Help me photograph books (light, angles) and do it without destroying library books.
March 14, 2010 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I have a bookshelf covered (on the front) with a flat surface). I would like to cover this flat surface with photographs of the bookshelf (minus the cover) with books in it. I'm hoping for a trompe l'oiel type effect so it looks like a bookshelf with books. Three questions: 1. How do I work out the angles/math etc. of the photographs 2. What light should I take the pictures in? 3. Is it ok (and how to) take the call numbers off of library books and replace them before returning the books?

So hiding inside the bookshelf (ok, really a cd tower, so not so wide) is my computer mess: cable modem, voip modem, wireless router, usb hub, external HDs, and all the associated cable tangles. To hide this, I've cut to measure a piece of black poster foam and attached it in a removable-ish way. It looks ok. However, I think it would look better if it looked like the tower was filled with books, like the matching bookshelf right next to it. I want to temporarily remove the mess, photograph books in there, and stick the photographs to the cover.

1. The shelf is almost always viewed from a 45o angle, more or less (just anywhere anyone would sit or stand in the room tends to be at that angle). So I think the photo should be taken at that angle, so as to get part of the side of the bookshelf "wall" on the far side. The problem is that a picture of a rectangular-shaped bookshelf area taken at an angle would no longer be rectangular, right? Obviously trompe-l'oiel painters deal with this somehow. Can someone explain this to the not-particularly-spacially-inclined?

2.The bookshelf is next to a window that sits in the shade. So indirect natural light during the day. Compact fluorescent lighting at night. What light should I take the pictures in to avoid an overly fake look as much as possible?

3. For humour's sake, I would like to get books on particular themes or with particular words in the titles. The easiest way to obtain such books is from the library. But of course library books will have those little call number stickers on the spine. Can I remove these temporarily and put them back after photographing (question both logistical and moral)? If so, I assume I should buy and use the same kind of tape? What is it and where should I get it? I have some discarded library books that I own with call numbers on them, so I could try my hand with those first to ensure that I can do it without damage.
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry, I don't have any tips re: the photography...but please, please don't take the spine labels off of the library books.

Depending on how the book is processed, it is difficult and often impossible to remove these without damaging the books - so much so that our library clerks, who are pros at this, do not risk removing the labels to change them, but simply cover them up with new ones. Even if you don't damage the book, it's unlikely that you'll be able to keep the label intact to replace it later. They are designed to stay on despite lots of handling. I know it would save you a lot of time, but it's just not a good idea.

There are so many places to buy used books, so cheaply. I know it will take longer to find the themes and the titles you want, but it's a better idea all around. Alternatively, if you have photo-editing skills and are taking digital photos, you might try using books with minimal labeling and Photo-shopping the labels out.
posted by Knicke at 8:43 AM on March 14, 2010

1. ?
2. ?
3. No.
posted by carsonb at 8:43 AM on March 14, 2010

No advice on the angles and lighting, but I suggest you try photoshopping out the labels rather than removing them physically.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 8:54 AM on March 14, 2010

No answer on 1 and 2.

If you just want books then use a service online where you can buy books in bulk ("books by the foot") but don't try to pull those numbers off. Coming from someone who did the behind the scenes work in a library it sucks to have to put all those numbers on again, not to mention they aren't your property, and if you damage the book you could be charged (a fee) for it.
posted by zombieApoc at 8:57 AM on March 14, 2010

1. If you photograph the front of the bookshelf at an angle, then attach the angled photo to the front of the bookshelf, then view it from an angle, won't you then be viewing it from a double angle? Or do I misunderstand your question? Photograph it straight-on, so the books will look just like real books, then when you view them from an angle they will be angled. Not sure if that makes sense.

2. Best lighting would be daylight bulbs at all four corners to create a neutral light in the photo, then the real light would carry on illuminating the photo just as it did real books.

3. Repeat, DO NOT remove labels from library books.

Here's an alternative that will make book lovers scream, but what the hell. Buy boxes of old hardcovers from Sally Ann or a yard sale or wherever, cut the spines off with a table saw and glue them onto a flat surface so they look like they're there when they're actually not. This would be a lot more convincing than a photo. Also more work.
posted by crazylegs at 9:02 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok, it looks like question number 3 is settled. It really wasn't my intent to destroy library books, I just didn't realize this stuff was so hard to remove. One theme actually wouldn't be too hard to buy used, and another is a theme I already own a number of books on. One or two labels wouldn't be the end of the world. I actually planned to photoshop anyway if the call number didn't cover up the title and remove only if it did, but that sounds unworkable. So photoshop, non-library books, or visible call numbers it is.

So, no call number removal. Please don't be mad at my librarians. I really didn't mean any harm.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:05 AM on March 14, 2010

Crazylegs: on the double-angle...I see what you're saying, but the things you see when you look at a bookshelf at an angle aren't visible when you look at it dead on. The inside side of the shelf is very visible when you look from the side, but not really when you look straight on, so it wouldn't be in the picture and wouldn't "show" if you looked at a dead-on picture from the side.

I think that combining that with the problem of the double-angle though, suggests that the photo must be taken at an angle and then distorted somehow?

(I like the cut spine idea, but A) I don't think it would work in the space and B) I don't think I could bring myself to destroy the books).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:11 AM on March 14, 2010

Here's a best answer from another (3D) Trompe L'oeil AskMe a while back, edited slightly for relevance:

...But you can get the mapping you want by putting more reference points in your photo, and the computer will do all the math...

Example (only using one wall, but you'll get the idea):

1. Use tape to mark a 8.5" x 11"
shelf-sized rectangle on the wall bookcase cover.
2. Take a photo
[from the viewing angle].
3. Use a vector drawing program to superimpose the logo
book photos inside the rectangle (which will be an irregular diamond in the 2-D photo)
4. In the vector program, distort the diamond until it is once again a rectangle with the correct aspect ratio.
5. The skewed logo
photo inside the rectangle is the correct projection. Print it out and glue it to your wall bookcase cover.
posted by carsonb at 9:22 AM on March 14, 2010

Thanks, CarsonB, that's just the sort of info I was looking for. A few questions:

1. Is photoshop a "vector drawing" program? I dont' thinK I understand step 3.

2. I assume I take the photo of the books from the viewing angle, too?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:41 AM on March 14, 2010

I think PS will do what you want, which is just to stretch and distort the image. Selection tool, distort tool (?), fiddle with it.
posted by carsonb at 9:55 AM on March 14, 2010

Ok, so put the books in the shelf. Take a picture from the viewing angle. Distort the picture so that the area bounded by lower shelf/upper shelf/sides is a rectangle of the same dimension as the relevant rectangle on the cover?

Thank you...if I can figure out how, I'll post pics when it's done, which might be a while.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:05 AM on March 14, 2010

Check this out for when you get the picture-taking part all figured out: SticViews. Tell them how big to print it, upload the image, and they send you a giant sticker of your image.

Personally, I think you should just photograph the thing straight on. See how it looks; live with it for awhile before you jump through a bunch of hoops and drive yourself crazy. An angled image is going to look really weird when viewed from the wrong angle.

Instead of photographing, you might try this... Cut your foam board so that each shelf has it's own piece that you can wedge in a few inches. Get those books by the foot that zombieApoc mentioned, and cut off the spines. Glue the spines to the foam board. Then you have a cover for each individual shelf that is made from real books. There will be no "angle" issues. Plus you won't have to learn photoshop!
posted by wwartorff at 12:00 PM on March 14, 2010

Oh the irony...

So I couldn't resist. I went to the used bookstore and bought a bunch of books on the easy theme. I picked out a bunch of books from my shelves on the theme I already have. I took some pictures both straight on and at the viewing angle. I did the appropriate photshopping (quick and dirty job, just to see if I liked straight or angled better). I ran to the drug store and printed them up in the right size (I'm amazed I got that to work so they fit exactly).

And the verdict?

Well now it looks like there are books there. It's fine if you're sitting near it and looking straight at it, but it ends up reflected in the dining room mirror and it just looks cluttered and messy to have a bunch of mis-matched, cluttered books there. This is ironic, because I actually bought a bookshelf with glass doors (which sits next to the cd tower) precisely to avoid this clutter-in-the-mirror problem.

So I think I'm going to leave the cover plain black and put a knob on it to match the knobs on the bookshelf doors (so it looks like a door). On which picture is wwartorf predicted, it depends on the angle. If you're looking at it more or less dead-on (say within 20-25 degrees), the dead on picture is very convincing. You could really think they're books. But the dead-on picture looks really funny from most viewing places in the room. On the other hand, the angled picture doesn't look particularly funny from anywhere in the room, but I also haven't found anywhere in the room from which it looks persuasively like there are books there. I may not have shot at the best angle.

Even though I won't end up going through with the project, it was interesting to try. Maybe if I ever think of anything appropriate I'll put some knick-knacks or something decorative on the shelves, take a picture and stick those pictures on the front of the cover. Who knows?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:51 PM on March 14, 2010

I've seen bookshelf wallpaper that would give the idea of books, and looks nice. One roll is probably affordable.
posted by theora55 at 7:58 AM on March 15, 2010

Two hints for getting your bookshelves to look less cluttered (for future reference):

1. Organize your books by the color of the cover. Sounds silly, and I don't mean to have you set things up to look like a rainbow, but having them clumped by color is easier on the eye.

2. Shelve the books backwards, so instead of looking at the spines you're looking at the pages. I don't know of any books that don't have white pages.

Glad you figured out a solution!
posted by wwartorff at 12:38 PM on March 15, 2010

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