Hi, there. Navessa here. I’m one of the four bloggers that make up the team here at The Alliterates. I also run our Instagram page.
I’m an artist at heart. Aesthetics are my jam. Give me a beautifully staged #bookstagram post with props that relate to the book or are seasonal in nature, and I am a happy woman.
So it’s no surprise that my own Instagram posts can get quite elaborate.
Pretty photographs, huh?
SPOILER ALERT: they’re not actually photographs.
I didn’t artfully arrange all of those objects together, wait until the lighting was perfect, and then stand over them clicking away on my DSLR camera until I found the perfect shot.
I photoshopped each and every one of them from start to finish.
Real talk: I live in a smallish, 200-year-old farmhouse. Closet space was not a “thing” when this home was built. I don’t have room to stage, let alone store all the accessories for an elaborate photo shoot.
BUT, I still like to make pretty things.
Instead of spending money on prop swords, I buy the digital rights to other people’s photos of prop swords. Or world maps. Or even complex scene creators like the ones that can be found on Creative Market.
And then I google still more ways to manipulate them on YouTube. Below you’ll find an example, start to finish, of every step I take when creating a post for the blog or Instagram.
In this case, I chose to feature The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood, because, as I write this, it’s waiting to be reviewed on my NetGalley dashboard.
Step 1: Finding Your Inspiration
What does the cover of the book you want to make a post for look like? Is it darker in color? Is it light? Is it primary? Is it “busy”? What is the best way to portray it in a digital image?
The answer to that last question comes down to your own personal aesthetics and vision for the final product. In this case, my design choices were inspired by the fact that the holidays are over, the weather is crappy, and I just want to huddle inside with some cookies and hot chocolate and read books.
If my current mood doesn’t act as my inspiration, I let the book itself be my guide. For instance, with a cutesy teen romance like Fake it Til You Break It, I went with light pastels and included some text that was relevant to the story.
With a darker fantasy like A Heart of Blood and Ashes, I chose props that fit the story. Maps, because the characters traversed several countries. The detritus of writing with pen and quill, like a wax seal, crest stamp, etc. I even added a sword because the male lead was a barbarian warlord.
This is just the methodology that works best for me. You can take my advice or you can break the mold and do something completely different.
Let your creativity run wild.
But if ever you find yourself stuck, I suggest browsing the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram.
Pro tip: do not copy anyone else. Instead, be inspired by what they’ve done, and if you like a certain theme or element, like the fact that they always seem to use the same filter or lighting or background, find a way to replicate that in a way that is original to you and your profile or “brand”.
Step 2: Choosing A Background
My choice for background all comes down to my vision for the final product.
Typically, warmer images are more inviting. Cozier. And since my vibe for this was “stay inside and read”, I chose a wood background from Draw Wing Zen and then used the Image, Adjustment, Color Balance option to amp up the yellow and magenta.
Step 3: Set Your Scene
A lot of product photographers frame their subjects in some way. Whether that subject be a pair of sneakers or a lip balm. The same can hold true for books, especially if the image you’re building is busy.
A great way to make the book stand out is to place it on top of something. Or even several somethings. While simplicity delivers a sort of minimalist appeal, adding layers can bring an image created in Photoshop to life.
I started with a moon chart that reflected the black and gold in the book’s cover and moved it around on the backdrop until I was happy with its placement.
Then, because Christmas is still so fresh in my mind, I decided to add a bit of a holiday vibe in the form of wrapping paper that came with the Winter Collection Theme Creator I purchased from Custom Scene.
While big elements like the two I’ve already shown you are important, it’s the smaller details that make the image believable.
Case in point, to make it look as though I’ve just unwrapped the book, I added some twine.
Notice that the twine sits above the moon chart but below the wrapping paper. I achieved this using layers within Photoshop. A beginners guide to how layers work and why they’re important can be found here.
Step 4: Book Template
Do you want to display the book you’re reading as an e-book, or in physical format? There are a number of blank templates available for you to work with online, from super affordable hardcover mockups, to realistic e-readers.
I try to stay true to the format I read the book in, so, in this case, since I received a digital ARC of The Unspoken Name, I chose to include an iPad.
Here you start to see how framing can help to draw your eye to the true focus of the image.
A lot of the e-reader mockups available online come with blank screens like the one above. The more advanced versions come with layers dedicated to adding your own content. If not, it’s easy enough to save a file of the book cover from online and shrink it down to screen size. Like I did below.
Now you begin to see how the color scheme I chose is reflective of the cover. The gold in the moon chart is juuust slightly darker, which was meant to compliment the gold lettering of the cover from the background instead of drawing attention from it.
Step 5: Accessorize
The basics of our image are coming to life, but like I mentioned earlier, it’s the little things that can really make it pop. Since I’m going for a cozy winter vibe, I added in some candles – also from the winter scene creator I linked above.
Again, placement here is key. In Photoshop, you can manipulate everything from size to rotation to color. I kept these a warm glow and shrunk them down to tea light size.
Some hot cocoa and cookies came next – again from the winter scene creator.
On that note, it might seem excessive to spend money on a mockup kit, but seeing as how the majority of objects I used in the final image came from just one, and the fact that I can endlessly reuse them thanks to the level of licensing I purchased, it more than makes up for the money I would spend on the same number of physical props.
Step 6: Lighting
If something seems off about what I’ve posted so far, it’s probably the fact that there aren’t any shadows in the picture, which makes it look flat and fabricated.
Understanding and staying true to your light source when creating a digital image is important. Through the blending options in Photoshop, you can create a “Global Light” point that will save you a lot of time when creating shadows.
For a great (free!) source on this, I recommend watching PiXimperfect’s Photoshop Shadow Tutorial. Actually, I recommend watching all of their image manipulation how-tos.
I have no formal Photoshop training. Everything I know, I’ve learned from them and other YouTube creators, and not only do I make some pretty images for our Instagram with my knowledge, I also create all my own book covers.
Here is a side by side of the image without and with shadows. Spot the difference? It’s especially telling in the broken cookie, which, in the shadow-free version appears to be floating above the scene.
Step 7: Filters
I know a few people rail against the use of filters, but I for one am a fan. During the fall months, I applied the same warm overlay to all of our photos, and our Instagram page looked like a cozy, apple-picking, pumpkin spice-drinking dreamland.
Now that winter has rolled in, I’ve changed the standard filter to a more mattified appearance. While I custom make mine, you can find all sorts of wonderful pre-made filter options online.
And here is the finished product!
Now, these are just your basic steps with some advice from a person who has been doing this for years.
This is a relatively simple tutorial for what can be a long, arduous process with many starts and stops. I didn’t include the ten props I tried to add to this example image and discarded because they didn’t “fit” to my eyes. I didn’t include the many, many steps it takes to get shadowing right – which is why I linked another tutorial. Nor did I include an image of all the final layers, overlays, and adjustments, because I could not fit them all onto one screenshot (there are over 100).
I say this because choosing to make beautiful #bookstagram images in Photoshop instead of with a camera and physical props is not an easier, less time consuming process. For instance, the image for A Heart of Blood and Ashes took me damn near six hours to create.
I say this because, while it might not be easier, it does allow for more freedom and creativity. You might not like the placement of something in a photograph you took. Have fun editing that out. But in Photoshop, you can get rid of it with a simple click of your mouse and add whatever the hell you want to in its place.
Hit me up if you have any more questions, or need some more pointers on how to get started if you do decide to take the plunge into Photoshop #bookstagram.
In closing, I’ll leave you with this video from Custom Scene on how to build a flatlay using their products, because it was one of my first sources when I started making my own images in Photoshop.