When I first published The Heaven Corporation and started looking for ways to get the word out about the book, I came across bookstagram. For those who don’t know, bookstagram is a community of people on Instagram who exclusively take photos of books. Sounds strange, right? I thought so, too. I mean, what is the point of taking pictures of books when you can just… you know, read them? I just didn’t understand the appeal, but I decided to try it, anyway, because I knew I needed to utilise as many social media platforms as I could to tell people about my work.
Little did I know when I started that a lot more goes into bookstagram than just tossing a few books on your bed and snapping a quick picture. Natural lighting, good editing, creative angles, appealing props, clean backdrops, and a decent camera capable of taking high-quality photos all play an important role in running a successful bookstagram that people will want to comment on and follow.
There are many blogs out there with advice for beginner bookstagrammers but not a whole lot geared towards the aspiring bookstagrammer who may not have a large budget to work with. Don’t props, good cameras, backdrops, lighting and a good editing program cost a lot of money?
Do you have a fairly new smartphone with a camera? By fairly new, I mean only a year or two old. Most people do. We carry our whole lives inside our phones so it tends to be the one piece of technology people are willing to replace frequently. The great thing about most new smartphones is they come with excellent cameras. I take all my bookstagram photos with my Samsung Galaxy S6. If you have a relatively new smartphone, you have a bookstagram-worthy camera, so use it. No need to go out and buy an expensive digital camera if you already have a good camera built into the phone you already own.
Natural lighting is really the only way to take bookstagram photos. Artificial lighting will always look bad, no matter how you edit it. The good thing about this is that natural lighting is free! We haven’t found a way to charge people for sunlight (yet), so you can set up your bookstagram shots either outside during the afternoon when the sun is at its peak, or indoors next to a large window that lets in a lot of natural light. Another handy trick to improving your lighting is by making a homemade light diffuser. When you hold up any smooth, reflective surface opposite to a light source, it diffuses any harsh glare and minimises shadows. You can make a light diffuser simply by taping tinfoil or reflective wrapping paper to a piece of cardboard. If you use tinfoil, be very careful that it does not crinkle. That will create unsightly streaks in your shots. Reflective wrapping paper is better because it doesn’t crinkle as easily.
Backdrops are probably pricey, right? Wrong. If you want a clean, minimalist look to your bookstagram photos, you can go to your local craft or dollar store and pick up a sheet of poster board in any colour you like. Alternatively, you can pick up a plank of cheap wood for a rustic, boho-inspired look. You can also use your bed or fabric as your backdrop, but be careful about this; no one wants to see your messy bedroom or crumpled blanket in the background of your photos. If you’re going to use your bed to shoot your photos, treat it like it’s a proper studio and make sure it looks neat and tidy with no unsightly distractions in the pictures you take.
The Editing Program
Can’t afford Photoshop? Not a problem, you don’t need it. All you need is Adobe Lightroom, which is a free app for both Android and iOS mobile devices. The Lightroom app is an advanced editing tool that goes more in-depth than simply slapping a fancy filter on your photos and dressing it up with stickers and emojis. If you’re not familiar with advanced photo editing, you may need to spend some time fiddling around with the settings to get a feel for what each setting does and how it affects your photos, but don’t let this scare you. I have very little photo editing skill and within a day or two, I was making significant improvements to all of my shots. Adobe Lightroom is the perfect solution for a bookstagrammer who can’t afford fancy editing software.
Surely gathering all the props you’ll need for your photos will cost a small fortune, right? Wrong again. You’d be surprised at how many bookstagrammers take professional-looking shots with whatever they happen to have lying around the house. Coffee mugs, candy, old bookmarks, homemade crafts, toys, candles, rocks from the backyard, pinecones, feathers, the list goes on and on. Almost anything can be turned into a prop with a little creativity and clever placement, so play around with anything you have lying around and see what works. If you feel like your shots could still use some sprucing up, pay a visit to your local dollar store and scan the craft and home decor aisles. Some popular bookstagram props that can be found at almost any dollar store are coffee mugs, fake flowers, gemstones, glass beads, string lights, decorative stones and seashells, candles, and scrapbook materials. Consider picking up a few of these, but don’t be afraid to branch out and grab a couple of unique items that will make your photos stand out from the rest. Part of the fun of bookstagram is experimentation.
It can be easy to get swept up in all the props and equipment but let’s not forget the focal point of bookstagram; the books themselves. The books are the most important part, which is why this is the most in-depth section. The idea of having to buy a bunch of new books every month on a tight budget might seem scary, but there are a few alternatives to keeping your book selection fresh without breaking the bank.
- The most obvious solution is your local library. In the wise words of our favourite aardvark, Arthur, “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!” You can get unlimited amounts of books for free from your library (just remember to return them on time to avoid late fees). Most libraries won’t want to muck up the cover of a book with their stamp; that’s usually on the inside title page so your Instagram followers won’t be able to tell that the books featured in your posts are library loans.
- You can also download ebooks for free with a Kindle Unlimited membership or for a lower cost than a paperback or hardcover. Your followers won’t mind you taking a picture of your tablet or e-reader as long as it’s presented nicely.
- When you feel like you’ve built up a nice collection of high-quality photos on your bookstagram, you can start applying to rep searches. Subscription book boxes (among other companies that sell popular bookstagram props like candles, bookmarks and the like) are very popular on Instagram. They do a lot of their advertising through reps. Reps are just regular bookstagrammers who receive free products from these companies to display on their bookstagrams. When applying to be a rep, make sure you follow the instructions to the last letter or you won’t be considered. Every company has different requirements for their reps. If that company is based in a different country than yours, make sure they’re willing to ship internationally before you apply. Most companies are looking for bookstagrams with a decent following, high-quality photos, and daily posts. They also check to see if the owner of the bookstagram is active in the community; they want to see you liking and commenting on other people’s photos and responding to comments on your own photos. If the company does not specify how many followers you need in order to be one of their reps, you can try applying even without a large number of followers as long as you follow all other requirements and instructions laid out, but don’t apply to a rep search that asks for a minimum of 500 followers when you only have 60. That just shows that you can’t follow simple instructions, which doesn’t make you look like a reputable bookstagrammer.
When I started bookstagram, I thought I was in over my head and I didn’t really understand the concept of taking pictures of books when books are meant to be read, not looked at. Now I’ve learned how bookstagram can bring both readers and writers together to bond over a shared interest. The best part is that it’s something anyone who loves to read or write books can do, no matter how much or how little money they have to invest in it.
Copyright © 2017 A.A. Frias