The photobook wars

Mission: Sort out our digital photos


Much as I try, I am not a naturally organised person. Over the years my photo storage system – or lack thereof – has gotten OUT OF CONTROL. I’ve got pics in Dropbox, on the laptop, on Facebook, on an SD card, on a USB stick … all over the place, really.

So when I finally decided it was time to do something about our wedding photos (2 years on…) I figured might as well tackle the whole shebang. Particularly those pesky travel pics, which I really wanted some tangible copies of.

As a result, I’ve been on a bit of a photobooking spree, and tried a few different companies in the process. Here are my thoughts…


I spent ages researching photobook makers renowned for their quality and that would ship to NZ. I was willing to fork out a bit for our wedding album, and MyPublisher seemed to fit the bill.

I actually quite liked the software, from the layouts to the ability to organise your photos in a particular order (though that particular drag and drop function was finicky and frustrating).

But the dealbreaker was that it’s not web-based and, uh, didn’t actually work for me. I downloaded the programme, spent ages creating my album, and then when I went to place my order – crickets. It just wouldn’t connect to the site (or something). I checked the FAQs and Googled, but couldn’t find a fix that worked. So I gave up.


Then it was back to the drawing board. This time around I signed up to try Mixbook. I went for a lay-flat photobook, with thick cardstock pages.

Mixbook’s software is web-based, with a fairly clean design and is simple enough to use. Definitely a fan.

The downside was that when my book arrived, there were 2 small ink dots on one of the pages. I would have let it go, except this was my wedding album! I wanted perfection! So I emailed and asked nicely if anything could be done about it. Lo and behold, they made another and sent me a perfect copy. Yay for American-style customer service.  Five stars for Mixbook (and their cute software that let me rate their response by clicking on a smiley face in the CSR’s email signature).


Then it was time to make some travel photo books, which I wasn’t willing to spend as much on. Shutterfly is US-based, so shipping is ouchies. But I got a free book courtesy of Revanche, so gave them a go (free book but paid shipping wound up costing about the same as a local Snapfish book – more on that later).

Shutterfly’s got a pretty clean interface, and I liked  that you could simply hover over a photo for an enlarged view.

That said, I found it unintuitively difficult to resize photo boxes (I had to google this) and the popup menu for editing an already-placed photo did not fit my screen. (Scrolling within lightboxes is a PITA.)

The physical quality of the books is pretty impressive; they feel well made and include a lovely waffle-textured page as the first and last.


Snapfish has a local operation, so it wins out in terms of cost and shipping time.

That said, it’s probably my least favourite site to use for actually making photobooks.

I found the interface cluttered and overwhelming. It’s nearly impossible to find a nice plain theme if you just want your photos to shine and be the focus. I couldn’t seem to nudge using arrow keys and their guidelines/snap rules are pretty basic. And the settings didn’t seem to save across different login sessions (eg, I like the side frame to hide photos that I’ve already used or removed).

Quality wise, the first book that arrived had the inside cover bubbling up a bit as if it was damp or not glued together properly. That felt cheap and looked sloppy. (My flatmate who also has a Snapfish book had the same issue.) The next 2 books were fine, though.

Photo prints

Both Snapfish and Shutterfly offer 50 free prints when you sign up, so I took the opportunity to get some wedding prints and compare quality.

Shutterfly’s prints came out a little light, and lower contrast. Probably more natural is fair to say. Snapfish’s prints were high contrast, with very dark blacks. I wasn’t blown away by either.

To be honest, I prefer the prints I got done at Warehouse Stationery, of all places. I liked these the best – strong clear colours, natural looking skin tones, not too dark or too light.

Honestly, while I think photobooks are pretty cool, I feel like the quality just doesn’t match up to normal prints. From a design perspective they’re nifty, but there’s definitely something still to old school albums. All said and done, though, the convenience of photobooking is a huge factor.

What have your forays into photobooking been like?

Link love (Powered by setbacks, enough said)

NZMuse - Link love roundup with awesome reads from the week

Ahh, it couldn’t last forever. Generally our flatmates are great, and not around very much (plus, we’re pretty self-contained with our downstairs floor). Don’t get me wrong, there are perks. Company when you want it, awesome meals when we convince the resident chef to do us a solid, cheaper bills split more ways. We have a good camaraderie going on most of the time, almost Friends-like.

But the housekeeping honeymoon is definitely over.

I refuse to do what I tried to do in previous houses, and shoulder the majority of the work just so it gets done. As long as we’re here, I’ll simply live with common areas that quite aren’t up to my standards – again, this is okay as we have 3 rooms of our own downstairs – bedroom, little lounge, spare room – plus our own bathroom.

It feels like T and I have been in a pretty good housekeeping groove for our own real estate. He isn’t home as much as I am (that’s by choice, between sports + socialising) but I’m making a conscious effort to restrict my cleaning to ‘cleaning time’ when we’re both home.  Yes, I have higher standards, and yes I’m home more often because I’m a homebody, but it’s really important to me not to be saddled with like 90% of the cleaning nonetheless.

This week’s links

A pretty awesome guide on starting a new job, the right way

Outrage over the housing market is justified

Millennials thriving financially have one thing in common: rich parents

You can work more. You can save more. Or you can want less

On attractions outside of marriage

Ramifications of the recession – the physical and emotional edition

Musings about models of work, employment and entrepreneurship

I joined Snapchat and I kinda like it

I joined Snapchat and I kinda like it - NZ Muse

Title says it all, really.

But seriously. I felt like such an old fogey after installing Snapchat. None of it came naturally to me.

(Why bother, you ask? Well, the high school student I’m mentoring, like everyone else her age, is all over it. Plus from a digital marketing POV, I figured I should probably get to grips with it as it seems set to stay.)

What I like about Snapchat is how it centralises a few different functions.

Chat/messaging – as in, private, 1-1 communication. I think I originally thought it was photos and videos only, but plain old text chat works too. Who needs texts?

Stories – your own feed for public viewing by others (and vice versa). And there’s even analytics! Who needs Instagram?

Live – if you’re bored, kill a bit of time browsing stories of current events and such. I really like the featured city stories. I signed up to Snapchat shortly before Auckland was featured as a Life city last month (as an individual you can contribute your own snaps to these too) and since then, featured cities have included Bogota (a place I know nothing about but feel a little more familiar with now!) and Tokyo (where I’m going in a couple of months!). It is freaking cool. Something about these city life Snapchat stories just feels so immediate and real, even though they’re usually not particularly exciting as such. Another highlight was the ComicCon live story. Okay, I still need Twitter and Facebook, but this is another entertaining distraction.

Plus, it’s easy to add people on Snapchat. No faffing around with a string of numbers. Just get their username, or scan your phone over theirs. DONE.

Anyone else a Snapchat convert?

Link love (Powered by mussels and coconut cake)

NZMuse - Link love roundup with awesome reads from the week

I’m pretty sure I’ve now crossed over into my ‘late 20s’. I’m really starting to understand birthday dread!

That said, 27 wasn’t half bad. Low expectations are the key.

My birthday is smack bang in the middle of winter, so it’s pretty much always wet and cold. I’ve cried on far too many of my birthdays, having been let down by friends. Last year I wound up at the doctor’s half convinced I had a kidney infection; thankfully it was just a bad UTI.

This year it fell on a Monday (the first birthday I’ve spent at work in YEARS). We had a big launch, there happened to be tons of food around, and then I went out with T and one of our flatmates for dinner. I can’t say I thought I’d be living with flatmates at 27, but our setup ain’t bad. It’s definitely my favourite of all the shared living arrangements I’ve endured over the years.

This week’s links

You’re not alone. We’re all in this together 

On dealing with disappointment 

Recovering from the recession

Surviving the emotional rollercoaster of unemployment 

The road to financial freedom 

What does it mean to be partners?

Maybe the ultimate post about money 

Happy weekends!

Finally, a movie that’s realistic!

Sometimes in life you have to make tough choices
By: Rocky Raybell

‘Passion trumps all’ is a pretty typical movie trope.

So while watching Teacher of the Year, a 2014 indie film, I was pretty confident I knew how it would end. T agreed, and he is a MASTER of film and TV (he called the twist in The Prestige about 10 minutes in, which really bummed me out.)


Mitch Carter is the titular character, a well loved English teacher at a wacky charter school (his fellow faculty are disturbingly hilarious and provide pretty much all the humour). Then he gets a stupidly lucrative job offer to become a lobbyist for an educational organisation. Tough choice, right? He loves teaching and loves his students … but  on the other hand, $$$! As in, more than double!

Why can’t I keep doing this and make that kind of money? he wonders to a another teacher in the staffroom. You can’t. Take the job is her response. Otherwise, he’ll be in the exact same position in 10 years, not making much more, and with all the same frustrations.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague at a previous job shortly before I left. Knowing we probably made fairly similar salaries, she asked, “How do you manage?” I told her I didn’t have a student loan to repay, and was pretty frugal, and she seemed to accept that. And you know what, it WAS fine at the time. It’s one thing to be a journalist in your early 20s. But the older you get, well, the older the whole shebang gets. If you want a family, a home, to sleep on nice sheets, splurge on good food sometimes, take occasional holidays, or have even hobbies (especially sporting ones) … journalism is probably not going to support that.

Everything in the film, IMO, seems to be pointing towards Mitch staking his ground on the passion/mission side and remaining an educator. Everyone at the school, teachers and students alike, love him. His wife fears that the required travel will take a toll on their family, especially their young daughter. But they have another baby on the way, her job sucks, and he doesn’t want to see her ‘killing herself’. Maybe this way, she won’t even have to work at all. This all really resonated with me – how much more squeezed-middle-class can you get?

“This could change my life,” he says. “I’m just trying to decide whether or not my life needs changing.”

It does. In the end, he decides to try for it all. The high paying job AND the perfect family. Maybe he won’t get to see the difference he makes to those high school kids every single day … but eventually you need to put your own family and their needs first.

God, I sympathise. Is a perfect balance possible? No, I don’t think so. But I want to try anyway. Earn more. Love my work. Cultivate my marriage. Have a family.

What was the last movie you saw that surprised you?

The differences between white collar job hunting and blue collar job hunting

White collar job hunting vs blue collar job huntingHere’s a post that’s been percolating for a while, based on observations I’ve made. I’ll broadly differentiate as white vs blue collar, though I’m counting, say, non-office-based sales work here under the blue collar umbrella.

Getting the job

The interview-to-offer ratio

In my experience in the white collar world, employers work hard to shortlist very few candidates and only interview a couple in person. On the other hand, blue collar employers seem to bring people in willy nilly. I am deadly serious when I say T has been to more job interviews in a single week of job hunting than I have in my entire career. So many interviews, so few offers. So much time wasted bringing someone in just for a chat. Ever heard of phone screening?

The sheer difficulty of interviewing

Interviewing when you’re unemployed isn’t too hard, logistically. But if you’re still employed?

Well, for me it’s never been a biggie. I can take my lunch whenever I want and have the flexibility to duck out to appointments during the day if needed, and make time up. For him? Breaks are strictly timed, usually at set times. That makes it pretty hard to get away for an interview during the day, unless it happens to be on the same street. And again, refer to the first point above about the sheer number of interviews required to get anywhere.

On the job

Transport costs

Speaking of that inflexibility, that often necessitates having a reliable vehicle so you can be sure of getting to work on time every day. And if you work anything outside of 9-5, you can definitely write off public transport as an option. Yet it’s probably a struggle – at the very least, when you’re starting out – to afford a decent car. So much irony: low-level job, strict hours, struggling to afford transport in order to keep said job.

Blue collar jobs are much more spread out over the whole city, whereas white collar employment is more concentrated in town. This further complicates the whole transport issue (‘just move closer to work’ isn’t that simple).

Tools of the trade

Even with discounts, we have spent hundreds, if not thousands, on gear and tools and training for him at various jobs. All that on not particularly high wages, really. True, you can take some of these with you to new jobs … but that’s if the stuff doesn’t wear out or break or expire first.

I’ve never been expected to pay for things that I need to carry out my duties at work. There was one time I paid for a design/photo-editing app out of my own Apple account and didn’t submit for reimbursement. DON’T do that by the way! It was certainly not expected, and I kick myself now for that. What was I thinking? (I was thinking that I felt grateful for the salary at my new job and I could easily absorb the cost. NOT the point.)

Link love (Powered by gingernuts and frost)

NZMuse - Link love roundup with awesome reads from the week

I’m feeling too lazy to compile a montly eats post. One highlight: Wildfire! The Churrasco is a meaty all-you-can-eat option, with food brought to your tables on the regular. The roast lamb nearly made me cry, it was so tender and tasty. The spiced pork absolutely burst with flavour, and again, the roast veggies zinged all the way through with every bite.

Also: anyone have a favourite Italian restaurant in Auckland?

This week’s links

The older I get the more I realise this is true: there is plenty of money out there – it’s just about figuring out how to get people to give it to you.

When doing what you love doesn’t pay – what next?

Holiday vs real life economics

How to unintentionally ruin your life

On racial and gender identity

Life advice from the president of Y Combinator. Here are my five faves:

  • Whether or not money can buy happiness, it can buy freedom, and that’s a big deal. Also, lack of money is very stressful.
  • If you think you’re going to regret not doing something, you should probably do it. Regret is the worst, and most people regret far more things they didn’t do than things they did do.
  • Remember how intensely you loved your boyfriend/girlfriend when you were a teenager? Love him/her that intensely now. Remember how excited and happy you got about stuff as a kid? Get that excited and happy now.
  • Existential angst is part of life. It is particularly noticeable around major life events or just after major career milestones. It seems to particularly affect smart, ambitious people.
  • The days are long but the decades are short.

But HOW do they afford it?

Paris Cafe
By: Pat Guiney

Once upon a time, I found myself out to brunch with a group of people I didn’t know very well. One thing we did have in common, though, was a love of food. Personally, I rarely go to the movies, live shows, concerts, etc – my favourite form of entertainment is eating. And yes, that often means eating out. For someone who loves food, I’m a lot better at consuming it than creating it. Sigh.

But where I might eat out once or twice a week, it sounded like some of my brunch companions were eating out most nights, sometimes even twice a day. It’s not like they were eating cheap takeaways all the time, either; these were people with a more sophisticated palate than that.

I couldn’t help but wonder how they could afford to do that. I’d love to eat out that often, too, but it would not be a frugal move at all. Quickly doing a rough calculation in my head, I figured I might actually be able to swing a similar dining out budget – but it would totally eliminate my ability to save anything at all.

Normally, my friends and I talk pretty openly about money but these were definitely acquaintances, not friends. All I could do was speculate silently. How much were they earning?! What did their incomes vs outgoing costs look like? Did they save money regularly?

It seemed like such a contrast to how I personally approach money. I literally sleep on almost every purchase I make – even a small one, like buying a new cardigan. I will agonise over whether the cost of petrol for a fun weekend day trip is worth it. In short, I beat myself up over the smallest things.

Now that I think back, it’s likely they were making a lot more money than me (advertising/marketing vs journalism). Fair play. Heck, I ate out a lot last month – a few highlights here – making the most of our Entertainment Book membership before it expired. (Best of all, the membership itself cost nothing: yay for freebies.)


One of the best things about making more money

One of the best things about making more money
By: Tax Credits

I’ve been so grateful to be earning more, not just because of T’s situation, but also because our medical costs have gone up a lot. Health spending has included dental, skin, and cold/flu to degrees we’ve never dealt with before.

I was a hot mess during my last visit to the doctor, and I looked it. As he wrote out my prescriptions, he recommended I get Cetaphil cleanser, “if you can afford it”.

Maybe I was doing my best impression of a hobo that particular day, or maybe he’s just sensitive to the diverse community he serves (lots of well off people around here, but also a lot of new migrants).

Honestly, he was so compassionate, it blew my mind. It was a far cry from the nurse who told me to just ‘go spend some money’ at the pharmacy, back when I was a broke student who’d just graduated. This was at the university medical centre, no less.

Nowadays I wouldn’t think twice about dropping money on anything health-related. And heck, Cetaphil only costs about $12. I’m so very, very glad that I’m in a position to afford the stuff I need today without worrying about the price tag.

Top free things to do around New Zealand

It’s true: New Zealand can be an expensive place to visit. But there are definitely some free natural attractions to add to your itinerary. Here’s 9 free things to do/sights to see that I can vouch for.

Tane Mahuta, lord of the Waipoua Forest in Northland, NZ - NZ Muse


See Tāne Mahuta, our largest living kauri tree

It’s just a short walk through the Waipoua Forest to Tāne Mahuta, aka, Lord of the Forest. Stick to the walking tracks; the environment is delicate.

It’s free to visit; that said, the Footprints Waipoua tour is quite amazing, with Māori guides sharing songs, stories and insights.
Mt Eden summit crater - Climb a volcano!


Climb a volcanic cone

You can absolutely take your pick, but Mt Eden is a popular one close to the CBD, complete with panoramic views and a neat crater at the summit.

Cathedral Cove - a must-visit in the Coromandel


Cathedral Cove

Magical is the only word to describe this beach. It’s a bit of a hike to get to Cathedral Cove, but more than worth it.

And a little further down the Coromandel coastline lies Hot Water Beach. At low tide you can dig your own hot water spa pool in the sand. But get there early and stake out your patch. Maybe bring a gang.

Huka Falls
By: Rick Rowland


Huka Falls

The Huka Falls are our most-visited natural attraction. The roar and spectacle of the thundering waterfalls are just spectacular.

Te Papa Tongarewa - National Museum of NZ in Wellington
By: Jodie Wilson


Te Papa

Our national museum is an absolute must-see, and entry is free. DO IT.

Milford Road State Highway 94
By: macronix


Milford Rd/Milford Sound

The Milford Rd leading into Milford Sound is just bursting with amazing sights around every corner. Waterfalls, the Homer Tunnel, the Mirror Lakes, the Chasm … the journey itself really is half the pleasure.

That said, you really need to take a cruise to see the best of Milford Sound (or a scenic flight, perhaps?), otherwise you’re just chilling at the end of a really long dead end, picturesque as it is. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki - NZ Muse

West Coast


At high tide, the ocean sprays up through blowholes at the ‘Pancake Rocks’. There’s a lovely cafe across the road, too. Then drive north along the Great Coast Road; the stretch between Westport and Greymouth has been voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

The "Nuggets" at Nugget Point
By: Will Ellis


Nugget Point

Around Nugget Point you can spot yellow eyed penguins if you time it right. Plus, the coastline is magnificent. More on that part of our South Island trip.


Baldwin St Dunedin
By: Stine Homann


Baldwin St

Said to be the world’s steepest street, the sheer angle of Baldwin St is a bit mind-boggling.