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How to Shoot Images for Book Covers: The Essential Guide

how to shoot images for book covers

There’s lots of information out there about making money shooting stock images. However, the most successful stock photographers have a secret – they’re shooting niche content for specialist agencies! There are lots of different specialist fields that you might consider, but in this blog post, I’ll walk you through how to shoot images for book covers.

Let’s get started.

How to break into the book cover industry

There are several specialist book cover stock agencies that exist purely to match clients with photographers and illustrators. These agencies can be a great way to get into shooting book covers.

However, book cover stock agencies do require a good portfolio as part of your application. If you don’t already have a portfolio suitable for a book cover agency and you want to get started right away, you can try networking with potential clients on social media – Instagram is a great place to connect with other creatives.

Think about format and layout

One of the most important things to think about when it comes to shooting book cover images is the aspect ratio. Book covers are almost always produced in a vertical format, so landscape images generally won’t be of interest to book cover designers.

shoot images for book covers examples
Left: Canon EOS 5D Mark IICanon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM | 100mm | 1/125s | f/8.0 | ISO 100 | Window Light + Reflector
Right: Canon EOS 5D Mark II| Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM | 70mm | 1/640s | f/2.8 | ISO 800 | Available Light

Books can be printed in all different sizes, meaning that no single aspect ratio is the best for shooting cover photos. Therefore, book cover designers will usually need to crop images to make them fit on a cover.

Keep this need to crop in mind when you shoot images for book covers, and make sure you don’t place any interesting parts of the subject or composition near the edge of the frame. This will give a designer more options when using your images in different book cover layouts.

Leave some blank space

When you shoot images for book covers, you can’t just think about the photo. You also need to leave room for the title of the book and the author. In other words, there should be at least one place in your book cover shot that is plain enough to place text.

book cover layout examples
Left: Fujifilm X-T20 | Fujifilm XF 35mm f/1.4 R | 35mm | 1/280s | f/1.4 | ISO 200 | Window Light
Right: Fujifilm X-T20 | Fujifilm XF 35mm f/1.4 R | 35mm | 1/3500s | f/1.4 | ISO 200 | Available Light

You can achieve these plain sections by using simple colors, by shooting areas with less detail, or by using a shallow depth of field to blur backgrounds and foregrounds.

There’s no rule dictating where book cover designers must put the title and author text. However, it’s good practice to shoot several variations of each image, including compositions that leave room in the middle of the photo, as well as compositions that leave room at the top and bottom.

Plan your images out

If you’re finding it hard to shoot compositions that allow for text placement, then go old school and get out your sketchbook.

Take a pen and paper, draw some empty rectangles, and start imagining all the different places a designer might put the title and name of the author. You can then start to imagine how and where you might leave blank space.

book cover sketches
These are a set of sketches based on the bestseller listings of a popular bookseller. The boxes show the text location on the cover of each book.

To take your shots to the next level, think about the props you’d like to use in your photos and how they might fit into the sketches you just made.

Playing around in a sketchbook can really improve your images and save you lots of time.

Finding inspiration

If you’re trying to come up with ideas for potential book cover images, I highly recommend browsing through a bookstore. You don’t have to do this in person; there are plenty of opportunities to browse book covers on the internet, as well!

You’ll quickly get a feel for the different styles of cover images across various genres.

shoot images for book covers
Left: Fujifilm X-T20 | Fujifilm XF 35mm f/1.4 R | 35mm | 1/450s | f/2.0 | ISO 200 | Window Light + Reflector
Right: Fujifilm X-T20 | Fujifilm XF 35mm f/1.4 R | 35mm | 1/640s | f/1.4 | ISO 200 | Window Light + Reflector

It’s also a good idea to follow the social media feeds of publishers in your favorite genres. Many publishers regularly post pictures of upcoming books, which will give you a sense of industry trends.

If you’re an author, but not a photographer

So you’re a self-published author who wants to do the design work for your book yourself? That’s great, and all of the tips above still apply. However, you might find some of our beginner’s articles helpful; these will help you understand the creative potential of your camera.

It’s also important to be realistic when shooting images for your book cover; photography isn’t instinctive for everyone, and the best photographs are usually the result of years of hard work and practice.

However, if you put your mind to it and you learn the basics, there really is no reason why you shouldn’t shoot photos for your own book cover. Though it’s always worth asking a few trusted friends for their opinion when it comes to the final layout – especially if you have friends who buy and read a lot of books!

How to shoot images for book covers: Conclusion

Whether you want to diversify your photography business and start shooting images for a book cover agency, or you simply want to create your own book cover for your self-published book, the tips above should get you started. Follow traditional rules of composition, make space for titles and other text, and seek out inspiration in your genre.

Ultimately, if you’re looking to start shooting images for book covers, the best advice is to jump right in. Put together a portfolio, then get it out there for people to see. Ask around to determine which stock agencies work best for photographers you know, and see if you can get your pictures on a new bestseller!

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Charlie Moss
Charlie Moss

is UK based photography journalist with experience shooting everything from historically inspired portraits to e-commerce photography. Her passion is history of art, especially contemporary culture and photography. You can follow her on Instagram or catch her over at Patreon to find more of her teaching and mentoring resources!