Four years ago, I came across a photography blog post that talked about the start of a new online photography project. That project was the Solo Photo Book Month where participants have to shoot, edit and design a photography book featuring 35+ images in just 31 days. Sadly I was too late to take part in the project's launch year but I decided then and there that i would take part the following year - I've done so ever since. I think what appealed to me the most was the flexibility and laid back approach to making a photobook. You make it as challenging as you want it to be. The project was also achievable - unlike other projects that make great demands on the participant.
This year I wanted to produce an actual photography book. The internet has opened up a whole new range of possibilities for producing printed books at a price not that much higher than a book of a shop shelf. After a look around i decided to go with Blurb.com. I liked the range of books and the free book designing software called BookSmart makes the construction of a book far easier and quicker. This post is really a review but just my experiences of using the Blurb service. Before this I'd had a little experience making books the old fashioned way at college. This was all pre-digital glorified 'build your own book' type of photobook. The new self published books are more in line with what a professionally printed book should look like. The PDF version of the book Sand, Sky, Sea and Street, I submitted to SoFoBoMo wouldn't transfer easily to the blurb book templates so I decided to start from scratch and design a new book. It was frustrating but I'm glad it went that way now. The results were so much better and I could re-evaluate the book design and the photographs too.
The design itself came together quickly aided by the easy to use BookSmart software. By using Blurb's own software you also get the added benefit of being able to check on how your book looks with the preview option. Using BookSmart speeded the design process up no end and I'd certainly recommend using it. There are plenty of choices available for the book designer when using the software. I decided to go with a small 7x7 inches (18x18cm) book mainly because to suit the square format of the photography i was placing on the pages The finished book was completed in four days with the slightly altered title of Sea, Sky, Sand and Street. The 44Mb file uploaded to the Blurb website in around 20 minutes. We were ready for publishing.
It should be noted that you have to buy a published edition of your own book within 15 days or the design is taken off the website. No doubt that is to stop large scale book designing and to conserve Blurb's server space. Once you buy a copy of your book it will remain on your Blurb bookstore page for others to buy. I ordered a hard cover edition with premium matt paper. Delivery took around ten days. The one issue that did concern me was the accuracy of the publishing. It's great having a book design on screen that looks fabulous but it needs to go through the publishing process. Probably the biggest worry is the trimming and construction of the book. Photographs need space on the page so that they are not cropped or obscured when the pages are printed and the book is put together. The BookSmart software gives guidance but an element of care is still needed. Just before I sent the book off for printing I reduced the image size on the pages by 5%. It doesn't sound that much but it gave that extra bit of space for the assembly of the book. The printed version came out very nicely with only a very small difference (on the edges of the cover design) between the BookSmart designed version and the published hardback copy I ordered. I would say that overall the design remained 97% intact.
The print quality is superb on my edition. Images have fantastic deep black tones and crisp whites. Text was sharp and well defined. My only complaint would be that the images have a greenish/yellowish tone that isn't there in the original images. This doesn't distract from the book quality and it may just be a printing issue with the very dark black photograph tones. Some of the warmth of the original photographs has been lost though which is a shame. If you are particularly fussy about print tones this may be something to take into consideration. I will be ordering more copies of Sea, Sky, Sand and Street in future and it will be interesting to see if the green/yellow tone are there in the new copies. It's a small issue but one that can hopefully be sorted out over time so that the image tones are nearer the originals.
In conclusion, I can say that my first published book went really well. If I had to give a mark it would get an eight out of ten. The book is well made and the print quality is excellent. I have a number of photography books in my collection that aren't as well printed as this Blurb book. The service would have have got a nine or a ten if the image tones had been nearer the original photographs. I would like to say that what you design and see on the screen is what you get, but sadly it isn't quite as straightforward as that - at least not for me so far. Don't be put off by that though. If you want to produce a photography book, the Blurb service delivers great results.