Katherine Boehret

Hassle-Free Photo Books in One Couch Sitting

Though digital photos give us the instant gratification we crave, they’re all too fleeting, quickly forgotten after they’re posted or left buried on phones, memory cards and desktop programs.

For this reason, physical photo books are big crowd pleasers. But they can take days or weeks to finish. I speak from experience, having started three unfinished iPhoto books in the past two years.

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KeepShot shows the photo book in the middle, photo sources on the left and three editing options on the right.

This week, I tested a free iPad app that simplifies the book-creating process: KeepShot. It launched Tuesday in Apple’s App Store and is from MyPublisher, the first company to create affordable custom physical books from digital images, back in 1994.

I’ve used this app for the past week to create four books, including my own wedding album — a year and a half after tying the knot. KeepShot is a delight to use. It tosses out all of the things that drive me nuts about bookmaking software programs, namely long upload times, restrictive layouts and cheesy themes. It lets you see your book in a view that takes up the whole iPad screen.

Books cost between $20 and $70 for a 20-page volume, not including shipping, though prices can jump for additional pages or features like lay-flat paper ($20 more per book) and super-gloss pages ($10 more per book). (To mark the launch of this new app, MyPublisher is offering a free 8.75-inch-by-11.25-inch photo book, a $36 value, to the first 10,000 orders.)

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A choice of background colors, right, allows for customization.

It took just nine minutes to completely upload one book via Wi-Fi, though another with huge photo files from a professional photographer took closer to 40 minutes.

If you’ve ever used a traditional desktop bookmaking software program, including MyPublisher’s, you’ll recall the dizzying number of intricate adjustments that can be made to any photo, layout, design or background pattern. Before KeepShot, I had a hard time imagining doing any book editing without a computer mouse, but after a couple of days with the iPad app, my fingers’ on-screen gestures were able to create a photo book with no problem.

Working on an iPad on my lap is a wholly different experience than working at my computer: It never felt like work. While watching TV shows, I relaxed on the couch with my iPad, dragging photos into my KeepShot book and tapping an icon to change page layouts. On a short flight from Washington, D.C., to Boston, I opened my iPad in a cramped seat and created a book of photos from a trip to Argentina and Uruguay.

An obstacle to creating photo books is that many photos are posted on social networks. KeepShot imports images from Facebook, Instagram and Flickr, along with pulling in photos from the iPad photo library. If an image’s resolution is too low, KeepShot will warn you before you submit the book. I don’t keep my entire iPhoto library on my iPad, so I had to plug my iPad into my MacBook to sync a few albums from iPhoto.

The first view in the KeepShot app shows the books you’re working on, including finished books. They appear to be resting on an elegant countertop with out-of-focus furniture in the background, like we’re glancing at a room in your house. To make a new book, tap on a giant plus button and choose from 12 designs.

Tapping once on a book opens it for viewing and you swipe forward or backward to turn pages. Tapping on any page opens a book for editing, and this is where you usually find a cluttered mess of options. But KeepShot instead shows the book in the middle, photo sources on the left and three editing options on the right (layout, background and customize). Want to see just the book as you edit? Grab a tiny handle and drag photos off the screen to the left, then tap an arrow on the right to hide editing options.

One of my favorite KeepShot features is its flexibility. The app’s 12 design layouts are a guide, but you can change layouts at any time and place images directly on the page where you want them, as large or small as you want, in the frame of your choice. A smart Arrange option lets you choose which images show when two overlap by adjusting a slide bar. A Customize option lets you drop objects and stamps onto pages, though some are a little tacky, like an “Awesome Lover” stamp.

At any time during editing, tap a small “i” icon in the top left to see animated videos on how to use features. These were a big help when I forgot how to do something.

People should receive their books between four and eight days after submitting to MyPublisher, the company says. I ordered books in three sizes (pocket hardcover, classic hardcover and deluxe hardcover) and selected a variety of options, including lay-flat pages, standard printing and superior gloss pages. All of the books looked outstanding, with sharp images and thick, heavy pages that felt professional.

KeepShot has turned photo books from a laborious chore to a fun and less intimidating iPad experience.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katie.boehret@wsj.com.


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