Tools of a Cover Designer’s Trade: Photography Gear

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This is my first post in a series about the tools I use to create custom book covers for indie authors. I’m starting out with my photography gear because that’s the first step in creating all my book covers. Some of my covers use the custom photography directly, and for some projects I take a photo to use as a reference for the cover’s illustrated art.

In addition to being a cover artist, I’m also a professional portrait photographer, so my camera gear is near and dear to my heart. Some people feel naked without their cell phone…I get twitchy without my camera! My set-up might be a bit beefier than a starting photographer would need, but I’ve also listed the gear that I started out with.

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Camera: Canon 5D

I picked up my Canon 5D for a great price from a photographer who was upgrading and I love it. It’s an older model, but it still takes great photos. Really the only reason I want to upgrade is because the newer versions take video. That said, if you are just starting out, I think you can get great shots with an entry level DSLR like a Rebel (Nikon’s are also great, but I have no experience with one, so I can’t give you advice on them).

Whichever DSLR you choose, take the time to learn to shoot manually. Shooting in manual mode allows me to get the lovely unfocused backgrounds that make for a prettier and less cluttered book cover.

Even if you are just shooting for reference photos, it’s a great benefit to learn a bit about photography. Being able to isolate the subject well and choosing light that works for your illustration are the keys to a very helpful reference photo. Good references speed up my illustration time, so it’s well worth the effort for me to take my own photos.

Lens: 50mm f/1.4

The 50mm f/1.4 is a prime lens, which means that you can’t zoom but there is also no distortion and photos are very sharp. The 1.4 means that you can shoot with a very wide open aperture, which leads to that blurry background. I started out with the 50 1.8 which also takes very nice photos but is not as sturdy. I take my camera everywhere and I broke two 1.8’s before investing in the 1.4. So if you are just starting out and aren’t packing your camera around everywhere, the 1.8 is a good way to go. But you can only break so many before they are no longer a cheaper option!

I have other lenses, but every single one of my book covers and reference photos are shot with the 50 1.4.

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Software: Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC

For photo editing, I load everything up into Lightroom first. This allows me to sort my photos and only upload the ones I like. Then I do my basic editing (exposure, saturation, etc.) before shifting over to Photoshop to create the cover art.

I like Photoshop better for things like editing out blemishes or distracting elements (branch coming out of a head, tattoos that don’t suit the design) as well as more heavy editing like turning a summer forest into an autumn one.

I’m on the fence as to how I feel about subscription based software, but both of these are included in Adobe’s photographer’s plan which is only around $10 a month.

Tripod

My tripod is falling apart but hasn’t been replaced yet, so I don’t have a specific recommendation here. I do think a tripod is very helpful. If I just need a reference photo of a woman for a cover, I just take photos of myself with a tripod and timer. Less trouble then hunting down a model. If your tripod is just used at home, I think you can get away with something fairly cheap. My husband is a birder and uses the tripod with a scope, so he has specific needs and I just happily use the one he chooses.

That’s my basic photography set up. If you have any questions about my photography gear for book cover work, let me know in the comments! I’ll be back next week talking about the tools I use for digital art.

 

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