I’m often asked where I place books in still life photography. Here’s a short look on how to make the most out of your books on set.

Use books to tell a story
Use books to tell a story

Why use books?

Still life photography is all about capturing stories of everyday life, books fall into that category. Granted with the prevalence of e-readers, a little less common. But books just look so good in still life. Don’t discount the e-readers too or electronic books! They can look terrific in still life images too, as do smartphones and other modern gadgets.

Don't discount the ever-increasing e-reader
Don’t discount the ever-increasing e-reader

Decide on hero or supporting cast

You need to decide on whether your book is the hero or just a supporting cast in your image. Have some wonderful old books that really have value and meaning? Perhaps think about making them the hero.

Random old books that help tell a story? If your book is the hero, make sure that it is your focus point. Perhaps the title of the book on the cover or spine, perhaps a chapter name on a title page.

Where to put them

This is a fairly open question, with a VERY open answer. You can use them to elevate your hero or to tell a story. They can be used to add height and dimension. Then there is the open or closed discussion, and whether to have spines or pages outward-facing.

I believe in using all of the above. If the spine is ugly or wording you don’t like, only use the pages. Or paint them like my shabby chic white ones. Or even — the shock and horror! — rip off the cover and just have a shabby book of pages!

Different uses for books

Books can be used to add a pop of color or to enhance a tonal range. Books can be used to brighten or darken a scene. They can be used to add a line to guide the viewer’s eye. I have a few books; you have probably noticed the same ones again and again. But using the same books and placing them in different ways you can use them over and over again. In the below piece I did a composite using the same books repeatedly to make a whole room full of books.

Missing in Action - composite room full of books
Missing in Action — composite room full of books

Where to find books

I don’t have a huge collection of books, perhaps 12 or so. Some are from my own childhood, and some belonged to my parents. I even have some of Dad’s plumbing textbooks from the 1950s. The actual text isn’t great for pretty still life, but they are a nice green cloth. I have picked up a few thrift stores, garage sales and markets. I like the leather or cloth bound ones, look terrific in photos.

If you’re not thrilled with the title of the book, you can clone it out in post, or have the book open, or perhaps cover it with other items. Using chalk paint to add age and character to books can be great too.

Looking to learn more about where to place books in still life photography? Or perhaps more on still life in general? Why not check out one or two of my self-paced online classes?