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Flickr delivers a book

Yesterday, I received a book of photos I had created from a Flickr gallery using Flickr's online book-making app. I was fairly pleased.

The process in Flickr

The process of selecting the photos and layout out the book was about as easy as it could possibly be, partly because Flickr has provided a very good online app for this task, and partly because their app has very few options. I've only used it this once and perhaps I missed something, but I didn't see a way to add text anywhere except on the cover. No way, for example, to print those captions that I had laboriously entered. Still, pulling the photos from the gallery in Flickr was simplicity itself. I reorganized a few photos, rejected some of the photos in the gallery, and adjusted crop or display on the page—et voilĂ : book! Hit the order button and cough up some money, and about a week later, I was able to present the book to my wife. (The book contains my favorite images from our recent fortieth-anniversary trip up California's scenic route 1. You can see the gallery here.)

The Flickr bookmaking app's storyboard view, where you decide what photos go on what pages. Just one per page, but placement and organization are easy. If an image isn't high-enough resolution to print well, Flickr warns you and you can upload a higher res copy or a different photo. 

I had originally uploaded most of the images to Flickr at full resolution. The bookmaking app noticed alerted me to the two or three photos that were not high-enough resolution to print well and I uploaded high-res replacements. My recollection is that I could only place one photo on a page. Centering an image on the page with autocalculated margins is easy: just click a button. Click the button again to fill the page with the image (full bleed). You can also zoom the image within its box. If you zoom to the point where the resolution is too low for printing, Flickr warns you. As I said, really easy.

My book had about 100 images in it, so about 100 pages. Cost a little under $100, including shipping. I think this is roughly on par with the cost of a similar book ordered through Apple or Blurb.

Like a normal hardcover photo book, my Flickr book was not designed to lie flat. Not a problem for me, especially given the reasonable price.

The quality

The quality of the Flickr book is pretty good. All the images had been processed on my color-calibrated computer and uploaded to Flickr in sRGB colorspace, so I wasn't surprised that the colors in the book were accurate, but I was pleased nevertheless. I've occasionally had bad experiences with other publishers. The book is hard cover, with a dust jacket, and the pages are reasonably thick. The images are printed with no smearing and good detail. Again, on a par with the experience I've had ordering books from, say, Blurb.

Why a book?

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. If you want to have access to your photos in the future, print them. Do not count on being able to access today's digital images easily—or at all—in thirty or forty years. If you want your photos to last, print them.

There isn't any question that the best way to print your photos is individually, on high-quality photo paper. Print large—8" x 10", 13" x 19" or larger—and then frame your photos. That's the way to do it right, especially for individual images.

But if you have a lot of photos on the same theme—say, from a birthday or wedding or a family vacation—a book is a very reasonable option. Here again, making (or ordering) individual prints and placing them into a photo album is the way to get the best quality.

But a printed and bound book has significant advantages. Ordering a book from Flickr (or Blurb, or Apple or Snapfish etc.) is like going to a local casual restaurant for dinner. It's convenient and easy, you'll probably have lots of options especially regarding sizing of images, and the results will be satisfying. The printed and bound book looks nice on your shelf. This wasn't really an option with Flickr but with most other book-making services, you'll have the option of printing your photos at different sizes, including sizes that aren't on the usual photo-paper size menu. For example, I like to put my images online with a 16:9 aspect ratio. They look good on computer monitors. Now 16:9 isn't a normal photo paper size and I often have to recrop when making individual prints. But Flickr's bookmaking app accepted those images exactly as I had prepared them for on-screen display and they look fine in the book.

I should add that making high-quality framed prints is likely to emphasize the weaknesses of weak images, and everybody takes weak photos. Putting photos into a book is way to blend the weaker images in with the stronger ones. The interest you have in the story will carry the images, where an individual framed print needs to stand on its own.

So the individual framed or matted print is the best way to view individual images. But a printed and bound book is a convenient way to get a durable collection of a group of photos. If you use Flickr, give their book-making service a try. It's not better than the best of the competition in this class, but it's darned convenient.

A handful of books for clients (mostly brides) and for myself or my family. This pile includes books created through Blurb, Apple, Snapfish, and other providers. On the bottom of the pile: an old-fashioned photo album containing prints that have been manually inserted on pages. A printed and bound book won't display your best photos as beautifully as an individual framed print, but books are easy, convenient and durable.


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