How To

How to Take Great Bookish Selfies

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

I’ve been spending the last few months finally indulging in an interest I’ve had since my teens: photography. For so long, it was just inaccessible to me because of time and, more realistically, because photography is a pricey hobby. You can spend hundreds of dollars on the basic camera, plus hundreds more on special lenses and cases and equipment. Not to mention if you’re not digital and you’re paying for film.

Thanks to smart phones, though, digital photography is much less expensive, and with the right tools and small number of techniques that aren’t hard to learn, you can really get into it.

We’ve written here before about how to bookstagram (that is, take bookish Instagram) shots, a short guide to bookstagram as a ‘thing,’ and the joys of indulging in bookstagram challenges.

What we haven’t written about, and what I haven’t seen around a whole lot, though, is how to take incredible bookish selfies.

kelly reading bedroom

First: let me start by saying the word “selfie” is condescending. Self-portraiture is an art that’s been around forever, and indulging in self-portraiture is fun because you can always be your own subject in a photo. But for the purposes of this post as well as great SEO, I’m keeping it to “selfie.”

Second: all you need to have in order to take a great bookish selfie is a smart phone with a camera. I do not know a whole lot about Windows or Android phones, so please note that while the photography tips here are the same regardless of your operating system, the way you use them may change. I’ve learned that key to good photography is that you have to learn your own camera.

Third and most important: prepare to take a lot of bad pictures. You will not get your great selfie on number one, most likely, and you might not get it on shot number 50. But the beauty of digital photography is you have the space to keep trying, keep failing, deleting and trying again and again. Listen to your gut when you’re flipping through your shots and delete the ones you don’t like right away and keep the ones that look like they might be a winner (even if they aren’t perfect, there are ways to make them stronger).

Also, the biggest trick I have for solid bookish selfies is one I feel like everyone would know, but I assume if it’s a thing I just learned, then I cannot be alone. It will make so much sense why the third note above matters so much.

kelly reading park atr



Here is the biggest, most useful tip for taking great bookish selfies: learn how to use the self-timer on your phone’s camera.

Find that little button tucked on your camera preferences and learn how it works. On the iPhone, there are two options built into the standard camera — there’s a 3 second and a 10 second. You can pick up apps that allow you to use a third-party camera, too, which can change the timer as well. Camera+ ($2.99), for instance, lets you choose how long you’d like to have the timer for.

While it would be easy to stop here and say it’s that easy, it is a little tricker than that. The first photo above, where I’m in my bedroom reading on my bed, took dozens of shots. In part because photos look a million times better when you’re able to shoot from the back facing camera, rather than the front facing. And if you’re taking a selfie from across the room with the timer, and you’re using the back facing camera, you have little idea when the camera will go, and you might not even know what it’s pointing at.

To get that particular shot, I used a bookshelf that was across from my bed and I propped the camera against a box. I looked through the camera and adjusted until it would capture where I wanted to be. Then I walked my book over to the spot I wanted to lay — this gave me an idea of how quickly I needed to move from the camera to the bed after the timer started.

Indeed, it will take many times to get the timing just right, but once you’ve done a shot or two or ten and flip through what you’ve captured, you get a really good idea of where you’re succeeding and how you can improve the shot.

kelly reading outside skirt


Okay, so you can use a self-timer, but….what else?

Selfies aren’t just of your face, and sometimes the most interesting shots are those which aren’t of your face. Though the photo immediately above doesn’t show the book I’m reading, it works because it showcases that I’m reading *and* it shows off my literary tattoo nicely. In the photo above that, I wanted the focus to be on my hands and the book, rather than my face.

Likewise, selfies don’t need to be face-on. Some of the most interesting bookish selfies are those which are shot from unconventional angles. The middle photo works because it’s been shot from a picnic table (the camera is propped against my purse, so nothing fancy). Do not be afraid to put your camera somewhere different, set the self-timer, and experiment with the different colors, perspectives, and textures you get. I’m a huge fan of texture in my pictures, so the weaving on my skirt in the above photo really works for me, as does the ripply effect of the picnic table top.

outside lying down reading


This might be my favorite bookish selfie. I took it from below me, propping my phone camera against a rock (seriously, use what you have rather than buy fancy equipment). In that place, I was able to see where my back facing camera was aiming, and I set the book where I wanted it to be positioned. When I got the timer ready, I laid down behind the book.

You know the annoying glare of selfie-arm when you’re wearing sunglasses and taking a shot? Do you know what you don’t see in this?

It’s because I used the self-timer. This was not the first shot nor the second nor the third. But after fifteen — and remember, this is only taking 5 or 10 minutes of your day, tops —  I got one that even had my hair blowing in the breeze. Boom. The glowing effect of the grass adds some cool texture as well.

There is a lot more that can be said about technical aspects of photography, but it boils down to experimentation. There are times of day that are more advantageous to shoot outside (early in the morning and right before the sun goes down are great, though the three outdoor shots here are all during the midday) and there are places in your house that work much better than others (windows are your friend). Gray days outside are also excellent for photos. You’ll often create more visual interest in your selfie if it’s not dead center in your shot (if you make your central piece — you! — fit in the top half, bottom half, or along the sides of your frame, you might find it more interesting than if you’re perfectly centered…but that’s a preference and not a rule).

And it should be stated that there is no shame in editing your shots. I’m a bit minimalist in my editing, since I like to take the cleanest shots I can and then boost it just a tad, but if you take a shot that’s just okay, using a variety of apps or even your built-in camera tools can make it go from okay to pretty damn good. There is no shame in using more than one app to make your photo the way you want to make your photo.

My favorite app for editing is one that’s incredibly simple: Pic-Tap-Go. I’ve used this little $2 app as much as I’ve used any others on my phone. Being able to adjust how much of a filter you want is nice, as is being able to layer them. Pic Stitch (a freebie!) will let you stitch together a few photos, which can be nice if you want to create a collage of bookish selfies. I also really like using Faded (freebie, though you can make in-app purchases) to give my photos a uniform look across social media; this app has a lot of great photo enhancing tools and filters, as well.

Let me repeat a key piece of advice: use the back facing camera. It might be easier to see yourself in the front facing camera, but let’s remember that the fact it’s mirrored means your book title isn’t going to be readable left-to-write. The work you put into using the back facing camera and experimenting pays off not just because you look better but also because you can show off the title of what you’re reading without a problem.

Now get to creating some killer bookish selfies — perhaps you can start by figuring out a great way to take a selfie in front of your bookshelf.