Pixel Peeping: Exploring the Cover Photo

Cover photos. Nah, not the Facebook ones.

Cover Photos. Cover Photos. There, that’s better. We’re going to hit this nice and quick, since there’s some good notes here that apply to pretty much every element of a visual project.

It’s always a little awkward when you realize how your super awesome portraits are going to look on the cover of a book — with some text over the eyes and a weird crop because we shot in 4x3 and the cover is a different size.

Oh wait … that actually sucks.

That’s the ultimate consideration here. Check out our (relatively) uncropped portrait of LMU’s Fr. Fulco, S.J., which is one of three photos that may potentially be used on the cover.

Fr. Fulco, S.J.: one of the potential faces that will be on the Emmaus: The Nature of the Way cover.

Fr. Fulco, S.J.: one of the potential faces that will be on the Emmaus: The Nature of the Way cover.


We (Chris & I) knew that ultimately – the following criteria for the cover needed to be met:

• Legibility. You need be able to clearly identify the title and the text.

• Match the inside. It needs to be a tease — it can’t spoil the content, but should draw viewers in.

• Look good. Straightforward enough.

First off, let's talk legibility. We started off with black and white here. We were planning on using white text, so we knew immediately that a black and white photo would probably be the best option. Another thought on legibility would be text placement. Where would the text go?

Prior to our shooting dates, we selected three Jesuits for our potential cover images, which highlights a huge point. I’m a runner and gunner for sure, but you have to plan some of these things out. There have been times on a project where we didn’t do so and suffered the consequences for it. Think – incorrect crops for delivery, too busy for the layout, leading to a terrible photo. It happens.

We started by saying that we would use a portrait. Not one that appears on the inside, but a separate, more focused one. We took a step back to add headroom, and dropped the backdrop light 2/3 of a stop to give us a nice, dark background.

And boom, we have a cover. Let me preface this by saying that the content is the most important, and if your content sucks, well…..

Now look again at Fr. Fulco’s portrait and his cover photo. You’ll notice the change in angle and the slight change in pose. I used that to make the cover more of a teaser, inviting image rather than an upfront exploration of his face.

Last, I think the photo looks good.

Ultimately, this exploration is designed to do one thing: make you realize you just need to think these things through.  Once you do that, the quality level of the projects you do will make an infinite amount of more sense.

And once things start making sense, your job as an image creator becomes so much easier.