s digital age, most photographers don’t even have a printed portfolio; the majority of images are presented on CDs, DVDs, jump drives and other digital media. But many editors still want to see how images look on the printed page. Sure, we can create beautiful prints and spend several hundred dollars buying page holders and frosted acrylic portfolio covers, but it’s just not the same as having a printed, bound book to show off.
Well, what if I told you that you can now design your own photo book and have it custom printed with the quality that used to be available only through offset printing? Yes, that day has arrived.
Using the same technologies in the printers that we have in our homes and studios, commercial printers have now joined the digital revolution. For instance, HP’s Indigo line of printers (hewlett-packard.com) uses the same Vivera inks found in their home-office and photo printer lines.The market for printed photo books breaks down into two easily recognizable segments: consumer and professional.
Bookmaking from home
On the consumer side are many recognizable names – KodakGallery.com, Flickr.com, Apple’s iPhoto (Apple.com/iflife/iphoto) and Shutterfly.com - as well as some new players, including Blurb.com, Photoworks.com, PrintMyPhotoBook.com, MyPublisher.com and Snapfish.com. These services are all geared toward the photographer who would like to create a book for family and friends, typically to mark a special occasion, such as Grandma’s 75th birthday, a college graduation or a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
These books, however, are not simple photo-album products: they offer web-based design templates and downloadable software that take you step-by-step through the book creation process. The consumer-oriented services let you choose the format, number of pages, cover material and even the individual page design. Or, if you would prefer to have someone else design your book for you, most offer custom-design options.
Once you have designed your book, you simply upload or transmit the files and place your order. Orders can be as small as one copy, and some companies offer discounts for larger orders. Prices range from $30 to $100, and are determined by book size, cover material and number of pages. Typical turnaround is four to seven days.
One company that has taken advantage of this consumer trend is Albelli.com. Through Albelli’s website, users can download the company’s photo book creator, which can access image libraries via Photobucket.com, a relatively new player on the photo-sharing platform market.
For the pros
Several companies are going after the professional photographer market. AsukaBook.com, EmbassyProBooks.com, Graphistudio.com, Pikto.com and Pikto.com, Zookbinders.com all offer high-quality products and services geared toward the working pro. All of these companies work exclusively with professional photographers and require registration before orders can be placed.
The market for professional-quality coffee-table photo books is exploding. Photographers are producing books both for resale and for promotion. Doug Loneman, a wedding and portrait photographer in Bozeman, Mont. (dougloneman.com), uses Asuka Book. He finds that many of his clients, especially younger ones, prefer a book that “looks like it came from a bookstore” rather than the classic wedding album.
Loneman says that he is also finding new, more diversified and higher-end markets for photo books in his portrait clientele. A photo book of a child’s portraits as he or she grows up is one emerging product. Other photographers are finding that high-school seniors want books with their classmates’ photos along with their own shots; they like them better than traditional yearbooks.
Bend, Ore.-based wedding and documentary photographer Benjamin Edwards (benjaminimages.com), also an Asuka Book customer, praised the quality of services he receives. While most of his book customers are wedding clients, Edwards is also involved with a nonprofit humanitarian organization, Emote360.com, and is planning to use books both as thank-you gifts for donors and as promotions for the organization.
Graphistudio’s specialty has been a product called “The Wedding Book,” but it’s not your traditional album. One of the company’s notable features has been its patented binding process, which allows full, two-page panoramic printing with no seam or crack down in the middle. The studio now offers various books with the same attention to quality and detail.
What to look for
Whether creating a promotional book or a book for a client, there are usually three things that matter most to pro shooters: the quality of the images as they appear on the printed page, the quality of the binding and the cost. You want the book to look great for a long time, and you want it produced at a reasonable price.
Ric Kasnoff, a Seattle-based commercial photographer (ricphoto.com), uses Embassy Pro Books because the company is “invested in the quality of the product.” Kasnoff says that Embassy’s management has taken the time to understand the market by talking directly to photographers.
The paper used in a professional book should be archival, 100-pound stock or better. The book publisher should be able to provide coatings and finishes to protect the images. If you are doing a large print run, the quality control of the printer should guarantee that the last book in the run looks as good as the first. Stitched and glued binding is preferable to simple gluing, ensuring that the book will be more durable, even with heavy use.
Extra finishing touches are also available. Zookbinders offers gilding, cover imprinting and slipcases or pillowcases for each book.
The photo books generally come in square and landscape formats of varying sizes. Square formats start at 5 x 5 inches and go up to 10 x 10, while the landscape format, popular for portfolios, can go from 8 x 12 up to 13 x 17 inches. Some products limit the number of pages in a book, while others permit you to choose the number of pages that you want.
The cost of these high-end books ranges from around $22 for a 5 x 5-inch, 10-page softcover book to more than $400 for a 10 x 10-inch, 40-page, leather hardcover book. Discounts are available for quantity print runs. It’s also important to remember that most of the companies mentioned here offer significant discounts for first-time customers.
All in all, the above costs are a small price to pay for clients to have a professional-quality record of their priceless memories – and for photographers to fulfill their coffee-table fantasies.