Photographing Books – How To

Books, the topic we are always discussing. Reading, writing, and reviewing, there is so much being said about the literature in the pictures we share on our social media sites, but what is being said of those photos? What is being said of the method we choose and use and implement in our photography when it comes to the literature we love? I haven’t heard much, it seems like each book driven instagram account keeps their photography methods hush-hush, but I think its time I opened up to share a bit about my photography process, my do’s, dont’s, and specific habits when it comes to photographing books.

First, your camera can make a world of difference, but not enough to end all.

There are some really neat ways to use your phone, or a cheaper camera and still get the photo result you are looking for with out that expensive high resolution that comes from a professional camera. A professional camera is any camera with a detachable lens, and those can range from affordable, to ridiculously expensive!

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The above photo shows the difference, without editing, without filters, between the Canon Rebel T5 (left) and a Sumsung phone (right).

The following tips and tricks can be used for your photos no matter your camera, but I personally prefer to use the Canon Rebel T5.

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There are so many aspects that go into photographing your subject, like your setting, lighting, props, and the clarity of your photo, even the angle can make a difference.

I think that most importantly for me, and the first thing that will determine if I even take a photo at all, is lighting. Quite specifically, natural lighting. I know that everyday, around noon at my house, my bedroom has two very nice spots where I can prepare a setting for my photos. Of those two options, my bedroom floor, and a book shelf catch the light perfectly.

This is where I first introduce the option of props, because they are optional. Sometimes, I only photograph the book, on a clean (no crumbs – thank you toddlers, and no cat hair – thank you cats) background without any other object in frame. This is a big deal, this clean and obscure background. I say that the background is obscure, because it should not be the main focus of your photo, and therefore disappear among your subject. It should complement your subject, instead of distracting from it. Usually, I use an empty book shelf, or a wooden pallet. The pallet is actually the back of a map, and it’s perfect to fit the theme I have chosen for all of my photos.

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I decide the background, in this case the map pallet, grab any other props and place them all in the spot where I know I get the best natural light. I have a piece of black chiffon and lace that I layer over my black comforter to make a third, solid colored option, everything stands out against black. Usually though, black books on a black background need a prop that adds some type of framing so you don’t loose your subject (the book) in the background.

Every picture I take on my canon, I open on my computer so that I can be sure of its clarity. My first focus, is on the focus in the picture, and where it is. I make sure that my subject is crisp and clear, almost obsessively. I leave my set up where it is until I am sure that I have the photo I want.

It isn’t just the set up, and being mindful of the environment you’re photographing though. Camera settings play a huge part. In the picture below, I have three photos, the one in the middle is showing my preference for the image brightness. I have my camera set to Program AE, this allows the camera to adjust the shutter and aperture settings according to the light available in the room or area you are photographing. The flash is OFF, and that noon lighting is put to full use. The ISO number, in the upper right of the center photo is set to 6400, this handy number reflects those AE settings, its telling you about the brightness of your shot. Depending on my lighting and what I am photographing, I like to choose darker settings. I choose darker camera settings for my photos for the reason shown in the bottom photo. The left picture of the book, The Hazel Wood, is taken with the brightness set to -1 on my camera. The same photo was taken again, this time with the setting at zero. That photo, on the right in the picture below, is considerably brighter. I like to darken the lighting in my photos because I feel like it adds a richness, as opposed to what I feel is a washing out of the colors I am seeing with my eye otherwise.

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PHOTO EDITING PROCESS:

Now and then, I miss something while taking photos, maybe its a stray hair, but I can always remedy that in editing. My biggest rule with editing, however, is that if the obstruction is too obviously edited, take the photo again. At the point of needing to take the photo again, this is where leaving your set undisturbed comes in handy. Even if, for some reason I have cleaned up my photo set and all of my props, take the photo again. I will never post something that I am not happy with, or that I do not absolutely love.

After choosing far too many photos to edit, I copy them over to my phone where three photo editing apps have been my absolute favorite on my photography journey.screenshot_20180912-1318401419936431.png
Pixlr, Fotor, and Afterlight. All three are free on Google Play, and each of them have a part in a every single photo. Step by step I will explain my process for each of these apps.

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I love Afterlight for the editing options available. In the above photo, it shows my choice for altering the saturation, contrast, brightness, and fade of the photo. This is as close to a “filter” as I usually get. To me, lowering the saturation (less red leads to more calm), less or more brightness, contrast, and fading the overall darkness are a part of my method when using Afterlight.

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The next app I utilize, is Pixlr. This app has a very amazingly handy tool, called “heal” and if you figure out the correct size, in comparison to what is around what you are trying to heal, you can make nearly all blemishes disappear from your photos. Above, in the photo of my pile process, you will find a before and after of a very specific area of my photo.

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This photo, from left to right, shows an untouched photo on the left, a photo edited with after light according to my specifications mentioned here, and a photo on the right edited with Pixlrs “heal” tool. The photo on the right is something I would consider ready to post.

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Don’t let my obsessive perfection fool you, I clear off a terribly messy, unkempt shelf in order to take some of my photos. This series of photos shows that shelf before and after I’m ready to use it, its a behind the secenes of the bookshelf photo I’ve been using in this blog post as an editing example above. You can also find my biggest asset in the above photo, my tripod! That tripod helps me to achieve another focus of mine in my photos, level plains, or fields of view. From straight ahead, or looking down from above, things need to be level. No angles, no crooked horizons. This picky habit of straight lines and fields of view, falls to pieces in the face of close up, detailed photos of dappled edges, or specific props, as seen in the photo below.

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There is a lot to consider, view and analyze when considering your photos, the props, lighting, environment and so much more when dabbling in photography. One one of the things I mentioned at the beginning of this post, was that if I’m not happy with a photo, I don’t post it. What I mean when I say that, is that I post photos I am proud of, no matter how they may differ from others. If unpopular opinion says my subject, theme, or topic isn’t trending, that’s not my concern. I wanted to share my photography and editing method because I have been asked about it on occasion, and there is no reason why I should keep it to myself. At the end of all of this, I hope that at the least you have found a new tip or trick to try. More than anything I hope you realize that confidence in your photography is all that you need. Love what you do and it will be worth doing.

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