My Morrissey Years and a Saal Digital Photobook review
Do you print your photos? Make postcards? Books? I used to, but my efforts in recent years have been pathetic. I am never sure which printing companies print a good quality photo or gift. Most of my pictures have been languishing on hard drives and until I started this blog, I only really shared them on flickr.
When Saal Digital, a printing company based in Germany (UK website here) , offered me a 40EURO voucher for a photo book of my choice, I finally got my arse in gear and my backup drive out. I had previously used their services to print a photo book, fine art prints and a mouse mat. I found them slightly more expensive than high street printing shops. But the quality was excellent. Especially my prints on fine art paper have stood the test of time. They’re hanging on the wall exposed to light and still look good. Making another photobook using this company was a no-brainer.
Next question: what to print?
How about: My life with Morrissey? I’ve been a fan for… urrrr…. thirty years, although I went to my first ever gig almost twenty years ago.
Twenty Years of Morrissey Concerts – are you serious?
This November marks the 20th anniversary of my first Morrissey gig, an anniversary almost as important as the wedding anniversary.
I don’t show much on this blog about it, but I have had a unilateral love affair with Morrissey for most of my life. As much as I can be infatuated with anybody whom you’ve never met, I have failed to grow out of it. Much to the ridicule of my ex-boyfriends! But then, they have come and gone, and Morrissey has stayed.
I blame him for being a vegetarian most of my life, and for getting an education that I thought I wasn’t capable of. I blame him for having the guts to apply to the University of Heidelberg and finish a degree while working in several jobs to support myself, and finally sailing off to England where I spend over a decade of my adult life in search of the essence of Britishness and the roots of his melancholic poetry. Did I find it? Sure, if you count a surprisingly long stint in the National Health Service, living an art-laden middle class life as much as said National Health Service confines with their busy on-call rota would allow.
My Morrissey Years
I can proudly say Morrissey has now been a friendly companion for over half my life.
It all started in 1987 when my female class mates would scrawl “Morrissey” all over their pen cases and I caught the “Suedehead” video by accident. At least geographically, he appeared to move in the same circles as the Pet Shop Boys whom I was obsessed with, white stucco villas of Kensington and Chelsea, quiffy haircuts, collared shirts and a coolness I was unable to grasp, sitting in my village.
Of course these were things I was never to experience, because I lived in deepest rural Eastern Germany, where, if you caught the (forbidden) German version of “Top of the Pops” you idol’s music video might appear on telly once, maybe twice – in your lifetime! My ears pricked up a hell of a lot when the Eastern German radio played their 1988 live album “Rank” (not quite legally, but tons of East German Smiths fans will thank them for it). I sat by the tape recorder, my fingers cramped over the “Record” button, listening to something I had never quite heard like this before.
It look 11 years until I saw Morrissey live.
Finishing school, university, starting my first job, and I had finally washed up if not in the stucco terraces of West London, but the Dreaming Spires of Oxford, having secured some scholarship money and a research job.
I was still perpetually skint, but finally, he played not far from us! I went with a friend and shot two rolls of film of which one or two pictures turned out okay. More importantly, my love for all things Morrissey re-ignited and became a lifetime companion.
I saw him play in London, Glasgow and Reading. When “You are the Quarry” was released, I was living in Germany and worked to a fairly unpredictable weekend-heavy on-call schedule in a large university hospital, and although it is one of my favourite albums, I listened to it mostly in the bath tub, knackered from yet another long duty. Although these years were good in terms of professional furtherance, they did nothing for my musical education! But soon, England called again, and although Morrissey was by now living in California, I felt closer to him in spirit!
Once settled again in England, I prepared to sit some professional exams. Because my residences were a noisy man cave, I rented a holiday cottage in Cornwall to study in peace and drove all the way to Truro, to a boisterous gig where caught part of his shirt and engaged in the first ever close combat of my life when said shirt was trying to be wrestled out of my hands again, unsuccessfully. Like a parable for being bloody stubborn and holding on. I sailed through the exam, and two years later, deeply unhappy about moving between hospitals I all hated and my love breaking up with me, I thought ” hey I’m in Sunderland and the sun shines out of my behind”.
Between 2008 and 2011, I was lucky to see Morrissey tour smaller venues in the North East of England, gigs I faithfully attended with a variety of mostly very small photographic gear as photographs were increasingly not permitted. These were some of my favourite concerts. Smaller venues, Morrissey in great form, a very friendly audience where standing in the mosh pit didn’t incur a visit to Accident and Emergency.
I saw him again in Rome in 2014 as a birthday gift to myself, shortly before abandoning life as I knew it in England and moving back to Germany. I remember clearly setting off from my beloved house, with just my cat, an airbed and essentials for the next few weeks in my small car, heading off to the ferry one autumn afternoon, with “World Peace is None of Your Business” on the car stereo (which I had saved for the occasion). It kept me from complete meltdown and comforted me on the 24hour-solo drive to Germany.
He continued to offer reassurance and comfort while settling back into a new home and a new job, and just three weeks after the move, he was kind enough to play in Berlin.
I saw him again in Berlin in 2016, but venues were becoming bigger and bigger, and in 2018 he cancelled his Germany dates – so I think I was never meant to see him at the humongous Mercedes Benz Area. His MEN Arena gig in Manchester hadn’t really excited me as much as the smaller gigs. So in absence of any further opportunities this year, I live in hope that he returns to tour in Europe soon, and in the meant time, I have my souvenir book of my favourite Morrissey gigs.
Explanatory note about picture quality
I am a bleeding amateur when it comes to photography.
I currently shoot with a consumer DSLR, a Nikon D7200 purchased four years ago (its current successor is the D7500) with a first generation model of the 18-200mmVR original lens on the camera 80% of the time. All Nikon shots in this post were taken with this lens and my old Nikon D80. I’ve been a Nikonista since I bought my first ever Nikon camera in 1991, with exception of an excellent Fujifilm DSLR (it had a Nikon bayonet). Over the years, I’ve become quite attached to my good lenses, many vintage beauties bought on Ebay when professionals threw their old lenses out. I’m toying with the idea of this Fujifilm mirrorless camera for days when I want to travel light, but I’m happy withe the way even the consumer Nikon cameras are holding up.
My Morrissey pictures were shot with a variety of cameras, in varying qualities, over the years: Starting with a Nikon D80 (consumer DSLR, now outdated), through Panasonic Lumix LX1 (all the rage high-end compact camera back in 2008) to my trusty Fujifilm F500 (dirt cheap, still good, its somewhat higher end successor is the X-F10). Usually I travelled with two cameras, having to leave the DSLR with security as cameras were not allowed. Most of the pictures are therefore of a very questionable quality but dear memories nevertheless.
Making the book
So, what do you think Saal Digital made of my precious but fuzzy memories? Lets see…
I got started by going through my backup drive and dump every Morrissey picture I could find (from 2008 basically) on my hard drive. There I made a special Morrissey folder for all the keepers. As I shot JPEG-only leading up to 2016 I left edits I had already made in Photoshop Elements were untouched. I just made sure the photos were large enough. I processed any RAW images I had through Adobe Lightroom, before saving everything as high-resolution JPG at 300 dpi in sRGB.
You can also create the entire book using your own software and upload it into their webshop. The UK webshop is here. However, I recommend using the SaalDesignSoftware, which is easy and pretty self-explanatory to use. You can download it in German or in English through their UK website. Their layouts could do with an update – nothing as varied as we now can expect from Canva or other design website.
I just stared with a bare book, turned Auto-Layout off and arranged my photos. This had the advantage of the software assessing image quality and cropping. They also have a nice choice of clean AND whimsical fonts for text boxes and captions. I wanted all-over photo with no white edges, and my only text was title, spine and back of the book.
I chose the standard 21x28cm photo book with a standard photo cover. The only extra I paid for was art print – you get 5 EUROs off for standard glossy paper. I also added quite a few extra pages because once I stuck these photos into the book, I couldn’t stop in my haze of Moz admiration. Then I went through the mandatory final check, waited for the pictures to upload, and paid via Paypal. I instantly got an email telling me that my book would be delivered in eight days. In fact, the book arrived after six or seven days, ahead of schedule.
And heere it is!
The standard cover is some sort of semi-matte photo cover. I used a very blurred shot with a font matching the colours.
Just so I don’t forget, I also printed the dates and venues on the back. I have some photos of the London Forum and Truro gigs, but god only knows where they are. And rest assured, they are such shocking bad quality that I did not want to put them in here. I didn’t bother with any photographs in Reading and Manchester. We could only get seated tickets a very long way away from the stage and photo opportunities.
The prints on matte art paper turned out really well. They are not super-matte but not shiny either, and feel great. You won’t see any fingerprints on them.
The colours came out pretty much exactly as I saw them on my screen. I did make the colours quite punchy, as my colours don’t always come out that pronounced in prints, even though I haven’t done much different – always use sRGB upon exporting and store images as jpg.
A high quality flatlay binding comes as standard. This means if you open the book, it will lie pretty flat on its own. Also, if you print a photo across to pages, there is no obvious seam.
It’s looking pretty good in my Morrissey library! The quality and finish may not be what the photographic industry would call “professional” but in my amateur opinion, it is not that far off from high-priced wedding albums. They cost about six to ten times as much, and I should know, because I’ve just had one made!
My Saal Digital photo book – overall
From my experience, I highly recommend Saal Digital photo books. I find they work somewhere in between the majority of other online printers and professional quality albums. However the only other photobook printer I have used was Blurb and I found Saal Digital to be somewhat superior in quality. I also really highly recommend their fine art printing services: I have ordered FineArt Baryta® and Fine Art PhotoRag® prints and both were excellent and very long lasting.
Disclosure: This post reviews a photo book from Saal Digital, from whom I received an obligation-free 40EURO voucher. Including the voucher, I paid 16 EUROs for the book shown including shipping. This post is therefore advertisement. This post also contains some affiliate links to Amazon. More details can be found here.
I hope you have enjoyed my Mozfest. Do you have an artist that you like so much you continue to see them play live over the years, in a way that they are great company all your life?