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Apple's iPhoto Books

09/06/07 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Macintosh

Link: http://www.apple.com/ca/ilife/iphoto/prints.html

This probably isn't news to the true Mac'o'philes but it was for me: iPhoto, the photo manager that's part of the standard iLife suite included with every Mac, has the ability to generate books of photos. When I say books, I really do mean books and not simply thumbnail sheets or individual pages out of one's inkjet. These are hardcover, glossy and look absolutely amazing.

The way it works is this: iPhoto has a grouping category similar to a standard album called "Book". A book can be laid out in a number of different styles depending on the content so there are ones which allow overlapping pictures for shots of people or even as specific as a design for baby photos. For my purposes to show off the better pictures from the photo trip I chose the "Portfolio" layout and an 8 1/2 by 11" size. "Portfolio" is a pretty clean black or white page background with room for no more than two photos per page but with the option of annotations and full page bleeds. The types of pages available vary on the layout chosen so while I'll be referring specifically to those present in "Portfolio", there are others. There are also softcover and wirebound books in smaller sizes such as 6" by 8" or 2.6" by 3.5". In all cases, you start with a default of 20 pages and can increase that up to a total of 100.

I selected a group of 150 photos which I thought defined the essence of the trip; things like abandoned vehicles and houses, grain elevators, mountains, rivers, wildlife, signposts and so forth. I then categorized them and started putting the photos into the book. It's a drag-and-drop operation where you grab thumbnails from a list at the top of the screen and drop them onto the appropriate spot on the page. Invariably the photos don't exactly fit the template so you have a choice of cropping them or reducing the photo to fit the constraining aspect. If a photo is cropped or zoomed too much and the DPI drops below a level where the software thinks the print will look poor, it'll throw a little exclamation mark to warn you. If the colours are out of whack, it's easy enough to edit them using iPhoto's built in editor although I did my colour balancing earlier with PhotoShop Elements.

There are several different kinds of pages that can be used from text-only through the graphics-only with various intermediate stages. All of the pages can be flipped between white-on-black and black-on-white. Depending on the colours in the photos you've chosen or simply for purposes of contrast, it's nice to be able to do this. Pages can be inserted where needed, moved around or deleted should the layout not be working.

By default, all photos have annotations of the file name, a title, a copyright notice and a short description field. For full page prints, I opted to remove all the text and selectively deleted it from others. Font sizes and styles can also be changed but I liked the default selections so left them alone. I did have a problem in that the representation of the text was hard to read so I missed a couple of typos I should really have caught.

Performance on the MacBook when I'd reached the maximum 100 pages was not bad. It was a trifle sluggish when flipping pages but had no problems keeping up with me when manipulating them.

Once I'd laid out the book and was happy with the flow and look, the next step was to click on the "Buy Book" button. This connects to Apple's site and allows you to select any final options and as well do the whole billing/shipping thing. For me, including shipping and handling to Canada it came to just under $120US. Not cheap, but vanity publishing never is. Besides, I reckon I'll make it back on not buying ink and photo-quality paper for my printer. For those who don't want to buy a book, there's also the option to generate a free PDF version of it. The print file is then generated and uploaded to Apple's website. Mine was about 55 MB so I don't really recommend doing this over a dialup connection. Once it was submitted, I then had to wait...

...for not a long time either. A day and a half later I received notification that it had been printed and shipped. Two work days after that it was in my mailbox. I have to say I've not been this excited about opening a package since Christmas when I was a child. It looks great. The linen hardcover is appropriately solid. The pages are glossy without showing fingerprints too badly. The photos all look to have kept the colours I wanted and are extremely smooth. I saw no sign of low DPI dithering. I'll be the first to admit that I'm an amateur at best when it comes to photography but this book actually makes me look like I know what I'm doing.

I do have some quibbles although they're within iPhoto rather than in the final result. When I showed off the book to friends, they all immediately asked where the technical details were. Where was the description of the focal length? The aperture? Even the camera model? I looked through iPhoto and checked the help and sadly it seems that none of this is easily available. You can check it photo by photo within the main tool but there's no way to bring it in as an annotation. I would have liked to have more flexibility in the layout of some of the photos. Due to some technical goofs on my part -- dust on the lens for example -- I severely cropped a couple of pictures and the available layout pages were inappropriate for them. Long thin landscapes were being reduced to a tiny mush and so couldn't be used. As mentioned above, the text for the photo annotations was tiny and mostly unreadable unless significantly zoomed in; I would have preferred either a clearer rendering or an alternate way of viewing them to avoid missing typos when proofing. These however are pretty minor.

In the end, the true proof is in the book and it looks stunning. Should you have a Mac -- I don't believe Apple's service is available through anything other than iPhoto and Aperture -- the results are sterling. I'll be using this service again.


1 comment

Comment from: Adam [Member]  

I should note that the Adobe products use a Kodak publishing tool that should generate a similar end product. I did try to use it but it crashed on me before I got very far and the integration appears to be quite poor. I didn’t go any further investigating it.

09/07/07 @ 09:09
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