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Initial Impressions of Blurb
2/21/2012 8:48:44 PM

A couple of weeks ago downloaded the beta version of Lightroom 4.0.  While many of the features of the beta version are very similar to those in Lightroom 3.6 a new option allows users to create and order a photo book from within Lightroom.  This differs from other photo book software in that no special downloads are required.  My impressions of photo books from Blurb are based on a book created from within Lightroom.  If you use Blurb's book creation software without Lightroom you may see different results.  Similarly, you may see different results from other software discussed here.

My impressions are also based on a comparison with two other photo book publishers that I have used in the past, Shutterfly and My Publisher.  There are a number of different photo book publishers available and several of them are discussed in the March 2012 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine.  Others can be found by doing a simple web search.

For my evaluation, I elected to use a series of 83 bird photographs.  This included a wide variety of birds, dark and light; small and large; some in trees, some flying, some on water, some on other perches; and a variety of lighting conditions.  All photos were .jpg format,  8" X 8", 300 dpi.

Some features from Blurb that are included in the Lightroom 4 book feature:

1)  Multiple sizes and formats (square, landscape, portrait) for photo books.  I elected to use Standard Landscape for my book which creates a book with pages that are approximately 8" H X 9" W.   This compares with standard pages from both Shutterfly and My Publisher which are about 8.5"  X 10.75".  The size difference may seem minimal but it does affect the final appearance of the book.

2)  Multiple page layouts (single image per page and up).  This compares favorably with the other two publishers although the layouts seem less flexible.  I elected to show one image per page.  The layouts also allow you to select a frame for your photos (choices are limited) and a background image which is shown as a largely opaque background.  I chose a frame that is similar to a film border and did not use a background image.  You are also given the choice of printing single or double sided.  I elected to print on both front and back of each page.  Again, the choices are similar to those offered by other publishers.

3)  Multiple cover options including a book with a slip cover and a book with images on the front and back.  I elected to use the cover with an image on both the front and back (different images).  With both Shutterfly and My Publisher I have only used cloth covers, some with an embedded photos, some without.  As a result it is difficult to make a direct comparison of cover options.

These observations are based on both first impressions (right out of the box) and review of the book a few days later.  I also asked a coworker to look at books from the three publishers and offer comments.

Pricing -- Blurb pricing is somewhat lower than other publishers.

Delivery Time -- Turnaround time for publishing my book was fairly quick.  In addition, Blurb delivered the book faster than their estimated turnaround time when the order was placed.

Convenience -- If you are a Lightroom user, then using the Lightroom Book feature and Blurb is more convenient than using separate software.

Photo Quality -- This was a major disappointment for me.  The printed images in my photo book varied from excellent to poor.  Many of the photos appeared to be extremely soft, almost out of focus while others were crisp and clear.  There did not appear to be any consistent reason for the differences so I have to assume that this is from a lack of quality control.  While some of the softness may be attributed to the original photos, I have displayed the photos on the web in a larger size at a smaller resolution (72 dpi) without a similar loss of quality.

Photo Size -- Printed images are approximately 6.5" X 6.5".  Some resizing was expected and since the printed images were smaller than the original files I would have expected quality to be improved which, in most cases, it was not.

Cover -- Another area of disappointment for me but this may be a design error on my part.  If you do not select a specific set of cover images (one front and one back) then the software uses the first and last images in your book for the cover photos.  Since my originals for these two images were square, some adjustments had to be made for them to fit a rectangular cover.  My overall impression of the appearance of the book is that it does not look like something I would want to use to give a "professional impression" of my work.

Overall -- Even with the convenience, lower pricing, and the quick turnaround I'm not sure I will use Blurb again in the future.  While I might consider it for something like a book of vacation photos or something similar, when I print a photo book, I have an expectation that it will offer a professional appearance with photo quality equal to or better than I can print on my home computer/printer.  Based on the book of bird photos that I created, it appears that Blurb could meet these expectations (using a different cover style) but did not do so on a consistent basis.

Each photographer must make his or her choices based on personal preference and recommendations of others.  For now, I will probably continue to use one of my two previous publishers or possibly evaluate other publishing alternatives.


Labadie Railroad Bridge
2/19/2012 5:54:58 PM
Taking a short break from the bird photos, I thought I would post a couple of photos of a railroad bridge on the old Missouri Pacific Railroad (now part of the Union Pacific) in Labadie, MO.  When I first saw this bridge I thought it would make an interesting subject because of the various angles and shadows present on the bridge.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to take a photo from the first location.  After driving up the road a bit further, I took this photo:

After looking at the result, I was less than pleased.  While the elements I wanted to include - the bridge, the water, and the white fence - were all present, the photo simply didn't come together in the way I wanted.  The white fence, which I wanted to lead the eye to the bridge looks more like it is parallel to the bridge rather than perpendicular.  While the angles on the bridge were visible, the shadow detail was lost.  Finally, the water really didn't seem to add anything to the photo.

I decided I would go to the opposite side of the bridge and see if I could find a better photo.  Again, I wasn't able to take the photo that I wanted showing the face of the bridge so I looked to see if there were other options.  The photo that I came up with was this one, taken from a side street with a view of the end of the bridge:

I'm much happier with this result.  While the side details and many of the angles of the bridge were lost in this photo, some of the detail is still present in the end view.  The tracks leading to, through, and from the bridge provide the leading lines that I was trying to accomplish with the white fence in the first photo.  And, by using a telephoto lens, the distance was compressed making curves look both sharper and closer than they actually are.

I still want to go back and try for a shot of the sides of the bridge but for now I'm happy with this photo.

(BTW, no trains were harmed in taking these photos and both photos were taken from off of railroad property.  If you want to photograph trains or railroad facilities, remember to put safety first and not trespass on railroad property.)
Birds (Photos for Blurb Photo Book)
2/14/2012 8:01:09 PM

Adobe recently release the beta version of Adobe Lightroom 4.0.  One of the reasons for releasing beta versions is to let users test the features of new software packages and get back comments before releasing the final version (read "the version you pay for" :-) ).  A new feature of version 4.0 is the ability to create photo books directly from Lightroom (books are printed by Blurb).  I tried this with a book of bird photos. I'll post comments on the book itself when it is delivered around the 24th.  For now, I've included the cover image here and have posted the remaining bird photos on my Gallery page in the Birds category.


Cactus Flowers
2/9/2012 9:58:11 PM

For many of us who don't live in the southwest if we hear the term "cactus flower' we think there is only one type of flower for any cactus.  As my small group of  photos from my travels shows, there are many varieties and colors of cactus flowers.  One photo of bright red flowers is included here and the others are in my Gallery in the Cactus Flowers group.


Whitetails and Muleys
2/7/2012 10:50:12 PM

I've spent most of the last few days scanning some older color negatives that I recently found but wanted to post these photos of two different types of deer.  The first two photos are of whitetail deer from Missouri and the last three photos are of mule deer (the first from the Grand Canyon and the last two from Zion National Park).  The focus on the last photo is soft but I wanted to include it because of the young deer with its mother.

2/5/2012 9:14:10 PM

While converting some negatives to digital earlier today, I came across some photos of wolves taken on a trip to the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, and at an open house at the Endangered Wolf Center near Eureka, MO.  I have one of my favorites here and several others in my Gallery in the Wolves (and a Fox) section.  The fox was at the Eureka location as was the Maned Wolf (the red slender wolf).  If you have the opportunity to visit either of these locations, I would highly recommend them.


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