I am definitely not one of the most experienced or noteworthy book photographers on instagram. However, after having been fully committed to posting about books on instagram for the last 4 months, and amassing over 500 followers, (wow! ☺️) I have some tips I’ve learned to help people who want to get involved with taking book photography! I also decided to share my “process” for taking and editing my photos. This post became a lot longer and more detailed than I originally thought it would, so… Enjoy!
Lighting is Everything
This is really my main rule for anything remotely photography related, and I think it especially applies to bookstagram photos because books can be very fickle objects to photograph. Too little light, and the photo comes out grainy, or overexposed, or just not nice. Too much light, and you can barely see the subjects and you get really weird patterns with shadows and stuff. Don’t even get me started on flash photography. (I don’t think a camera’s flash really ever improves a photo)
My main tip for getting the perfect lighting situation going is to use all or mostly natural lighting. Lay out your setup somewhere that sunlight from a window reaches it but does not hit it directly and then take your pictures that way! I also recommend not including the window in the shot, (if the window is in the picture your objects will likely be backlit) taking pictures from the side so that your shadow doesn’t show up in the photo, and taking your photos during the middle of the day when the sunlight is strongest and most even in color and tone.
If, like me, you live in a climate where during the winter days are very short and even during the day the sky often provides little light, I have two extra recommendations:
A. Take all your pictures on the weekend or another day that you are home during the brightest hours. Photographing an entire week’s worth of pictures takes a little bit of extra planning, but it totally pays off in terms of photo quality.
B. Replace the overhead lights in whatever room you plan to photograph in with “daylight bulbs.” Daylight bulbs are light bulbs whose light is cool toned, like the actual natural light of a bright and sunny day. They are essentially the same kind of bulbs that are in fancy photography studio lights without the studio light cost. They are better for photos because they won’t yellow or darken a photo like a normal lightbulb would, and I recommend placing them in an overhead light versus a lamp because overheads will bathe the entire area, while a lamp just creates one circle of light. I replaced the light in my room with a daylight bulb and it was probably one of the best things I’ve done. Now I can take photographs on super grey and stormy days, and with the bulb they turn out indistinguishable from photos I take on days that are actually sunny. (Left: photo taken in full sunlight, Right: Photo taken on a grey day using the daylight bulb)
To Theme Or Not to Theme?
Many people use an instagram “theme,” which basically means that all their photos match in some way. Sometimes it means they also use a specific filter or border, they photograph everything in front of the same background, or they photograph everything in the same style. Whether or not you use a theme is up to you. Some people really like how their account looks like with a theme, and some people feel constricted by it.
I personally like having a theme. My theme is basically that all my photos are taken in my room and so have the same general background(s). I think all my photos look really great together in my feed with that one cohesive element, and having the slight restriction helps me in keeping the actual book part of my photos creative.
If you choose to use a theme for bookstagram photos, the most important thing is that the theme is easy for you to maintain. For example, my first theme was taking pictures of my books on the wooden surface of the dresser in my room. This worked pretty well when it was closer to summer, but as winter came in there was only like a half hour window where the light hit my dresser in a way that it was good for photos. It just wasn’t sustainable. So, I switched themes, and now I’m super happy about it! Just find what works for you.
Props to the Props
Books are of course the most important part of any bookstagram photo (it’s all in the name!) but I think another thing that can really make a photo is artfully placed props. Bookstagram props can be basically anything: some popular things to use are fancy bookmarks, funko pop figures, polaroids, candles, and mugs, but you don’t have to go out and spend a bunch of money or anything.
A few fun (mostly) free options are: items found in nature like flowers or fall leaves, food with really great packaging, or disposable coffee cups. Seriously, next time you’re in a coffee shop ask them if they’ll give you an extra cup! If you’re nice I’m 99.9% sure they’ll give you one, and then you have a new photo prop, plus you don’t have to worry about getting coffee drink stickiness all over your precious books!
Don’t be Afraid to Imitate
There are only so many ways to arrange books. You can stack them, lay them on top of each other, open them… It’s pretty easy to get stuck and not know what to photograph. When I get to a point where I don’t know what to do, I often go scroll through some of my favorite instagram accounts for inspiration. Like the certain way they posed that book next to that mug? Do you like how they took a picture of something in front of a blurred out background? Try it yourself! It’s not really copying because, well, ideas are subjective, and because you’re using your own books and your own photography skills and camera and background, the photo is going to come out entirely different. Trust me, if you put your photo next to the one that inspired you, they’ll look nothing like each other.
This also goes the same for pictures that you took that you really liked. Did that stack of books in rainbow order look really good? Did you like how you arranged that trilogy? Don’t repost the same photo, take another photo like it but with different books! If you scroll through my account you’ll see that there are certain types of pictures that I redo with different books all the time. I do it because those photos look great, and on my feed it doesn’t look repetitive, it looks cohesive and nice!
Have a Bookstagram Buddy
After having looked at your own photos for a while while taking and editing them, it’s easy to start critiquing every little part of them without still looking at the big picture. This is especially where it pays to have a buddy you can send your photos to and ask, “is this good enough for me to post?” And, your buddy can really be anyone whose artistic judgement you trust. It can be another bookstagramer, or like me, it can just be your best friend who also really likes photography. Just have someone for all those times you start doubting your book photgraphy skills.
If you get really into bookstagram, you probably will occasionally obsessed over your follower numbers, or the amount of likes you get compared to others, how your feed looks, or whether that certain picture was truly good enough to post. I’m not going to tell you not to, because it happens. But it also important to remember to look past it and remember to post book photography for yourself, not for the approval of other people.
Tamara’s Book Photo Process
1 // The Actual Photo Taking
I take all of my book photos with my Cannon Rebel T3 in the safety of my own bedroom, which looks like this: (yeah, you probably recognize it)
My usual routine is just to take a stack of books off of my bookshelf and take a ton of different photos of a bunch of different setups. As for putting the setups themselves, it just depends. Sometimes I have a goal in mind for the photo, (such as completing a certain tag, or photographing a certain book to post about my review) sometimes I have the full idea of a picture in my head, and sometimes I just throw a bunch of books and props on my bed and see how I can arrange them. While I do put a lot of thought everyday into what could make a good photo, I’ve found that a lot of my very best photos happen totally spontaneously.
2 // Import + Sort
This step is by far the most tedious. After a session of photo taking I usually have 100 or more photos. I’ll import them all to the Photos app on my computer, then I start the long and painful process of flipping through all of them and deciding which are terrible and which are good enough to save. My #1 reason to not use a photo is if it is not entirely in focus. I am very picky with the focus of my photos, which is why I take so many. After I’ve sorted through all the photos and decided on my favorites, I save them to a folder on my laptop that is just for unedited photos.
3 // Editing!
This is arguably the most important part of the process. I think every photograph can benefit from editing. I’m not saying you have to do a ton, or add a bunch of filters, but a little brightness and vibrance can really bring out the life of a photo. Think about it this way: A camera does its best to make each photo as best an approximation of real life as it can capture. To really bring the image all the way to what your eyes see, you have to help it along a little bit.
For my own editing, I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and I don’t use any filters. Not because I think filters are bad, but because I like to have more control or my photos and with filters everything is preset and all you can control is the degree to which the filter affects the photo.
The first thing I do in Lightroom is increase the exposure, contrast, and vibrance. Those are the three settings that I use to affect my photos most because they add brightness and make the colors really pop. After that I play around with all of the other settings until I’m happy with how it all looks.
Next, I export the photo from the Lightroom and move into Photoshop. I use Photoshop to add my watermark (if you look closely at any of my pictures you should be able to find a tiny “tamaraniac” along one of the angles) and crop it in to a square. Cropping my photos can take as long, or even longer, than editing them because I have to decide how big I want the objects in the photo too look, and what I want to crop out. Once I have my picture finalized, I save it to my computer as a jpeg. To transfer it to my phone for posting, I text myself each image using the iMessage app on my computer.
4 // Sharing with the World
Taking the actually photos and editing them is fun, sure, but sharing them on Instagram is the actual fun part. I like to only post once a day at most, and I always make sure to post at a time where the most people will see it: usually around 4 or 5 o’clock. As for tagging, in the notes of my phone I have a list of book-related instagram tags that I copy and paste for every post. If you are looking for tags to use, some I recommend are #instabooks and #yabooks, but you can also look at what your favorite accounts tag with for suggestions!
I hope these tips and the look into my own photography process was helpfully in some way! Do you have a favorite bookstagram account? Are you a bookstagramer yourself? Let me know in the comments!
Further Reading: Many other bookstagramers, many much more established than myself, have written their own lists of tips and how to guides for bookstagram. Here are some I like!