One of the most commonly given pieces of advice I see experienced bookstagrammers give to newbies is consistency.
Find a theme and stick to it.
Post cohesive content.
Edit all your photos the same way; if you don’t use the same filter on every one of your photos, your chances of growing decrease significantly.
As a result, I’ve always considered having a theme a central part of being a bookstagrammer. For a long time, I’d get upset with myself for not being able to keep a consistent feed and for not really wanting to be confined by a singular way of taking photos and editing.
For my first few years in the community, I viewed finding a theme as the key to success: if I could just find my style, I told myself, my account would immediately grow and the frustrations I faced would somehow just magically dissipate.
Before I get into the pros and cons of having/keeping a theme, let’s discuss the process from starting with disjointed photos to creating a pleasing, cohesive, and aesthetic feed.
Now, I obviously don’t speak for all bookstagrammers; for all I know, other people may have had processes that look nothing like mine.
For me, though, finding a theme has always started in two places: Instagram and Pinterest.
Whether I’m on a theme-searching journey or not, I constantly get inspiration for my own content from other bookstagrammers, and there always seems to be one account that I’m particularly obsessed with in the moment where I’m searching for a theme of my own (it’s a different one every time).
I would never try to emulate said account’s photos or style perfectly, of course, but their work will typically spark some kind of idea of my own.
As you can see, a simple search of “VSCO Instagram Themes” on Pinterest will yield you wildly varying and seemingly endless results. (VSCO is the app I use for editing, hence the specification in my search).
When I launched my theme discovery journey, I created a “Potential Themes” board, and I always come back to it if I think I need to switch up my account and try something fresh. If I decide something I’d found in the past wasn’t what I was looking for, well, then I’d simply search again.
This is simple, I’d always tell myself at the point where I found an editing formula I liked. Easy. Now I just apply the edits the Pinterest post says and voilà, my feed will be perfect!
As much as I wish I could give you a simple step-by-step instruction manual to finding the perfect theme (man would that have made my life easier), it’s actually much more complicated than Pinterest makes it out to be.
Sometimes you don’t have access to the lighting the Pinterest samples do. Sometimes you don’t have a gorgeous beach or forest or any nature. Sometimes you don’t have wood floors or aesthetic windowsills or the ability to make coffee for every photo.
Basically, sometimes, even when you think you’ve found the most gorgeous theme and you want to implement it, it just doesn’t work with what you have available to you.
This adds another layer to finding your style: in addition to finding something you love, you have to find something that works with the type of photos you can take.
If Pinterest doesn’t work out (I know *gasp* we found something Pinterest can’t do), it’s time to experiment. Find a colored blanket or sweater, a certain string of lights, or some kind of prop you can put into every photo.
And if you’re trying to keep a theme, take this one piece of advice over all else: use the same filter on every photo. It’s almost impossible to make your photos appear cohesive if you’re putting wildly different effects on each of them.
With that in mind, be willing to accommodate your editing based on each photo you take. Brightness, contrast, temperature, etc.: customize each of these factors based on the individual photo rather than using a recipe to copy and paste identical edits onto each shot.
So now, if you’ve found something you liked and that works consistently, you’ve found a theme. Congrats! You did it! If you’re happy with your style forever and ever, that’s amazing and you do you.
But. If you get tired of your theme, if you’re feeling uninspired and lacking in motivation, don’t feel like you’ve made an everlasting commitment and that you can’t switch it up.
Take it from the person who feels like she’s tried literally everything: I’ve done flatlays and outdoor shots and alternating between the two, I’ve had a pink theme and a muted theme and virtually everything in between, I’ve used seasonal filters and festive locations.
The longest I’ve lasted taking one type of photo is a couple months.
I’ve been on bookstagram for three and a half years.
Despite my own experience, I do think themes can work and can be useful. I know there have certainly been times when having a set photo structure to work with has saved me so much time when my brain’s been occupied by other things going on in my life.
In addition, themes really do create a pleasing account as a whole. Even if each individual shot isn’t perfect, having a cohesive style often makes scrolling through someone’s account quite the aesthetic experience.
Plus, I think themes are a fantastic idea for those new to bookstagram. If you just started your account, beginning with some kind of set structure to utilize for photos while you learn the ropes, experiment with photography, and discover and the ins and outs of the community, I think, can take a lot of the initial worry out of your launch into bookstagram.
That being said, I also think there are downsides to keeping a theme.
For me personally, it often feels incredibly limiting. It doesn’t allow for as much of a creative expression, and there becomes a point where I feel like I just start recycling old setups or ideas rather than coming up with new and innovative content.
It’s also limiting in the sense that I often feel like I can only photograph a certain type of book within a strict style. For example, if I’m going for a fall aesthetic, there isn’t room for a book with any hint of green or pink on the cover (among others); it simply doesn’t match and the colors don’t look right once the photo’s edited.
Beyond the values and downsides of themes themselves, I feel like there’s an enormous pressure within the bookstagram community to have and keep a theme, and the message I often feel like comes across is that you can’t be unique or successful if you don’t have a very distinct way of photographing and editing.
In reality, it’s less about a theme and more about the photography. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve blamed a lack of growth on not having a theme or not being consistent enough with the kind of photos I take, when in actuality, my photos just weren’t good enough. What I’ve learned and come to accept is that if you take good photos, it doesn’t really matter how consistent or similar they are to one another.
My message here is this: photograph what you like and want to see. Don’t cater your content to what you think potential followers would enjoy; you’ll end up burning yourself out and will run out of inspiration real fast, no matter how much your engagement might pick up as a result of this new style.
Your account is yours, so make it representative of your own creativity.