Locking Into Instagram
Smartphone Needed to Post
Instagram is primarily an app-based platform. Even though they do have a website, new users can only sign up via the app. Uploading photos is only possible via the native app. This means that you must have access to a smartphone (or tablet that can run smartphone apps, or iPod touch) and install the official Instagram app. It’s available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8 onwards.
Computer Okay to Browse
This means the primary requirements for joining bookstagram are: a smartphone and the official Instagram app. If you’re only interested in following others and commenting on photos, you could sign up for an account using someone else’s smartphone. Then you can log in through the website or download a program such as Grids for your computer. This allows you to view the accounts you’re following.
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, a popular question that gets asked over and over again is, “What camera do you use?” I see it all the time in the comments sections, be it in mine or that of fellow bookstagrammers. As I already mentioned previously on the blog, you can achieve great photos without a DSLR. That being said, many bookstagrammers, including myself, do use a DSLR a lot of the time.
The top reason to use a smartphone is that it’s always with you. No matter where you go, it’s ready to take photos. There’s no start-up time to worry about either because your phone already is on. Just whip it out and snap away. And if you’re taking a photo of your book beside your Starbucks coffee, nobody’ll bat an eyelid.
We’ve become so accustomed to people taking photos of food and drinks. As a result, there’ll be no awkward questions about this thing called bookstagram. Everyone’ll will assume that you’re just showing off your Starbucks cup. Totally normal…
For doubters, smartphone cameras are capable in many circumstances. Since your aim probably isn’t to print wall art of your bookish photos, smartphones open up the world of bookstagram to anyone who owns one. Here’re two photos I took and posted with my phones. They turned out well and prove that you can take good photos with them.
While modern smartphones can take great photos, not everyone has access to the latest technology. If that’s the case for you and you just want to take photos to post without worrying about the frills, you could use a point-and-shoot digital camera. These do require an extra step of uploading photos to your computer, then transferring them to your phone. Some cameras like the Canon PowerShot N100 have Wi-Fi capabilities, so photos can be transferred directly from the camera to a phone.
Many people assume that using a DSLR automatically means better photos. Let me tell you that that’s not the case if you don’t invest time to learn how to use one. It’s pretty intimidating if you have no idea what all the buttons do and what the settings should be. How many times have I passed mine to someone, asking them to take a photo only for them to turn out blur or out of focus? Way too often. Still, no camera trumps the DSLR with quality photos if you know how to use it. The main advantage is that you get full control over how the camera sees things and the output of your photos.
When it comes to DSLRs, there are two broad types: full frame and crop frame. There’s a whole debate over whether full frame is really superior (especially with Nikon introducing a crop frame DSLR with professional features). I won’t bore you with all the details though since you’re probably here just to know what you need to get started on bookstagram. Just know that these two exist and that the type you get will affect the lenses you add on.
If you’re completely new to photography but want to pick it up I’d suggest going with a crop frame camera which is aimed at consumer to prosumer levels. Crop frame means the camera has a smaller sensor and multiplies the focal distance of a lens. Based on that I’ll point to suitable lenses in the next section.
These cameras are friendlier in terms of controls because they’re more limited and so less overwhelming. Personally, I think the limit is good because you’ll be spend more time learning how to read the lighting conditions rather than grappling with the settings on your camera — that is, you’ll learn more quickly how to control light in-camera with ISO, aperture and shutter speed. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means. I’ve got a tutorial coming up for that.)
Full frame cameras are the cream of the crop, if you will. Nonetheless, there are reasons not to get a full frame DSLR, especially if you won’t be using one beyond bookstagram.
- Money! These monsters are expensive! Unless you’ve been saving for one or have money lying around, then the investment’s not worth it for photos that’ll only reside on Instagram.
- Weight — if you’re not passionate about photography, your camera will become a luxurious paperweight. These babies are meant to see the world. So think carefully if you wanna carry one in addition to everything else you carry around.
Now, if you’re an ardent enthusiast who has outgrown a more beginner model, a full frame DSLR might be the next step up for you. There are so many creative choices you can make with such a camera, it’s exciting!
So yeah, if you already own one or have the option to upgrade and want to challenge yourself, then by all means, apply it to bookstagram as well.
Other Mirrorless Camera
Another option would be mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. They are smaller than DSLRs, making them significantly lighter and easier to tote around. At the same time, they offer manual controls and lenses can be changed too. This offers the freedom of a DSLR but with the convinience of reduced bulk and weight.
It’s also less noticeable if you like taking photos of books outdoors. If you’re holding a DSLR and are taking photos of books in trees, people will definitely notice. A smaller mirrorless camera can blend in more easily. They are the answer for sharp photos while remaining inconspicuous.
Note Beyond Camera Choice
Regardless of which camera you choose, bookstagram, like any kind of photography, is also about practice. The more you do and study it, the better you’ll become as you internalise light, angles, composition, etc.
For smartphones as well as point-and-shoot cameras, you have no further choice. The lens is built in and that’s that. Here’s where a point-and-shoot camera could be advantageous compared to smartphones because they have a true zoom function. That means that the section you zoom in on doesn’t get cropped.
If you were to print your photos of photos zoomed in on with a smartphone, it’s like cutting out a section from your photo. You get the tighter crop but the photo will be smaller. With a point-and-shoot camera zoom, your object would be bigger with a photo printed the very same size.
Typically DSLRs and mirrorless cameras come with zoom lenses. More advanced DSLRs can be bought as body-only, which photographers who already own lenses often do.
Zoom lenses are convenient because you can take wide angle photos, then zoom in for say, portraits, without changing your lens. They’re great everyday and walk-around lenses too because you never know what you might encounter.
Since they’re bundled with cameras, they also don’t add extra costs, which is great if you’re just starting out.
Prime lenses have a fixed focal length, which means you can’t zoom in or out. You can crop your photos to fit your needs but ideally you want to cut as little as possible from your photos.
The advantage of prime lenses over zoom lenses is that they’re lighter. They also have wider apertures — meaning you can achieve shallower depths of field and can take brighter photos when it’s darker.
Prime lenses also give sharper photos than the kit lenses that are bundled with cameras. Ever since I bought my first prime lens I have hardly touched my kit lens.
Since you can’t zoom with prime lenses, it’s important to pick a lens with a suitable focal length. On a full frame camera, the most comfortable one for booktography, in my opinion, is a 50mm lens. Going above that (such as 85mm) would mean that when attempting a flat lay photograph, you’d have to place everything on the floor and stand on a chair. 35mm also works but you have to be careful not to make your objects look distorted. This can easily happen when placing a book on the table and then taking a photo diagonally from the top.
For a crop frame DSLR, the equivalent of a nifty-fifty is a 35mm lens. On a Canon entry-level DSLR the crop factor is 1.6x, so that results in a focal length of 56mm. On a Nikon entry-level DSLR (demarcated as DX) the crop factor is 1.5x, so that’s the equivalent of a 52.5mm focal length on a full frame camera. If you prefer the look of a 35mm lens on a full frame camera because it resembles the human field of vision, you could go for 20mm or 24mm on a crop frame DSLR. However, these lenses cost a few hundred to a thousand dollars or more.
At the end of the day, whether you want to use zoom or prime lenses for bookstagram is a matter of preference. Some find prime lenses very limiting because they feel stuck without zoom. Others prize the wider aperture and lighter weight.
Smartphone Clip-On Lenses
Another interesting add-on for smartphones are clip-on lenses, such as the Olloclip 4-in-1 lens. Clipping such a lens on a phone would add extra functionalities like wide angle, fisheye and macro views. I’ve not tried them but I’ve seen macro photos that my sister took with an iPhone 5c and they looked pretty neat.
Have you seen photographers use fancy white, silver or golden discs when taking photos? They use them to bounce light. Doing so allows them to make shadows softer as they reflect the light to illuminate the sides facing away from the primary light source.
The beauty is that you can use anything with a uniform surface to reflect light. You don’t have to use professional-grade reflectors. Foam boards are wondrous substitutes.
Whatever you use as reflectors, adding them to your repertoire is a smart choice.
You don’t have to get a tripod if you don’t want to. It is after all, another investment and it doesn’t come all that cheap if you’re looking for a sturdy one. Tripods, however, are very handy to have around. You can add yourself to the photo without the assistance of someone else to take the photo for you.
They’re also great for cancelling camera shake. If you reach home from work or school when the sun’s almost gone, a tripod will allow you to make use of the last few moments of daylight. That is because you need a slower shutter speed to make up for the dimness. When the shutter speed is slow, the camera will pick up on the slightest movement of the hands holding it. That’s how you end up with blur photos.
In terms of tripod heads, there are several types to choose from though ballheads and pan heads are most commonly available.
Before I got a proper tripod, I used to stack books and boxes atop one another and then my camera on top. This makeshift tripod did the job, though I had to be extra careful things were sturdy and wouldn’t topple.
In-built flash can be very harsh and cause ugly shadows because the light is cast head-on. External flashes can be shifted to bounce off another surface such as a ceiling or index card, or it can softened with a soft box. Studio lights can make it look as though you shot a photo in the middle of the day, so if you’ve got some lying around for some reason, they’re a great solution if you’re only ever home after sundown.
We’re talking about bookstagram, so obviously books take centre stage. This doesn’t mean you have to own hundreds of books to be successful on bookstagram. Library books and books on loan make beautiful bookish models too. Just because you only read ebooks, doesn’t mean your eReader’s not welcome on the bookstagram scene. Audiobooks work just as well. Sure, it’s more challenging to create interesting photos with a Kindle or phone but it can be done.
Another deterrent to bookstagram that I’ve heard is not owning interesting items to pair with books. Funko Pops especially are all the rage right now and look cute on bookshelves. Seeing them everywhere might make you feel like you don’t belong if you don’t have any. Then there are those bookstagrammers who have a gift of adding a hundred items to their frames without making things look overcrowded. On the flip side, others do well with minimalism.
If all else fails, include tea or coffee. If you’ve brewed your beverage before settling down to read, it’s within reach anyway.
Bookshelves and beds are a common staple in the bookstagram world, as are white backgrounds. If you’d like to try the white background look but don’t have a white desk, fret not. Foam boards or even drawing blocks can be used as backgrounds. You could also take a leaf from food bloggers and create your own wooden background.
What do I Use?
After going through all these options, you might wonder what I use. My current set-up consists of an entry-level DSLR, Nikon D3200, a Vanguard tripod with ballhead as well as a few foam- and cardboards as reflectors. Occasionally I use my smartphone, which currently is an iPhone 6s.
I acquired my equipment independently of bookstagram. Since I already owned them prior to joining, it was only natural for me to use them too. Beyond practicing my photography skills, the reason I grab my DSLR more often than my iPhone is control. I like being in control of every possible element. Even when I capture random snapshots, if my DSLR is with me, I will grab it. You could say it’s practically an extension of myself.
To people who think it sets an unrealistic view into my reading life: photography is what you make of it, regardless of the camera you use. Authenticity lies in the voice and the soul that you embed in your images. No matter if a bookstagram photo is staged or an actual snippet of life, it conveys the love for books. That’s what bookstagram is all about — sharing books and interacting with like-minded bibliophiles.
Phew. That turned out to be a much longer post than I had anticipated. I decided to split things up, so next week you can look forward to apps from VSCO to Photoshop and more!
What’s your bookstagram set-up?
Note: This post is completely free from sponsorship and all the brands I mentioned I did out of my own volition.