I recently had the opportunity to put together a photobook from Saal Digital in return for a review of the product when it arrived, I hadn’t heard of Saal before and am always a bit cautious of these kind of offers but another photographer I follow had recently taken up this deal and been really impressed with the quality (you can read Matt Holland’s review here) so I jumped at the chance to get some recent work printed.
Before I get into the review I thought it would be worth sharing a little background to the images I chose to fill the book with.
This came at quite a good time for me, I’ve been working on a few small projects but one ongoing theme is to try and capture the local Nottinghamshire countryside in my own way, this is constrained by limited time to dedicate to photography so is often based around quick stops on my way to work or family walks at the weekend. Nottinghamshire isn’t exactly known for spectacular landscape either, we have some good forests and lots of farmland but I have found it a real challenge in the past to make images I’m happy with without looking further afield. In fact until the last year or so the vast majority of my photography has been taken on holidays, so this has been a real development in my approach and style, focusing on a lot more detail and abstract work to try and convey what I love about this area.
That said I wanted to try and put together some sort of cohesive set from the results so far, it’s not often I have work printed so this seemed the ideal opportunity. I decided to call the book “30 Minutes or Less” in reference to the locality of all the photos, these are all taken in places I can get to within half an hour of leaving my house.
I narrowed down a series of images in Lightroom and got a rough order together using the book module, something I actually found incredibly difficult and it took me a few attempts to decide what I wanted to define the sequence of the photos through the book. I settled on a mix of a seasonal progression, starting more traditional with jumps into darker abstract work and moving more towards that side of my photography at the end.
Once I had a plan I downloaded the Saal software and started designing the book, initially choosing an A4 landscape layout but got a bit frustrated that it wasn’t working out having been using a 25 x 20 aspect in Lightroom. I switched to a square format on Saal and that worked much better, but still left me with a couple of difficult decisions dropping photos which now didn’t quite fit, I think in the end this layout works a lot better than what I’d done in Lightroom.
I actually found the Saal software more enjoyable to use than the module in Lightroom and more flexible in terms of page arrangements, I like the fact that they provide offline software for the design, in comparison to a lot of similar services where you do it online in the web browser. For me it was easier to achieve what I wanted by just dragging photos in and making manual adjustments to the positioning rather than using their templates. This meant I didn’t really delve into all the different features, I’m not sure many serious photographers would use things like the cliparts, backgrounds and themed templates as keeping it simple generally looks smarter, but they may come in use for people putting together fun family albums and the like and there’s plenty of preset layouts for those who aren’t into doing it all themselves.
There were a couple of annoyances with the software which slightly tainted what was otherwise a very good experience. The ‘match height’ option with two images selected always made both pictures much larger which seems strange, I would expect it to match them both to the height of the one selected first and this made it useless to be honest. It would be nice if when you selected multiple images you could centre that selection to the page, rather than it centring each individual image. The snapping also seemed slightly unreliable which made arrangement more difficult, but being able to type the height and ‘Y’ position in for each photo meant you could match them precisely anyway. I would have also liked if the ‘lock aspect ratio’ could be set overall or would default to on, I may be wrong but would have thought most people have cropped their images to the aspect they want before exporting, so would want to avoid cropping these within the book layout, it was a bit of a pain having to turn this option on every time I added an image so it didn’t change as I resized it.
Having put the book together the order process from the software through to the website was fairly straightforward and it uploaded the images quickly with no issues, from ordering to delivery was 4 working days which is a very good turnaround time for a printed product like this in my opinion, especially as it was delivered from Germany. It would be nice if they recognised the way different countries format their addresses as it was a bit all over the place, presumably this is how addresses work in Germany and it still made it to me so not a big deal.
The book packaging was fairly light, mine came in great condition but Matt’s (review linked at the start) had some damage and I can see why as there was little padding there which seems risky as any customer would be understandably upset if their book arrived damaged.
The book quality itself seems really good, especially for a fairly reasonable price. I went for a 34 page 19cm x 19cm book with matte pages and a matte unpadded cover, I also chose the option to remove the barcode which would normally cost a little extra. The total cost of this would be £36.95, plus £4.95 delivery, which compares pretty favourably with other suppliers, Photobox for example who are one of the best known consumer print services will charge £40 for a 30 page 22cm square book with extra cost to do similar things like removing the logo. Saal are offering a £15 voucher on first order at the moment too which makes it a lot cheaper.
The prints have come out very well and it was a great opportunity to see a large set of my images in the flesh, it definitely makes you look at things differently and I’m a big fan of printing photography rather than letting it languish on a hard drive, even if I don’t have the budget to practise what I preach as often as I’d like. The colours all look exactly as on my screen but a few of the images are a touch darker than expected, I’ve had this before when printing and tend to compensate for it if I print at home, it’s not a deal breaker by any means. The lay flat works nicely especially for double page images or ones which partly overlap on to the other page which I was a bit worried about when designing the layout. If I was being critical I’d say the inside pages were more of a satin finish than matte, whereas the cover is more of a matte, having used Fotospeed fine art matte papers this isn’t in the same league but still good quality and definitely beats gloss for me.
Overall I’m very happy with the book and I think for the money the software, order process and print quality are at least as good as or slightly better than other comparable services. As mentioned earlier there’s a £15 off code running at the moment for the first order so if you’re looking at buying a book I’d definitely recommend giving Saal a try.