The 400 page Blurb book, produced by Todd Spoth.

My family has been planning my grandmother’s 80th birthday celebration for about a year now. My family on my mom’s side is a close-knit group of individuals, however logistics is sometimes an issue as we are scattered across the globe from Tokyo to LA to Cleveland to Brazil. We agreed early on to all meet up in Cleveland to surprise my grandmother with a visit.

After I got my travel plans in order, I had to decide what to get my 80 year old grandmother. I had been involved in my scanning project for a few months then and almost immediately decided on producing a photo book as a gift to her.

I’m sure my family is not dissimilar to many in that there are hundreds and hundreds of amazing film images scattered across aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, that sadly, sit, unorganized and deteriorating in closets and trunks and attics and basements. Given my (somewhat forced) knowledge on digital archiving and preservation, I took it upon myself to start scanning in some of these legacy images, digitally. It was and has been a time-consuming and tedious process, however it is, in the end, worth every minute as now these digital files are easily accessible and archivable.

After scanning in hundreds if not thousands of weathered prints and negatives, I realized I had only scratched the surface. The images I had scanned thus far were from my own personal stash of images from my childhood and from a few handfuls of unorganized photos that my mother, who currently is living in Brazil, had sent over to me. The scanning in of the images using our Canon CanoScan 8800F flatbed scanner was definitely the most time-consuming and tedious part, from there we could concentrate on the book.

I worked through different concepts and ideas for the book, before ultimately deciding on doing a 7″x7″ book by Blurb using Blurb’s own Booksmart software. We had done several photo book’s with Blurb in the past and had a pretty good experience with them overall. We were coming down to our deadline in getting the book ordered so given the fact that we were familiar with the software and company as a whole, we chose Blurb.

I toyed with the idea of creating 3 or 4 mini-books or creating a really big book with intricate layouts, but in the end decided on a smaller 7″x7″ book that would be filled with full size images from our family’s past. The book was to be hardcover with an ImageWrap cover, meaning there was no dust-jacket and the cover would be printed with my own design. I decided not to mess with the different layout styles and simplify the book by having just 1 image per page, full bleed. There are a few exceptions, such as a few double-trucks, and a few carefully assembled layouts, but for the most part, each page is it’s own photo. This not only simplified the layout process, it would be a lot easier to experience, especially by someone who is 80 years old.

My last rule I self-imposed was that all of the images that would appear in the book would be film images. I have tens of thousands of digital images from more recent family events, however for this project I wanted to focus on the past and concentrate on the amazing archive of film images I had recently acquired. Not only was I scanning in 35mm prints from my childhood, but I had discovered a lot of priceless gems such as a set of prints of my late grandfather during his time in the Air Force as well as images of my grandmother in her 20′s, living in Japan.

Russell Woodward in the US Air Force, Tachikawa Air Base, Japan

The old prints of my grandfather during the war are among my favorite images.

Typically during my own portfolio editing process, I toil with cutting down the number of images into a tightly-edited package of only the best, but for this project I had to change my thought-process. I initially tried to edit some of the images down, but ultimately decided that this was not a portfolio and that my grandmother and family would be thrilled to see as many photos as possible. After checking out the page count limitations on the Blurb website we decided to produce as many pages in the time we had to finish the book. I really wanted to max out the number of pages out at 440 (the Blurb maximum) but due to time constraints I topped out at 400.

Prior to deciding to go for quantity with the page count, I scoured the Internet looking for photos of other large Blurb books, but came up empty. There were a few here and there, but for the most part, there weren’t any real images, which is my inspiration for this blog post and the images that follow.

I tried for days designing different cover ideas for the book. One of my designs included a black cover with “La Familia” in an Old English typeface dipping across the front. After a visit to the local Japanese market I had the idea of doing a parody cover of the packaging of some Japanese rice crackers. I created the entire front and back cover from scratch, mimicking every detail of the original packaging and adding in subtle details as they pertained to the book.


The inspiration for the cover, (right) and the final product, (left)

When we received the book we were excited to flip through all of the pages and see them for the first time. I was pleased overall, but there were a few things I noted for our next Blurb book endeavor. First, the ImageWrap cover needs a pretty significant amount of bleed room to actually wrap around the covers of the book. Blurb warned us about this, and it looks fine, but we would have liked a bit more breathing room for some of the cover elements. Since the book is only 7″x7″ and 400 pages, more of the images get lost in the gutter as opposed to a 12″x12″ book with only 10 pages. This really wasn’t too much of an issue once the book was delivered and started to get worn in, but it was a concern. Other than that, the project was a complete success and my family, especially my grandmother had a great time looking through all of the images and reliving all of the memories.

I also included a tiered-trio of custom made boxes to present the book in along with a few other small gifts. All of the family members were also given a DVD with a similar custom cover layout that had digital copies of all of the images I had scanned in. My goal with the DVD’s and book is to inspire the rest of my family to organize and scan in their weathering prints so that we can properly maintain and archive our family’s history.

If you have any thoughts about the project or have created your own huge Blurb book, I would love to hear your comments and experiences. Please let me know what you think!

400 PAGE BLURB BOOK (JUNE 2010) – Images by Todd Spoth

22 Responses to “THE 400 PAGE BLURB BOOK”

  1. Amanda says:

    Hey, Todd!

    Thanks so much for this detailed post. Your book looks FANTASTIC. We see a lot of family books, and yours is incredibly creative. Love the cover, love the design dedication page.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I retweeted the link and posted it to our Facebook group as well. I think a lot of people will find this helpful!

    (Director of Community, Blurb)

  2. Todd Spoth says:

    Thanks for the awesome words, Amanda! Yes, please feel free to share this with other members of the Blurb community. The first thing I heard from everyone who I talked with about this project was “make sure you take photos of the book, I’d be curious to see it”, which is exactly what we did.

    Thanks again,

  3. CL Woodward says:

    Todd: It was so much a labor of love that you and Libby put into this book. It was truly a remarkable piece and I know grandma was very happy with the book and is something she will always cherish. Thank you so much for putting this together for the family. I know I will find myself reliving the memories that pour out of it for some time to come.
    It was great to see you and Libby!
    Love Uncle Taiho

  4. Thank you so much for showing this! It looks fantastically well done and I know your family must be thrilled.

    I’ve been using iPhoto for my photo books, but I want to switch to Blurb for more custom stuff. I did a test run and came up with a few ideas to make my next one better, but I really like hearing your thoughts on it.

    Thanks again – looks great!

  5. Todd Spoth says:

    You’re welcome Laura! Glad you found this useful. RSS feed my blog or follow via Twitter/Facebook to be updated on the upcoming books!


  6. Jacki says:

    Hi Todd.

    Love your cover and it’s nice to see a large Blurb book. I am anxiously awaiting my 254 pager to arrive. No where near yours, but the biggest one I’ve done to date!

    Such a great gift of talent and time.


  7. Todd Spoth says:

    Thanks Jacki!

    Be sure to show us photos of your book when it arrives! Next time show me up and order a 440 page book!


  8. Ben Udkow says:

    I’ve been doing a photo-a-day of my kids since they were born, so I’ve printed four separate 370ish page books (three years of my daughter and one year of my son). Looking through such a massive book full of your own creations is really quite a thrill and for the prices from Blurb really quite affordable.

    Honestly I’d LOVE to do a MASSIVE book of the first three years of my daughter, but it would be an 1100-page monster which is too big for Blurb. :( (Amanda, any way to get an exception for a one-off enormous book???) :-)

    BTW if you want to see what four 370ish page books look like here’s my Blurb page: (Ooooooooo! Photos of photo books! So existential!) :-)

    I really dig your book, especially the cover. Next one you should do large-format. :-D


  9. Todd Spoth says:


    Congrats for getting it. More parents and adults need to embrace the technology to record history as it unfolds whether family or otherwise. I think a lot of us take it for granted when its so easily nowadays to capture and share these images. That’s easy for me to say since its my profession to use a camera, that is why one of my main goals for this project (aside from making my grandma and family happy) was to try and educate not only MY family, but the general public, as well as inspire, in an effort to preserve those boxes of acid-washed prints wasting away in attics across the globe. Looking at old photos is one of my favorite things to do, whether they are of my family or not, but if we don’t do something about them now, they might just be gone forever.

    Your family’s memories are an endangered species. Do your part to save them!

    Thanks again for the kind words. I would love to figure out a way to produce a 1000+ page book, but I’m sure that would cost a pretty penny. Amanda…help!? Ha.

    And yes, we are looking into producing my next portfolio book in the large-format.


  10. Amanda says:

    Forget cost…how would you CARRY a 1000+ page photo book? Definitely nothing in our sights at that size, guys. Sorry.

    I’m enjoying this conversation, though!


  11. Carol says:


    What a wonderful idea. I’ve been rescuing negatives for years and should scan them all. My scanner won’t do negatives though :( I have managed to do a few at college from when I did photography at school in 1978. My school friends on Facebook loved seeing them. I must invest in a new scanner so I can do a Blurb photo book like yours. I’m the family historian and have created books of my family research (that I got printed locally – I should redo them on Blurb – it’s on the list!), but these only had scans of photos not from negatives.

    I recently did a Blurb book, my first one, one of my artwork and waiting for it to be delivered.

    Sydney, Australia

  12. Amanda says:

    Also, randomly, here’s an interesting blog post from the Penguin blog today, about the challenge of marketing books with fat spines. :)

  13. Hi, I read about your book on Twitter. What a wonderfull idea and beautiful book! Such a perfect present.

    I also tried Blurb to the max, several times, making yearbooks of my family. You can see pictures on my blog. (a 440 pages book, with a dust jacket, also not so much breathing space for the picture lay out) a softcover Blurbbook, of 280 pages

    My most recent book, 440 pages, with the imagewrap cover:

    And right now I’m loading pictures of december 2009, to finish my book of last year. Can’t wait to see it!


  14. [...] wanted to start this post off by thanking everyone that took the time to check out the previous blog post about the huge Blurb book we created for my grandmother. A record number of viewers checked out the blog and I am still [...]

  15. I am so happy to come across your blog, and this post!
    I am working on my own photobook for 2010 with all my favorite images, and daily journal. I am aiming for a photo a day, taken from the project 365 idea.

    Blurb offers premium paper, but with a page limit of 160 pages. I was so discouraged, because I thought I wanted premium only paper! your post has me thinking Standard paper might be ok!

  16. Todd Spoth says:


    Glad you found this post. I have books with both the standard and premium papers and I honestly cannot tell the difference. If I sat down with both and combed over them I may be able to tell, but for the most part standard is fine! Don’t be discouraged, producing a large photo book is fun, especially when your book comes in! Make sure to keep me updated when you get it done. -T

  17. tj ponds says:

    how did the spine come out i cant really tell if you were able to wrap those graphics around to the spine, i cant get anything to wrap around the spine of blurb books and i really wanna know how

  18. Todd Spoth says:

    Hey TJ,

    We did not have a spine wrap like you are referring to. We designed the spine to match, but it was created and designed as a separate element than the front and back covers. Im not sure there is a way to do this. You may have to break the image up and align in Booksmart. It also depends on the number of pages as there are restrictions. We weren’t able to get premium paper because of the amount of pages.

  19. Hi, I read about your book on Twitter. What a wonderfull idea and beautiful book! Such a perfect present. I also tried Blurb to the max, several times, making yearbooks of my family. You can see pictures on my blog. (a 440 pages book, with a dust jacket, also not so much breathing space for the picture lay out) a softcover Blurbbook, of 280 pages My most recent book, 440 pages, with the imagewrap cover: And right now I’m loading pictures of december 2009, to finish my book of last year. Can’t wait to see it! Jolanda

  20. [...] the Blurb platform. You may remember my book I produced from images I took in Africa as well as my huge 400-page book for my grandmother. I had heard some rave reviews about Adorama’s publishing platform and their books so I [...]

  21. Averil says:

    What a brilliant idea!! Thanks for sharing. My mother is in her late 80′s and she would love for this to happen as she continually reminds us that when she is gone we wont have access to our past. We should ask more questions of her. Very wise for sure, but a book like this would delight her.

  22. Todd Spoth says:

    Thanks so much for the kind words!

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