Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blurb books, an idea for using your photos

A chocolate religieuse from Ladurée

Here's a simple idea for using your photos: make a book. Isn't that the same as making an album? you ask. Well, yes, but without having to first print your photos, then buy an album, then choose an adhesive, etc. etc.

With digital photos, it's so easy to take them and then never look at them again. They don't even fill up a shoebox, just a hard drive (which hopefully is organized and has backups lest disaster strikes). Wouldn't it be nicer if they sat on your coffee table or had a prized spot on your bookshelf? No disrespect to those bulky three-ring binders that are so popular for scrapbooking, but they are too deep to fit in my bookshelf. Imagine, instead, a collection of little 7 x 7 inch professionally printed books that feature your favorite things, people, places, or whatever else you choose.

My latest personal "book project" is a Blurb book of all my favorite foods in Paris. A square version of the photo above was for my religieuse "best of" category until I found an even better one at Carl Marletti (look at the amazing food photography on his site). People are always asking me what they should do when they visit Paris, and I always respond with food suggestions. I mean, they're going to visit the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d'Orsay, Notre Dame, and other main attractions no matter I say, but they might not know about Hermé macarons or the amazing pâtes à choux at Marletti. So making a book is fun for me and a good gift idea for my friends.

But why Blurb? For me, it's about the best price/quality option. With unlimited resources, I would use Asukabook. Their printing is the best I have seen. I use them for wedding albums for most of my clients. But Asukabook is many times more expensive than blurb (and only for pros). I will use Asukabook for one-offs of special projects, but I can't afford to make a series a books for myself with them even at wholesale prices. Blurb books, on the other hand, are cheap enough to use as alternative to those plastic albums that hold 4x6 inch photos and they look a lot nicer.

I have only made two Blurb books so far, but here's what I can tell you based on my experience:
  • You download their software to create your book, which is convenient because you don't need much skill to get a good end result, but inconvenient because you can't get it printed anywhere but on blurb.
  • Keep it simple or you will be frustrated to no end. We did a 250 page book of poems (and drawings) that was a layout nightmare. The program was slow and buggy, and I swore I would never do another Blurb book after that. But I have learned my lesson. The end product looked better than expected, so rather than give up on Blurb, I will avoid text-heavy work and keep the layout simple.
  • The page limits are extremely flexible. You can do a short book (I did one as a Valentine a couple years ago) or a really long one (440 pages long!)
  • The site makes the books look higher quality than they are. Don't think this is going to compete with high-end coffee table books, but I do think they are nicer than what I have seen offered at comparable sites and stores.
  • When your book is done you can order a copy for yourself and/or others can order it from the site. This doesn't mean you can't protect your privacy (there are options for that). In my case it just means that the next time someone asks me what to do in Paris, I can tell them to get my book.
  • If you want to sell your book for profit you can do it, but I think Blurb is more of a convenient way to make a book than a good way to make money.
  • Finally, until Nov. 24, they have a -20% and free shipping offer that looks pretty tempting.
I'm having my kids do Blurb books about their time here in Paris. They can work on them here (which, to be honest, has been hard to get them to do) and have them sent right to our house in Utah. My 10-year old, Lucas, gave me the idea after he visited Les Invalides and came back with a series of photos he called "the last thing you'd see." They were photos of spears, horses in armor, and other museum displays seen from the perspective of someone about to be stabbed, crushed, etc. Morbid, but very funny. He did the same thing at the dinosaur museum. Now, if I can just get him to assemble them...


michelle said...

Gorgeous photo!

I can't really blame the boys for not working on their Blurb books. After all, I've been intending to compile my blog on Blurb for, oh, 2 years or so...

Markus Spring said...

First the image: The shallow DoF and the airy disks in the background work very well with the broken whites and the brown tones of the chocolate. Would you care to tell about the lens/f-stop you used? My guess is a 50mm/f1.4 on a full frame camera. Anyhow, the way that the blur develops in the word on that sign is wonderful.

Re blurb: In the 2009 SoFoBoMo ( I did my first blurb book. The price/quality ratio of blurb is astonishing, that's correct. But at least in the 7"x7" book, the raster of the printer is visible - even a lab print of the same image is much finer. So when considering a way to make my images more accessible, blurb is not my first choice. But still I haven't come up with a better alternative.

marc said...

Thanks for your comment, Markus. For the photo, I used a Canon 5D Mark II with a 24-70L lens set at f/3.2, shutter speed of 1/100 and focal length 50 mm. The lens is one of my favorites because it's versatile when you're out on the street and it get really nice blur.
I agree that blurb is less than ideal. I wish someone would come up with the kind of print quality I get with Asukabook, but at more affordable prices. If you find something in the Blurb price-range that you like better, please let me know so I can try it out.

Markus Spring said...

Marc, thanks for the quick answer. I am astonished about the f/3.2, I had thought it would have been wider open.

I am using a crop sensor camera, and for quite some time I was disappointed not being able to get those shallow DoF effects I knew from my film times as well as others' images. Just recently I acquired an old Minolta f/1.4 85mm lens, and now bokeh is a non-issue of course.

Re. blurb et al.: Yes, I will definitely look around and let you know if I can come up with something better. Meanwhile I will try out prints on 8x10 sheets with copious white space around it, even more on the left side, and try to find a binding method so I could have a photo book without having to resort to a real photobook.

Janice Twitchell said...

Okay all I have to say is I'm so jealous that you ate at laduree! That was my favorite restaurant when I lived there for a summer. Their pastries are to die for! I hope you gobbled that thing up as fast as you could after you took that amazingly beautiful picture, because I'm drooling! :)

Markus Spring said...

Paul Butzi over on

showcased two folio type print presentations, which I find very appealing, especially as prints for a modest price usually turn out better than Blurb printing quality. The only problem is that shipping of the dane creek folios ( ) is extremely expensive. But I will try to get similar ones made by a local bookbinder.

marc said...

Thanks for the link. I'm definitely checking it out.