Lightroom 4 public beta is here!

Adobe just turned the public beta of Lightroom 4 loose!  You can can all the info here: I'm going to make this entry short because I want to go watch the 8 YouTube videos they havejust posted, which you can see here: But I'll take a minute to comment on the marque features they're touting:

  • New develop process for 2012.  Haven't seen it yet but the new process for 2010 was so phenomenal that it was like getting a whole new camera.
  • Blurb integration.  I make Blurb books!  This could be great!
  • Geotagging.  Thank god, finally.  Haven't seen the details yet but hopefully it's cool.
  • Video features.  Meh.  I have very little interest in this.

I just wanted to post this quick note so perhaps you could say you saw it here first.  I know what I'm going to be doing for the rest of tonight!  (watching videos, downloading, and processing)

My Blurb book has arrived

I just got my Yellowstone book from Blurb today and overall I'm impressed.  In this post I'll take a look at what worked and what didn't - partially for anyone thinking of making a photo book like this and partially for my own note-taking purposes. First of all, I love coffee table photography books!  I've got a small collection of them and I'm always looking for new ones.  I'm no "expert" or "connoisseur", but I know what I like.   I look at things like the colors, the finish, the construction, etc.   After the Vietnam trip I put together a book with Apple's Aperture software and printing service and was pretty happy with it.   The things I didn't like were the small size, the thinner paper, and the lack of "pop" in the images.

Blurb recently came out with a new premium paper which is supposed to be thicker, and also with a new 13" x 11" size.  I think prints and books should be big, so to me 13 x 11 is about right.   I could go bigger...

First Glitch:

I did my layout, imported everything into BookSmart, uploaded my book, and then I hit a hiccup at a most unexpected place: entering the shipping address.  No matter how I laid it out, their system would not accept the address of my daytime job as a valid shipping address.  This is a large publicly traded company with hundreds of employees and a real shipping department and everything, so it seems weird that their system wouldn't accept it.  After consulting with Blurb customer service they basically told me they couldn't fix it and to try a different address.  A better response would have been "Sorry for the technical trouble - We've manually entered the address into our system so you're good to go."

After picking a different shipping address, the book ships via FedEx and seems well protected and in good shape upon arrival:

Inside the box, the book itself is shrink-wrapped:

Let's look at the binding.  This was a 40 page book which is about the smallest coffee table book I've ever seen and the Blurb binding process barely accommidates it.  The binding would look a lot more normal if there were at least 80 pages in the book:

A big discussion item on the forums is how to lay out double truck images and how much of the image gets lost in the gutter.  The "lay" of the book is important too since the binding, paper weight, and page count all affect how the gutter behaves.

Printing Quality

The quality of the color and black and white images is good.  The dust jacket is ultra-glossy but the pages are pretty much matte.  The colors are just as I expected and the shadows didn't print too low at all.  I don't have anything to complain about with the printing of the photos.

The text, on the other hand, is another story.

There are two ways to layout pages for a Blurb book - by using one of the fixed templates in their proprietary BookSmart software or by using an external program like Adobe InDesign to layout the pages and then export the whole page as a full-bleed jpg image.  The page layouts in BookSmart are a bit limited so I chose to use InDesign to lay out the pages.

There's a lot of discussion on the Blurb forums about printing quality, especially with text.   As it turns out, there's a serious downside to laying out your book in an outside program: the text turns out pretty blurry.  As explained in a post about text quality on the Blurb forum from Mark Lentczner, here's what's happening:  When you put text in one of the text containers in a pre-made BookSmart template, the text gets rendered at around 800 dpi and looks very crisp.  When you have text rendered by InDesign at 300 dpi and then re-folded, spindled, and mutilated by the BookSmart software and then again by the printer.  The result is acceptable for large print (like 50pt.) but horrible for smaller stuff like 24, 12, etc., as seen here:


Overall, I'm pretty happy.  I like the photo printing and I like the size, especially for the price.  I can see ordering a few of these for friends and family but there's no way it would be suitable for commercial sale, due to the text printing issues.  So what would I like to see Blurb do?  Here's a list:

  • Find a way to fix this text printing issue Right now in order to print any small text at "bookstore quality", you HAVE to enter your text in a pre-made template in the BookSmart software.  Uploading files at 800 dpi would result in page images that are 7 times larger (and upload times 7 times larger), but if that's what it takes then that's what it takes.   Perhaps it might help if we could upload PDF files instead of rasterizing everything?
  • More sizes I like the larger 13 x 11" size, but why stop there? How about a 11 x 13" choice?  How about even larger?  I guess supply and demand...
  • Cover options We can choose a glossy dust jacket or a "cover wrap" option.  Why not both?  Why not a matte dust jacket?
  • Printed or colored end papers Right now the end papers are plain white paper.  Nothing wrong with that but it would be really nice to be able to print on those pages, like lots of my other coffee table books.
  • Better customer service Two things here - first of all, they could have handled the shipping address better.  Second, they could be much more informative in the forums.  There are lots of forum discussions where technical questions could easily be answered with an authoritative answer from a staff member but instead forum members waste lots of post speculating and arguing.

So again, I'm pretty happy overall.  Give Blurb a try and see how it works for you!

Book is done, and NPS map resources

My book of Yellowstone photos is done and printing! It's amazing to me how much work these things take.  After quickly throwing some images together I started a longer process of polishing it up, while teaching myself Adobe InDesign at the same time.   The official 0.9 version of the book has been uploaded to Blurb and ordered, and should arrive in time for Thanksgiving.  This is the first time I've used Blurb and I have no idea how it's going to turn out.  I've mentally prepared myself for it not turning out well so I'm fully expecting to have to adjust the colors and reprint it.

I like printing large so I went with their new premium paper and large format landscape size, which is 13 inches wide by 11 inches tall.  That means a double-truck spread is 26 inches wide!  (I included at least one full spread and a couple of 1.5 page spreads.)

While I was on Blurb's website I took a look at the books that other people have published and shared.  There are over 2,100 Fine Art books and 3,900 Travel books, so I'm not the first person ever to do this.  Oddly, I don't see any way to sort the books which means most of them will never be seen.

While researching some data for the book I went looking for a good map of the Yellowstone.  It turns out that there's a National Park Service office called Harper's Ferry Center, which is the map making division of the National Park Service.  They make a lot of their maps available for download in the original Adobe Illustrator format! These aren't just small, low-resolution maps - these are the actual files they print the park maps and brochures from!  Like all data created by the Federal Government, they are in the public domain.

Here are the eight different maps for Yellowstone that you can download.

Here are some notes about the maps which are also interesting.

I downloaded the full map for Yellowstone and then started hiding layers that just added clutter and ended up with a nice, clean graphic to use for the endpapers of the book.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Back from Wyoming/Yellowstone, and Adobe CS4

Although our flight ended up delayed by 24 hours, we made it back to California OK.  I got a lot of great shots and I've decided that I'm going to put a book together with my shots from this trip and our trip 2 years ago for Christmas.  I made a simple test book of my shots from Vietnam and I learned a lot from that experience.  I want to give it another try and see if I can do (a lot) better. Last time I used to book printing module in Apple's Aperture software and printing service and I was happy with how easy it was to use.  I don't actually own Aperture though and my 30 day trial is over so this is a good excuse to try some other tools.  The next logical choice would be Blurb, and I've downloaded their BookSmart software and I was surprised at how limiting it is, although people seems to really like the printing quality/value.   Luckily you can just upload pre-rastered pages from anything that outputs and use them purely as a printing service.   (As a side note, I believe that you can set up Aperture to output pages of any size and use Aperture for the layout without using Apple's printing.)

I have Adobe's InDesign and I've always wanted to get more familiarity with Adobe's Creative Suite so I'm going to give it try on this project.   On a whim, I went to Barnes and Noble to see if there were any books out for CS4 yet and to my surprise, there was already a copy of Adobe InDesign for Dummies on the shelf.  (Pretty fast, since CS4 started shipping last week.)  I checked the copyright page and it's copyrighted 2009!   Is that legal???