How To Take a Good Book Photo
Everything you need to know about Book Flatlays - Book Photography
To date I have taken hundreds for pictures of books for publishers and some very well known authors. It’s a job I slipped into via a work placement, a Bookstagram account and some guts – you can read more about it here. I get asked a lot how I take a good picture of a book so I thought I would write an article on the subject. In this article I am not referring to the type of pictures that appear on my account at the moment, but more of a Bookstagram-style flatlay picture, which means an overhead shot looking down on a styled photo containing books.
Firstly there are three styles I feel of flatlay book pictures.
1. A picture that tells the story of the book. These pictures tend to include props that relate to the story of the book, so you see the book styled with items, places or things that are mentioned in the book. It might be a map of the place, an item that is very relevant in the story or something that is briefly mentioned.
2. A picture that shows the book in a setting where someone may read it. Often, publishers will ask for the book in a setting so this might be a café, on a bed, someone writing in it and of course the obligatory tea and coffee shot. These ones tend to be the easiest to do as other than knowing who the book is aimed at you need to know little else about the story.
3. A pretty picture with props which may or may not bear any relevance to the book. These are your typical Bookstagram shots and while in the beginning of my Instagram journey I dabbled with them I wasn’t brilliant at it as they didn’t make much sense to me and there were people far better at it than me. No one really does this better than Lisa .
Before you even start you need to know what photo you are taking so you can make sure you have all the props you need to hand.
After you have decided and have everything to hand, the tips below will help you.
Think of the backdrop or the surface you will be taking the picture on – this matters as the background can make or break a picture. In the beginning I simply used coloured boards for Hobby Craft. When I had money in I bought vinyl backdrops from Capture by Lucy and now I have an array or different backdrops for any style of book, from baking sheets to pavements I have it all. The backdrop can change an ordinary picture into something that looks amazing, so think about this carefully.
Always use natural lighting – I can tell instantly if someone has used artificial lighting in a photo. I know when in winter this is hard but lighting makes or breaks a photo. I also do mine in front of the largest window I can find that lets as much light in as possible. To eliminate shadows I use a reflector which when angled correctly (something you need to play with) will bounce the light from the window onto the flatlay, removing or at least lessening shadows.
Use Grid Lines
Make sure the grid lines are on your camera (I only take pictures on my i-phone). The grid lines serve two purposes; one they let you make sure that everything in your photo with a straight line is straight, including the book, but they allow you to position everything right according to the rule of thirds. This allows you to make sure your props are in the correct place etc: for when you take the picture.
Take in different sizes
Always take the picture in square and in photo so you have two options – you made need to move the props around for both options. I've fallen short of this a few times by only have a square photo when the publisher wanted a rectangle one.
Look at the picture
I know it might seem obvious but we are often so keen to move on we forget to look at it until it comes to editing. Look at the picture after you have taken it. Does it look right? Is there anything you need to move to make it better? Look at it with critical eyes. Things I always look out for because I have made this mistake so many times: Is the book the focal point? Is the book straight? Is the handle of the coffee/tea cup right – you have no idea how many times I have take a great picture only to realise the handle is in a position where no one could pick it up. Is the pen or pencil in the right position? The little details matter.
This isn’t possible in all photos but I like to include different textures as much as I can as they tend to warm the picture up and give it more interest; things like wood, blankets, napkins, linen or sheets. Anything that adds some texture is always good.
Think about white space. White space is how much space there is in the image - more space allows the person viewing the image to relax more and see the book. The more cluttered the image, the more difficult it is to view. Most Bookstagrammers (including me at the beginning) take their pictures too close; you always need to come out more and leave space.
When you are happy with the picture then the really hard work begins - editing. I can tell an edited and an unedited picture a mile off. I’m all for the natural look but not when it comes to photos, as to me they just look unfinished when they are not edited. To edit, I use Snapseed and VSCO but there are lots of options out there. Colour Story is also a good alternative. When editing a flatlay I often adjust the brightness, warmth, shadows, highlights and ambiance until I get the desired feel for the picture. For my feed this I always consistent but for photos for book publishers this may depend on the style and feeling of the picture. I then always add a filter, often going for a very crisp and clear filter with my photos for publishers and something much moodier for my own account. In the beginning editing can take ages and I can see why most people give up, but it gets quicker I promise and with practice you will begin to know exactly what to do with a picture.
Plan it in your Feed
If you are taking the picture for your instagram feed you need to plan a bit. Think of your instagram feed as an art gallery with a collection of works. Your top nine should always look cohesive. I’m not saying I get this right all of the time - I don’t. If I go to someone’s feed and it looks chaotic and their pictures don’t seem to go together I quickly click away. Think of this nine as your grid and think of the person looking at it; too many cluttered pictures together for example are exhausting to look at. Think about how you will alternate your grid; light, dark, cluttered, simple, flatlay whatever it is make sure there is some consistency to it and your top nine look planned like a collection. I use the preview app to plan my grid and it is often planned a week in advance. Obsessive maybe, but the difference between a planned grid and one that isn’t is often the difference between someone following or clicking away.
I hope this is helpful and answers some of your questions. If you have any more please do let me know and I will try my best to answer them. Bets to put in the comments below or it may go into an e-mail or Instagram abyss never to be seen again.