A ‘book photoshoot’ is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. Think of it as a modern ‘glamour shots’ for your book baby: it gets all gussied up, put in a fabulous setting, and photographed under professional lighting and from the most flattering of angles.
Book photoshoots – colloquially known as #bookstagrams, as they evolved from the photos Instagramers would take of the books they were reading – are rarely of just the book alone, and often include settings, props, lighting, and sometimes people.
Bookstagram vs. Shelfie
A “bookstagram” shot is one in which the book itself is the specific star of the shoot, and while it may not be in the centre of the image, it is the centre of attention. A “shelfie” is a shot of either just a set of bookshelves, or a bookshelf with a person or particular highlighted book in frame, where the curation, organization, and decoration of the shelf itself and the books on it are the start of the shoot.
Generally speaking, the Bookstagrammers you’ll find on Instagram (and through there, their own blogs and other social media feeds), are enthusiastic readers who sometimes, but not always, also review the books in the comments. The less staged and curated feeds generally come from readers who just like to document what they’re engaging with, and to interact with fellow readers.
However, like in every other industry on the internet, there are Bookstagram Influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers. These Influencers usually have deals with large publishing outlets or review outlets to get ARCs early so they can work their marketing magic for the book and the author.
In between these two extremes are people who just like having fun taking interesting, well-composed, fun pictures of books. Again, sometimes they review the book they’re photographing, sometimes they don’t/
Why Do a Photo Shoot Yourself?
As an author, the value of creating a photoshoot for your book lies mostly in the creation of another marketing asset to have up your sleeve, and for personal satisfaction. Most people doing these shoots are Bookstagrammers, but I’ve found as an author that having some Bookstagram-style photos of my book is very useful for my own social media feeds, especially when I’m introducing people to my work for the first time via a pinned Tweet or an Instagram Post.
Doing a Bookstagram shoot is also useful because the props and setting that you choose will also give the reader hints regarding the genre and content of the novel. Readers coming into contact with you book for the first time via an online image won’t have the ability to flip it over and read the cover copy (or if we’re talking an online-only book, scroll down to read the summary). So the way you shoot your book will give you the ability to include some of those needed context clues, and help make sure the book reaches the right audience.
Cell phones are generally high enough quality now-a-days to use as your camera, but if you have access to something much fancier and higher-end, go for it. You’ll want to shoot in the highest resolution you can, so the image is nice and crisp.
Decide On “The Look”
No matter which ‘look’ you end up going for, the point of each and every book photoshoot is to evoke a desire for the viewer to step into the photo and pick up the book and start reading. This is why a lot of shoots involve things like beautiful garden benches, picnic blankets or cozy knitted throws, cups of tea, candles, string lights, warm reading socks, fluffy pillows, fresh flowers, pets like ferrets, cats, and dogs, etc.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are some of the most common “looks” that people tend to use on Instagram:
-Just the book (more or less)
If you’re going for a themed aesthetic, consider that you’re likely going to want to use the same setting over and over again, so choose something that’s easily accessible and has effortless or minimal-effort set up.
-A Little of Everything
There’s no need to make a clear delineation – I do some Maximalist and some Minimalist with each shoot, and try to do some Cozy shots as well.
Choose Your Setting
Once you’ve figured out which “Look” you’re going for, find somewhere to do the photoshoot that allows you to take the books at several angles. I use my dining room table because I love the richness of the dark brown wood grain, I can easily get above it on a chair for a top-down shot, and the wall behind it is pretty blank and even so if some of the wall is visible, it’s fine.
Choose a place that’s devoid of visual clutter like outlets, light switches, art hung on the wall, or mess that needs tidying. Make sure you check the full range of everything that will be in the shot – the floors, the ceilings, the mirrors – and ensure that there’s nothing that will be caught on the camera that you don’t want seen by your entire audience. Put away laundry, vacuum the carpet, get those cobwebs, move personal photos, and don’t leave anything out on surfaces that you don’t want seen.
Make sure that you’re able to achieve a nice crisp focus. Clean your lenses, and if you have an auto-focus, make sure that it’s concentrated on the book title and not on anything else in your composition.
You’re going to want a light source directly aimed at the face of your book (best to use a matte cover than a glossy one, if possible), as well as ambient lighting. I turn on my dining room light, the one over the table, for the ambient light. I also have a goose-neck reading lamp, whose head I can manipulate and aim. However, because this light is very harsh and can create cutting and dark shadows, I tape a single kleenex tissue over the end of the metal shade to diffuse the light and make it less like a theatre spotlight.
Play with the different kinds of lamps, colours of tissue paper or transparent light gels or candy wrappers you have around the house. (Be wary of fire hazards!) Move the light around until you’re happy with how everything is lit.
And be aware of where your own shadow is in frame – try not to get between the light source and your book and props. (Unless, of course, you are deliberately trying to throw shadow onto the shot because it’s a thriller or mystery book, in which case, make it look as deliberate and crisp as possible!)
Experiment with the angle from which you want to shoot the book, and always double check what else is in frame when you move the camera – you might accidentally catch that shadowed corner or clutter pile you were hoping to avoid.
Try many different angles with the same set up – birds-eye view, from below, from straight on, etc.
It’s okay to shoot bigger and wider than you plan to crop the image. In fact, it’s suggested. That way you have a bit of wiggle room.
Cropping & Filters
Always save a copy of the raw, unaltered photograph before you start playing with cropping and filters. You’ll want to crop the photo into a perfect square for most social imaging platforms – except, infuriatingly, Twitter. So as you’re playing with the filters (I like to really pump up the contrast and colour saturation to make sure the lettering on the covers is legible and popping), save both an uncropped and a square version of the picture so you can use it along many platforms.
If you’re photographing a series, consider ensuring that the tone, spacing, and ‘feel’ of each photo of each book is consistent. You want viewers to look at the photos and immediately understand that these books are supposed to go together.
But What If I Don’t Have a Physical Book?
If you don’t have a physical copy of the book, you can either bring up a picture of your cover on a tablet or smartphone and include the device in your photoshoot, to represent the fact that the book is available in a digital-only format. You can also superimpose it onto a stock photo if you’re fancy like that, or use the DIY Book Covers site to generate one (https://diybookcovers.com/3Dmockups/), like I did here:
This image is composed entirely in Canva in a few minutes. It needs some work, because obviously the shadows on the pearls and the smartphone aren’t entirely correct, but for about ten minute’s worth of tinkering, it’s pretty good. You can easily compose an entirely-digital Bookstagram photo if you have the know-how or watch a few tutorials about photoediting.
If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to leave a comment! I’m happy to address specific topics, so feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment here with your query. You can find the rest of my Words for Writers articles here.