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Making Photo Books with iPhoto

Tuesday 8 December 2009

I have had a wonderful experience as of late publishing two books using Apple’s free iPhoto application. It hasn’t been without a learning curve, but what I’ve found is that even simple books are very straightforward. Being the nit-picker I am, though, I’ve complicated my life by wanting details and customization that stretched iPhoto. But I have been very pleased at how iPhoto responded by stretching and accommodating the finessing I wanted. In fact, when I took one of my books to a local printer for a quote, they were astounded with the quality before I even told them how I made it and what it cost to make.

What I like about iPhoto…

Tanzania - a book of fine art photographs by Terry A. McDonald

Tanzania (Dec 2009)

Now, before I go too far, I should warn Windows users that iPhoto is only available to Mac users. It’s a shame, really, because I have yet to see a free photo library/catalogue app for Windows that even comes close to the capability of iPhoto. In fact, I have yet to see an inexpensive app (less than $75) that does what iPhoto can do. Furthermore, building on the success of iTunes, Apple could easily offer “iPhoto Windows” as a $10 or $15 app for download only. Anyway – back to the main event…

Lake Superior Provincial Park iPhoto book

I wrote an earlier blog about the usefulness of iPhoto here, but in summary I find iPhoto great:

  • for easily and quickly finding photos;
  • for cataloguing photos using events, albums and keywords;
  • as a repository of high-quality, high-resolution jpegs of all my fine art and family photos;
  • for creating engaging slideshows directly through iPhoto or seamlessly integrated with Apple’s Keynote;
  • for creating photo galleries uploaded to my MobileMe site (which you may already have for your iPhone)
  • for creating photo pages usingApple’s free iWeb app then uploaded to my website;
  • for emailing photos or uploading to Flickr, PicasaWeb, Panoramio, JAlbum, etc.
  • because I can have multiple Libraries for different uses and world locations.

There’s a whole lot more, but this is a good summary for now.

"Modern Lines" theme from my iPhoto book Tanzania

Now – about iPhoto Books…

The advantage of iPhoto books versus online books is that you can work on them without being online: waiting for files to be uploaded, waiting for pages to load, etc. Some online photo book sites have mini apps you download to help prevent this, but I have yet to find them as smooth, seamless, versatile and customizable as iPhoto. With iPhoto, I am not limited to pre-determined fonts and sizes – I can use any font and most sizes up to about 72pt for titles and even 36pt for text. I can also have hard cover books with custom dust jackets – very professional looking! And all of this comes at a very reasonable price: USD 29.99 plus 6.99 shipping (for the first book of  multi-book order) for an 8.5×11 20-page, hard cover book with a custom dust jacket (front back and both flaps).

Ordering is a snap using my Apple Account (the same one I have for iTunes music downloads). Shipping is via FedEx. I thought this would be a problem for me here in Canada with merchandise crossing the border, but there are no extra shipping, brokerage or duty charges (SSSHHHHHH – don’t tell the government, but they aren’t even collecting PST and GST!!). And get this – books I upload on a Sunday afternoon arrived at my door here in southern Ontario on Thursday around noon – talk about FAST! I can also track the books online from their origin in the Memphis, Tennessee area. Amazing, truly amazing!!

Making a Book

Books can be made as easily as:

  • selecting the photos in iPhoto;
  • clicking on the “Book” icon at the bottom of the iPhoto window;
  • selecting the size and style you want;
  • clicking on Autoflow for iPhoto to assemble the photos automatically;
  • adding a title and captions;
  • clicking on “Buy Book” and inputing your details.

"Formal" theme - from my Lake Superior book

While all of this can be accomplished in as few as 10 minutes, you will need to spend a while longer to truly take advantage of all the custom features. This list will give you an idea of the work flow I use in creating a book:

  1. Select a few photos and click “Book” at the bottom of the iPhoto window;
  2. Add more photos by selecting and dragging them from the iPhoto window to the icon of your book in the left panel;
  3. Click on the book icon in the left panel. Place each photo into the book by dragging them one-by-one from the top “filmstrip” view and dropping each onto an image placeholder(s) on each page.
    • Be sure to put the photos into a chronology or in an order that tells a story;
  4. Choose individual page layouts and a cover layout;
  5. Choose page background colour or  full photo background which can be left as it or lightened to go behind text;
  6. Edit & crop photos as needed (by double-clicking or selecting “Adjust” at the bottom of the window);
    • I tend to edit (colour balance, enhance, drop etc.) all my raw files in Adobe Camera Raw then convert them to full-resolution, highest quality jpegs for import into iPhoto, so they already tend to be optimized.
    • If you are shooting jpegs, be sure to shot at maximum size and resolution (minimum compression) so that they may be used as full-sized images in a photo book or calendar.
  7. Tweak the size and/or view of photos using the pop-up window or by Ctrl-clicking (“Fit photo to frame size” or not);
  8. Write and format descriptive text for the captions, dust jacket, title page and/or  chapter pages;
  9. Select the font style and sizes for the titles, subtitles and various text elements:
    1. Click on “Settings” and a whole host of global options is provided; or
    2. Use Command-T to bring up the font palette – this extremely powerful for setting title and sub-title fonts, font colour and drop shadows (BTW this is a feature not given in iPhoto, but built into the Mac OS yet available for iPhoto);
  10. Tweaking the descriptive captions;
  11. Proofread;
  12. Proofread again (preferable by someone else and/or from back to front);
  13. Proofread and check for the last time (seriously – any errors are forever!).

If this isn’t enough customization, you can even switch themes if the one you’ve chosen is not working for you. Before you do so, though, I would suggest duplicating your current book (select the book in the left column of iPhoto > Control-click to get the pop-up menu > choose “Duplicate”). That way if layouts or type are messed up in the change (due to differences in layout from theme to theme) you won’t lose the hard work you’ve put into the book thus far.

The trick with iPhoto is to spend some time playing so that you get to know all the possible features. In fact, I would suggest choosing 20 or so photos at random and creating a “Practise Book” first. Make all your mistakes there while learning the skills to produce a truly beautiful book. Good luck and have fun! The results will be truly rewarding.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Saturday 27 February 2010 1:12pm

    Hi there!

    I just put together my first photobook using iphoto. I was wondering if there is any way to get the book without the apple logo on the dust cover, and book? Also- is there any way to use the iphoto design and then order through an outside publisher? I know Shared ink will work, but they offer a very limited selection of photobooks~ The reason I’m asking, is I would like the option of leather covers.

    Thanks for you time.

    • Monday 1 March 2010 10:06am

      First of all, you can remove the Apple logo by clicking “Settings” at the bottom of the book window and uncheck “Include Apple logo”.
      Secondly, you can save your Apple book as a PDF file of individual pages which you might then be able to use to create a book from a different source. To save your Apple book as a PDF: In the book window, move your cursor to the side of the book (the grey area around it) > right-click or Cmd-click and select “Save Book as PDF”. From there, you would need to upload the pdf pages to the other site.
      Hope this is helpful.

  2. Monday 1 March 2010 11:37am

    Thanks Terry,

    Very helpful! I will give this a go, and see if I can get them printed in leather!

    Have a wonderful day!

  3. Adam Fraser permalink
    Thursday 8 April 2010 10:47am

    I made an iPhoto book but now want to change the size that I initially selected does anyone know how to do this or do I have to start all over?

    • Monday 12 April 2010 9:20pm

      Hi Adam,
      Depending on how much you have added in the way of text and special formatting, there will be some aspects of any book that may be lost when the size is changed. The thing to do it to check it out first… Make a duplicate of the original book. Then change the size of the duplicate to avoid ruining the original. You may find that you need only update a few text items and formatting, but that all depends on the size and theme changes you make. Good luck!

      • Monday 24 January 2011 10:11pm

        I’m having the same problem as Adam. Thank you for the suggestion of making a copy of the book first, but HOW does one change the size? I see that I can change layout, but not size. There must be a way, but I just can’t find it.

        Thanks for any help,

      • Wednesday 26 January 2011 11:10am

        Before you change the size of partially or fully-designed book, I would advise duplicating it first so as not to introduce unwanted modifications to your original work. Int he duplicate, select “Change Theme” in the top right of the screen. Once the carousel of choices appears, you will see on the bottom left a “L” and “XL”. One will highlighted – that’s the current size. Simple select the size you wish. If you selection is not there then it is not available for the style of book you’ve selected: Hardcover, Softcover or Wire-bound. That change can be made in the top-middle of the carousel screen. Once your selections are complete, select “Apply” in the bottom right.

        Now, check to make sure all your photos are at a high enough resolution and that the layouts in this modified book still work for you. Once you know everything is fine, you can continue designing the book or, if it’s finished, “Buy Book”. Be sure to delete the unwanted book project so that you aren’t wondering weeks or months from now which one is the correct/finished one.

        Good luck!

  4. Claudia permalink
    Monday 10 May 2010 10:32am

    Hi there,

    Thanks for all the great tips! Do you know whether you can reduce the size of a single photo if you’ve selected single page layout (In Modern Lines)? Or do they have to either fill the page or almost fill the page? I’d like one or two photo’s to be really small in the centre of the page.

    Also, can you change the colour of the text?



    • Wednesday 2 June 2010 6:50am

      Hi Claudia,

      Thanks for your inquiry. I have not been able to resize a one-per-page photo smaller than what the Modern Lines layout provides. I know the look you want and it would be very effective. You could try Aperture (30-day free trial), but there is a learning curve. It would be helpful if you sent an “iPhoto Feedback” (under the iPhoto menu in the top left) to Apple explaining the feature you want and how easy it would be to implement. They actually read those forms!

      With regards to font colour – there is no way to do it globally, but you can do it caption by caption, in fact I regularly change black to dark grey.
      – Select the text you want to change;
      – Bring up the Font Palette (Cmd+T)
      – Click on the green button along the top of that palette to open the Colours Palette
      – Click on the colour you want.
      – Repeat for each of the captions.
      Good luck!


  5. Benjamin Crompton permalink
    Sunday 30 May 2010 9:13pm

    I’m in the process of compiling my own photo book with photos from a recent holiday. iPhoto really does offer a great system, but if you’re like me and you want a little more control over the way the book looks, I suggest you try Aperture. This is Apple’s own photo editing suite, and comes with a much more powerful tool for creating photo books. The best part of this is that the application is available for a 30 day free trial which offers you full access to the whole thing. I’d really recommend it.

    • Wednesday 2 June 2010 6:29am

      Thanks Benjamin – good advice, actually. I’ve been testing Aperture over the past few months and, you’re right, it is superior in its book-making capability. Although I have settled on using Lightroom (see blog coming soon), I am keeping Aperture specifically for making books. –Terry

  6. Nicole permalink
    Sunday 6 June 2010 3:30am

    Hi there,

    Thanks for the great tips. When designing the first few and last few pages, can you let me know what colour the inside of the hardback cover is? (under the front and back flaps)
    Is it possible to have page 1 the same colour/ textured paper?

    Many thanks

    • Tuesday 8 June 2010 2:13pm

      Hi Nicole,

      The inside pages of both front and back cover are both a medium grey, lightly textured paper, slightly heavier than the actual book pages – quite nice, actually. The book pages (e.g. page 1) cannot be made to match these front and endpieces, but I don’t see this as a deal-killer as the books really do show well.

      Good luck with your book(s)

  7. Tuesday 13 July 2010 11:30pm

    Hi! Came across your site while researching the difference in print quality (if any) between printing a photo book from iPhoto vs. Aperture. I’ve only done a book through Aperture and I’ve tried to find out whether there is a difference. I did contact Apple support and was able to determine that the books are printed at the same facility and the same paper is used – but the rep didn’t quite answer the question about print quality. Wondering if you’ve heard anything or if you ended up printing a book with Aperture and have a comparison. Feel free to visit my site and check out my July 5 post for my review on my first Aperture photo book.

    • Thursday 15 July 2010 10:28pm

      I haven’t done an Aperture book yet. I’ll let you know when I do. I would be surprised if there is any difference; while the applications are different, I can’t imagine the printing would be any different.

  8. Sunday 31 October 2010 4:38pm

    i usually buy books online because i do not have time to visit the local bookstore “

  9. Susan permalink
    Tuesday 14 December 2010 2:30pm

    I am a first time Ibook user and am a bit frustrated. I added ppages until I found the templates I needed and pushed the unused ones to the end. When I was done I deleted all of the unused empty templates and the book got rearranged. I can’t figure out how to fit it orc recreate it and choose only the templates that I want in the order I want them. Any suggestions? Thanks, Susan

    • Monday 3 January 2011 7:25pm

      First of all, don’t be discouraged if you ran into problems with your first book. There is an art and a talent when working with any new task. When ever I get to the point of frustration with any app (and believe it happens often enough) I always remember what my Grade 12 math teacher always said: “Go back to first principles.” Now, I am no math head, but the advice, I found, holds true in everything I do.

      So, what I suggest, is creating a new book, add all the photos you want in that book to the project (drag and drop onto the project listed in the left panel) and, before you place any photos, choose the theme you want. Then begin assembling the book from the beginning, page by page, picture by picture. Alternatively, take the pages you have with your first book, open the design panel and change each page’s template to the one you want.

      It’s easy to become disillusioned by the apparent ease with which iPhoto books can be created – yes they can be created easily if you can live with the very powerful automation built into iPhoto. However, it really does takes work and time to craft any book, and it needs to be done one page at time. Like any application, iPhoto has its quirks. Learning to work with those quirks is part of any learning curve.

  10. Sally permalink
    Monday 24 January 2011 11:18pm

    For window’s users, there is a free program created by Google called ‘Picasa’. They are very similar to iPhoto – it can organise/manage photos, edit/crop/touch-up/etc. photos, and you can order prints online too. Not sure about photo books though – however I’m sure Google aren’t far away from offering that in a future release. They even have face recognition software and you can upload your photos online to a site similar to flickr for friends/public (depending on permissions you set) to look at.

    • Wednesday 26 January 2011 11:27am

      For Windows, Picasa is the closest thing to the ease of use of iPhoto as a photo library and a photo editor. Be sure to enable “Non-destructive editing” to ensure you don’t mess up your originals with edits and crops (iPhoto is non-destructive all the time).

  11. Becky permalink
    Thursday 13 December 2012 7:06am

    I’m not tech savvy and usually iphoto fits my needs in many ways when making albums (simple yet slightly flexible) my problem comes in when I want to create for print individual pages for special projects (e.g. a montage of pictures on one page with fun background paper and captions) for a display board. I’d like page size flexibility and unlimited photo frames but have no idea if this is possible in iphoto. I have iphoto ’11 but am at a loss! Is there any way to do this? Hope you can help me!

    • Saturday 15 December 2012 1:58pm

      iPhoto is not really set up for what you want to do. What you need is more of a layout application. For something like you have described I would suggest iWork Pages ( and is only 19.99 on the Apple App Store. Alternatively, I’ve had great success by using Keynote ( Although it is meant for creating multimedia presentations, the pages and many backgrounds are scaleable for more creative layouts. ––Hope this helps!

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