How to edit photos for Bookstagram

I love bookstagram! I could spend hours scrolling through the thousands of amazing photos. The amount of talented photographers and book lovers in one place is mesmerizing.

Here’s a shameless self promotion for my own Bookstagram!

Have you ever taken a book photo that looked amazing in your camera’s preview, but after you post it to Instagram, you realise it doesn’t ‘pop’ as much as other people’s bookstagram photos? Photo editing can definitely help!

 

My photography background

 

I went to school for journalism, and a large portion of my program was about photojournalism. We learned about shooting in different lightings, different moods, and – most importantly – editing photos.

I’ve had quite a bit of experience with Photoshop before college, but never any formal training before school. I’ve been using Photoshop since early the early 2000s (I believe it was the first CS version and it was mainly to make awful Harry Potter fan edits on LiveJournal because what other priorities does a 13-year-old have).

Now, if you have no training in photography or editing, that’s okay! Just keep trying, just keep doing, you are talented and amazing and I believe in you and your photos!

I currently use Photoshop CS5 so my tutorial below is with this version. I unfortunately don’t know much about other editing programs, but if you have a post about bookstagram editing using another editing program do let me know!

I take my photos with a Canon EOS 1200D. But honestly, phone cameras are so good now that you don’t need a fancy camera to take amazing shots.

 

Here’s a few tips for taking photos:

 

☺  Natural light is best. (If you don’t have access to natural light, see if your camera has a white balance setting and select tungsten. That can help eliminate some of the yellow when shooting indoors). I know not everyone has access to a lot of natural light, so I may do another post on editing photos taken in indoor lighting!

☺  Cloudy natural light is even better. A bright sunny day — as gorgeous as it is — will make for extreme light/dark balance and be difficult to edit without using a crap-ton of masks in photoshop

☺  I never use flash. It creates super harsh shadows. I love the look of soft natural light

☺  If the natural light feels too dark, bounce the light off something white (like a sheet of bristol board). You may need to recruit someone to hold it for you while you shoot your pics

☺  I don’t worry about getting the perfect frame or if there’s a bit of floor or whatever in the corner – I can always crop the photo after I take it. Worst case, I paint over it.

 

Onto the editing:

 

Unedited photo straight from my camera

I’m using The Extinction Trials as my book model (it’s an amazing book. And it has dinosaurs!)

The photo on the right is straight from my camera. No edits. It’s dark, it’s grey, it’s bland. Blergh.

I usually spend about 15 minutes editing each picture so I make sure I have a block of a couple hours to do a mass photo editing session and load up on coffee.

Again, I use photoshop CS5, so I’m not well versed in other photo editing software. My steps below pertain to photoshop so I don’t know how translatable they will be to other editing programs.

There is a free open source photo editing program similar to Photoshop called Gimp (but I haven’t used it before so I don’t know how well it measures up). Have any of you used it?

I love bright and colourful photos! That’s my end goal whenever I open up Photoshop. My tastes may differ from yours, so you may hate my photos and that’s okay! The most important thing is that YOU are happy with your photos.

I work in Adjustment Layers. They can be found in Layer -> New Adjustment Layer

Every time I open up Photoshop, I ask myself: “Can this photo be brighter?”

 

Step 1: Curves (finally, she stops talking) 

 

Curves are my best friend. They can brighten up an image softly and are always my first step. You just grab the line and move it where you want.

Here’s how curves work:

RGB curves channel explained

Blue Curves explained

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are 4 different channels for curves. On the left is the overall brightness of the image. On the right is the one of the colour channels. So for the colour channels, up is one colour, down is the other!

This is what my curves look like after Step 1:

Image after Step 1: Adding Curves

Image after Step 1: Adding Curves

You can see I brightened up the midtones, making it brighter over all and I brought up the blues in the shadows. I made a few tiny tweaks in the other colours, but my two main channels here were RGB and Blue.

 

Step 2: Levels

 

Levels are also great! But I find them a bit harsher than curves so do be careful using them. They work similar to Curves, using four different colour channels. Grab the little triangle and move it where you want.

How Levels work:

RGB Levels channel explained

RGB Levels channel explained

Blue Levels Channel explained

Blue Levels Channel explained

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With levels in the RGB channel, I usually brighten up the highlights and midtones (pull the triangles to the left), and then darken the shadows (pull the shadows triangle to the right). I also play with the other channels and see what works nicely. A lot of times I like to bring out the magentas in the shadows in the Green Channel. I’ll also bring the yellow into the shadows to correct me getting too happy with the blues in step 1. So now the image looks a bit warmer.

This is what my photo looks like after adding a channels layer:

Image after Step 2: adding a Levels layer

Image after Step 2: adding a Levels layer

 Step 3: Curves (AGAIN?!)

 

This already looks 10x better than when we started. But I’m not finished!

Can this image be brighter? Damn straight it can.

Here’s where I go back to Step 1 and add in another curves layer.

“Again?!” you ask. Yup, I like to work in smaller increments rather than try and get it perfect after just a couple levels. This way I can do it gradually. I find the end quality is softer and less harsh.

In this layer, I usually just bring up the midtones in the RGB channel and not much else. Basically, just grab the middle of the line and drag it upwards. I’ll deal with the highlights and shadows in the next step.

Image after Step 3, adding another Curves Layer

Image after Step 3, adding another Curves Layer

 Step 4: You guessed it! ANOTHER Levels Layer

 

In Step 3 I only worked on the midtones. I find using Levels to worry about tweaking the highlights and shadows much easier to do in a levels layer (and I can keep the midtones largely unaffected).

You can see it made a difference with brightness!

Image after Step 4: adding another Levels layer

Image after Step 4: adding another Levels layer

 Step 5: Brightness/Contrast

 

Can this image be brighter? Yes, sir!

Sometimes I’ll do another round of Curves and Levels, but I’m fairly happy with how this one is turning out. So my next step is a few tweaks in the Brightness and Contrast layer.

It’s VERY easy to go overboard with this layer and make your image look like crap, so I only use it a for tiny last minute tweaks. I set this one to Brightness: 6, and Contrast: 7.

Yes, it’s only a small edit, but I find it’ll make your photo pop! It’ll make that book cover be the star of your image.

Step 5: Brightness/Contrast

Step 5: Brightness/Contrast

 Step 6: Vibrance

 

Sometimes this is needed and sometimes it’s fine as is after Step 5. The vibrance layer can bring out the colours (I especially like to do this for colourful book covers). But be careful with this layer as well. Too much and it can look like your book spent a weekend in Chernobyl.

I set my layer to Vibrance +70 and left the Saturation alone.

As you can see, there isn’t a huge difference in the images. Really, it just brought out the colours in the book cover the tiniest amount and made the fairy lights a bit more yellow.

Image after Step 6: Vibrance

Image after Step 6: Vibrance

 Step 7: YOU’RE DONE. CONGRATS!

 

Resize your image, sharpen, and add in your watermark.

Congratulations, you’ve finished!

Here’s what my photo looks like with no edits and the finished product:

The Finished Product! Time to party!

The Finished Product! Time to party!

Keep in mind that this tutorial isn’t going to work on every single photo. You’re going to have to tweak it to adjust to different lighting, different backgrounds, and different book covers. The more you play around, the better you’ll be and it will become almost second nature to you.

I really hope this helps!  If you tried my steps, I’d love to see what you’ve done.

Comment below with your before/after!

Like what you see? Check out my Bookstagram!

 

 

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18 thoughts on “How to edit photos for Bookstagram

  1. I don’t do bookstagram, but this is so helpful for just general photos and photo editing for my blog. I’ve just started using GIMP as I don’t feel like shelling out for PS at the moment, and this really helped me understand some of the tools and how to use them. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Same! I had an old version of photoshop years ago but that has long since been lost and I don’t think I could justify getting PS now that it’s a subscription based service! I’ve only used gimp a few times, but it doesn’t seem too bad and there are quite a few tutorials out there on youtube.

      1. It’s so expensive! I feel like it would be a lot of money for most ‘hobby’ users to shell out each month. Gimp is definitely not as bad as I remember it being though, and I hope I’ll get better at it with time.

  2. This is a great tutorial! I’ve been using the same PSD I created a while ago for my photos, but I might play around with something similar to yours when I switch up my theme again later this year!

  3. I just stumbled on your blog today but I’m getting some De Ja Vu (did I spell that right?).. those are always weird.

    I loved every version of this photo! I edit my photos for IG but I hate when I end up liking the photo mid edit lol! I haven’t used photoshop in a really long time (YAY FOR LJ DAYS TEACHING US HOW TO GRAPHIC DESIGN!) I just use phone apps and I hate how it makes your photos come out a bit blurry even when you apply “sharpen”. I’m heavily thinking of going back to editing on Photoshop (plus it eats up less phone memory and it’s much faster to edit on Photoshop) when I get a desktop!

    But now I understand what the heck curves are for… kinda lol

    1. I tried using phone apps as well and it just doesn’t compare to PS, hopefully you can get it soon!

      And omg, icon making on LJ. That was serious business back in the day! That is where I first learned how to use photoshop! (well, badly, but it was a start)

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