How to Feature Books on Your Bookstagram Without Buying Them

I love bookstagram, but there's no denying that it comes with a hefty dose of consumerism. If you don't have the money to buy a million books, it's easy to feel left out because you only have a few hard copies to take pictures of.

Luckily, there are some little photo-editing tricks we can all use to expand our bookstagram repertoires. And the best part is, they're all 100% free! In this post, I'm going to share:
  • Tips for how to photograph library books
  • How to edit book covers onto a tablet or smartphone
  • How to create a flatlay photo featuring a book that you don't even own using an old paperback
Ready to up your bookstagram game? Let's get started!

Photographing Books from Your Local Library

This is perhaps the easiest and least technologically-demanding option of them all. Your local library will have a ton of books for you to take home and photograph! If you can live with the weird reflections on the plastic book jackets, it's definitely the most straightforward and cost-effective option for making your bookshelf seem a little bigger.

The important thing to keep in mind when photographing library books is to keep the lighting under control. Use natural light to avoid glare. To cut down on reflections, use a piece of white poster board to diffuse the light source a bit. I got mine for a dollar about a year ago, and I still use it all the time today. Best investment in a piece of photo equipment you'll ever make!

Of course, not all of us can live with those weird reflections -- and sometimes a library isn't available (like, say, if you're in the middle of a pandemic and everything is shut). But no matter! I'm going to show you how to edit bookstagram photos in a way that will instantly expand your book collection ...

How to Edit Book Covers onto a Blank Kindle Fire or Tablet

I use this little trick all the time -- not just because it means I can feature books I don't own, but because taking photos of anything displayed on a tablet screen leads to a bunch of annoying little lines and artifacts that look awful in a picture. Plus, it's super easy, and completely free!

You will need:
  • A Kindle Fire, tablet, smartphone, or iPod touch. If it's broken, that's fine!
  • Pixlr E -- a free online photo editor

Step one

Set up your props, other books, etc., and take a picture that includes your blank e-reader device. Be careful of reflections on the front of the device, especially around the edges (you'll cover up the middle later, so that doesn't matter as much). I often hold a piece of poster board above my Kindle Fire to get rid of the reflections.

Here's one I made earlier:

Step two

Export your photo to your computer. Go to the Pixlr E website and open your photo.

Step three

Make whatever adjustments you usually make to your pictures -- brightness, contrast, saturation, etc. Book covers tend to have pretty high saturation and contrast already, so it's best to only adjust the actual picture and not the cover image, otherwise it will look weird.

Step four

Find your desired book cover online. The author or publisher's website usually has the most high-resolution cover images. In a pinch, Goodreads has relatively high-resolution cover images. Save the book cover to your computer.

Step five

Import the cover image into Pixlr E as a new layer. You do this by clicking layer > Add image as layer and selecting the image from your computer.

Step six

Make sure the layer with the book cover is selected in the "layers" panel. Then, select the "free distort" function, which you can find by going to Edit > Free distort. Drag the corners of the cover image to where you want them.


Keep in mind that some tablets and phones are longer and thinner than the average book cover, so you'll want to leave some empty space at the top and bottom of the tablet screen to avoid stretching the book cover too much.

Step seven

Export your image as a .png or .jpeg and send it back to your phone ready to post on Instagram. You've done it!

Of course, ebooks are great, but we all know that physical copies are the best. So is there a way to post about physical books even when we don't own them?

The answer is yes, again with a little photo-editing trickery!

How to Make a Flatlay With a Paperback You Don't Own

Wait, what? You can make it look like you have a specific book in paperback when you actually don't?!

Yep! I use this method all the time in my photos. Not only does it mean you can feature books you don't own, but I also frequently use it to feature books I do own to avoid creasing them. My page's theme largely revolves around folding back the covers of my paperbacks, and I'm sorry, but I'm not gonna do that to my brand-new copy of A Curse so Dark and Lonely.

Admittedly, when I do this, I usually use Affinity Photo for greater control and to use its perspective tool. However, I'm going to show you how to do it in the free app PicsArt!

You will need:
  • A standard-sized paperback book that has a blank page spread in it (and that you don't mind getting creased). Many paperbacks have a few blank pages at the back.
  • An image of the title page of the book you want to feature -- preferably one with a white background. I'll show you an easy way to get that in just a second.
  • PicsArt, a free photo-editing app

This is the paperback I use for most of my folded-paperback flatlays -- it's actually a copy of the Penguin Classics version of The Aeneid! It has a few blank pages in the back, so I just turn it upside-down and fold the pages back to make it look like it's open to the front page.

Bet you guys never guessed that the most featured book on my YA-centric Instagram was actually The Aeneid.

Step one

Take a flatlay photo with your paperback open to its blank spread. The flatter the book is, the better -- it will look more natural that way. Here's one I made earlier with my trusty copy of The Aeneid:

Step two

Make whatever edits and adjustments you usually make to your photos -- brightness, contrast, etc. You could theoretically also do this at the very end, but I prefer to do it first so that I can get a better idea of how the finished thing will look.

Step three

Now it's time to get our title page image! Go to Amazon and find the listing for the book you want to feature. Select the Kindle edition and click "Look Inside."

Scroll around until you find the title page image -- the majority of ebooks, especially from major publishers, have an image inserted in the Kindle edition that looks exactly like the title page from the print edition.

Screenshot that baby and crop out any unwanted extras. If you're on a computer, you can sometimes even right-click and download the image directly to your hard drive.

With this method, I highly recommend that you choose a title page with a white background where the art doesn't extend all the way to the edge of the page. To pull off this method with a title page where the art goes all the way to the edge, you would need a photo editor where you could fine-tune the perspective, adjust the edges, paint in anything that got cut off ... basically, it would look terrible if you did it in PicsArt.

In other words, Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds? A-okay. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch? Don't touch that unless you have a more advanced photo editor.

Step four

Open your photo of the blank paperback in PicsArt. Scroll along the bar at the bottom until you find the "Add Photo" option.

Step five

Hit that button and select your screenshotted title page from your camera roll. It will now appear in the middle of the photo.

Step six

In the bar at the bottom, hit the "Blend" option, and select "Multiply." All the white bits on the title page will turn transparent, leaving just the text and the art. Magic!

Step seven

Move the title page on top of the blank page and resize/rotate/move it until it looks right. Then hit "Apply."

Step eight

Use the "save" icon at the top to download the edited photo to your camera roll. Voilá! You're done!

So there you have it -- three ways to expand your bookstagram library without spending a nickel!

But isn't all of this a little ... dishonest?

Most of us would have no problem taking photos of library books, but the more Photoshop-y methods might give you pause from an ethical standpoint. If we feature books we don't own, isn't that technically lying?

Well, sure, it would be lying if you captioned your photo with something like, "Look, I just got a paperback copy of Shatter Me! I love riffling through its totally real pages and smelling its oh-so-tangible new book smell!"

In terms of just posting the edited photos, though, I personally don't think it's that big of a deal. Sure, bookstagram is largely about discussing our current reads and books we love, but there's no denying that it's also become a place for people to show off their beautiful edits and photography. It's extremely common for people to use a little photo-editing trickery in their pictures.

Take this photo, for example. Not only did I edit the Cruel Prince cover onto my Kindle, but I also edited the tea coming out of the teapot spout because my hands are too shaky to take a photo and pour tea at the same time. Photo trickery, to me, isn't about deceiving people -- it's about creating a cool composition that people will enjoy looking at.

I also don't think it's fair to expect people to spend large amounts of money on an extensive book collection, especially when bookstagram users tend to skew younger. Heck, I'm a college student. I'm  lucky enough to have some disposable income to treat myself to a book every now and then, but I can't afford to have an entire wall filled with bookshelves. By sharing these methods, I hope it will help people who can't afford many new books to hold their own a bit better in bookstagram's hyper-consumerist culture.

One last note: I encourage bookstagrammers to make an effort to feature more books by authors of color, especially LGBTQ+ authors of color. Whether you're taking photos of books you actually own or using the methods outlined in this post, it's important to boost the voices of those who don't get heard as much.

Go forth and make awesome photos, friends!

Want more bookstagram-y content like this? Join my newsletter, the Loose Leaf List, to get reviews, opinions, bookstagram tips, and other fun stuff delivered directly to your inbox once a month!


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