I was recently fortunate enough to be accepted by the German Printing and Photobook specialists called ‘Saal Digital‘ to be part of one of their promotional offers. They graced me with a voucher towards one of their Pro Line Photobooks and any extra money necessary was to be paid by myself.
Like many photographers during Coronavirus lockdown, I thought I’d use the opportunity to create something I had been meaning to make for several years : a printed portfolio of my work that I can physically bring with me to show clients my work first hand. And I wanted a diverse portfolio that showcases portrait photographs, landscape photographs, wedding photographs and so on. Relying on web based platforms like Instagram and so on is not really sufficient to show potential clients and does not give a client any real view of the kind of printed work they may eventually receive from you. So the offer of a substantial lump towards funding such a portfolio was highly appealing. But, I had never used them before. I had not even heard of them before this and I had previously relied on MagCloud and similar, at least for personal work and fun stuff for the family. And serious work I tend to use the UK lab that I always use, The Darkroom.
So, as a qualifying customer, I began the process of creating one of their “Pro Line Photobooks”. It is worth noting here, I did not make this process easier for myself. Most photographers use Windows or Apple Mac, and most photographers use Lightroom and similar tools. I however, use Linux, VueScan and Darktable for my photography. And, so to start with, I attempted to create this photobook using this environment. I used Scribus to create to the page layout, saved it as a PDF and uploaded it (as PDF uploads are accepted). But, it didn’t quite align properly. So I tried all over again using the web based interface. Again, that did not work so well for me either, as having got to the checkout stage the voucher code was not accepted. So in the end I resorted to installing their official software in a Windows 10 Virtual Machine, and I had immediate success! I should have just done that from the start to be fair!
The software is fairly easy to use. Sure, there is a little bit of a learning curve as it is not quite the same as other software you may be used to, but then again, Saal Digital seem to be a very high end professional printing outfit and they have great tutorials to assist you. There are lots more additional options you would not ordinarily get in most printing software of this kind. So it took me several hours to get my photobook ready, but if I was doing these frequently, it would be a snap to do quickly once I got the hang of the workflow and where all the options are. If you are not too fussy about precise layout, they even have an intelligent “1 minutes setup” type option where it basically takes all your chosen images and creates the layout for you. That was not for me because I am rather particular, and because I shoot a Hasselblad, most of my images are also square. So I went for a more simple look of multiple pages with multiple square images. That said, I did throw a few 35mm shots in there that I took with my Nikon F5.
Having arrived at checkout, I had to pay a little extra due to my page count and other options; I could have even got it boxed for an extra £50, but I decided not to for this particular item as it is only a portfolio and not something for a paying client.
I paid the little extra and waited, and only about 10 days later it arrived! And I must say, it is without doubt the best photobook\zine I have ever received. The paper quality is outstanding. The print quality looks amazing, even from images of 120 film that were scanned at lower DPI; several of the images in this book are only about 600Kb on disk and they have printed at 30″ square, and they look amazing. I really can’t tel much of a different at all between the images that I scanned at 1600dpi as large 10Mb or 15Mb files compared to the others (that was one of the reasons I did this, to test how necessary they ultra high scanning was).
The Acrylic front looks like something out of a Directors board room, and the leather spine and back gives it a very tactile and professional finish. I was blown away by the quality and I am not just saying that because I had a voucher towards it. Their promotional trick of offering a voucher to professional photographers has definitely worked because going forwards, I will be offering their books as potential albums for clients. A few photos are below for anyone who is interested, though they don’t do the book justice. Highly recommended.