Undoubtedly, the question I have been asked the most is how I create my bookstagram feed (@black.tea.books). Of course it’s important to remember that the same things don’t work for everyone and tbh, I don’t even know when I’ve turned into the one who answers instead of asks this question, but I’ll do my best to share my little routine. My current feed is based on a consistent white background with neutral tones and a minimal pop of colour, but even if that’s not the style you’re going for, I hope you might pick up something useful here anyway!


My Bookstagram Process: Setting Up and Editing Photos

First Things First: The Set-Up

A lot of your questions asked for editing specifics, but that comes later. The most important part is actually the set-up itself! Think of it as baking a cake; first you have to take out the ingredients, mix them together and put it all in the oven. The editing only enhances it as the icing on the top. As the set-up is the very basis of your photo, it’s top-priority to have it reflect the style you want, especially if you want a cohesive theme. These are the most important aspects I try to keep in mind while setting up my photos:

  • Lighting: I always take my photos in natural lighting and, if possible, the same conditions. Whether you prefer sunny days, cloudy ones or the golden hour, if you want your feed to look consistent, you should first and foremost keep the lighting the same. Shoot several photos in one day, or at least at a specific time each day. Naturally this won’t always work due to unpredictable weather, lack of time, or simply the seasons. In winter, I just accepted that my feed was darker, and now the varying conditions result in differently toned whites. Often, adjusting the brightness or warmth of a photo will do the trick, but even if not, it’s actually quite nice to see the natural changes reflected in my feed.
  • Angle: While creating flatlays is a lot of fun, I also love taking photos from different angles and have been alternating between the two of them for quite some time. This works well for me and allows variety with my photos, but it took some trial and error to find the right pattern. You can do this in any combination, maybe even work in outdoor photos if that’s your jam, but generally it’s good to have a few trusted angles you can fall back to on a regular basis.
My current feed (spring 2019)
  • Props: The things you put into a photo influence the overall look of your feed just as much as the lighting. If you want to go with cohesive colour themes, you can define them through your props. I always start with a main prop, usually a book or sometimes a rep product, which I’ll be talking about in the post itself. All other props will relate to this one either in meaning or in colour. Again, I try to keep it at neutral tones, but also don’t mind a splash of colour here and there.
  • Experiment: When I’m in a creative rut, I try to mix things up and experiment with new angles, find new locations or use props I never have before. It’s also always a good idea to get inspired by accounts you love, but remember not to steal layouts and to give credit when you try what someone else is doing.

As visualisation, I’ll take you through my set-up process for this photo:

  1. basic set-up: As I wanted to talk about the latest book I had just finished, The Apple Tart of Hope, it was also the main prop for the photo. Its cover is brightly coloured though, so I used the title page. I wanted to make it a simple layout fitting for a middle grade book and therefore picked props that this story reminded me of (like the bow for the main character Meg, or the candle that smelled homey which is an important theme in the book), props I hadn’t used in a while (the brown envelope, or this particular mug) and some of my standards (book stacks as a basis, coffee/tea).
  2. adding props: To fill the missing corner of the layout, I added a wooden bookmark with a quote from Newt Scamander, who is quite similar to Oscar, the other MC of this book. In order to create a layering effect I also added a print that fit the romantic touch in the novel. Finally, as the margins between the props felt a bit empty, I added dried flowers (which happen to be some of my favourite props) as well as a tea box.
  3. changing the angle: Here, I always regard the latest photos I’ve already posted to decide whether I’ll go for straight lines or a slight tilt. As I’ve already said, I try to mix up the angles regularly so my feed won’t be too repetitive, but it also depends on what fits the photo best. Here, I opted for a slight tilt so the post created a good overall picture with my other photos. If I’m not sure, I use the app Preview to get a sense of which angle works best.
This is the final set-up I went for (unedited)

Fine Tuning: The Editing

With the photo itself done, the editing is the next step. Now, my editing process has changed quite a bit over time. I ditched more and more apps, filters and adjustments to get a natural look rather than have over-edited photos (which I definitely had for a while). The first app I use is VSCO:

  • Filter: As you can see, pretty much the only thing I use VSCO for is the A6 filter. I like the slight tone it adds to my colours and how it brings out the whites, and it served me very well for a long time now.
  • Exposure: Usually I add brightness to my photos, but as this one was taken on a very sunny day, I actually lowered it slightly to bring out details and shadows more.
  • Contrast: For the same reason, I also increase the contrast of my photos, which enhances the difference between the light and dark tones of the picture.
  • Sharpen: To make texts and details a bit more readable and give the photo just that slightly more pronounced look, I use the sharpening tool. As with everything, to which degree depends on the photo itself but I never go over +2, to avoid an artificial effect.

Sometimes I also adjust the warmth if the whites don’t have the right tone, but this photo didn’t need it. Now, moving on to the second app, Snapseed:

  • Grainy film: This style is like another filter which can also add grain to your picture, but I always turn that to zero and only use a limited amount of style (no more than 40) because it’s gorgeous with neutral colours but obscures white a little. Btw, I picked this one up from @polly.florence, who is an absolute inspiration!
  • Ambience: I can never decide whether to go negative or positive with ambience, so again it depends on the picture itself. Here, I went with the positive one in order to have the details stand out more.
  • Structure & Sharpening: After these edits, I increase the structure and sharpening again for a clearer picture.
  • Watermark: As my photos get stolen quite often now, I always add a watermark of my account name. Snapseed has a good selection of fonts and text adjustments, so I don’t need an extra app for this.
That’s what the photo looks like after VSCO and Snapseed

For the very last edits, I actually use the Instagram editor. The photo gets cropped in the app so the quality isn’t reduced beforehand, I adjust little details if needed (brightness/shadows, contrast, temperature, structure, lux and sharpening are my go-tos) and I add the Ludwig filter (again, never more than 40) to achieve the final look.

And that’s basically it! I try to keep changes as small as possible and only use very limited amounts of every adjustment. A minimal editing routine not only keeps my photos as natural looking as possible, it also costs me less time (which is a very important factor). This in turn allows me to spend more time with the actual setting up of the photos, and so we’re back where we started. The device I use is simply my phone, a three-year-old Honor 7, so you can really get a long way even without a professional camera or the latest and ‘best’ smartphone. It’s all about knowing your device, your photo locations, using natural lighting and choosing the right props.

I hope you found this post useful and if you have any further questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Love, Sandy x

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