How I Created My First Coffee-Table Book

For the past three years, I have photographed the Battle of Gettysburg reenactment held annually by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee. This year was the Civil War battle’s 145th anniversary, and participation in the event was significantly larger than in past years. Every five years the anniversary committee produces “the big one” — and they did not disappoint, with more than 15,000 reenactors and ticket-holders in attendance over the Fourth of July weekend.

A Personal Project

As a Maryland-based photographer, I feel lucky that I live within an hour’s drive of most of the historical events and monuments in the area. These reenactments are a great opportunity to create photographs of subjects that you would seldom capture any other time of the year.

Persons dressed in period clothing set up camp and stay in character throughout the weekend of battles, skirmishes, and harsh daily living. These are men and women dedicated to reliving history not only for themselves, but for the thousands of guests and tourists visiting the area.

As a photographer, one of the biggest challenges of this year’s event was the overwhelming number of people. With so many reenactors being transported via hayrides to open fields, it was sometimes difficult to get around — even though my father and I received VIP passes provided by a family friend.

Despite the challenges, it is truly a one-of-kind experience that presents endless photographic opportunities — which is why I keep going back year after year.

After the event, I started thinking about how I wanted to use my images from the past three years. I was not contracted to cover the reenactments; it’s a personal project I’ve taken on with no pre-defined market in mind. Initially, all I really wanted were some nice framed enlargements to hang in my home.

Creating a Book

Upon culling through my own photographs followed by my father’s best-composed shots, I realized that we had enough great images together to produce a high-quality coffee-table book. Since the images might appeal to Civil War buffs generally, I decided to use an online service to create, publish, and market our photo book to this audience.

As this was my first photo book, I looked around before choosing a service provider. I decided on Blurb after reading positive reviews online. What sold me was its ease of use, as well as being able to produce my book and market it through their bookstore commission-free. Books you design through the service are affordable and offer options such as softcover, hardcover, and image-wrap, where the image is embedded in the hardcover itself.

Blurb’s big competitor is Lulu, which offers a more comprehensive marketing vehicle, allowing you to obtain an ISBN number for your book and providing access to their distribution partners such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. As you might imagine, however, Lulu charges fees and commissions for access to their marketing tools; I also suspect their design software may not be as intuitive as Blurb’s software application. That said, I’ve found strong advocates for both sites online.

Ultimately, I’m very happy with how the book came out. Titled “Civil War: Battle of Gettysburg, Remembering America’s Past through Images,” it’s 40 pages long and available to preview and purchase. You can check it out here.

It’s been exciting for me to shoot the reenactments at Gettysburg the past three years. And now, I’m equally excited about sharing my work with others as a coffee-table book. With tools like Blurb, it’s easier than ever to share personal projects in this way.

[tags]photography books, photography advice[/tags]

6 Responses to “How I Created My First Coffee-Table Book”

  1. I just published my first photo book with too, and was quite impressed with the end product. I was skeptical about the quality of printing since the book was so affordable to produce. But cast your fears aside! It's a great way to share images with others! My travel book is called "Bhutan, A Kingdom in the Clouds."

  2. Thank you, Kim, for your comment. I looked at your book preview on Blurb and you have a very nice book. I especially like the image on Page 12.

    Initially I was weary about using Blurb, but after I received the book - I was very impressed with the quality.

  3. Thank you so much for your advice, I really look forward to making my travel books!!

  4. Hey Ryan - I looked at the preview of your book and was very impressed by the quality of the photos. Very cool to compare the past to present reenactments. I was curious if you might be willing to field a couple of questions on marketing and sales for coffee-table books from your experience? If so, just drop me a line at scheib'at'usc'dot'edu. I'm curious how aggressively you've tried to market, if you've found success in self-publishing through alone, what kind of numbers you've seen (roughly), and some other questions.


  5. Hello, I am also in the works of publishing a coffee table photography book. My question to you is did you have your civil war subjects sign any kind of release before using their images?

  6. Very nice book! At 40 pages, a photo book is feasible. However Blurb does not offer great price points for page heavy photo books. Mine is almost 300 pages and their prices are beyond ridiculous. I'd have to order 50,000 copies just to sell them at a normal price.

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