Do-it-Yourself Treasures: Photo Books for Families
One of the first things parents do after a baby is born is start snapping pictures. And the trend continues throughout a child’s life. With a camera in basically every cell phone, a camera is always close at hand. But what happens to those adorable pics? Thousands of fabulous family photos languish in the equivalent of digital shoeboxes.
One way to use your favorite photos is to make photo books. New online publishing services make it relatively easy to design professional-looking books. Photo books make wonderful gifts and keepsakes, but they can also become a part of family life. Preschoolers, in particular, love books about themselves. Older children are also enthusiastic about books that bring back memories of a trip or a special event.
Creative parents also discover the educational potential of photo books. Research suggests toddlers make sense of photos more easily than drawings, and customized photo books can take advantage of this. Build a personalized alphabet book using photos of familiar objects. Create a family classic about Saturday morning routines or weekly spaghetti night. Design a photo book to help a child anticipate and adjust to the first day of school or the arrival of a new baby.
Family occasions present more opportunities for photo books. Create a birthday party memento with photos from the celebration. Give a teen or preteen a watch-me-grow book with pictures from a decade of birthdays. Or document any special event such as a school play, a championship game or a summer vacation. If your vacation includes a family reunion, use a photo book to introduce relatives your children will meet. Or consider creating a family history book that includes scanned images of relatives who lived before the age of digital photos.
Photo books also make memorable gifts. Grandparents, in particular, often prefer a hold-in-your-hand book to a digital slideshow. Even the simplest Web sites have a learning curve, so think ahead about gifts. For example, if you want to create a memento of the year, tag promising photos when you download them.
Once you get started, ideas about how to use photobooks to enrich family life will grow, just like the Web sites eager to help you create your book. Some of the most popular sites are listed in the box. Here are things to consider before you start uploading photos:
Password – Most sites provide a password so you can protect photos from the prying eyes of strangers. This is especially important for photos of young children or photos of children in readily identifiable settings.
Upload options – Selecting and uploading photos is the most time-consuming part of making a photo book. If you’ve already shared photos on a site like Snapfish or Shutterfly, it may be easiest to use their make-a-book services. Other photo-sharing sites partner with book-making sites. Flickr, for example, cooperates with Viovio.
Design features – Most photo book sites offer free design tools to crop photos, adjust colors and eradicate red eye. Some, like Polaroid’s My Memories, charge to install their software. For the money, you get a fuller selection of templates as well as scrapbooking and slideshow options.
Ease of use – Many sites offer templates so making a photo book is simply a matter of filling in the blanks. Picaboo, for example, makes it easy to chronicle a vacation day by day, place by place or even as a “field guide” to interesting sites.
Text – Having just a few words of text under photos may encourage an emerging reader. For older children, consider funny captions, memorable quotes or longer anecdotes. Blurb.com is especially good at helping readers arrange text and photos on the page.
Sizes – Photo books come in various sizes, from mini books that can be slipped into Grandma’s handbook to large, dramatic books for a coffee table. Most sites offer 8-by-11 and 12-by-12 inches as well as a smaller size that varies from site to site.
Quality – For everyday books, a soft cover and ordinary photo paper may be just fine. For gifts, you may want to consider leather bindings and archival paper. Vivio also offers a wire binding so larger books open flat.
Price – Pricing depends on the options you choose. Mini-books are available for less than $10; a large book with a fancy binding can cost more than $100. Beyond the base price, which usually covers a 20-page book, you’ll pay between 25 cents and a dollar for each additional page. Some sites like Shutterfly offer a discount if you order more than five copies, and many sites offer discounts near the holidays.
Delivery time – Allow enough time for processing — between five and seven days for most sites. Shutterfly has slightly faster service and you can pick up your book at Target stores.
Support – Most sites have FAQs, but some are more comprehensive than others. Some have newsletters or community forums. Check to see how quickly questions are answered. Try sending an e-mail to gauge the responsiveness of customer service. Is there a phone number for questions of last resort?
Return policy – Photo books are, of course, produced by computers, so mistakes can happen. Check to be sure you’ll get a full refund if there’s a problem.
A photo book can be a family project or a surprise gift you work on after the kids are asleep. It can be a spontaneous collection of funny snapshots or a carefully composed photo essay. No matter what you choose, a book of your own photos has the potential to become a treasured part of your family’s library.
Carolyn Jabs has been writing about families and the Internet for more than 15 years. She is the mother of three computer-savvy kids.
Photo Book Sites
Blurb.com – Professional-quality books designed with its software.
Picaboo.com – Family-friendly inspirational “idea center” with more than 200 suggestions.
Mymemoriessuite.com – May be worth the $40 for serious scrap-bookers.
Shutterfly.com – A simple path that’s a great choice for busy parents.
Snapfish.com – Selection includes a “picture me” book perfect for toddlers.
Tinyprints.com – Higher prices, but the “mycanvas” feature includes unique design options.
Viovio.com – Excellent quality and a huge selection of sizes, papers, bindings and designs.
Lulu.com – Free design tool and suggested themes with the ability to import photos from other sites.