When my wife was growing up, her parents kept the family's snapshots in, literally, a shoebox. Right now, by contrast, I've got thousands of images spread among four or five personal computers, my iPad, my smart phone, a camera in my golf bag, and the servers at Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Carbonite, Apple, Kodak, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Viovio and probably a few others -- plus an assortment of thumb drives and memory cards, which I'm constantly almost putting into the wash. Storing photographs in digital form is very convenient, but there's a danger. You wouldn't be happy today if, a mere decade ago, you had decided to archive your children's baby pictures on Iomega Zip disks.
The solution is to employ a picture-storage format that can't become obsolete. For more than 30 years, I've been a semi-obsessive compiler of physical photo albums, which now fill two large shelves in my living room. Most of those albums consist of printed photographs glued to paper, but in recent years I've become a convert to self-published photo books, which consume less shelf space and are easier to assemble. The first one I created covered a family trip five years ago. Since then, I've put together a dozen, including several that document golf trips abroad. I've used three online services to make these books, and I've watched the technology improve steadily.
The basic idea is simple. You upload digital photographs to one of the many photo-sharing websites that offer book printing. Then you choose a size, a cover type and a basic style, and you arrange and edit your pictures with varying degrees of ease or difficulty. You can add things like scanned scorecards and other mementos, along with any amount of text. And you can gather contributions from other people, ideally by creating an online repository. Some online book sites enable you to harvest photographs from Facebook -- although most of the images on social-media sites are so low in resolution that they look terrible on paper at non-postage-stamp dimensions.
I do my regular photo editing with Picasa, a free Google program. Picasa lets me upload collections of edited images to any of a dozen of the most popular book sites; non-Picasa users can access those sites directly. Mac users can create books from iPhoto, in addition to using non-Apple sites.
The main differences among the better-known book services have to do with ease of photo customization, page editing and assembly. Viovio and Blurb have received high marks in various reviews, but I wrestled with both for an afternoon and found them ridiculously difficult to use. Three years ago, I would have recommended Shutterfly, but my current favorite -- among the half a dozen I've either ordered books from or played practice rounds with -- is Kodak Gallery. Kodak's SmartFit editing program is the only one I've used that's both highly versatile and genuinely intuitive, and it's constantly being improved. It automatically arranges your photographs (chronologically by default) into a rough layout, which you can personalize by moving pictures, changing backgrounds, adding or removing borders, and inserting, deleting or rearranging pages. It does a good job of matching images to layouts, and when you add or remove pictures it automatically redesigns the page. And if you don't like the program's decisions, you can override them and customize as much as you like. I was able to turn 90 photographs from a recent Irish golf trip into a handsome 30-page book in less than an hour -- well worth 50 bucks, and too big to fit in the washer.