How to produce a photo book with SAAL-digital
The Phnom Penh Noir photobook production. An exercise in self-publishing with SAAL-Digital.
Impress yourself! Create your own book!
During these unsettling Covid-19 times we all had to adapt to a totally new situation one way or the other. Personally, I had to make some hard decisions and life-changing choices for my family and work situation
What nobody could have imagined happened overnight. International flights were canceled and borders started to close.
I decided to play it safe, and catch one of the last flights out and pick up photo tour work in Amsterdam for the time being.
Here I was back in Amsterdam, my hometown.
Certainly during my cambodiaphototours.asia activity I went out shooting almost daily and then came back with always a few potential useable great shots.
Recently, I noticed an invitation from a company called SAAL-Digital on Facebook to create a photo book with them and they would even give out a €100 voucher to get me started.
I was pleasantly surprised that after one day I received the €100 voucher code into my email box that was ready for use including courier delivery.
Saal-Digital is producing high-quality photo products mostly catering for weddings and family celebrations. They produce besides photo books also prints, cards, and other consumer photo related products made in Germany.
Being in this awful lockdown situation for a while now, I felt excited and also stimulated to create something that would remind me of better times and I was a happy take on the SAAL-Digital photo book challenge.
I used this opportunity with SAAL-Digital at first as a proof trial for other future forms of publishing in magazines or other photo book releases for the near future.
So how did I go about?
I honestly had until now zero experience in creating photo books. The first and foremost thing to do is to organize the pre-production. In other words, make sure you have your selected high-resolution images in one folder curated and you should form a clear concept idea of the pictures you like to show and story you want to tell.
Photographer Cartier Bresson once said; “Your first 10.000 images are your worst.”
Luckily I had already passed this stratospheric number of shots a long time ago with hundreds and thousands of images in my life so far since even before I had started my professional and personal photography quest and work as a professional shooter from 1989 until now. But never produced my own photo book!
Set your personal Intent and Theme. Decide your Purpose and keep in mind your Audience.
Phnom Penh Noir became my theme and in my intent, With this, I wanted to create a homage to the people I photographed.
Using a photo style as in the black & white film era of the past. And the war photography I had seen during the Cambodian Killing field years.
My personal encounters with former war photographers and well know novelists in Cambodia were directing and inspiring me silently while curating this first edition of the photo book ‘NOIR’.
My purpose of capturing time and place
Images and portraits in harsh black & white from my personal observations, including the seedy nightlife and late-night drinking and lively wild bar scenes.
The horrendous poverty in the slums and former garbage dump where there is now some hope provided by the Cambodian children’s fund organization.
The brutal intensity of the Khmer boxing that is broadcasted every weekend on national TV.
The heroic CMAC de-mining woman clearing the countryside from the millions of unexploded land mines and rockets still buried in the ground.
The world and especially Phnom Penh is changing fast, the place is unrecognizable from 10 years ago.
I believe it is one of the purposes of photography to capture a time and place.
In this case with the ‘Noir’ photo book, I did it for myself and as a pilot to learn and experiment with making photo books.
But I certainly hope you like what you see and inspire you to make your own photo book.
The free Saal Digital design software worked very robust and gave me all the tools I needed to set up this final photo book.
Get to work!
As mentioned before I have no prior experience with making a photo book. Yes, I have some experience with design in Adobe Photoshop but the Saal Digital software is much simpler and intuitive to use.
To fully work with for example InDesign you will spend weeks learning and use the full extent of this professional tool.
I might look into those pro design options for my next project in color, but for this ‘Noir’ photo book in black & white the end result was perfect.
I had to prepare and curate the pictures that I wanted to include in one folder to get started.
The images have to be of a high resolution on 300dpi.
Selecting your pictures.
It wouldn’t hurt to have them all printed in simple 10x15 cm photo prints and lay them out in the right order and shuffle them around to get the real feel for sequence. This option sequence is digitally available in the smart preview module of the Saal design software.
To get properly started I made a Saal Digital account and downloaded the Saal Design software that comes for free. Everything was very easy to do and straightforward. No problems with the download, just a good clean installation and ready to go.
Mind you, I am still working on an almost vintage 2009 MacBook!
To be honest I was at first a bit skeptical about the whole thing, whether this would actually work or to be a huge time waster.
With that, on my mind, I just dragged and dropped my first images into the predesigned layout and started to figure out their design software.
The learning time curve for this is individual but if you ever worked with Photoshop and know how to resize a photo by dragging and position it you will quickly get the hang of it. Within a half-hour or so of messing around, I was convinced and smiling.
After that first initial start-up process, it was full-on production time and drag and drop. Resize by dragging the pictures into the right position and making sure to stay within the cut off page lines for the eventual size of the book.
This was a bit of a thing do manually; there is no auto resize for the preset pages.
In reality, it is very easy and a lot of fun to do. As you go along you can always backtrack or get a life preview of how the pages will look like and change the sequence of the images if you like at any moment.
During the design process, I saved my project regularly just to be sure but the software did not crash once.
That by itself is a huge advantage because I don’t like to struggle with my slow computer and software while I am in “the zone of creativity”.
As Steve Jobs once said; "The joy of making and creating should be fun and flow and not a personal fight between man and machine."
Saal Digital made it fun and I was certainly flowing in the creative process.
Including added text is also very intuitive and you have a range of fonts and sizes to choose.
For my Phnom Penh Noir book, I decided to only include a short introduction text block on the first page and use the full real estate of the other pages for pictures only.
Saal Digital originally offers a range of different photo book options. Most are targeting towards wedding books and childbirth themes.
I decided to create a Saal Professional Photo Book with the dimensions of 30x21 cm horizontal.
Saal-Digital books are hand made and come with a glossy cover made of acryl glass and leather binding backside. There are options in seven colors of the leather but I decided to stick to black.
As I mentioned my ‘Phnom Penh Noir’ book is a collection of pictures from mostly Phnom Penh City and the nearby countryside and slums.
The book is a personal testimonial to the amazing people of Phnom Penh from 2011-until recent.
After I sequenced the images and positioned the pictures, and decided to use the black background for my images I was finished in a few hours creating a 40 pages book.
Tip: I made sure to save the project for the last time and sleep over it before uploading my project to the Saal Digital server and checkout page.
Remember not to hurry and allow yourself to review, again and again, change images when in doubt and double-check your text and leave the project to mature a while. Step away from it for a day or so before submitting the project in the final version for printing.
Once I had done this and uploaded the project I was redirected to the checkout and payment page. I entered the Saal Digital voucher code and was charged €0,-
Thank you very much!
A day later I received the confirmation email for the order and the approximate delivery date. Five days later a courier service shoved the package into my mailbox, just like that!
Conclusion: Time to get excited or disappointed?
I am very happy and happily surprised with the end result. Having said that; Most people like heavy papers, I personally like the weight and feel of a luxury magazine, especially for this street photography subject matter. The pages here in my book are a stiff and can not be thumb flipped throug. The pages are printed in high grade picture quality.
This photo book is almost too elegant and formal for this street photography project if you get my drift.
The pricing is also something to consider.
The one-time gift voucher was of course fantastic, but the photo book I did of 40 pages was close to €94 or so including shipping.
Update: Saal Digital just offers a 10% discount from the software dashboard when I just checked my Phnom Penh Noir project. My next print run would be €84
For interesting discounts 10% up to 30% and reseller programs you can check here: https://www.saal-digital.eu/service/reseller
The Saal Digital photo books are hand made in low volume and the higher price reflects the premium quality.
Saal Digital is at this form not set up for high volumes at a competitive price for small publishers, buyers, and photographers but should and could be considered a tailor-made, custom individual excellent coffee table photo book option.
Wishlist for photographers and storytellers
Personally, I would like to see a magazine-like print option available for my next photo book/magazine self-publishing project.
For some time now there is a very popular trend in self-publishing for photographers called Zines going on.
A low volume of 35-50 Zine/magazines like a booklet to offer at an economic price. This should greatly be valued by photography students and enthusiasts wanting to publish their photography or drawing art projects in low editions like printed on demand.
Also, I would like to use the option for an E-book version and a so-called “Zine” product magazine line options. So we can share the finished product online as a browser like flip over pages experience next to the tangible photo book.
When Saal digital also would offer an online e-book version and a so-called “Zine” product line options, I believe they will be even more sought after by self-publishers looking for a reliable, economically viable and fun printing partner to share their pictures and stories.
I am satisfied with the NOIR photo book and look forward to doing my next project with them in color to experience the color printing and the images that I already have on my mind from Cambodia. Many stories to tell.
Your own photo book is a great way to actually use your best images out of the digital confinement. To see, feel touch or even smell and enjoy a real photo book in your own hands is a very satisfactory experience.