My parents' simultaneous retirement was approaching and my sister was planning a party. Soon after their retirement, my parents were leaving on an extended overseas trip and my sister wanted us kids to give them a special gift.

Since we live on opposite sides of the US, we sent ideas back and forth and settled on a photo book as the gift. You may have seen professionally published coffee-table photo books filled with a well-known photographer's work printed on brilliant glossy paper. Now these same books are available to the average person without the cost of mass production. You take a set of digital photos, compose appropriate captions, and produce your own book.

Looking back at our experience, I would say that the sequence we followed was not optimal. Let me continue our story and then I'll provide a checklist to streamline this process.

Photo Book Building

Our first task of building the photo book was to decide on the theme and select the appropriate photos to include. My sister and I stayed in touch by email and phone as we debated the merits of various ideas. Because the celebration was encompassing the retirement of my father and mother, and their long overseas journey, the theme we finally settled on was a photo journey of their life from childhood, early marriage, children, working life, and a final section of farewells, including two blank pages reserved for hand-written notes.

At first the production of the photo book was to be my task. Some of the photos were older and needed to be scanned in and some were already in digital photo format. Being very busy with my work, I felt overwhelmed having to select all the photos, scan many of them in, upload them to the Kodak EasyShare Gallery service, and compose all the text. Fortunately, my sister agreed to help by doing most of the photo selection and text composition.

To accomplish this collaboration three thousand miles apart, I shared my Kodak account user name and password with my sister. This allowed me to upload the photos and at the same time for my sister to log on for her tasks. A note of caution: I generally warn folks to NEVER give out their online passwords. This warning is still valid in most cases. I felt comfortable breaking my rule for two reasons: First, I gave my password to a highly trusted person, and second, the password was to a low-risk, non-financial account.

Learning From Our Experience

Earlier I mentioned that the sequence we followed was not optimal. This is because I started uploading photos before we completely decided on the theme. Then, as we went along, we thought of more pictures to include. I uploaded those pictures as well, and we continued the process of building the book. Ideally, we should have finalized the theme, selected all photos, composed all captions and other text in a word processor, and only then upload and compose the book layout.

Overall the experience of building such a memorable gift was a good one. In my estimation, my sister and I have spent a total of ten hours each in the evenings over a three week period to complete the project. We were rushing a bit towards the end to allow two weeks for printing and shipping time. We even paid for the more expensive second day shipping at Kodak to make sure the book arrived on time for the party. To my surprise, a few hours after we completed the book and released it for printing, Kodak sent us an email to let us know it was shipped. I would not expect same day printing and shipping to be the norm, but it sure was a wonderful surprise and great relief for us.

If you are considering a photo book of your own, here is my recommended sequence for a smoother flow. This should work for any occasion, being a retirement or farewell party, graduation, baby shower, significant birthday, you name it.

  1. Solicit help from family or friends to spread the workload (preferably from those who can keep a secret, if this is a surprise)
  2. Clearly identify which person will do each task
  3. Decide on the theme of the book
  4. Select the photos
  5. Perform any necessary photo editing to fix minor damage, contrast, lighting, cropping, etc.
  6. Write and spell check the photo captions and the contents of text-only pages
  7. Select two or three companies offering photo book printing and decide which one offers the best products for your needs. We were very happy with the results from Kodak EasyShare Gallery, and happily recommend it.
  8. Upload your photos to the company web site
  9. Choose page layout and insert your pre-written text
  10. Ask each member of your project team to do a final proofing of the book before you submit the order

Now to the most important part—the book was an absolute hit with my parents and the party attendees. Of the thirty guests, it seems that none of them left until they had a chance to look at the photo book, and many of them added a note to the back. My parents have a wonderful gift and memory to take in their luggage while traveling the world.