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How to Photograph Books

I've been writing online for over five years. I enjoy photography, bird watching, and computer programming.

A good photo of your book can help it sell. Learn how to do it right.

A good photo of your book can help it sell. Learn how to do it right.

How to Take Great Pictures of Books

There's nothing like an excellent picture to sell a book. Here are a few tips I've learned about how to take pictures of books. Your technique doesn't have to be perfect, but you do have to take the time to learn how to use your camera, set up proper lighting, and practice a bit.

Don't take boring and blurry pictures. Take good ones! You'll be more likely to sell your books—for more money too! So, here are my best tips on how to take pictures of your book to sell it on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, or just about any other site.

Tips for Photographing Books

  1. Learn how to use the macro setting on your camera.
  2. Good lighting makes a huge difference!
  3. Photograph for detail and beauty.
  4. Use a scanner instead of a camera!
  5. Use a solid color background.
  6. Taking pictures of dark-colored books.
"Macro" icon on your camera

"Macro" icon on your camera

Tip #1: Learn How to Use the Macro Setting on Your Camera

Most cameras have a macro setting for taking close-up pictures. This setting is often represented by an icon of a flower. Check your camera's manual to find out how to turn on the macro setting. Use it when you are less than three feet from the subject. If you don't, your picture might be blurry.

Tip #2: Good Lighting Makes a Huge Difference!

Use sunlight or bright natural-spectrum lights. In my experience, the best lighting for taking pictures is sunlight. When it's a sunny day, I photograph on a table next to a window.

For the dark winter days, I use natural spectrum lights to photograph books, like those shown below.

If you choose to use flash, try photographing at an angle in order to minimize the glare. Also, you may need to turn down the strength of the flash for photographing items close-up.

Got $10? Learn how to make your own photo studio.

Tip #3: Photograph for Detail and Beauty

Consider photographing all or some of the following:

  • Front and back covers
  • Spine
  • Title page
  • Copyright page—especially important for "first edition" and other collectible books.
  • Table of contents—especially important for nonfiction books
  • Sample pages
  • Dustjacket separately—good idea if the dustjacket has extensive damage
  • Book with dustjacket removed—good idea for a high-value book
  • Do close-up pictures of any defects.

Always think about what your buyer wants. If she is buying the book for information, the table of contents and sample pages are going to be key. If she is buying the book for collecting, pictures that show the book's true condition well will help.

People love inside pictures—show off the pages that stand out! This photo is from the book, "A Second Treasury of the World's Greatest Fairy Tales."

People love inside pictures—show off the pages that stand out! This photo is from the book, "A Second Treasury of the World's Greatest Fairy Tales."

Tip #4: Use a Scanner Instead of a Camera!

Scanners can be quick and effective! Scanning the front cover of a book with a dustjacket usually comes out quite well. Scanning inside pages also comes out better than photographing because when using a scanner, the entire page is in focus. Always be careful with the book's binding, and don't scan books that have a tight or fragile binding.

However, scanners aren't the best choice for some books. I generally use a camera to photograph books like the ones below.


Tip #5: Use a Solid Color Background

Try black or white... or orange like me!

Lately, I've gotten stuck in a groove and have been using this orange color. It's actually probably not the best choice for many books. A white or black background is more likely to make the background disappear.

You probably already have a suitable cloth to use as a background. Tablecloths, sheets, curtains, and any other large type of fabric might work well. You can also try other backgrounds like bubble wrap or foam. I'm sure you'll find one that you like. Whatever you do, make the background plain. No one wants to see your clutter in the background.

An example of a difficult book to photograph.

An example of a difficult book to photograph.

Tip #6: Taking Pictures of Dark Colored Books

I like to use the auto setting on my camera. This setting determines if there is enough light to take the picture without flash. With a white colored book, the white color reflects a lot of light, and my camera is fine with taking the picture without flash. However, if I put a black colored book under the same lighting, the camera will often want to flash. This annoys me, and so rather than messing with my camera's settings, I've decided to trick the camera. I take a piece of white paper or an index card and put it on top of the book. I hold the shutter button down halfway on my camera, which causes the camera to focus and select its automatic settings, and then I move the paper away and then press the shutter button the rest of the way. Ta-da! It takes a picture of my dark-colored book without flash!

You might wonder, why don't I simply turn off the flash. Well, with my camera's automatic settings, the camera will attempt to do a longer exposure, which requires a tripod to be used... If I do a long exposure without a tripod, my hand shakes and causes a blurry image. The image is also not as sharp. On the Canon digital camera I use, I could set up manual settings, but I'm not that skilled at manual settings, and tricking the camera is a lot easier for me.

Remember to Focus

This is an important step, even for point-and-shoot cameras!

Most point-and-shoot cameras work the same way: where pressing the button halfway causes the camera to focus and choose its automatic settings. There are lots of things you can do between the time you hold the shutter button down halfway and the time you press it the whole way: you can move the camera around and trick it.

I have some family members that don't know this, and they push the shutter button down all at once, and sometimes the family members are in focus, while other times, the background is in focus.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Comment in my Guestbook—What do you think?

Cowhand on November 26, 2017:

I have a large Ebay store where I sell Service Literature for heavy equipment repair. With Ebay’s Best Match default search... it is critical to get HIGH QUALITY photos due to the search being able to discern photo quality as part of the criteria in setting the order of appearance in Best Match.

Ebay tip of the day... the better your pics, the better your chances of appearing at the top of the search... also be advised that you can put 12 pics for free. I take about 16-20 and cull back to 12.

Twelve high quality pics vs 3-5 mediocre, priced comparatively generally means cash in your pocket while others are scratching their head thinking “Why did they buy his and not mine?”

Answer: Most peeps glance at price and gallery picture... see the first 3-5 presented and make a decision on which to click on to review. If you don’t get in the top of the Best Match search, facilitated by 12 great pictures... they most likely will never see your item and therefore never click on it to be able to buy.

Understanding diffused lighting and how to effectively create and use has been a stumbling block for me.

Thanks for the help

Jenuwin on September 26, 2017:

Great tips! Thank You. Doodlebug- I have had the same problem; I open the book just enough to get a shot at a good angle, and pray that buyers appreciate my 'gentle hand'.

doddlebug on September 23, 2017:

How do you take photos if the book has tight binding?

Gordon on July 08, 2017:

Thank you very much for all this valuable information that was presented in a very concise, readable & easy to understand manner.

Colin323 on July 05, 2013:

Very useful lens. I tend to crop the picture to cut out the background as much as I can and lighten the colours if possible for best effect. I certainly agree about the value of photographing the best illustrations inside the book, and I'm surprised so few of the dealers on ABE do this. It is often the interior shots that clinch the deal. Photographing the book is essential with the books that I sell (fine press & limited editions). Who would buy a book for £100 or more and not want to check out the condition?

Elizabeth Sheppard from Bowling Green, Kentucky on December 03, 2012:

I think this is a very useful lens. Thanks for sharing your tips! ::::blessed::::

hotbrain (author) from Tacoma, WA on August 11, 2012:

@anonymous: The raven picture is from the book "A Second Treasury of the World's Greatest Fairy Tales."

anonymous on August 11, 2012:

Very helpful tips on photographing books; will certainly use them.

BTW, the storybook with ravens is one my grandson would love. Can you share the title?

cstrouse lm on June 02, 2012:

Great tip on taking photos of the insides of the books.

Jennifer Sullivan from Chicago, IL on May 21, 2012:

Great, specific tips on photographing books - this will be useful for book review lenses!

TKsKnacks on March 15, 2012:

great tips, I'm going to apply them ASAP. thank you.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on March 11, 2012:

Excellent tips on taking photos of books. I use book photos with my Squidoo lenses and I'm sure eBay and Amazon sellers need good photos of books. Well done.

TransplantedSoul on February 22, 2012:

So many people miss the MACRO setting. It is so handy!

goldenrulecomics from New Jersey on January 25, 2012:

very good advice!

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on November 22, 2011:

Great tips. A scanner is definitely best if you want to scan the content of a page, but use of good lighting (but no glare) and the macro setting makes a big difference. Above all, the composition is important as well. Nicely done.

hotbrain (author) from Tacoma, WA on October 28, 2011:

@anonymous: Good question! This website addresses your question:

anonymous on October 27, 2011:

I have a question about taking a photograph of a sample page. What would constitute copyright infringement? Should I just take one photograph of the inside?

ChrisDay LM on January 10, 2011:

Neat tips and well worthwhile - thanks for sharing.

Jeremy from Tokyo, Japan on December 30, 2010:

A very helpful page. I trick my camera with autofocus, but this is my first time to hear about tricking the flash.

Karen from U.S. on December 30, 2010:

@hotbrain: Possibly :-) Thanks for letting me know!

hotbrain (author) from Tacoma, WA on December 29, 2010:

@KarenHC: Thanks for your comment! The raven picture is from the book "A Second Treasury of the World's Greatest Fairy Tales." Maybe you had that book as a child? It was published in the 1970s.

Karen from U.S. on December 29, 2010:

I've tried to sell a handful of items on eBay, and it was tricky trying to get good photos of the images. You have some good tips here for taking better photos. BTW, the raven book pages look VERY familiar! What book is that from??