~ Bookstagram Tips ~
Taking photos ~ Editing photos ~ Creating themes
Welcome to part 2 of my Bookstagram Tips! Now, before we get started, I just wanted to say, there’s no one way to take great photos. What appeals to me might be different to what appeals to you, or your friend, or your followers – you get the idea. So, the first piece of advice I have is: Post photos YOU love. Don’t wind yourself in knots trying to figure out what everyone else will like, if you love it, then post it. Sometimes your favourite photo won’t do as well (when it comes to likes and comments) as another of your photos, but try not to worry about it. By posting the photos you love, you’ll quickly find your own style!
Finding a place to take your photos
There are endless options for choosing a place (or places) to take your photos. The only real restrictions are having enough light (depending on whether you’re going to use natural or artificial light), being able to easily clear your background (you really don’t want your discarded laundry or overflowing handbag in your pic!) and being able to easily set up any backgrounds you want to use.
Some good options can be:
- In front of a pretty bookshelf
- Against a plain wall
- Against a brick wall
- A place you can set a background up against a wall
- Your bed / bedroom (if it’s neat and tidy! Mine isn’t. Whoops!)
- In your backyard
- On your front porch
- On the floor
Before you choose, check below for tips on how to find the best lighting!
For indoor photos, having a decent window, with good natural light, facing your set up is ideal. A window to the side can work well too, but it would be best to have some blinds you can swivel to direct the outside light a bit if you don’t want it to shine directly onto the side of your set up, creating a ‘one side in shadow and one side too bright’ situation. It’s painful to fix in editing.
If the area you want to use for photos doesn’t have good natural light (or if you’re going to have to take your photos after work or school when the light is starting to fade) you might want to invest in some studio lights. They do not need to be expensive at all. I purchased 2 big studio lights, with white diffusers and the globes included for $20AUD each on Ebay. I have a bit of outdoor light from one window on the left hand side of my set ups, so I set one light up on the right hand side, and one facing straight on. These lights can be quite harsh though and you do need to experiment with how far away you need to place them (and I still often contort my body into weird positions to block the light on one part of the photo to avoid reflections on shiny or metallic books – then reach up like a drowning person to try and carefully press the button on the camera. Thinking about it, this would probably make a fantastic behind the scenes pic. :D)
If you’re taking outdoor photos, you would think light wouldn’t be an issue, but nope. Light can be too bright and wash everything out. A shady spot is best! BUT, dappled light from a shady tree can be a nightmare. What will look amazing when you’re looking through your camera’s viewfinder or your smartphone’s screen, will suddenly look all harsh shadows and blotches once you take the photo. Again, experiment. Maybe take a few snaps before you attempt any complicated set ups outside, incase you have to move everything!
Try not to use the flash on your camera. It creates harsh shadows and can make the colours in your photo look odd.
What camera should I use?
I use a DSLR to take my photos. A pretty old one, but it has wi-fi capability, so transfers the photos direct to my phone which is ALMOST BETTER THAN CAKE. You don’t have to use a camera, you can absolutely use the camera on your phone, you might find you just need to do some extra editing to get the photo looking the way you want (although my husband has a Samsung phone and the photos are incredible. Honestly, they rival my DSLR camera). If you do want to purchase a camera to use, you don’t need to spend a fortune. Check Ebay or other discount sites in your country to get a good deal. Don’t get too stressed over how many megapixels the camera has, it’s not going to matter when your photo is going to be viewed on a screen the size of a phone or IPad.
What about a tripod?
Having a tripod is a really really good idea. Especially if you intend to take photos other than flat lays. Again, you can get an inexpensive one from Ebay and similar places. It doesn’t need to be anything heavy duty. You can even get ones that will hold your smartphone.
Different types of set ups
There are so many different ways you can set your bookstagram photos up. You’re really only limited by your imagination (and your fear of of being crushed under a pile of books, when you’ve pushed that book spiral just one book too high). Looking around bookstagram for a little while will give you a huge range of ideas and inspiration. Some set ups you might want to try are:
Try and stick to similar sized books when creating a book stack. It is much less likely to topple if you don’t stack bigger books on top of smaller ones! It also looks much better if the books line up on the sides. You can try rainbow stacks, ombre colour stacks, same author stacks, even reverse stacks with the pages showing instead of the spines. You can also make uneven stacks, where the books stick out to the sides and even stacks with built in book ‘shelves’ to put props on. I haven’t attempted any of those, so you’ll have to search bookstagram for some inspiration (or just to stare at them in awe like I do. Im pretty sure the people who make them are some sort of wizard)
Again, use similar sized (and similar thickness) books for book spirals. It’s even more important in a spiral than a stack! Making a spiral basically involves placing each book slightly skewed on top of the book below and repeating until you make a stacked up spiral shape. Some bookstagrammers make incredible, towering book spirals (not me, I only get to one swirl and start to panic about it all crashing down)
There are lots of different types of flat lay styles to try. Bookstagrammers such as @darkfaerietales @myfriendsarefiction and @xenatine all have incredible skills at setting up amazing flat lays. You can set up neat and symmetrical styles, with bookmarks, art prints and books lined up perfectly, or more free style set ups, with candles, flowers, bookmarks etc placed around the book or books. Again, the sky is the limit!
Books with props
I like to use different props (such as artificial flowers), mini book stacks etc in sets ups like this. I often look around for what colours will match or complement the book. Or choose props that tie in with the book in some way (like the wand I’ve used below in the Harry Potter pic and tarot cards in the Bone Witch photo).
Books in nature
I don’t take many photos outdoors, so I’m probably not the best person to give advice on this style! However, trees and plants can make amazing backdrops to book photos. You usually don’t need too many props in an outdoor set up, nature provides it all! And then there’s those places that get snow! The snow photos make me want to cry, they are so beautiful. We do NOT get snow here. Ever.
There are basically three types of backgrounds: using a part of your house / outdoors as the background, using a backdrop of some sort and photo manipulation.
When using a part of your house / outdoors, just take a good look at the background. Really look at it to make sure you know everything in it. There’s nothing worse than taking the photo, packing everything away and realising there’s a half eaten snack in the background (NOT THAT THIS HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME. AHEM.)
Backdrops come in a few forms:
These are usually fairly small, thick but flexible pieces of vinyl that can be laid flat on a floor or table for flat lay style photos, or placed part on the floor and the rest up a wall, to create a mini photoshoot area. They often come in woodgrain patterns, marble look, plain and a whole range of other patterns. (I don’t have any vinyl backdrops yet, so I have to use my wooden dining table!)
These are large backdrops that can be hung on a screen, wall or your bookshelf. Usually they have a pattern or picture that will become your background. They can look great and you can usually pick them up quite cheaply on Ebay or Wish.com, but, beware, there is IRONING involved. Even the slightest crease will show up in your photo and drive you crazy (or maybe that’s just me. I’ve been known to spend an hour editing a photo to blur out the background just to avoid ironing out one crease :D)
Using the Facetune app mentioned below (or Photoshop, but we’re talking cheap, easy to access apps in this post!), you can alter the background of your photo by deleting the part you want to get rid of and replacing it with a different picture. Within the Facetune app there are quite a few different backgrounds built in that you can use. Just select “backdrop”, choose the one you’d like to use, then click on “remove” to start replacing the background. You can also use a picture you have taken yourself, or there are plenty of free to use images on the web. Again, don’t steal an artist’s work online and use it in your photo. there are lots of wallpaper type pictures that you are actually allowed to use out there. Find one of those.
What props do I use, and where on earth do I get them?
There are endless props you can use (and get pretty cheaply).
Bookish merchandise looks fantastic in photos – there are so many incredible bookish companies selling amazing products: candles, bookmarks, art prints, tote bags, jewellery, mugs and more. Check bookstagram and Etsy.com
Artificial flowers, faux fur rugs, metal crowns (from Ebay or Amazon), hourglasses, daggers, Chinese fans, quills, masquerade masks, wands, maps, wood slices, logs, shells, paper butterflies, rocks, feathers, teacups, compasses, spyglasses, airy lights and fruit are all things I’ve used in my photos.
Look around your house, you’ll likely find lots of things you can use. Photo frames, holiday decorations, statues, candleholders… Before long you’ll spend most of your life scanning your house for props every time you walk into a room (and never throwing anything away ever again because what if it could be a bookstagram prop one day.) Like me.
Now, again, editing photos comes down to the type of photo you’re trying to achieve and the look you prefer! You can of course use Photoshop, but I personally don’t (mainly because I prefer to edit in apps on my phone than sit at my computer). I know most people probably don’t own Photoshop or any of the big image manipulation software and that’s ok, it is absolutely not needed. There are SO many apps you can use, but I’m just going to go through the ones I love and use myself. By the way, beware of some apps that degrade your picture quality too much! Instagram already compresses your photo when you upload it (pretty horribly too) so avoiding editing apps that degrade the quality before you even get to Instagram is a good idea. You’ll be able to tell if the app is damaging your quality by zooming in on the photo and comparing it to your original one.
I am super sorry Android users, these are all IPhone apps because that’s what I use and I am not sure if they are all available on Android.
Enlight is one of the best apps I’ve found for the basic editing of photos. I use it for cropping, straightening, lightening, adjusting colour and saturation etc. It also has some great effects you can add under “Brushes” – “Effects”, like stars, bubbles, fog and even birds. Even if you have no idea how to edit photos, just go into the sidebar and choose “Image” – “Adjust” – “Tools” and start pulling the slide bars backwards and forwards. This is honestly how I figured out what did what and which options gave me the look I wanted. Once you get used to the different manipulation tools, you’ll find you start to edit your photos faster and faster.
This is my go to app for editing and replacing backgrounds. Once you load the photo you want to edit in, you can just select “Backdrop” and choose a backdrop or “Photo” and choose a background photo, then “Remove”. You then need to swipe your finger over the areas you want to remove. You can zoom right in on the photo to make sure you only remove the sections you want to replace. I’m not going to lie, it is annoyingly time consuming if you do a good job! The other way you can edit the background is by selecting “Defocus” on the main bottom menu. Again, you will need to swipe your finger carefully over the background you want to blur out by zooming in. You can then adjust the amount of blur you want, with the bar at the bottom of the photo.
I use Snapseed when I want to edit the brightness or saturation on just a small part of the photo. For example, sometimes the light will wash out the black on a book cover. You don’t want to darken any of the rest of the photo, you just want the book to look the way it did in real life. By selecting the “brush” option in Snapseed, you can zoom in and swipe over just that part of the picture. You can step the exposure / saturation etc down in a few different levels to get the effect you’re after.
Now, there are probably better apps to do this with, but this one is just so easy. Sometimes, you might want to take a photo of a book, but you only have the e-book. Or the book hasn’t released yet and you can’t get your hands on a physical copy. This app will allow you to merge two photos together. So, say you take a photo of a set up, without the book you don’t have. You can then add an image of the book (from the web) into that picture. It’s as easy as selecting “Background” and loading the photo you took, then “Foreground” and loading the image of the book (then resizing it until it fits into the picture correctly)
Ahhh my FAVOURITE app! It’s the SPARKLE APP! There are quite a few apps out there that allow you to add sparkles (and hey, sparkles might not be your thing, but I thought I’d mention how to get them since I get asked the question at least 5 times a day :D) but Repix is one of the best I’ve found. It doesn’t degrade the quality of your photo and you can zoom in and the sparkle brush gets smaller, allowing you to add big sparkles, little sparkles and everything in between! You can also use the Repix app to add other effects, such as rain drops, bokeh, ravens, smoke, vintage tones and more.
The first thing I want to say about themes is: You don’t have to have a theme! Look, feeds with some sort of consistency in the appearance of their photos do work best, but just remember there’s a fine line between some sort of consistency and locking yourself in to a theme so tightly you’re afraid to deviate and try anything new. If you intend to run your bookstagram account long term, you don’t want to find yourself struggling for motivation because you’ve become bored.
You’ll probably find some sort of ‘theme’ develops in your photos along the way, even if you don’t mean for it to happen. Your theme will probably find you! My ‘theme’ came about by using my rainbow bookshelves in my background, and my sparkles I love so much on every pic! But I’ll still post some flat lays, some with manipulated background and even an outdoors pic on the odd occasion (I can never forgo the sparkles though, it just doesn’t feel right! :D).
A theme can be taking photos in the same place, with the same or similar backgrounds, using consistent props, taking photos mostly cropped a certain way, using a particular filter on all your photos or editing them in the same way. Sometimes it can just be shown in the types of colours you use – bright colours, muted, antique looking filters, desaturated type colours, dark or light styles, pastels, anything!
One thing to think about when deciding on a theme is – will it work all year round? If all of your photos are going to be taken in your garden, will you want to be out in the heat of summer or when it’s pouring with rain? Or snowing? I adore outdoor photos where the photographer’s account changes with the seasons, but I personally wouldn’t want to be fighting the elements. Just decide what’s for you! If you’re going to use the living room, will you have to kick your family out every time you need to do a photoshoot? It’s just worth thinking about, before you’ve fallen in love with your theme and then realised it’s a gigantic pain in the backside!
Whether you’re determined to create a strict theme or not, the most important thing you can do is find your own style. Look around bookstagram for inspiration, but create something recognisibly your own. Something that when people see your photos come up in their feed, they’ll know it’s one of yours!
Sometimes I find the hardest part of bookstagram is finding inspiration for what to post. Whether that’s which books to photograph or different set ups to try. Especially if you post often (more on figuring out how often to post coming up, in my blog post on managing the algorithm, in a few weeks!)
Bookstagram challenges are an awesome way to get inspiration for what to post each day. There are so many great challenges out there every month (usually searching “bookstagram challenge” on Instagram will show you a few pages who dedicate their account to collating all the challenges they have found for that month. Or, you can always ask your followers / other bookstagrammers for some recommendations on challenges they are going to participate in!). Challenges will list a prompt for each day that you can then use to inspire that days post. When you post your picture, remember to use the hashtag related to the challenge to join in. I like to follow the challenge hashtag during the month because it’s a lot of fun seeing what other bookstagrammers come up with!
Another good source of inspiration is bookish dates (no, not the type where you take your favourite book out for the night. Wait, people do that, right??), For example, you could post a photo inspired by certain events on the corresponding day: 31st July – Harry Potter’s birthday, 1st April – Fred and George Weasley’s birthday, 1st September – boarding the Hogwart’s Express, 1st November – The Scorpio Races race day, 14th January – Lewis Carroll’s birthday (Alice in Wonderland), 21st September – Stephen King’s birthday, etc etc.
Inspiration for new sets up can come from other bookstagram accounts you love. Don’t be afraid to give some of their set up’s a try. It’s best to put your own spin on it and not try to copy someone else’s work completely though. (Remember, you want to create your own style) If you do try someone’s style, it’s nice to give them a shoutout and tag them in your post – tell them they inspired you!
Phew, that ended up a long blog post! Congratulations (and thank you!) if you made it all the way to the end!
My next post will focus on figuring out exactly what you want from your bookstagram account and how much time you’re willing / able to spend on it.
I’ve listed my intended other topics below and will link to each one as I post them. Let me know if there are any others you’d like to see me discuss!
How to get involved as a rep for bookish companies
Gaining more followers and managing expectations