Photographing books can be both equally fun and challenging at the same time. Photographing books often involve photographing indoors, which requires understanding light and your camera settings. Photographing in natural light is going to be very different from photographing indoors.
For the first year I primarily used my iPhone to take my Instagram and blog pictures and sometimes my Canon 60D. I have also used stock photography (which I always disclose on my Instagram post). Besides this blog I also am a photographer. I primarily do church and street photography - you can see my portfolio —> HERE. With that being said, I did upgrade my camera equipment and am now exclusively using the Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera; with some stock photography thrown in.
While, I don’t recommend throwing tons of money on new equipment (I did because, well I am a photographer) and you really don’t need a high end DSLR to take great book photos. I will get to that shortly.
Today I am going to provide tips on how to photograph books indoors with your DSLR so that you will get the sharpest photos! These tips are going to be more on the technical side rather than the creative side. I leave the creative side up to you.
Let There Be Light!
Light is your best friend! I would recommend photographing your book(s) during the golden hour next to a window with plenty of light. What’s the golden hour? The golden hour is one hour before sunset and on hour after sunrise. However, you don’t always have to strictly follow this rule when photographing indoors. Pay attention to the room that you will be photographing in. When is the light the best - and without shadows? During this time of year in my room it is about 3 PM. You don’t want any shadows from trees, blinds, etc.
What if it’s raining or overcast out? You can still photograph probably around midday when it’s brightest- only if your camera can handle a higher ISO and slower shutter speed. I will get to that shortly.
Understand Your Camera Settings
I can’t stress this enough. Understand your camera and it’s settings. Watch a few Youtube tutorials, read your manual, etc. Understand how to set different settings, switch modes - it will save you a lot of time and grief when taking photographs.
Best Mode For Shooting Indoors
I would recommend shooting in AV (Canon) or A for other brands. AV means Aperture Priority. You select the aperture of your photo and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed for you. You will also select the ISO. You can also set the ISO to auto - which I recommend if you are a beginner. Your camera will auto select the right ISO based on the light given.
Aperture basically means the depth of field. Has anyone ever taken a photo of you and you have that nice blurry background? That is Aperture. The lower the number the more blurry - F 2.8 for example is a great setting for portraits. F8 + is generally good for landscapes, architecture, etc. So if we apply that to book photography we don’t really want a blurry background because - well we are trying to take a picture of the entire scene. We want everything in focus. I generally take my photos in F6 or 7.
Shutter speed basically determines the sharpness of your photo. Sports photographers that capture people riding a bike want to have a slow shutter speed so it can capture the person in action without blurriness. If your shutter speed is too fast your photo will start to get blurry and we don’t want that! So that is why I suggest using the Aperture priority mode - as your camera will adjust that for you.
ISO is basically the light. When photographing indoors you will need to kick up your ISO just a tad. Unless it’s miserable outside. The lower the ISO the less light is going into the camera. For example, on a sunny day outside you probably only need to have it set 100-200 ISO. But for those evening photos you will probably need to have your ISO set at 1000+.
Now that example is for outdoor photography - so I will provide some examples of indoor photos for you:
This photo was taken a little late in the day when the light was getting dark. As you can see from the harsh shadows. Here I kicked my ISO up to about 1000 with F6 aperture. Again, I was shooting in AV so the camera set the shutter speed for me.
I would not recommend going above 1200 ISO because your photos will start to look a little grainy.
Here as you can see this photo was taken around 3 PM in really good light. It was sunny that day and I had plenty of light coming through the window. Again I had my setting at F5 and ISO of only around 400.
So the general rule of thumb- is to really pay attention to your weather forecast to know when to take photos indoors. You generally want to photograph when it’s sunny or partly cloudy out. And that might mean having to take a ton of photos at once -because well, the weather doesn’t always corporate with us. Plan ahead!
If you are in a pinch and need to take a photo when it’s getting later in the day, take tips from the above photo with Angela Hunt’s book.
Best Basic Camera and Lens For Photographing Books
You really don’t need an expensive camera - especially if you are a beginner.
I would recommend these good entry level models:
Canon EOS Rebel T6i
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
All these cameras are about $500. So not too bad for a DSLR (considering how some sell for over 2k). And sometimes you can find a good deal with a used model. I would only recommend buying used on Amazon though - as they are pretty strict with the quality aspect.
For lens - I always recommend a 50mm as a good all around lens. I am not too familiar with Nikon and other brands as I only use Canon. But for Canon I recommend the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens. I use this lens for my street photography and it’s been a great investment - and it’s only $125!
I do use other lens sometimes. As a photographer I have a total of 4 lens but I would say you generally only need one. Especially if only doing book photography or general photography.
Do I Need a Soft Box or Other Equipment?
Honestly, not really. I don’t use any other equipment than my own camera. I remember watching a tutorial one day on Youtube (I honestly can’t remember the name of the person/channel) but I got the best advice there - he basically stated learn your camera and the light. As a beginner start minimal - you don’t need all that fancy equipment. Learn to use your camera. When you are proficient with using your camera - then maybe look into buying a soft box, reflectors, etc.
I only would suggest purchasing a reflector if you are taking product or food photography- as you don’t want any shadows. But honestly, in book photography, I think the photo looks more natural when you have a little shadow. However, that is my style, and you need to find yours. ;)
I hope this was helpful! I know learning to take photos with a DSLR at first can be challenging (I have been there) but practice will help so much! ;)
Do you need help with editing as well? Let me know in the comments! I use lightroom/photoshop to edit my photos - so I could do a tutorial on that. I don’t really use any photo editing apps to edit my pictures, unfortunately.