Better Book Photos: It’s a snap!

Are you tired of taking over-exposed or dark photos of your beautiful TBR piles?  Would you like to make your book blog photos pop?  If you can scrounge up a cardboard box, some white tissue paper, white and black poster board, tape, an X-Acto knife, and scissors, you can improve the quality of your book photographs in under 30 minutes.

I’m not a photographer by a long shot but do enjoy taking pictures.    I hope that this mini-tutorial will help you take crisper, more balanced photos without too much technical jargon or effort on your part.

Now to the fun stuff!  This photo of my TBR pile is too dark and distant for readers to see what I’m reading.  Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with the books when taking photos.

My TBR pile is in the dark!

The Auto setting on cameras usually activates the flash and can put a glare on book spines, cast shadows on the table, and make the colors look wonky.

Too flashy...
Too flashy!

Using the AV setting on my camera and a homemade light box, the photo comes out so much nicer.

The light box and AV setting make this one just right! (Raw image--before I cropped it--is shown at the end of this post.)

Monday morning I made an inexpensive light box (tent).  Light boxes are available on the internet for upwards of $35, but I’m too thrifty for that!  Instead, I spent a few dollars on two goose neck desk lamps and some poster board and came up with my own.  It doesn’t look like much but check out the end result.

Behind the scenes with my DIY light box.

Here’s the end result after cropping out the box, lights, table, and rest of the mess.

Using a black backdrop.

To make a light box, just dig up a box–mine is large (14×14) because I’m using it for more than just book photos–and use a razor to slice out large squares on three sides.  I didn’t do this mathematically–I eyeballed the whole thing.  Cover the three open sides with 2 sheets of tissue paper and tape the paper into place.  Cut pieces of white and black poster board (so you can switch them depending on your mood!) to fit inside the box.

Rainbow books before I cropped the image in close for a crisper shot.

Be careful not to fold or crease the paper because you want a seamless look.  When done correctly, the books (or any other small objects) look as if they are floating in the photographs.  Place the paper inside the box, aim some lights into the tissue square windows, and have fun.

It took me a bit to figure out just how to position the lights and what settings worked best on my camera.  I didn’t use a flash at all and was really happy with the results.  There are plenty of websites and You Tube videos that give more in-depth instructions on building your own light box if you are so inclined.

Here’s to better  book photos on blogs everywhere!

31 Comments

  • At 2010.09.09 07:30, vivienne said:

    Blooming heck, you have been busy. I am very impressed by your homemade lightbox. I am worried if I make one that hubby will think I have lost the plot though as he already thinks I spend too much time on my book blog!
    .-= vivienne´s last blog ..Posh Nails and Holiday Books =-.

    • At 2010.09.09 07:56, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

      Wow, your photos look fantastic! Thanks for the tip.

      • At 2010.09.09 08:58, Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said:

        I’d never even thought about making my own, but that is fantastic – I especially love the black background.
        .-= Jackie (Farm Lane Books)´s last blog ..C – Tom McCarthy =-.

        • At 2010.09.09 09:02, Iris said:

          I’m not sure if I have the space to keep something like that in my house, but those pictures do look amazing!
          .-= Iris´s last blog ..Book Blogger Appreciation Week Nomination =-.

          • At 2010.09.09 09:22, Natalie said:

            Iris, they sell folding ones online–like pop-up laundry baskets–if space is an issue. I made mine bigger because I plan on taking pictures of larger things too.

            • At 2010.09.09 09:03, Beth F said:

              THANK YOU! Yes, I’m shouting. Wow — getting Mr. BFR on this right away.
              .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Review- Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay =-.

              • At 2010.09.09 09:12, chasing bawa said:

                This is really amazing. I never thought you could take such professional looking pictures at home. All my pictures of my tbr pile don’t look as good as they do in real life. I’m definitely going to try this. Thank you!
                .-= chasing bawa´s last blog ..Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friederich Christian Delius =-.

                • At 2010.09.09 09:38, Kathleen said:

                  This is such a helpful post. You can’t imagine how many times I have taken pictures that have never made it onto my blog because they suck! My son is taking photography in school this year and I think he might just have to become my official blog photographer. And if he won’t help I can use your technique!
                  .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..A Non-Fiction Wrap Up After a Long Absence =-.

                  • At 2010.09.09 10:18, rhapsodyinbooks said:

                    Wow, what a difference! I don’t think I have enough energy to do all that, but I’m very impressed with yours!

                    • At 2010.09.09 11:16, Dishy said:

                      Neat-o, Nat! Thanks for the tip!
                      .-= Dishy´s last blog ..Big Foot That You =-.

                      • At 2010.09.09 11:43, Steph said:

                        You are so crafty it makes me sick! 😀 I am lucky to not come away with stitches whenever I wield scissors, so I doubt there will be a lightbox in my future. But I will just stick to making the hubby (aka “former professional photographer”) to making my books look pretty… gives me more time to read, too! 😉
                        .-= Steph´s last blog ..“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins =-.

                        • At 2010.09.09 12:29, Jess (The Cozy Reader) said:

                          Great job! 🙂 Very insightful and I probably won’t do this but it was great learning how!
                          .-= Jess (The Cozy Reader)´s last blog ..Trailer- Alpha Shifters- Book 6 by Rachel Vincent =-.

                          • At 2010.09.09 16:19, Jenners said:

                            What a helpful little post. I do have a hard time photographing books due to glare or shadows. I’m going to play around with this when I redo the book shot on my blog header.
                            .-= Jenners´s last blog ..RIP Review- What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman =-.

                            • At 2010.09.09 23:28, softdrink said:

                              I’m totally impressed (as usual) with your craftiness!

                              • At 2010.09.10 10:37, Meg said:

                                Love it! You’re quite crafty and ingenius, and I really appreciated the tips! Members of my photography club keep telling me to make one for my cupcake shots. Think I need to give it a try!
                                .-= Meg´s last blog ..Book review- ‘The Sky Always Hears Me- And The Hills Don’t Mind’ by Kirstin Cronn-Mills =-.

                                • At 2010.09.10 18:23, Alita said:

                                  What a great idea! The final products look so good.
                                  .-= Alita´s last blog ..Wrapping Up August 2010 =-.

                                  • At 2010.09.11 00:49, g said:

                                    dork.

                                    does this mean that house of leaves is making a comeback????

                                    • At 2010.09.11 07:21, nat @ book, line, and sinker said:

                                      be quiet, you! that book is YOUR fault, and the fact that i’ve never been able to finish it haunts me to this day. lol. i should have known from that summer day in 1978 when i found you playing on MY swingset that you’d be nothing but trouble! xoxo

                                    • At 2010.09.11 09:29, Molly said:

                                      I have been looking for an inexpensive light box all summer, but like you, am too thrifty to pay those prices.

                                      This is GENIOUS!!! I am so glad to have this information.
                                      .-= Molly´s last blog ..Isnt this cute! =-.

                                      • At 2010.09.11 11:16, Colleen (Books in the City) said:

                                        Your pictures always look great and no I know why – thanks for sharing the tip!

                                        • At 2010.09.11 17:42, dw said:

                                          what a great idea! thanks for the helpful tips. i’m going to have to try this out even though i don’t take that many pictures.

                                          • At 2010.09.12 03:47, Links I Like – Farm Lane Books Blog said:

                                            […] A cheap way to take fantastic photos of books […]

                                            • At 2010.09.12 07:15, ibeeeg said:

                                              Thanks so much for the lightbox tutorial. My son has made a backdrop similar to the lightbox idea and it has worked great. I have been wanting more lighting though, and your idea is very doable. Cool.

                                              • At 2010.09.12 08:03, Bibliophile By the Sea said:

                                                Good info; this is fantastic.

                                                • At 2010.09.12 19:41, mee said:

                                                  What an awesome tip! I’m going to keep this in mind and try it out when I get a chance! Thank you!

                                                  • At 2010.09.13 00:02, Oh said:

                                                    Awesome! And I love that it’s geared toward “book” pictures. And I just threw out an excellent box. going to retrieve it now – this rocks!
                                                    .-= Oh´s last blog ..Sweet end-of-summer Saturday… =-.

                                                    • At 2010.09.13 05:02, BBAW: First Treasure « write meg! said:

                                                      […] Line, and Sinker — Natalie is one of my closest bloggy buds and her posts on everything from taking better photos of your TBR stack to crafting envelopes from old book pages are as fun as they are inspirational. I love her witty […]

                                                      • […] of your beautiful TBR piles, only for them to look dreary once you download them? Check out this awesome post by Natalie, who takes beautiful photos of her books (as you can see above) all using a homemade […]

                                                        • At 2010.09.16 15:55, Aths said:

                                                          Whoooo!! I like this! I suck at photography so any kind of easy tips are a click-saver for me!
                                                          .-= Aths´s last blog ..BBAW New Treasure – When recommendations pull you out of your comfort zone =-.

                                                          • At 2010.09.17 08:37, Annette said:

                                                            Oh my goodness, I want to cry. Thank you so much for sharing this tip! I have wondered why everyone else on the planet has amazing pictures like yours on their blogs, and now I know why. . . they have tricks.

                                                            Really appreciate you sharing this!

                                                            • At 2010.09.27 20:42, Unapologetically Mundane said:

                                                              Wonderful! My BFF sent me a tutorial like this long ago for my food photos, but of course I never did it. Looks great, though!
                                                              .-= Unapologetically Mundane´s last blog ..When the President Comes to Town =-.

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