It’s free, it’s fun, it’s filtered!

Today I’m thankful for photo filters. A smartphone with a photo filter app makes me look like an amazing photographer.

My latest obsession: Prisma.

This app, available for FREE! (another thing to be thankful for) on both Droid and Apple phones, transforms your photos into works of art using styles of famous artists. Here’s a look.

First, the original image, unfiltered.


My husband bought me an autumn bouquet of flowers at Costco (because he’s thoughtful and cost conscious like that). Honestly, it’s beautiful in all its naked glory. But check it out when it’s filtered with Prisma:








Illegal Beauty


Thota Vaikuntam

The Prisma filter automatically converts your photo to a square and gives you the option to upload directly to Facebook and Instagram. Or you can email the image to yourself in a variety of sizes. If you want to get really clever, you can split the image to see the before and after together — half and half in one image.

I can imagine creating some very cool personal images to use on gifts for the holidays — cups, mousepads, framed images and the like.

I love it so much, I used Prisma’s Mosaic app (my favorite, I must confess) to create a new profile image for me on Facebook:


Happy Thanksgiving from me to you!


Book illuminates a life story and inspires memoirists

For a fascinating look into one memoirist’s creative process, check out Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited by Pamela Smith Hill.

You might know of Laura Ingalls Wilder through her Little House series, eight children’s and youth adult novels set in late 19th century frontier America. I read those books voraciously and repeatedly beginning when I was in fourth grade. I fell in love with little Half Pint, I mourned when sister Mary lost her sight, I shivered when her family endured the long winter, I was sorry when Pa gave up going west and I fell in love with heroic Almanzo, too.

Pioneer GirlWilder’s fictional novels were based on her own life. Her first draft was Pioneer Girl, a historically correct memoir of her childhood written in first person; she tried to sell but couldn’t so she ended up drawing on her experiences to write eight third-person novels. Pioneer Girl was had not been published until Hill brought the original handwritten notebooks back to life and annotated everything from who’s-who census facts, period details about wildlife, weather and fashion, and comparisons of Pioneer Girl to the published novels and other writings.

This book is not for the faint-hearted. It’s big — 10-by-10 inches by 1.5 inches thick and 400 pages. It contains 125 images, eight maps, Wilder’s story from birth to marriage (which evolved into eight novels) plus hundreds of Hill’s very complete and detailed annotations. But avid Little House fans will love it.

I hung on nearly every word. Hill’s cultivation of facts is compelling in many ways, not the least of which is way memory fails us. Repeatedly, Wilder would write one thing as fact, and Hill would find census data or newspaper stories that illuminated or sometimes contradicted Wilder’s memories (for example, she lived a lot closer to Independence, Missouri in Little House on the Prairie than she portrayed). Wilder also chose to eliminate an entire sad episode of her life in Burr Oak, Iowa from her fictionalized stories. As a reader and a writer, I found this riveting.

But most importantly for the everyman memoirist, reading Pioneer Girl was an education in how to tell the stories of one’s life in a compelling way. Wilder sat down with a pencil and a pile of notebooks, and mined her “typical” life for compelling reading. Which leads me to believe other people — maybe you, maybe me — can do this, too.

Comparing four different photobook printers

With so many photo book printers in the marketplace, it’s tricky figuring out which one to use. Too many choices contribute to paralysis, and that’s not good when it comes to your photo collection because unprinted images are in greater danger of being lost (depending on how many back-up systems you have in place — unfortunately, most people have no backups). The bottomline line, then, is any photo book printer is better than not printing at all.

To summarize further, just about any printer has its pros and cons. For example, some people value price above all else. Other people demand and easy-to-use interface. Still others require long-lasting quality. Not wonder it’s tricky to choose just one.

With all that in mind, I recently printed a client’s photo book with four different vendors including three that I don’t see reviewed in very many places. Just to see which one I liked best. My comparison is a small sampling of a much larger marketplace, so consider this to be one opinion among many (click here for a pretty comprehensive review of 10 top vendors and here for a comprehensive look at 12 vendors plus a lot of images). And if you have comments about your experiences with any of the following vendors (or others), please chime in.

So that I was comparing apples to apples, I used the exact same photos and design for each of the four books. That means I didn’t use the design interface offered with the individual vendor (if there is one). The design was a 20-page 8-by-8 hardcover photo book, heavy on full-color images, light on text. I designed my books in Storybook Creator 4 (now known as Panstoria’s Artisan), and I uploaded finished PDFs to each website. The cover was simply a pattern (background) I created.


Shutterfly cover

Shutterfly is my go-to-vendor because I think the company offers pretty good quality for the price, and it’s very fast.

Pricing: $32.61 including $7.99 for shipping

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 4 days (fastest of the four)

Print and Color Quality: Very good. In fact, I found no discernible differences on the print quality of the interior pages among the four vendors I used.

Binding: Glued. Glued bindings lay flatter than sewn bindings. Generally, glued binding are considered to be poor quality because eventually all glue dries out, and those pages will fall out of the book. In my experience with Shutterfly, this would take decades but if you’re creating a book for future generations, beware.

Shutterfly back coverShutterfly logoNotes and irks: The flysheets are textured but otherwise kind of cheap feeling. Shutterfly imposes its presence on your book with its logo on the inside back page. And there’s a small-but-still-obvious bar code on the back cover. Like many vendors, Shutterfly offers deals and coupons frequently. Create an account, and you’ll get word of sales via email.


picaboo cover

Picaboo is more of a boutique printer, one not always found in other online photobook reviews.

Pricing: $26.48 including $8.99 for shipping (I had a coupon; create an account and get tons of email deals)

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 8 days

Print and Color Quality: Very good.

picaboo binding

Binding: Sewn. Seems secure, but it’s kind of sloppy looking.

picaboo glassine logoNotes and irks: For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to customize the binding. So it came out white and clunky. I suppose if you want all your books to have the same color (and you label them with titles), this might be an asset; I thought it was a big drawback. Like Shutterfly, Picaboo loudly brands itself — with a printed glassine sheet in back. No bar code, however.

Panstoria Print Shop

panstoria cover

Panstoria is the same vendor that distributes the design software I used. So if you don’t use Artisan, you can’t use the print shop because there’s no online design interface. I like the power and control of the software so this isn’t a problem for me, but novices might find this frustrating.

Pricing: $37.67 including $7.68 for shipping

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 14 days (this was the longest processing time of the four vendors)

Print and Color Quality: Very good.

Binding: Sewn.

panstoria cover sway

panstoria logoNotes and irks: I liked the flysheets; there’s also a blank glassine “protector” sheet between the flysheet and the first printed page (a sign of attention to detail and quality to me). However, the cover itself is starting to curl — ugh! The branding is obvious with Panstoria’s name and a tiny QR code on the inside back page.

Professional Photo Albums

Professional Photo Albums

This vendor is a business-to-business model, so one has to be a member of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers to access it (meaning novices can leave their project design to a pro). The user interface is more complex (which is good when you want precision like an expert would, bad when you want ease of use).

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 11 days

Print and Color Quality: Excellent. Quality is especially apparent on the cover, which came out brighter and crisper than any of the others. This leads me to believe they are color correcting on press, which speaks to the quality.

Binding: Glued.

professional photo albums back coverprofessional photo albums flysheetNotes and irks: The book is actually 8.25-by-8.25, and the minimum number of pages is 26 (not 20) so I had to create six additional pages. So even though this is the most expensive option, you get more for your money. The flysheets are the best of the bunch, a heavyweight textured cream-colored paper. There’s no logo to be found anywhere, though there is a bar code on the back cover.

Have you used a photobook printer? Liked it? Disliked it? Please share.

Personalize a notebook for a meaningful gift

A great way to share your photography and maybe your clever writing at the holidays is a personalized journal.

Check out the notebooks at Both softcover and hardcover notebooks are available. With 20 or more images, you can decorate every sixth or eighth page, leaving the other pages as simply lined.

I used scenery images and quotes from my other blog, Minnesota Transplant. I struggled a bit because I use far less memory intensive images for the blog than what is required for a printed book, but Blurb’s notebook template immediately alerts you to using images that are too small and offers alternative layouts (for example, use six smaller images on a page instead of one big one). If you don’t want to have any words at all, that’s an option, too.

Cost was $28.26, including shipping, for my softcover notebook but it would be less per book if you bought multiple copies.

One drawback: The notebooks are perfect bound, which means they don’t lie flat.

I can imagine some very cute journals:

  • Use images of food and call it a Grocery List notebook.
  • Use images of shoes or roads and call it a Running Journal.
  • Scan in your child’s artwork and create a one-of-a-kind notebook for grandmas and aunts.
  • Use images of your inn and leave it in guest rooms for bed-and-breakfast reviews.
  • Pictures of your garden or flowers would decorate a beautiful Garden Notebook.
  • Pictures of grapes, vineyards and happy hours would make a fun Favorite Wines journal.
  • Sunset images from around the country (or world) would be perfect for a Travel Journal.
  • Images of the sky, praying hands and churches would be the perfect accents for a Prayer Journal.