Monday, August 12, 2013

Creating the Perfect Book Cover Image- A Photographer's Viewpoint Part 1 of 2

Today we have a special guest post from professional photographer, and my own book cover advisor, Rachel Taylor of R. Taylor Concepts. 

Rachel is a freelance photographer based in south Missouri in the Lake of the Ozarks.  In addition to her experience as a successful free-lance photographer, she's worked with top designers in the silk floral retail and wholesale industry and has done a wide range of commercial work, including, but not limited to, photography for Evergreen Home Décor.  If you are in need of professional photography services, you can contact Rachel at

The first consideration when selecting a photograph for the cover of my book would be content relevance.  What scene, what item, what kind of person, etc… will most quickly help the viewer connect with the title and / or theme of my book; keeping in mind that should I choose to photograph a person, releases will be necessary.

Once I've decided upon the object(s) to be photographed, my next thought would be how will I light it?  Do I want my photo to overpower my text and grab the viewers attention via emotion or do I simply need it to visually break up the space of my cover?  If the former, I would choose bold, highly contrasted lighting (think studio strobes or mid day sun for the non-photographer) to create a distinct separation of the object from its background.  If using a photograph to break up space rather than to add immediate impact, I would elect a softer approach, using natural light.

Two examples of high contrast lighting-- bold images that catch a viewer's eye:


Two examples of more naturally, softer lit images.  These images tend to pull the viewer into the text and title:

After lighting is determined, composition of the item(s) would be next in my thought process.  Is it just one item or object that I need to shoot or is it more of a scene, thought or interaction?

If one object, a solid background will be best to again, separate the item from the background and make it stand out.  When composing the object, I would consider text placement within my cover design.  Placing the item directly in the center of my frame obviously creates balance but is somewhat boring.  This may be to my benefit depending upon final intent.  If not, off-setting the item, either in my shot or within ultimate cover design placement, can create negative space for text placement as well as increase viewer eye moment, pushing or pulling them into a direction that benefits me.

When composing a scene or people, my background choice would depend upon my ultimate intention.  A solid background will act similarly with people as it does with objects: it will separate them and assist in helping them stand out.  A busy background can add mood (think city scape) but will also add some distraction.

Examples of center-weighted images. Once your eye locks in on the object, you're seemingly finished viewing  to  some extent.

Examples of off-center images using negative space.  Eyes are drawn to the negative space, moving more continuously.


In summary, here are some bits of info to consider when choosing to add a photograph to your cover:

Subject Matter:
* fewer objects, less distraction
* people = release forms & more overhead

Example of a cover with fewer objects. Objects are boldly lit, advancing them while the darker, red background further pushes the sword forward while creating intensity and emotion in its wake.

An example of a very busy cover. Multiple objects and backgrounds can add distraction, ultimately forcing the viewer to the title if properly placed.

Lighting: (see examples near the beginning of this post)
*high contrast lighting is more bold, catching more attention than softly lit objects

Composition: (see examples near the beginning of this post)
* center weighted photographs typically exude balance and neutrality
* negative space created when objects are placed to the left/right of or above/below center can add visual stimulation and movement as well as space for text

*using [leading] lines within either the object itself or within the background can direct viewers to areas of interest within the cover

Example of leading lines in cover photographs:



* solid backgrounds create separation ultimately pushing the object photographed forward and closer to the viewer
* textured / patterned backgrounds add distraction as well as a sense of place

Example of a nice, solid background. This is so simple, yet uses many leading elements. It pulls me in. Solid background, negative space and the direction of the model adds a nice leading line while the red color evokes intensity and emotion.

Example of an object against a busy background. Distracting but does lead viewer towards the title if the object is used as more of a filler of space.

*brighter colors equate with more energy (e.g. red heightens emotion, adding mental energy or subtracting it depending upon how you look at it)
*darker shades are typically more relaxing and recede into the background
*complementary colors provide the eyes visual harmony (e.g. red/ blue / yellow or green / purple / orange)

Example of use of complementary colors:

Example of darker, more subdued tones.


Note from Christina Williams

Book covers shown are examples of the concepts Ms. Taylor is explaining, not examples of her work, which is equally impressive.

Thanks so much Rachel for your expert insight into book cover design and for taking time to write this article.  It's greatly appreciated.


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