A Broke Girl’s Guide to Bookstagram

I often see posts from book bloggers giving advice on how to grow your bookish Instagram, affectionately known as bookstagram. (You know you’re cool when you have an Instagram full of pictures of BOOKS…) And while I find some helpful tips in these posts, I get frustrated when I see things like “Fake flowers from the craft store make great props and are so cheap!” Um, excuse me? I don’t call ten bucks for a double hydrangea bloom cheap. 

A lot of bookstagrammers and book blogger are high school and college students who don’t have extra money to throw around on luxuries like a light box or an entire series of hardback books. Others of us are working parents who don’t have time to DIY everything in the whole world, or spend hours on bookish photo shoots. And, sadly, I see very little advice that is useful to folks like us.

So, I thought I would offer up some of the practical advice I have figured out while bookstagramming over the past year. Note that I do bookstagram as a hobby, and if you’re interested in gaining thousands of followers and get 600 likes per post, this is probably not going to be that helpful to you.


It is well-known that good lighting makes all the difference when it comes to great photos! Natural light, or sunlight, is the next best thing to professional lighting, if not better. This is also not a secret, and so I see a lot of bookstagrammers taking their books outside. Bonus, free backdrops! However, direct sunlight, especially in the summer, can give your photos quite a bad glare.

My recommendation is to find the room in your house with the biggest or most windows, and set up your pictures in there. Bay windows work the best, because the sunlight filters in from several directions and leaves fewer shadows. Another good way to avoid shadows from the windows is to build a faux-light box by setting up a white poster board parallel to the window to reflect the light.


You can see how in my set-up I make light box using my bookcase, however a second poster board, or even three poster boards could be used to create the same effect if you don’t have white walls. Masking tape is your friend and doesn’t peel paint.

If you are heading outside, I suggest doing your photos in the morning or afternoon when the sunlight is less direct. But don’t wait until shadows are getting long either! 9 AM or 3 PM seem to be like relatively ideal times where I live.

Photographing Library Books

Bookstagram photos of library books notoriously do less well because library books “aren’t pretty.” First off, screw that. Libraries are valuable resources and we should be celebrating them, so the more high quality photos of library books, the better. I’ve started flaunting my library books this summer.

However, I have found a few ways to make your books’ library-status less obvious.

Open Book Photos
When your photo features book pages or open books, the library spines and plastic dust-jackets are less visible.

Cropping Your Book
If you’re going for one of those pictures will a TON of books in it, try lining your books up so that the spines are up, but only the top half of the spine is in the frame. Make sure to adjust the angle so the lighting isn’t making your dust-jackets too shiny!

Not library books, but you get the idea!


Book Stacks and Piles
You can get creative here to stack your books so that the library stickers are covered.

Camera Quality

Screenshot_20180710-135614Everyone knows that all those accounts that have a kajillion followers use professional cameras and equipment, and honestly probably Photoshop everything as well. However, your phone camera is likely good enough to do the job for Instagram, especially if you have an iPhone or Android. Even old models have fantastic cameras!

That said, I know that not everyone has an amazing smart phone, especially young teens. My suggestion is to find a filter that makes the lower quality images less glaring. Also, learn to use the advanced settings! You can do a lot in there to make a bad photo look better!


As stated, flowers and bookish merch aren’t cheap props. Personally, I prefer prop-less photos anyway! But if you feel like you need something to fill up space, head over to the dollar store, you’d be surprised what you can use. Here are a few cheap suggestions I’ve seen used very effectively (most of which are available at either the dollar store or Wal-Mart):

  • Oragami Stars (love LOVE these, and they’re so easy to make!)
  • Christmas Lights
  • Playing Cards (ooooo, no one is making card castles that I know of, but that would be cool!)
  • Craft Glass Gems/Stones
  • Home-made confetti
  • Blankets and Pillows you already have at home
  • Popcorn, candy, or other pretty snacks
  • Buttons (you can get these cheap at Wal-Mart, actually.)
  • Pens
  • Cute hand-drawn pictures or journal pages (note-sized looks great!)
  • Twine or yarn


You do NOT have to spend money on backdrops! There are so many less expensive options! Personally, I use white and black poster board, which you can get for like, fifty cents at the grocery store. Blankets and bedding also look lovely if yours is nice, and I find that several of the tables in my house look great. If you want something more fun, scrapbook paper is less expensive than backdrops, and is always on sale at Hobby Lobby.

If you look close, you can just see that I use poster board.

Be Patient

Your personal library will grow in time. Keep entering giveaways, keep asking for books for your birthday, keep treating yourself to a book you adored from time to time. Remember, Instagram life isn’t real. Don’t get your self-worth by comparing your lack of books or subscription boxes or Funko Pops to everyone on Insta. You are amazing because of who you are, not because of how much junk (or books…) you have!

And maybe start following liking and commenting on more bookstagrams like yours. I’ve started following the hashtags #library and #librarybooks so I can see more Bookstagrams like mine. Trust me, they’re a great community too!


37 thoughts on “A Broke Girl’s Guide to Bookstagram

  1. Stability is an issue in low light situations. If you don’t have a tripod to set your camera/phone on, find something you can brace the camera against. I’ve used cans and rocks in a pinch during various shoots.

    Also, look into the white balance setting if your pictures are coming out funny colors. White balance helps you adjust for the color of your lighting if the camera isn’t doing it already (for example, when you see very orange pictures, they were using regular tungsten lighting and the camera didn’t adjust it).

    If you are planning to photograph yourself along with your books outside, the hour after dawn and the hour before sunset are the best, no matter where you are. Photographers call them the golden hours.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re welcome!

        When you’re trying to get that great landscape shot and you can’t get the tripod where it needs to be, the rock will work!

        Also, the posterboard trick is a pro secret. 🙂 I was assisting on a shoot where the photographer used a piece of white foamcore board as both a reflector and a device to keep ugly reflections out of shiny chrome parts.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. this post was so helpful! i was JUST feeling discouraged and it was a good reminder that it actually is a hobby for me and that I don’t need to sink money into my hobby with props!
    thank you for this post!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I freaking love this! Ok so aside from the natural light (I live in a poorly positioned house in Portland – it doesn’t exist 🤣) I am always like cheap props haha. That is not cheap! As a mother of two, I feel you! So this post speaks to me on so many levels. Well done indeed and actually useful 🖤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I feel you on the poorly positioned house bit. The ONLY time of day I can do photos is around 8-9 in the morning because that’s the only time of day we get any sun. So you can imagine that when I’m not on summer vacation my bookstagram gets neglected, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have slowly built up a fake flower collection for my Bookstagram photos. I usually can find them at Walmart for maybe a dollar or two each. Just buying a couple of flowers once a month, or once every couple of months, can help to build up the props without making you feel like you’re breaking the bank….if you want to have flowers as a prop. Not everyone does, and that is perfectly fine.

    Of course, depending on where you live, I also recommend making friends with neighbors who actually have nice flower gardens. Sometimes they don’t mind if you showcase their beautiful blooms with your books.

    I too have gone to the scrapbooking section of Hobby Lobby and stocked up on scrapbooking paper and other decorations. They can be immensely helpful for creating nice or fun photos.

    Lately I’ve just been propping my books up in front of my bookshelves and using my lovely library as its own backdrop. If you don’t have your own nicely organized bookshelves at home, it is totally fine to go to your local library and use their books as a backdrop. Libraries are great. –Actually, who knows, talk to your local librarians and see if the community would be willing to do a collection for Bookstagram props. The library could have a box or a corner where anyone can find the supplies and use them for photographs.

    Oh…and if natural light is a problem where you are, they actually have lightbulbs that simulate natural light. I put sunlight/daylight bulbs up in every room of my apartment and it really helps with my lighting issues. But if you just want to replace a lightbulb in one lamp or one room, all it will take is a few dollars.

    Another prop I sometimes use in my book photography is food. So just plate up your meal or your snack and snap a few quick photos with whatever book you happen to be reading.

    And yes, absolutely don’t worry about needing to spend a ton of money on cameras or on Photoshop. There are free programs that work just as well. For editing on a computer, try using GIMP. Also, yes, the cameras on cell phones nowadays have pretty decent settings and editing available, so just spending time playing around with the settings can lead to some wonderful photos. Plus Instagram already has filters you can use to play around with your images as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this post! You gave some great advice! I mainly use flowers I got at the Dollar Tree which at usually a small bundle for $1 and a white poster board. I have a whole wall of bay windows that have perfect lighting! Cheap is always best for me, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Awesome post, lovely! I’m just getting into university, so I’m a bit far from getting a job myself. These are some awesome tips! I did a similar post years before in my old blog, where I also talked about using illustration boards instead of fancy foam boards and what not. The library books tips are awesome–we don’t have libraries here that carry YA books, but I’ll take note and share with my followers. ♥ New blog follower!

    – Aimee @ Aimee, Always

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post!!! Its amazing what adding a filter and cropping a photo will do! right now my theme is every other black background and wooden background. My black background is just an old black blanket I have. Usually there is some cat hair stuck to it, but the filters cover that and make it look super sharp! For the wooden background I use either my desk at work or my tray tables at home. The tray tables are just the standard ones everyone and their grandma own for eating on the couch haha. Super simple and I didn’t even have to buy posterboard which I would probably accidentally crumple eventually!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, my black background also has pet hair, but even more visible are the scratches in the wood. But insta photos aren’t really high enough resolution for that to be obvious! And yes, my posterboard is SUPER crumbled, lol. I need to get one of those foam boards or something.

      Liked by 1 person

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