Book Cover Photography

There is a place for professional photography that often goes unsolicited and that is book cover photography. You do have to be aware of the needs of your client and help them create a cover that will sell their book.  I believe that the book cover has one job, stop you and make you pick up the book. Or In the case of today's digital readers, the cover makes you stop scrolling and click on the book to find out more.

However, a dilemma can occur as writers are seasoned story tellers. A writer may want to use the cover to tell a story - where I believe , the cover is simply all about advertising.

If you think about it, how long does it take you to make a decision about a book while scrolling the archives of Amazon.com?  The writer doesn't have much time to grab the attention of the potential reader and show a cover so compelling it makes you click on it find out what the book is about.

In this instance, two ideas were talked about.  Using an existing image from India with some Photoshop work to include a subject and  a close up of a woman's eyes wrapped in a Sari.

We had a fantastic model in Alexa that posed for us.  She happened to be the girlfriend of the male model we were using, so we just met then at their home to make it easy on them and us.

For Alexa, we wrapped her up and had her stand against the wall while we used a five foot Profoto RFi 5 Foot Octa Softbox as our main light.  This is a huge light that is very soft and yields a beautiful quality to the light. We also used a couple of Lasolite Tri-Grip hand held reflectors for some fill light.

While the plain wall worked fine, I noticed they had a freshly painted red door that I wanted to use as a background and though it was a tight squeeze in-between the sofa and the five foot soft box we made a few more images. The green eyes of the model just popped against the red background.

Here is how the other cover was developed:  Since a fair amount of the book takes place in India, the writer wanted to create a feeling of what it was like being in India.  While doing research on the book, the author spent time traveling in India and while he was there, took some photographs. I highly encourage writers to do just that, take photographs while they travel on research.  The quality may not be cover material but if nothing else it could inspire your cover designer or you might do what  we did and use some parts of images to create a cover.

One of a couple of images the author supplied from his research trip.

One of a couple of images the author supplied from his research trip.

Another image shot in India to be used as a book cover.

Another image shot in India to be used as a book cover.

The author wanted a young man in the street so we photographed a friend in his home and then stripped away the background so we could fit him into the street scene.

 I knew from previewing the background scene the author supplied, that we wanted light coming at the man to give the same feeling as the light in the street.  So I used a  Profoto RFi 1 x 3 strip light  pointed right at the subject to provide the backlighting.

 I knew from previewing the background scene the author supplied, that we wanted light coming at the man to give the same feeling as the light in the street.  So I used a Profoto RFi 1 x 3 strip light pointed right at the subject to provide the backlighting.

After many layers in Photoshop we finally constructed the two book covers. One more simple, just a woman in a Sari showing just the eyes.  The other one a more complex image telling the story of a man, alone in the streets of India.

Here are the final two covers:  To find out which cover the author went with, follow this link and check out  the new novel by Phil Ribera: Sadhana found on Amazon.com

If you have an opinion on which cover you like better,  I'd love to hear it. 

How to Prepare for Your Headshot

Most people fall into to two different camps when it comes to preparing themselves for a photo session. Either they look forward to it with anticipation or for a smaller percentage, they dread it. I had one client  years ago,  who compared getting his photograph taken with going to the dentist.  No matter what your anxiety level is when you are getting your portrait created, if you are prepared, it should be a fun experience.

A Few Days Before Your Session

  • Make a point to get plenty of rest starting a few days before your session.
Rest is the most important preparation that a person can do to prepare for their session. Fatigue is mostly seen in and around the eyes with redness and dark circles underneath the eyes. Get extra sleep, certainly the day before your session but starting at least two days before, for best results.
  • Drink extra water a couple of days in advance.

Proper hydration for the human body is extremely important in all aspects of life.  When preparing to have your portrait created, take in some extra water, more than normal, to replenish your skin and help keep it from drying out.

  • Get your hair cut or trimmed.
Don't do this the day before or the morning of your shoot. Always give your hair a few days to settle back in after a cut.
  • Schedule your teeth cleaning at your dentist a week or so before your shoot.
This can remove tarter build up that will show up in the photograph.  While it's not always practical, if you have a cleaning coming up - that's a good time to schedule a portrait in the following weeks.
  • Have a manicure.
If you normally have your nails done, then plan on having this service a few days in advance of your session. While many shots you create will not have your hands in the photograph, there may be a few images that will, so get those nails in top shape. Guys, if have never had a manicure, this would be the time try it.  If nothing else, make sure your nails are clean.  Well trimmed, smooth nails can make a big difference in a shot that has hands in the image.
  • Prepare your clothing.
Some blouses and dress shirts require dry cleaning, so get this taken care of in advance. Choose clothing that is flattering to your face, not just comfortable. Women - wear collars! Many women will wear scoop necklines that can make their shoulders look rounded and heavy. Collars will make the neck appear longer and more slender.  Remember to bring your jacket when posing for business  portraits.  Choose colors that are solids.  When doing a head shot, there is almost never a need for a pattern on the clothing. Men, make sure your suit jacket or sport coat does not live in a closet where the pets have access. Be careful on the transportation of your clothes if you are going to a location or a studio.  Lots of pet hair can be picked up in the car.
  • Avoid the sun.
Some people think that they will get a little sun to help their color a few days before a shoot.  Try to take care of this many weeks before your scheduled shoot.  If you should go into the sun a few days before your shoot, you could end up drying out your skin or worse, burning it.  The red blotchiness of of sunburn or wind burn is very difficult to hide with makeup or retouching.  It's best to avoid it and stay covered up just before your shoot.
I once photographed a women in her 40s and her skin was remarkable.  I commented on it, since I had never seen such flawless skin.  She told me that she never goes into the sun, or outside for that matter, without being covered somehow, hat, scarf, something.  While this may be an extreme lifestyle, I can tell you it worked to keep her skin in fabulous condition.
Day of your Portrait Session
Allow plenty of time, don't rush.  The stress of getting lost, or showing up late can take a toll on your eyes and add lines to your face.
Men, remember to shave.  Use a new blade to cut hair, not your face.
  • Makeup
If you wear makeup and want to do your makeup yourself, put your makeup on as if you are going to work.  Don't get too heavy like you might if you were going to the club at night.  Use the "less is more" adage when it comes to make up.  If you hire a professional makeup artist, use someone who does makeup for photography. Look for samples of their work to make sure their style fits your look.
Do a last minute check in the mirror.  Is the session after lunch? Do a quick teeth brushing to make sure there isn't any food caught in your teeth. Check your hair.  Bring a blow dryer set on cool to give your hair a little added body just before the shoot.  Check your face for shine. Blot perspiration with a tissue, do not rub as it may brighten your skin in that area.
Take the time during your photo session to turn off your phone for a few minutes.  Make this time, YOUR time. Treat is as if you are going to the spa for some pampering.

Creating A Professional LinkedIn Portrait

Many people these days are planning to get a new job or advance their career. From a social networking standpoint, LinkedIn is the cornerstone of networking for a new career or career advancement. With over a 175 million members, it's a fantastic online destination to brand yourself. When you are considering how to brand yourself - the first thing that comes to mind, as well as the first thing that people see, is your profile photograph. It has to look professional.

Ted Prodromou of the Entrepreneur suggests, "Post a professional photo". "First impressions are very important and people will judge you within a few seconds when they see your LinkedIn profile."

From the viewer's standpoint, your first impression is your profile photograph.  Here is a before and after example:

Robert's actual profile image was shot with the parking lot as a background.  We scheduled a professional portrait session, where we brought the focus back to the face and not to the glare in the background.

First we used a long lens to create a shallow depth of field to isolate him from the walls of his family room in his home. Using a combination of available light and flash fill light, we created several images.  We had Robert change his shirt a few times to experiment with colors and to give us some variety in the choices.  As well, we changed expressions, and the position of the upper body.  The session took about 40 minutes.

Once his favorite image was selected from an online image gallery, we opened the original image and started the enhancement process.

Image enhancements can be anything from removing blemishes to brighting the eyes.  I often reduce wrinkles and soften skin as well when I am retouching a head shot. The key is to not over do the enhancements. You must leave some remnants of wrinkles or the face can start to become too flat looking.  However, this level of retouching is in the eye of the beholder and I try to complete whatever level the client would like.

Alyson Shontell of the Business Insider wrote. "Studies have shown that profiles with pictures are much more likely to get clicked on LinkedIn than those without."

While the overriding thought is that any picture is better than "no picture", when planing to create or update your LinkedIn profile, strongly consider going to a professional photographer that knows how to pose, how to use the light, and how to retouch an image without making it look obvious.

Here is another example:

Heather used her own cell phone, at arm's length to create this profile photograph.  While this is a nice photo and could very well be used on Facebook, it's not appropriate for the likes of LinkedIn.

In this portrait, we didn't have any available light that was usable, so we lit the subject and the background entirely by strobes. A slight warming gel was used on the hair to give it a little more warmth and to separate her dark hair from the background. While this image looks casual and comfortable it takes more time than you might think to create the right image that portrays that individual in a professional manner.

William Arruda of The Ladders writes, "When I refer to your headshot, I am talking about a professionally taken photo that reflects your personal brand — not a picture your mother took of you at last year’s family picnic! "

Here is yet another example of an active professional on the LinkedIn network that was using a substandard profile photograph:

Michael is not in real estate, nor is he in satellite TV sales. There is no reason he should have homes or a satellite dish distracting the background of his professional profile photograph. He's a salesman, one that travels nationally for his clients. Even though at this time, LinkedIn does not feature huge photographs, you don't want to show one that is pixelated in any way.

In the portrait we just created, Michael is a professional. He is wearing the type of clothing that is expected in his line of work.  The eyes are bright and the face is not distracted by any background elements. In fact, the background subliminally speaks to the viewer that he travels and he would travel for them. He is friendly, but not overly so.  This portrait communicates a professional image.

This session took about 45 minutes. We explored different backgrounds in the home, while still keeping the lighting to bring out the face as the main feature.

Vivian Giang, Business Insiders wrote: "In a study conducted by TheLadders, an eye tracking heatmap shows that recruiters spend 19 percent of the total time they spend on your profile looking at your picture. Then, your current  job position and education are glanced at, but not so much time is spent on your skills, specialties or older work experiences."

If so much time is spent by the viewer on your profile photograph - then make it a professional portrait. After all, LinkedIn is a professional network.



Panoramic Portraits

If you photograph family portraits, it is always a good practice to try and create an image that is a little different.   I had the pleasure of photographing the Lucas family, which included Mom, Dad, five daughters, one son and their two dogs. So with this large family we created an image that is not your normal family portrait. To get the image I had in mind, I took out my panoramic gear, had the family sit as still as possible and started to work.

With the 85mm in place, I shot several vertical images going from left to right with a generous overlap to each image.  Then I did the shot again, this time, going from right to left.  For good measure, I shot one more set, left to right. All of these images amounted to about 30 shots total. This Panoramic Rig from Really Right Stuff, allows me to keep the center of the lens perfectly aligned over the exact center of the tripod.  So when the panoramic images are created, they are perfectly aligned with each other.

The next step was to load all these images into Lightroom 4 and figure out which was the best series of 10 images images.

Once the best series of ten images was figured out, I stitched them together using Photoshop.

In Lightroom 4, you select all the images you want to build your panorama with and then right click.  Go to Edit in>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This will open up Photoshop and then start placing images on thier own layers and creating layer masks for each one.

You can probably see from the image above where there were a couple of  problems.  It was not with the people, but with the dogs.  They didn't sit entirely still. So even in a quickly shot series of images the dogs were in different positions with each photograph. I figured this might be the case when I was shooting, that is why I shot so many extra photographs.

In one shot, the dog is laying down and in the next shot that was suppose to be blended with it, the dog is sitting up.  Photoshop doesn't know anything about the subject so it does the best job possible lining up the images.

To solve this problem, I had to go back to the original images, where the dogs looked best and then cut them in separately.  By selecting each dog, I was able to pull them out of one photo and then place them into the main combo shot.  I had to consider shadows, sleeves, hands that might be covered up, etc. to make the shot look believable.

Finally the main photograph was done, built out of ten portions of a series of images.  This extra work created a very large file that gave me the ability to print it large and still maintain sharpness and quality.

Final image with people and dogs all in place.

Portraits Shouldn't Wait

Occasionally I am asked to photograph a special session. Something a customer need in a hurry for one reason or another. In this case, the portrait session was of a golden lab named Tucker.  My dog, Tucker the Beagle, and he share the same name and I know, first hand, how special the bond can be between a dog and their owner.

Tucker was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer and the owners asked me to do a portrait session as soon as possible, while he still felt good enough to go out.  We were able to get out to do the session just two days after I received their call. The afternoon was spent running in the hills in the cool fall weather, capturing intimate moments with the family and many singular portraits of Tucker the Lab. We had a great time.





Sadly, Tucker passed away four days after our photo session.  The lesson is, don't wait if you think you would like a portrait session.  Whether you use me or any other photographer, don't put it off.


Copyright 2015, Terry VanderHeiden