Thursday, December 17, 2009

Photo calendars make great holiday gifts

For the past few years, I have been creating calendars for my family using my photos and family birthdays. They've been well received and I'm constantly reminded to do a new one right around Christmas time.

Gather your dates
The tedious part of creating a calendar is gathering and documenting birthdays and anniversary's of everyone that the recipients of the calendars might want. If you are from a broken family, or are giving the calendar to multiple families, then this can be a lot of work. I find that it is best to document all of the birthdays in your address book and group each of the people into tags or groups based on what calendar they should be included in.

If you are just creating one calendar for your parents, then it is pretty simple and straight-forward.

However, if your parents have separated and have families of their own, it becomes much more complicated. You have to split the birthdays into separate groups... one for your father's family and one for your mother's family, because your father probably isn't concerned with the birthdays of your mother's side of the family and vice versa. If you have a sibling who is married, then another group of dates might be required to include their spouses family. When you account for the birthdays/anniversaries of aunts, uncles, and cousins, it adds up.

I find that it is easiest to use Google Calendar to create a separate calendar for the dates that you want on each of the calendars you are going to create. Here is a list of the Google Calendars that I have solely for creating photo calendars to give out at Christmas.

Mother - Includes her side of the family, as well as the dates of her husband's family.
Father - Includes only his side of the family.
Me - Includes everything in the Mother calendar and Father calendar.
Sister's husband's family - Includes only her husband's family dates.
My Sister - Easiest one... includes everything from all of the calendars listed above.

Choose your photos wisely!
The first year that I created calendars, I just used some of my best photos... no people at all!

Once you start adding people to photos, it complicates things. You run into the same challenge of segregating your photos based on who is in the photos. In the calendar examples above, I wouldn't want to put photos of my father in my mother's calendar. And my sister's husband's family probably wouldn't enjoy photos of my parents. Someone is bound to be offended.

If you don't want to drive yourself crazy spending countless hours sorting photos, stick to a common subject or stay away from people photos completely. One year I made a calendar of just photos of me and my sister growing up (there are some embarrassing ones in there!). And for the past two years, the calendars have been of my niece, so that is appealing to everyone! When picking photos, I just try to pick ones that don't include other family members.

Creating and ordering your calendar
Choosing a calendar service for creating and ordering your calendars is important. So far, I have used Apple, Kodak Gallery, and Shutterfly.

Apple - For Mac users it's a no brainer! Create your calendar in iPhoto and order the calendar from Apple. They have the best quality calendars of all three services I have tried, but they are also quite a bit more expensive. Calendar creation in iPhoto is a simple and seamless process. It pulls dates directly from your iCal calendar(s), and the photos directly from iPhoto. I created my calendars in Google Calendar (as described above), and then set up iCal to pull those calendars by the Google Calendar links. Sadly, I don't use a Mac anymore, and I haven't found any other calendar services that offer that level of integration with your existing data.

Kodak Gallery - I used Kodak one time. Overall, I was pleased with the quality of the calendar, but the spiral binding was too small for the calendar pages to turn. So you ended up having to force the pages to flip to the next month. Also, everything was a manual process. You have to upload your photos to the Kodak service using their proprietary photo web uploader, and you have to enter the dates manually. It was a lot of work! In the end, I chose not to use Kodak again due to the issue with the spiral binding.

Shutterfly - This is my second year using Shutterfly, and overall I like them. The overall quality is nice and the pages flip easily in the spiral binding. Unfortunately, you do have to upload your photos to the Shutterfly website using their proprietary web uploader, and you do have to manually enter all of the dates into their website. But the site maintains those dates on your account, so you only have to enter them once. Unfortunately it does not allow you to group the dates or assign tags. Pricing is nice and the calendars are very customizable. I will continue to use Shutterfly in the future unless something better comes along.

Ideal calendar solution?
What I really want to see is a company that lets me use my existing data where it currently resides. I am a Google person, so I would like to use my own Google Calendars, and my own GMail contacts, and my photos from Picasa or the Picasa Web site.

Google already has all of the functionality in place that Apple has for a fully integrated calendar service. Google just needs to add an add-on/plugin built into their Picasa application. Picasa can already pull data from my GMail contacts. I am sure it would be simple to have it input the calendar information from my Google Calendar too. Google wouldn't even need to build the integration. Calendar websites, such as Shutterfly or Kodak, could build plugins so that you could build the calendar in Picasa and then automatically upload the compiled calendar data/photos to Shutterfly or Kodak for processing.

Seems like a no-brainer, but so far nobody besides Apple has made photo calendar creation a seamless process. We'll see what happens next year.

What are your thoughts and recommendations?

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