Creating Narrative Photo Books

It’s an odd sort of paradox. The easier it is to show images online, the greater the demand to see them in print. It’s as though photographers have come to feel that while anyone can upload an image, only a real photographer gets to see his or her photos on paper. That’s true even if they printed the book themselves.

Today it’s possible to use Qoop to turn images placed on Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket and Webshots into one neat volume. Or we can sign up to Blurb and create printed books that anyone can order for a profit from the company’s online store.

But those aren’t the only dedicated options available for people who like to touch their photos as well as admire them.

A Brand for Beautiful Books
Albelli is part of the Albumprinter group founded in Amsterdam in 2001, and was the company’s first attempt to create a global photo book brand. The name is a contraction of “album” and “bellissimo” and betrays the brand’s continental origins — and its desire to be associated with traditional European craftsmanship even for a product as new as photo books.

According to Joris Keijzer, Albumprinter’s CEO, Albelli differs from Qoop and Blurb both in the way customers use it, and in its goals. While Qoop is best used for images that have already been uploaded and Blurb takes photos from hard drives, Albelli’s system works equally well wherever the images have been stored. More importantly, the books are aimed at families who want to enjoy their albums rather than at professionals looking to show off their portfolios or sell their images.

“At Albelli, we focus on giving families the tools to conserve their stories and share them in book form,” Joris told us.

It’s no surprise then that the most common topics to feature in the one million photo books and calendars that Albelli has produced in the last twelve months have been vacations, children and special occasions such as weddings and anniversaries. The books themselves are rarely sold but are either kept in the family or given as gifts.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be possible to sell a book printed by Albelli, and with printing prices starting at $12.95 per book, adding a small mark-up while still keeping the sales price affordable is simple enough. But Blurb still gives a greater range of options for commercial photographers and its online print-on-demand store — a service that Albelli lacks — means that the only risk is the time spent doing the marketing. Albelli users who want to sell their books would have to make a large capital outlay, then hope that the books don’t stay in boxes in the garage.

Tell us a Story
While Albelli takes a different approach to photo books then — one that puts the emphasis on the pleasure of looking at pictures rather than the satisfaction of selling them — the company is still attempting to fill a desire for printed rather than digital images.

“Online photo sharing is great for certain moments, but having a format in which to communicate your story and your life requires something completely different – and tangible,” explains Joris. “I can also tell you from personal experience – my kids love to go over their photo books over and over again, even though they can view the same pictures on our computer as well. It’s very easy to overlook the importance of tangibility, but that is really one of the most appealing aspects.”

And whether you’re printing a book to enjoy or to sell, the principles that go into a successful photo book remain the same. Eileen Gittins, Blurb’s founder and CEO, has talked of the importance of white space and narrative in the arrangement of the images. Joris offers the same advice and recommends using a series of images to show how change has taken place over time.

It’s a strategy, he says, that can be used even for the simplest of books.

“Rather than concentrating on how to take great pictures, start thinking about how to tell a great story,” he says. “For example, a great book can be made by taking a series of images demonstrating how something has evolved, and [by using] a spread in the book to show that evolution in six to eight pictures. For a book about a vacation, one can start taking pictures at the time of preparation – the packing of the suitcases, loading the car or taxi, etc – and continuing throughout the trip. This turns the book into a much more interesting, true story more than just taking a collection of unrelated pictures of the scenery at the destination.”

It’s unlikely that Albelli is going to make photographers a great deal of money. That’s not its goal. But it does offer the opportunity create to low-cost photo books that turn your separate images into a story. That’s a skill worth practicing — and one that can generate revenues in the future.

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