Tips For Taking Amazing Ebook Pictures for Bookstagram by Esme Brett

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[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have writer Esme Brett guest posting on the site today. She has some great tips for ebook Bookstagrammers! Take it away, Esme!]

AKA welcome to my world of screen glare.

I read more ebooks than I do hard copy books. I’d say about 95% of my library is digital, and it has been for years.

I understand the allure of physical books — I like to hold fresh pages and suck the new page smell up my nostrils as much as the next bibliophile.

But living in Aotearoa New Zealand, I could never get the books I wanted to read anywhere close to the time I wanted to read them.

Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT complaining about living in Aotearoa right now. I have not taken a total leave of my senses, I love my country and know that I am incredibly fortunate to be here.

But it’s a fact that there aren’t many bookstores in Aotearoa that carry romance, and shipping things here can sometimes take a really long time.

I wanted to start my romance novel bookstagram for a long time but I put it off because I thought that pictures had to be of physical books. That’s what all the really popular accounts I admired were doing. I saw shiny spines and crisp pages artfully arranged in stacks taller than me, and flatlays shot outdoors on a sunny day.

*Sighs in Pacific Ocean*

Image: L Alt Text: screengrab of Google maps with my Instagram profile pic superimposed over the Pacific Ocean with an arrow pointing to Aotearoa. R Alt Text: Holding my phone over a field of yellow daisies. On the phone screen is the cover of Joanna Shupe’s The Heiress Hunt.
Image: L Alt Text: screengrab of Google maps with my Instagram profile pic superimposed over the Pacific Ocean with an arrow pointing to Aotearoa. R Alt Text: Holding my phone over a field of yellow daisies. On the phone screen is the cover of Joanna Shupe’s The Heiress Hunt.

But the longer I watched (okay stalked) bookstagram, the more I saw some ereader photos in the mix too.

And that set my heart to maximum throb.

Because ebooks are more affordable than real books. There’s a greater diversity — not just in genre, there are far more BIPOC writers self publishing ebooks than there is BIPOC representation in traditional publishing houses, and same for LGBTQI+ stories. You can also borrow digital books through library apps without having to leave the house; send them across oceans in seconds; and ebooks are available instantaneously, which is wonderful if you’re an incurable mood reader and book hopper like myself.

Ebooks are just more accessible for me, living outside the romance publishing epicentre that is the US.

Don’t get me wrong, support small bookstores as much as you can. In particular Black-owned small book stores.

But if that’s not an option for you, like it’s not always for me; and your ebook collection is screaming ‘photograph me like the sexy, sexy beast I am!’ then here are some tips I have for shooting screen images.

Image: L Alt Text: Holding my phone over a lavender bush. On the phone screen is the cover of Jodie Slaughter’s Just One More. R Alt Text: a purple sunhat. Why? Wait.
Image: L Alt Text: Holding my phone over a lavender bush. On the phone screen is the cover of Jodie Slaughter’s Just One More. R Alt Text: a purple sunhat. Why? Wait.

Disclaimer: I’m not a photographer, so I don’t have any real gear or real skills; and I don’t pretend to be great at this, but I have accumulated a handful of tips and tricks that I wish I’d known when I started out, so here goes.

TIP: You’ll need two devices 

I shoot all my images using my phone, with the book cover displayed on another phone. You could steal a family member’s, but please be advised that constantly doing that might annoy them so much that they, for example, eventually tell you that their phone is now permanently off limits to you (which also means you can’t play the good games they have on their phone and bought all the levels to, which really sucks). Just for example.

In that case, a good Plan B is to buy/borrow a second hand old phone with an uncracked screen. Me, I hoard phones when anyone I know upgrades.

Image: L Alt Text: Holding my two phones in the foreground, background is a green bush. R Alt Text: holding my phone over a pathway in a lush green park. On the phone screen is the cover of Courtney Milan’s The Duke Who Didn’t.
Image: L Alt Text: Holding my two phones in the foreground, background is a green bush. R Alt Text: holding my phone over a pathway in a lush green park. On the phone screen is the cover of Courtney Milan’s The Duke Who Didn’t.

Don’t ask how I took this image of both my phones. Subterfuge was involved.

TIP: Turn your device brightness way up!

And take your sleep timer off! These little dial twiddles (not a euphemism) might sound obvious but that’s because you don’t know how many perfectly good shots I’ve ruined by not doing this.

TIP: Try and wait for optimal light

You know that moment in Miss Congeniality where the lady with the gorgeous strawberry blonde hair says that April 25th is the perfect date because all you need is a light jacket? That’s how I feel about timing my little photography jaunts.

GIF: https://media.giphy.com/media/snr51Qmnalxok/giphy.gif (GIF Alt Text: Beauty Pageant Q&A in the Miss Congeniality film. Text reads “I’d have to say April 25th. Because it’s not too hot and not too cold. All you need is a light jacket”).
(GIF Alt Text: Beauty Pageant Q&A in the Miss Congeniality film. Text reads “I’d have to say April 25th. Because it’s not too hot and not too cold. All you need is a light jacket”).

I mostly shoot outdoors, and so I prefer late evening when it’s still light but the sun isn’t at a defined point in the sky. Or any time at all during an overcast day.

TIP: Embrace the colour edit

I used to think that photoshopping my covers on was cheating, but that’s because I was wallowing in foolish non-edit elitism. Editing is fun once you start to get the hang of it. A offshoot tip is to give yourself some time between making the edit and posting it so that you can decide if you’ve gone overboard on the saturation (I always have, I love bright colour).

Feminist Romance -- The Naughty List
Image: L unedited image, R: edited. Alt Text: on the left is my arm holding my phone the screen of which is displaying Ellie Mae MacGregor’s sexy Christmas short, The Naughty List. On the right is the same image, but I used Snapseed to remove the screen glare and amp up the colour.
TIP: Use a sunhat! 

This is the best tip ever, courtesy of @Romancebookjunkie. My fellow Australasian bookish pal gave me this tip, and it’s the most ingenious idea ever.

Usually you’ll be positioned over your subject, and frequently I have a clear outline of my messy bun onscreen. Undesirable. So to combat shadow from the sun (or any light source) you can wear a big sunhat which widens the perimeter of the shadow, usually enough to include all of your screen. This is, frankly, genius.

TIP: it could be your phone case that’s messing up your aperture!

This tip is quite specific. I really only included it in case time travel is a thing and Past Esme ends up Googling herself. But if you have a clear phone case (I do) and you use portrait or live mode (me again) it always, always messes up the edges and makes them fluffy. Because my case was confusing it!!! Take the case off, Past Esme! Your life will be much easier!

Image: L Alt Text: Holding my purple sunhat AKA my number one bookstagram tool. R Alt Text: I’m wearing a pink and purple floral dress and holding my phone over my lap. On the phone screen is the cover of Katee Robert’s Queen Takes Rose. The edges of my phone are blurred because portrait mode had A Moment about the clear phone case.
Image: L Alt Text: Holding my purple sunhat AKA my number one bookstagram tool. R Alt Text: I’m wearing a pink and purple floral dress and holding my phone over my lap. On the phone screen is the cover of Katee Robert’s Queen Takes Rose. The edges of my phone are blurred because portrait mode had A Moment about the clear phone case.
TIP: You could do a background edit!

This is the ultimate ebook hack. Three of my faves, @Shadesnpages, @Now_Booking and @BabesinRomanceland do this. Shades, Taima, is a Black Romance connoisseur and she pairs her ebook covers with matching lipsticks (the results wreak havoc on both my TBR and my lipstick collection).

Both Jite from Now_Booking, and Eliza and Rosalind from BabesinRomanceland pair their ebook covers with topical backgrounds. When I told Jite about this article, she specifically wanted me to pass on her raves for Canva as a low fuss and free editing tool.

Image: collage L - R Shadesnpages Ho! Ho! Ho! post; Now_Booking’s Husband Hunting 101 post,; BabesInRomanceland’s Rough Love post
Image: collage L - R Shadesnpages Ho! Ho! Ho! post; Now_Booking’s Husband Hunting 101 post,; BabesInRomanceland’s Rough Love post
TIP: You could do a superimpose edit

AKA cover swap! If you don’t have the cover you want on you, you can shoot a black screen or another book, then add the cover on stop with an app like Superimpose (free) or software like Pixlr (free) or Photoshop (not free). Kim at @KimberlyFayeReads has a really great in depth blog about how she edits on covers with Photoshop.

Personally I try to avoid superimposing on a black screen (because I am not a good enough editor and so struggle to make the colours of the layers feel like they’re sympathetic to each other, particularly in outdoor pics). BUT what I do is shoot the cover I want in the environment I want, and then if I need to, I add the same cover over top. Effectively it just looks like I’ve brightened the image, but because I’m putting the same thing on itself, I can align it exactly and lower the opacity to make it look as natural as possible.

Like this:

Feminist Romance -- A Rogue peach edits
Image: L unedited image, R: edited. Alt Text: on the left I’m sitting in a peach tutu, holding a white rose in one hand and my phone in the other. On the screen of the phone is an overblown picture of the cover of Sarah MacLean’s A Rogue By Any Other Name. On the right is the same image, but I used Snapseed to amp up the colour and Superimpose to add the cover on top of itself, although I kept the screen glare so it looked natural.

Someone who is very good at cover edits is @My.Little.Book.Nook and it was Brit who alerted me to the magic of the Superimpose app in the first place. She does all kinds of coolness with foreground shadow and shapes.

TIP: employ use of a lightbox/reflector/ring light

I can’t elaborate on this because I don’t use or have one. Mostly because I don’t often do indoor flatlays. I’ve tried a few times and I just don’t know what things to put with other things and so I end up sitting in a pile of plucked flower petals and wonky costume jewelry like some kind of boujee chaos monster. 

But if you did want to use a lightbox or reflectors or some such, I’ve seen other bookstagrammers get really great results with this. Ezrah at @Zerisse has a great how to series in which she talks about her reflectors

Now go forth and photo

I love seeing ebook pictures on instagram.

There are a lot more factors you have to counter when you’re trying to shoot screens rather than paper covers, and I want to tautoko [support/shoutout] the bookstagrammers who are doing this.

Again, I am not pretending to be a great photographer, because I’m clearly not. But I’ve improved heaps since I started, and I wanted to be as generous with whatever I know, like others were with me when I started.

This article might just look like a long lol-ing listicle post. And it is. But it’s also about inclusivity and accessibility.

Bookstagram is for everyone. Because romance is for everyone.

I hope you liked the tips! Feel free to slide on into my DMs if you have more, I’m always keen to learn.

PS:

I went down a Miss Congeniality IMDB wormhole. It was inevitable. Did you know that Heather Burns aka Cheryl Frasier Miss Rhode Island, learned to twirl batons for filming? I’d absolutely dome myself if I tried that. I’ll stick to bookstagram, thanks.

GIF Alt Text: GIF from Miss Congeniality, with Cheryl twirling her flaming batons for her talent.
About the Author: 

Esme Brett reviews romance as @Feminist_Romance. She finds feminist-friendly content and raves about it on her instagram and blog. She took her ebook enthusiasm to new levels by writing one of her own about a club owner who fakes a Magic Mike moment to rescue a sexy damsel in distress, only to discover he’s the one that needs saving. Esme is a devoted cat mother to Franklin and imaginary wife of Jesse de Silva. She cannot twirl batons.

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1 thought on “Tips For Taking Amazing Ebook Pictures for Bookstagram by Esme Brett”

  1. Hope aka hopesamsamdaisy

    Wonderful tips! Even though I live in America and am spoiled rotten by physical books, my carpel tunnel makes reading a Kindle easier.
    Your post makes me think posting book posts is feasible!

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