Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Joy of Photobooks

I’d never put together a photobook before so when I found myself suddenly overcome with inspiration to create a bumper book of lifetime photos for my dad’s 70th birthday, it became a new personal challenge.

First, I had to find photos of his childhood. No easy job, given than most old pictures are either lost in in attics or in different countries – not to mention 60 years old.

Second, I had to work out how to scan in all the old photos I’d collected together, which takes a lot longer than you expect.

Third, I spent ages going through every laptop, hard drive, camera used in the past 10 years to find more recent suitable digital images.

Fourth, upload them to a photobooks website. In bulk.

I chose Photobox and I uploaded about 150 photos which took about half an hour. I had to use my brand new laptop for this as the old one couldn’t handle the request.

Lastly, I had to reorganise them into a Life Story with the earliest pics at the beginning; this involved rejigging the set templates to squeeze more pics on to a page; adding a few funny captions; and getting someone to proof read it.

In reality, it’s not really that easy.

It took 3 weeks and most of my available spare woman hours.

The thing that slowed me down was being such a silly perfectionist. I wanted to fill all the gaps in my dad’s life; to find photos of him from all walks of his long and happy life. So I kept going back, checking albums and finding new pics that needed scanning and uploading and more reorganising.

Luckily, Photobox has a quick uploaded where you can effectively upload all pics from a file location on your desktop.

You can add these pics to your existing photobook album with a neat function that lets you see exactly which pics have already been used in the album, so that you’re not using the same pic twice.

I liked that there was an ability to change the size of the pictures and the shapes, as well as the number of pics on each page. I didn’t want just 1 massive A4 pic to a page – I wanted 5 or 6. I figured this was better value for money and because the pics I was using weren’t the best quality (grainy and faded, if old), it didn’t overstretch the quality.

Similarly, if I had a brilliant panoramic picture to use, I could have stretch it across two pages, effectively creating a centre spread.

It took 2 full weeks between buying the album/sending it to print and it being printed and delivered to me in Ireland. I only just made the birthday party, so in future, I must give myself more time so as not to stress about missing the deadline the day before.

I was a bit nervous opening the large cardboard envelope when Mr Postie delivered it just in time, but when I did, I was delighted.

It was a beautiful thing. A rare keepsake in a world of fast digital photos that are viewed online and never printed out.

A beautiful treasure of a lifetime of photos of all the significant people in a person’s life.

My dad was thrilled to bits. And all the family poured over it, taking it in turns to leaf through it and talk about people long-gone and their memories of yesteryear.

It’s a gift that just keeps giving – and has sat on my parents sofa/coffee table ever since. I think it will be one of the first things they might try to save if the house was on fire.

So all in all, my big efforts paid off. It was a big success for my first photobook. 

And hopefully it’s the first of many, particularly now that I know how.

If you want to make your own visit

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Monday, August 5, 2013


We were a little optimistic thinking that two adults could handle three small kids on a boat the size of a village.

The kids were so excited when we travelled on Stena Line from Dublin to Wales last week that they turned into screeching monkeys, racing around and climbing everything they came across. 

When a boat includes climbable barriers onto open seas and lots of little nooks and crannies they could disappear into, it was a little bit exhausting keeping tabs on three high-energy kids who don’t see danger until they need rescuing. 

Kids won't stay still!

If they go in different directions, one is left unmarked. In our case, we still can’t assume that the eldest (who is 5) is the one we can choose not to chase, because he is the biggest dare-devil of them all, often doing daft things that put himself and others at risk. Every time, they run off in three different directions, we must make a split-second decision of who is least in danger and go after the other two. 

So it was a bit of a challenge attempting to travel on a big boat with these children - but I think we met the challenge head-on - and created a memorable, fun experience for our kids.
Our first challenge was that they wanted to climb the outside barriers to look out to sea. One parent had to hold 2 kids back whilst the other held the biggest deathwish kid – until this got too stressful and we relocated inside permanently. 

They wanted to climb these barriers!

Crayons and colouring books were pulled out, but soon they were bored. The kids room on the Stena Nordica is small and hot. It contains a TV that shows Curious George cartoons and a few stools and wall puzzles. My kids soon got bored with that too and began to use the stools as playthings, rolling on top of them on their sides, until I dragged them away, because they were bothering the other kids in there. 

We found the TV lounge where they were showing the latest Madagascar film, but the volume was so low that even if you sat a metre away from the TV you still couldn’t hear the movie. And it’s no fun not being able to hear a movie.

Luckily, we secured a cabin, where we could contain the little monkeys whilst they could satisfy their need to climb and fling themselves around dangerously. We could finally relax – they couldn’t run away from us here, locked in a cabin.

They loved the cabin – played on the two top bunks for ages, making beds, leaping from one to another, climbing up and down the ladder, playing hide and seek, and looking out of the window at passing boats. Daddy and I got to rest for a short while on the bottom bunks and watch this chaos unfold around us, safe in the knowledge that the only risk was them hurting some part of their bodies rather than being lost on a big boat and a potential child-overboard type situation. 

We ate a hearty meal on board: a brilliant deal of 5 meals (2 adults, 3 kids) + 5 any drinks for £25. There was more than enough for everyone and the meals – the standard was typical pub grub, fish and chips, burgers, wraps and pies - got eaten.

Three and a half hours is quite a long time to be out of your comfort zone with over-excited kids, but we found plenty to do onboard and loved our first experience of travelling with kids on Stena Line. 

Contained at last!

Coming back, we took the fast ferry
to Dun Laoghaire, the Stena Explorer, which at just over two hours was a real pleasure. No time to get bored on this ship. Simply enough time to have something to eat. Wander around to explore, watch a live show in the play area and do a bit of colouring.  

Play area for kids on Stena Explorer

The best thing about the Explorer for kids is that there’s not really any outside space. The only open air bit is small and caged in up to about 7 foot, and it’s mainly used by smokers so the kids aren’t really welcome there. 

All in all, our first trip on a ferry with kids was a great experience. My eldest son (5 years) was the most thrilled, telling everyone he met afterwards that he went on “the biggest ship in the world – even bigger than the Titanic” and my smallest (just 2 years old) delighted in being able to says two new words “big boat”. 

Will we do it again? Definitely, especially on the faster, more contained Explorer. It’s not easy travelling with kids but Stena Line made it as smooth a journey as possible for us. I’m not scared of taking them on holiday and being outnumbered any more. 

Stena Explorer

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