The Best of Digital Photo Albums
by John Rettie
April 21, 2014 —
When Apple first introduced the iPad a few years ago, some pundits said it would replace printed magazines and newspapers as the favored medium for reading articles and news. This premise has not yet been fulfilled, however, as tablet-based publications have been slower to catch on than predicted.
Judging by the wide variety of wedding albums still available these days, it’s obvious that a gorgeously printed album has not vanished in the digital age either.
Of course, there are some situations in which a digital album can offer experiences that cannot be provided by a printed album. Video, for instance, comes immediately to mind, as slide shows with sound can easily be added to a digital album. The ability for a couple to display images on a tablet or smartphone is another application that might be more convenient than hauling around a printed album.
If you Google “digital wedding albums,” you’ll find plenty of references to software and services, but most of them are links to ones that help you create print albums. Let’s take a brief look at some different ways of producing and delivering a digital album that can complement a printed album, not necessarily replace it.
Photographers are already producing image galleries on their sites, and most also use them for client print orders. Many couples will probably just show these images to friends and family, but professional photographers, undoubtedly, want a slightly classier interface. Photographers can create simple slide shows from within editing programs, such as Lightroom, Aperture and Photo Mechanic, but it doesn’t take much effort to create something more magical.
This online service is one of the easiest and quickest ways to create a professional slide show. You can make a 30-second video, which will present approximately 20 photos with an accompanying soundtrack, free of charge. The resulting video is saved on Animoto’s website and can be linked from your own website or through Facebook and other social media sites.
Watching Animoto’s software automatically upload images and video clips and creating a soundtrack that smoothly matches the transition from one image to the next is pretty amazing.
Naturally, any wedding photographer will want to sign up for the Pro version, which costs $249 for a year. It provides many more themes, styles and a choice of 2,000 music tracks from Triple Scoop Music. More importantly, the videos are saved in HD quality and can be downloaded for burning on a DVD or viewing without being online.
If you want to have more control to create a more sophisticated video incorporating stills and video clips, a program such as FotoMagico from Boinx will fit the bill. FotoMagico’s interface is somewhat similar to that of a video-editing program like Final Cut Pro in that it provides a timeline where you can transition photos and video clips along with audio channels. It provides a tremendous amount of customization in the way images are viewed with transitions including zooming and rotating. It’s possible to overlay a different picture with its own movements to come up with a video worthy of a professional photographer. Once the video has been created, it is rendered and can be saved in various formats and resolutions to fit different mediums, from a smartphone to a large monitor.
Mastering a program such as FotoMagico (which costs $99 and only works on a Mac) is not all that hard: it is the type of program that enables a wedding photographer to produce a deliverable that can set you apart from what an amateur might accomplish. Providing a bride with a creative video as well as a well-designed traditional album gives her the best of both worlds.
Delivery DVDs and Flash Drives
It doesn’t seem that long ago that the “future” of wedding albums was predicted to be on DVDs. They are still a viable way to distribute a multimedia album, but increasingly more computers, especially slim laptops, no longer include a DVD drive. What’s more, the drives—if not the discs themselves—have not proven to be terribly reliable. However, DVDs still offer a great cost advantage if several copies are requested.
Since the cost of USB flash drives has plummeted, they have become a more convenient way to deliver content, but just handing over a plain flash drive is not very professional. If you have attended WPPI in the past few years, you’ll no doubt have seen the impressive display of “containers” (for want of a better word) offered by PhotoFlashDrive.com. For example, the company sells attractive-looking wooden boxes that hold a flash drive. Each one can be custom engraved with your logo or the couple’s name on it. If you really want to get fancy, they offer the Ghionis Crystal Drive, which has a crystal glass finish and engraving with a frosted edge. What’s more, 10 percent of proceeds go to wedding photographers Jerry and Melissa Ghionis’ Soul Society charity.
Tablets and Websites
There’s no denying that from an image-quality perspective, the best way to view photos, aside from a print, is seeing them on an iPad with a retina display. The resolution is so crisp that good images positively glow. It’s no wonder that iPads have gained favor as a great way to display portfolios.
The ultimate way to deliver a digital album for an iPad would be to create a custom app uniquely for the couple. There are already several such apps available on iTunes for wedding planning. Some of them include the ability for a bride or groom to include photo albums. If you use one of these, however, there is not much customization that can be done and they will look somewhat generic.
Perhaps you’ve never thought about creating your own app, but it has become surprisingly easy thanks to numerous drag-and-drop tools that can create a simple app without the need to learn coding. I took a quick look at a dozen or so, and the Conduit mobile app builder was one of the easiest to use and also produces apps most appropriate to a photographic business. Most app-building software requires a monthly fee, but Conduit allows you to build one free for limited use.
By far the most distinct way to deliver a digital wedding album is to create a website; use your own or build one customized for the couple. The key, in my opinion, is to build a responsive website using HTML5. This will make the albums look good on a tablet or smartphone as well as a regular PC monitor.
A few years ago, a Flash-based website was regarded as the best solution to showcase photography. But, since Flash websites do not work at all, or, at best, very poorly on tablets and smartphones, they are no longer such a good solution. It’s true that companies such as Livebooks and Zenfolio offer a secondary site using HTML, but in many cases they do not look as good as those designed from the ground up using HTML5.
Thanks to several online services, it is really quite easy to create your own responsive website. Two of the best are Squarespace and Wix, which offer some classy templates. Less expensive services such as Weebly might work for someone who knows how to modify HTML and CSS code. There are also more responsive HTML5-based Wordpress themes available that offer a really flexible solution, especially if you already have a hosting service such as DreamHost for your websites.
Off the Coffee Table
As mobile devices used to show images become more universal, the demand for well-designed digital wedding albums will grow. It’s doubtful everyone will want to abandon the large, beautifully crafted, print coffee table album, but it’s important to think outside the box—or should I say, “outside the album”—if you want to grow your business.
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