Five Tips for Better Instagram Pics (What I learned in my first year of bookstagramming)

I’m not an Instagram pro by any stretch of the imagination, but the other day I was looking over my bookish snaps from way back when I started bookstagramming at @project_lectito, and boy, have I come a looooong way in the last year and a bit!

From this:

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(Why I cut them in different shapes, I have no idea.)

To this:

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I’m still learning; however, through a lot of trial and error and by following stellar accounts, I’ve picked up some handy tips and tricks, which I thought I’d share with you today.

1. Tell a story

Coming up with endless new ways to photograph books is H.A.R.D. When I first started out, I mostly just arranged them in different places around my house. But these pictures lacked life and didn’t share anything about my reading experience.

Looking at other bookstagrammers’ photos, I realised the ones I enjoyed most told a story: spending a lazy Sunday morning reading in bed, sneaking a few pages while waiting for a friend at a favourite cafe, or enjoying a book on holiday.

By putting the reader in the frame (even if it’s only a suggestion of the reader), you create an interaction between subject and object. Suddenly the scope of what you might do with the image expands: you have a character to play with, a scene to explore, and the viewer gets a glimpse of the person behind the lens—someone they can chat with in the comments.

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I took the above pics last summer when the weather was gorgeous, and I was spending a lot of time out and about, which made it easy to find new places to stage bookish adventures. But let’s face it, most days aren’t beach days. Which is fine. Better than fine, actually, because miserable winter weather gives you the perfect opportunity to get creative around the house. I take a lot of my pics at the kitchen table:

Again, these images share simple stories: I’m planning a blog post; I’m reading a  cosy mystery while enjoying a spot of tea; I’m compiling a list of my favourite reads of 2016. But in each picture something is happening, which is way more exciting than, say, this:


2. Use natural lighting

For those of us who don’t have access to thousands of dollars worth of fancy lighting equipment, natural lighting is a cheap ‘n’ cheerful alternative. If you’re snapping away indoors, overhead lighting will fill your frame with shadows and shiny reflections, and (depending on what kind of lights you have) probably give your image an icky yellow glow to boot. You’ll get far better results by turning the lights off and opening the blinds.

Here’s what I mean:

Overhead lighting
Overhead lighting

Natural lighting

Notice how you can see my shadow and the light reflecting off the tea and lettering on the book in the pic with the overhead lighting? I snapped this around midday when the room was pretty bright anyway; at night the effect would be even more pronounced.

Have a play and experiment with the quality of light at different times of the day to find your sweet spot.

3. Play around

I think we’re all aware that what we see on Instagram is, for the most part, staged. We pose, edit and filter our shots. And for me, that’s the fun part: the challenge to capture a mood or a feeling. I see my Insta feed as a visual representation of my love of books and reading rather than an accurate log of what my reading experience actually looks like (think no make-up, lots of bagel crumbs & me in my pyjamas at inappropriate hours). I have no shame in admitting that for every picture I post, there a bunch of test shots that I dump straight in my phone’s trash can.

I play around with lighting, composition, etc. and try out a bunch of things. For example, to create this image:

I first took these (and more):

I know a lot of bookstagrammers feel pressure to go out and buy fancy backdrops and props for their photos, which is fine if you have the cash. However, it’s not necessary. I think it’s more challenging (and fun) to make use of what you already have. So what if the same bits and pieces make repeat appearances in your feed? Make them motifs!

Each image is an opportunity to exercise your imagination; give yourself permission to play, experiment and be creative!

4. Show your personality in the captions

In some ways, your caption is as important as the picture. It’s a chance to share a little extra with your viewers and help them get to know the person behind the lens. Don’t waste it by merely spewing a bunch of hashtags and telling people to read your latest blog post.

Expand on the story in your picture. Tell the viewer what you’re up to, how you’re feeling or what inspired your post and invite feedback by asking questions. If you do want to let people know about a book review you’ve posted on your blog, give a little taste of what we can expect from the review and make us intrigued to find out more.

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You’ll notice that, despite what I said about spewing hashtags, I’m a bit of a fan, and so are most of the bookstagrammers I follow. What can I say, they’re super useful for getting your pics seen by a larger audience. I just pop ’em in a separate comment so they’re not right up in the viewer’s face when they look at my pics.

5. Develop your unique style

There are so many incredibly talented peeps involved in the bookstagram community, and scrolling through your feed to see what everyone else is posting is a great source of inspiration. However, following what everyone else is doing will only get you so far.

You want your pictures to stand out and be instantly recognisable as yours. There are plenty of ways to develop your particular aesthetic. One simple trick is to always use the same filter (I use the VSCO app and set the F2 filter at level five). But you can also develop themes in your composition, setting, colours, use of props, etc. For example, I often have notebooks scattered around in my shots and juxtapose warm, earthy tones with touches of blue.

It’s worth taking a little time to think about what you want your point of difference to be, the overall vibe of your account and the experience and mood you want to evoke for your viewers.

Did you find these tips useful? Do you have any others to add?

For more Insta tips and inspiration, take a peek at my Meet the Bookstagrammers series where some of my favourite ‘grammers offer a behind the scenes look at their accounts!

— Margot xo

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