Monday, 24 October 2011


Part of this course is also designed to make you think about the limitations of your equipment. An issue that cropped up with my first assignment was with fringing, and I know this can be an issue with my lens/camera. However I have never really tested to see at what point it becomes worse, at what point can I no longer 'rescue it' in post production, does the ISO have an effect on the extent of the fringing?

Bearing all of this in mind I set out to do some testing. The first lens I tested was my Canon 50mm 1.8 MkII prime lens. The shots were not of anything terribly interesting; my son had a rugby training session so I set myself up to take some shots across the field, the trees against the sky,cricket nets and sight screens to provide contrast. Parents were asked if they objected to the photographs being taken, although not intended to be directly of their children they were running across the view; none had any issues.

Test Scene

Using a tripod, so that the scene remained the same, many frames were taken starting at ISO 100 @ f22 - f2. It was a good exercise to undertake as I also discovered that the lens is not as sharp at f22 and that the fastest shutter speed on the camera is 1/4000. However the sharpness could be down to the slower shutter speed and despite being on a tripod it was a slightly breezy day.

When I hit the maximum shutter speed I did not take anymore shots as they were a little overexposed. I could have used this as a chance to see what was recoverable with exposure but felt that would just confuse my already fried brain trying to note apertures and ISO's!

With regards to fringing, the wider the aperture the more this occurs and the higher the ISO the less apparent it becomes. To examine the images I enlarged to 400% (max enlargement in ACR) and looked closely across the frame. When the fringing became first apparent it was only on one small area, an upright white post, which was easily recoverable using defringe in ACR. As the aperture became wider fringing became more noticeable in other high contrast areas, but even so was still recoverable in ACR. At f4 and below at lower ISO, it became more difficult and at f2.8 and below the results were not so good on any.

Below are the comparison shots I took. With some it would appear that I get a colour halo, rather that fringing, when there are contrasting bright colours. On the ISO 200 @ f16 a child has run across the posts which appears fine, but his yellow shirt clearly has an 'edge' to it. Same with the ISO 200 @ f5.6. The only area fringing appears in the contrast on the rugby shirt strips.

In conclusion the 50mm lens seems to have a slight issue with fringing. At a rough guide, with the lighting conditions on the day I was testing, this occurs mainly when the aperture is at its widest and really starts to appear at f8 at ISO 100/200 and f4 at ISO 400. ACR does a great job of recovering fringing with Defringe until the really wide apertures are used and the fringing/pixels are at a very soft focus. It could be that you could use other desaturation methods, reducing the magenta levels etc but I did not experiment with that. Bearing this in mind I'll now know that shooting at the widest end will run the risk of fringing when shooting areas of high contrast and avoid if possible.

The same set up was then used using my 18-55 kit lens.

I shot at focal length 18mm, 24mm, 35mm and 55mm throughout the ISO range. Lots of frames to inspect and far too many to create comparison images as above. However I did note my observations.It seems across the board this lens has fringing no matter what you do! Admittedly it is not so bad and then gets worse. Anyone feel rich enough to buy me a nice new lens? Or a camera? Or both? Results coming as soon as I've had a break from my PC.....

Saturday, 15 October 2011


Still really interested in photomontage and surrealism I picked up the following book from the library, Photomontage A Step-by Step Guide to Building Pictures. Illustrated and written by Stephen Golding. Published by Rockport Publishers, Inc Massachusetts 1997.

Whilst some of the techniques discussed and shared are now out of date I was more interested in the later chapters, The Gallery, which gives details of other artists and the work they do.

Stephen Golding has been creating photographic art for more than twenty-five years with work displayed at the DeCordova Museum, the Krannert Art Museum and Harvard and Princetown Universities. When he started creating his art and until 1991,  his work was done mechanically, but with the dawn of the digital era he readily embraced new technology describing it as "like going from cutting pictures with knife between my teeth to having both hands freed. Digital imaging released the photograph from its analog binds and made it as malleable as one's imagination."

Golding continues to use mechanical processes but states " In recent years I've integrated three dimensional imaging into my process. While I've maintained my connection with photography, most of the mechanical techniques have been greatly reduced or eliminated." More information and examples of his work can be found here.

Not sure that I totally appreciate his final images but reading the artists statement that accompanied the separate series helped me understand his intentions and appreciate why they had been created and the success,or not, (well for me at least) of the message he wanted to put over. This ties in really well with the recent OCA newsletter with the video from Miranda Gavin....but I'll probably cover that in a different post as it is so easy to digress....

In considering book design, in fact any means of expression, the medium of photomontage has limitless possibilities therefore enabling artists to communicate complex ideas within a single image. The advantage is also the ability to mix media and techniques; every process be it painting, photography, collage or airbrushing will bring something else to the table.

What I also loved about this book was that the foreword by John P Jacob (Director, The Photographic Resource Centre at Boston University) introduced me to names such as Oscar G. Rejlander and H.P Robinson who were practising photomontage back in the Victorian Era....more photographers to look at :o)

American photographer Lewis Hine extended the practice into a new direction, using it for political means. He combined text with his images of working children and put pressure on the US government. His montage Making Human Junk led the way to the enactment of U.S. child labour laws (p7)

Lewis Hine Making Human Junk

Another new name (who I can't believe I had never come across) is John Heartfield. Born 1891 as Helmut Herzfeld he changed his name partly in protest at WWI; highly critical of the Weimar Republic ( The German Parliamentary Republic formed in 1919) Heartfield's work was banned by the Third Reich.


Blood and Iron

March 8, 1934
This piece is Hearfield’s interpretation of the Nazi military slogan. Blood dripping from the swastika infers that the military (weapons and soldiers) was all Germany needed for victory.
I think his work was really powerful and intend to look at it more closely as time allows.

More recently, artist Jerry Uelsmann proves photomontage can work beautifully in black and white. He does not use photoshop, all his images are created from negatives using multiple enlarges. Great interview on Shutterbug Master Interview; Jerry Uelsmann | Shutterbug and a few of my favourite quotes were

JU: The joke that I tell when I lecture to art students is, "What happens when you cross a post-modernist with a used car salesman?" The answer is, you get an offer you can't understand. That always draws a big laugh from the college students because they're required to read stuff that is so complex that much of it doesn't make any sense, at least not to me.

JU: Right. That's important. I've enjoyed teaching photography to all kinds of students from beginning to graduate level, and I've always felt that walking around with their cameras gave them all kinds of insights that were as important as spending hours in the library.
Jerry Uelsman

Jerry Uelsman
Another contemporary artist is Barbara Kruger who 'strives to communicate a meaningful narrative', often being described as creating 'feminist art'

Moving onto The Gallery, the first artist whose work struck me was Audrey Bernstein.  The examples in the book reflect on the symbols of life, birth and death and were created using multiple exposures. Using a twin-lens reflex camera these pictures were composed by placing masks on the viewfinder. These and more recent work can be found on her website

Audrey Bernstein And She Was Esther

Maryjean Viano Crowe

The series examined in Photomontage  is titled Daughters of Mystery,  which were created with varied picture elements. Large scale photographs from 'eleborate negatives' were painted and 'toned' then taped together. In this series Viano Crowe was looking at pain, family and loss. Her current website appears to be being re-vamped as each page has 'coming soon' on which is a shame! I couldn't seem to find this set online but I really liked the romantic ethereal feel it had.

William Larson

As the book was published some time ago the artists mentioned have explored more than the images and series provided.   William Larson : The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage In The Theatre du Monde Larson juxtaposes different images by using a theatre curtain. The layout is reminiscent of a magazine with the narratives printed on the photograph.

From the series Theatre du Monde

From the series Theatre du Monde

Osamu James Nakagawa

The images shown in the book are from Nakagawa's series Billboards his statement is

Much of my life has been divided between Japan and America. As a result, I feel like a stranger to both Japanese and English languages and cultures. Photography has become my expressive bridge.

I am interested in the mythology of The American Dream, as outwardly reflected in the early part of this century in the United States and currently exported globally by media. A myth that is based in the psychology of our perceived notions of the United States with its excess of materials, ideologies, and freedoms. This series of photographs attempts to subvert icons of American Culture with unexpected environments. By changing the context of familiar imagery to Americans, the viewer becomes an observer and is asked to question the ideology of The American Dream.

The nostalgic mythology of the drive-in theater is juxtaposed with explicitly public and political messages. Similarly, the commercial nature of the billboard is subverted. The series as a whole proposes a critical inspection of Western society from my particular viewpoint, which is Eastern in origin and Western by immersion.

 I found I really enjoyed his work, particularly Between the Past and Following the Lifecycle of Life maybe because I empathise with them; I have been tracing my family tree, my father died when I was 18 and I was recently given some family photos of relations and places I have no recollection of/ only knew as great aunts and uncles.

Nakagawa's use of photomontage brings together many threads within a story of life.

From the series Billboards

From the series Ma Between 

Bart Parker

Am not having much fun with artists websites, the set Business as Usual is 'under construction' which of course is the series mentioned.....

Bart Parker works in photographic collage to reorder the world he sees, bringing the natural together with the human, seeking difficulties and discrepancies.
from the series Salad Days

From the Series Life on the Ecliptic
Olivia Parker

After graduating from Wellesley College with a degree in the History of Art, Parker began her career as a painter, and became involved in photography in 1970.  Mostly self-taught she makes ephemeral constructions to photograph and experiments with the endless possibilities of light. 

From Toys and Games 1993-2001

Sometimes toys get more real than they are supposed to and emotions waver between fiction and nonfiction.  Occasionally my toys may seem bizarre, but when compared to what is available in real toy stores for real children they are not very strange at all.  They evolve from such traditional strategies of toy making as the creation of automata, the changing of human or animal forms toward caricature, the monstrous or the juvenile, or the piecing together of odds and ends.  Some reflect the method of toy makers who know very little about the sources of their toys be they helicopters or elephants but proceed anyway.  This approach reminds me of a Reverend Mr. Johnston, who in the seventeenth century published an elaborate illustrated natural history filled with pictures of animals he had never seen.  There is a  pull toy in this exhibition dedicated to him.


Mr Johnson's Pull-a-long Toy

Tulip Adorned 2008

Vaughn Elaine Sills

Remembering Myself Knowing Our Distance

Leslie Starobin

Messiah  Driving North to Golan Blue on Rembrandt Street

Jane Tuckerman

The Displaced One

At the time of writing this book Golding stated when discussing either digital or mechanical methods 'generally most artists work in one or the other, with a growing number using both.' The gallery of artists within the book represented all of those groups. I've had a quick peek at the work of artists who I could find, I shall have to look more closely to see if they do in fact still embrace the same techniques or if they have changed direction at all. The artists who were creating their work mechanically were Audrey Bernsteain, Maryjean Viano Crowe, Robert Hirsch, William Larson, Bart Parker, Vaughn Sills, Esther Solondz and Jane Tuckerman. Tose working digitally were Richard Rosenblum, Osamu James Nakagawa, Martina Lopez, Olivia Parker, Leslie Starobin and Anna Ullrich. The observation he made was that those using mechanical means mixed their media while those working digitally tended to 'stay within that realm.' (p106) Possibly something else to research? Do digital artists these days mix mediums?

As ever more research leads to more questions and does one have the time to follow all paths?
to be completed......but a list of names to look at over the coming weeks.....

Research [Accessed 15 October 2011] [Accessed 16 October 2011] [Accessed 16 October 2011] [Accessed 15 October 2011] [Accessed 16 October 2011] [Accessed 15 October 2011] [Accessed 15 October 2011] [Accessed 15 October 2011] [Accessed 15 October 2011]

Golding, S. (1997) Photomontage A Step-by Step Guide to Building Pictures. Rockport Publishers, Inc : Massachusetts

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Assignment Two Feedback

Some positives, lots of 'whys' and some useful pointers as to where to go next.

'Great research and write up' although the accompanying document sent was a bit long, so I need to sort out a good framework for next one.

I've added a bit more into my research, things to answer questions such as 'why red? what is the significance of colour? How did you know your problem was the velvet's nap?' 'Why a difference in the American covers?'All things I knew the answers to but hadn't included in my review. Problem is the more you ask the less you really find out! Or rather you find more out but it so contradicts each other...

The following link is to my original post now updated to reflect tutor feedback/issues raised. 

Silly error that the 'double dice' one still had a slight colour cast so that has been corrected and Joe thought I could have boosted the colour more, so that's also been done, as well as making the image on the spine reflect the image on the front. I liked the way the dice stood out against the black but was advised that 'they don't fit.'

Also a suggestion that by using 'straight' photography I had limited my options. This is a valid point but I was torn between making something all singing and dancing with mad montages and surreal manipulations that showed what could be done in Photoshop but wouldn't make for a good design. I am thinking about doing a total rework but until then have done a couple of quick different takes based on my final design.

Adjusted colour cast and vibrance

Added Roulette Wheel

Have added an image of a roulette wheel which I nabbed from

just to see what effect it would have. I quite like the way it flows across the whole cover, but it bears no relevance to the plot at all! If the book was The Gambling Man it may have been a brilliant idea but it isn't so it's not. But was a good experiment to try, even if just to dismiss it.

This next one, again just a quick idea takes a portrait I had done of a friend, converted to black and white and blended with the rest, possibly not done perfectly but just a draft idea of what could be done to give it another twist.

Added portrait
I like the way the face in the background runs over into the back cover and the positioning of the eye on the spine. However I don't think the design works properly when seen just from the front, the corner of the eye socket provides nothing visually, but again a good way of discovering what works and what doesn't. I'm also not happy with the main image on the spine. It has no impact and is a bit too busy for my liking as an image for the spine so a definite return to the drawing board I think :o)

Suggested reading is reviewing of white balance and possibly look a bit more into fonts, even though the course doesn't call for it, as they will come up again.

Feeling a bit fed up that no matter what I research it turns up more questions and feel like I'm getting nowhere with it all. Goal posts move but seems by yards not inches :o(

Joe mailed me a quote from Thomas Edison that says 'I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.' ..........still got to decide if that makes me feel better or not, I only seem to have found a few ways that don't work, don't fancy wading through the 9998 left!


reworked here

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Assignment Two: A photographic book cover - The Design

Create a design for a book jacket to include front cover, spine and back cover. The main photograph had to be shot specifically for the purpose.


All the research outlined in the previous section with regards to typefaces, fonts, layouts and book cover design was undertaken to enable me to carry out Assignment Two: A photographic book cover.

Choosing the book title

The novel chosen for this assignment was The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. To be able to conceptualise the book cover it had become evident that I needed to have a clear idea what the novel was about. Due to the difficulties obtaining a physical copy, online research was completed by reading many reviews and looking at previous cover designs to allow me to have a fresh approach. had an online version of the book.
The main plot themes that stood out were:
  • Gambling/Playing Poker
  • Dice
  • Reflection on life
  • The role of women as sex objects/secondary characters
  • Contemplation and realisation of sinister acts
  • Black humour
  • Ideas of control
 Two existing book covers were examined closely

  • Quite busy but similar colours/tones were used
  • 3 colours of font
  • Red of dice echoed in the red band and strap line
  • The blue background has a naked female form not clearly depicted, low opacity and cropped
  • Mix of upper and lower case all sans serif
This first copy is available in the UK.

  • Very busy colourful background
  • Uppercase bar the quotes
  • 3 colour fonts
  • Red authors name lost in the background
  • Dice the prominent feature
  • Strap line very over powering.
This second copy is available in the USA.

Researching why there is a difference between US and UK (or other countries) did not always come up with definitive replies.

One of the people I emailed with regards to basic research, was John Kremer (owner of his own publishing company (Open Horizons in Taos, New Mexico), and the editor of the Book Marketing Update newsletter for more than twenty years, founder of the Institute on Book Publishing Innovations as well as The Book Marketing Network social network for book authors and publishers. He also is the author of a number of books on publishing and marketing, including 1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers (6th Edition), Book Marketing Magic, Real Fast Book Marketing, 15,000 Eyeballs Internet Marketing Program, The Complete Direct Marketing Sourcebook, High Impact Marketing on a Low Impact Budget, and Celebrate Today.)

He replied:

By inverted images I presume you mean reverse images.I'm not sure why they aren't used that often.

There are differences in styles between the UK and American market, but I couldn't begin to go into specifics. It's more like this: If I saw a row of UK books and a row of American books, I could pick out which came from where. But to cite differences, that's tougher.

Thomas McGee of Winepress of Words came back with :

Greetings Jan,

Thanks for getting in touch. Many of the questions you were wondering about, vary greatly from publisher to publisher.
  • Hard covers and soft covers usually differ only in the binding style—not so much in the actual design of the cover.
  • For inverted images: that would really come down to the specific book, its target market, and if an inverted image would work best. It's all about hitting the right market with the design—more-so than the design itself. Some publishers leave this up to the design team, some publishers make this decision on their own, still others let the author decide.
  • Concerning the market using the naked form, doing so will definitely restrict the market as many bookstores will be unable to carry the title with certain policies of family friendly content. If a wider audience is the goal, using graphic images is definitely discouraged.
Many publishing houses and people working within the industry were contacted but only these two replied.

Opinions generally seem to  agree that having a global marketing approach does not always work in publishing. This is partially due to the way publishing rights are split and sold to different publishers in separate areas, each often having a unique idea in how to best position that author/title within their market. 

A publisher on  states

'in the UK publishing industry, I quite often find US covers completely unsuitable for our market. That is not to say that the US publishers have done a bad job with the cover design – each of these featured covers have been massively successful in the States. But would the US covers have done equally well if they were used in the UK?'

They comment that covers do make a difference to sales and that 'In the majority of cases US covers just don’t cut it for the UK market, and I would imagine exactly the same is true visa-versa.'

Other reasons given for this disparity in covers are; the reader’s frame of reference being coloured by books previously read, cover art traditions, and cultural differences.

An online bi-monthly magazine had some interesting quotes. According to Rita Frangie, an assistant art director at Penguin Books "Here [in the United States] we tend to want to use every inch, to fill [the cover] up with color, and to get it to do as much as it can do. Everything here is bigger, more commercial, more targeted to sell and to advertise. In Europe, the covers are geared to look more like the way they dress: very simple. Their use of negative space goes along with the theory of less is more."

British artist David A. Hardy says, "I think American art tends to be realistic, sharp, and colorful," while American artist David Cherry says he would treat a British cover "more as a piece of fine art rather than a piece of advertising." On the other side of that coin, American art has been criticized as being too commercial; British art, too stark.

While Paul Buckley (Penguin US) on the other hand, when asked how is American book design different from the UK, argues 'I don’t know that it is all that different. In fact, Art Directors over here, and Art Directors over there, are hiring the same art and design talents on each side of the Atlantic.'

More theories were put forward here

and for comparison

It has been recognised that some cover design do work in both markets, the Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series given as a prime example of one that has. Her covers are very simple, conceptualised designs with three out of the four being single images.

Looking closely at, and following, the blog of designer Henry Sene Yee shows the thinking process behind his cover designs. For different covers he will choose either his own photographs, stock photography or commissions photographs specifically. If appropriate only a single image will be used with text cleverly overlaid.

The conclusion reached from this research was that I would choose only two or three themes for my design (although I had identified about seven) to keep the cover fairly simple, in order to appeal to several markets and follow an emerging trend.

Conceptualising the cover

The following photographic options were available to choose from:
  • A single photograph with sufficient clear space for typography
  • A single photograph with the background extended or retouched to allow space for the typography
  • A photograph of a subject that is then cut out using Photoshop and placed on a background
  • Two or more photographs to be combined in Photoshop
I had an open mind as to which option could be used, although my initial ideas were for a single photograph, (bearing in mind the appeal of the Stephanie Meyers to more than one market) with the background extended or retouched or of a subject cut out and placed on a background. Trends alter in the design market and current trends seem to point towards simple uncluttered covers. Covers for the Terry Prachett Discworld series on Kindle, at least, have moved away from busy 'comic' style illustrations to simple imagery.

On looking at Kindle designs, the titles available this Autumn are of photographs, a mix of photographs and graphics and pure illustration. The images that were photographic are either single images or a combination of two maximum three images. Montages seem to be used to portray complex plots with many threads when a single image will not suffice.

This further supported my initial decision to keep to a few themes and simple photography as the design could be used not only for print but also alternative modes of publication.

Planning the design
The common types of photography used for covers are:
  • Still life, especially detail; which I favoured
  • Graphically simple, almost minimalist scenes; minimalist landscape did not seem to be appropriate for the themes of this book
  • Portrait, where the subject is obscured; this had been used on the existing cover so would not be a fresh approach, therefore it was disregarded as a concept
Out of the book covers researched I preferred the clean, clear style of Nora Roberts The Hollow with the still life stones with pagan symbols, the simple conceptual designs on Seamus Heany’s translation of Beowulf and Choice by Renata Salecl. Further research had shown that current trends are shifting towards more simple ideas and these seem to be popular with both UK and US markets and as previously stated, also work for ebooks.

When considering the term 'to the same professional standard' as seen in book publishing it was interesting to look at a design brief provided for an actual design project
which gave very specific guidelines and requirements, some of the main points which I felt related to the my design brief were :

1. Rough sketches of 2 or 3 ‘design concepts’
2. Full colour front, spine and rear cover design files, appropriate for the genre.
3. Price, Barcode and ISBN-13 to be included.
4. Delivery: All files to be provided by email (or ftp download).
5. Designer Credit: a designer credit – name, plus website or email address – may be included on the rear cover. 8 point font size max.
6. The obvious basic requirement is to stand out from the crowd and capture the eye.
7. Spine to show Publisher logo.
8. Size of cover.

Completing earlier research  into professional standards I posted an entry here which outlines, amongst other things, colour management, monitor calibration, colour space, resolution, file formats, naming files, use of metadata, file delivery and archiving.

Other professional practices to be considered within a project such as this would be the communication between all parties, meeting the brief, and meeting deadlines.

Design ideas
Having chosen still life but still considering the options of where and how to include the typography, to shoot a single image, a cut out or two photographs combined I sketched a few ideas and made mock-ups using stock images. I forgot to note the websites I looked at for inspiration and can’t find them again, mental note that I need to do this in future.

Many ideas sprang to mind but I had to think about the logistics of creating them. Could I get hold of the props? Would anyone have the time to literally give me a ‘hand’ when I was free? Did the ideas fully convey the themes of the novel? The props I needed to obtain to take test shots were a marionette of some description, or at least the controls, a Newton's Cradle, dice, playing cards, a hand.

In the publishing industry at least three or four designs are sent to the publishers for consideration. This allows them to have a choice, see which idea they feel represents the themes of the novel and will appeal to their target audience. If all props had been available this is a route I would have taken, making a mock up of three or four designs.

On the rare occasion it can be one quick concept idea that provides the perfect cover straight away.

Copyright Henry Sene Yee

Asking friends and colleagues proved that no-one could provide a marionette or a Newtons Cradle. The type of marionette I wanted to photograph was a traditional wooden kind which to purchase would have been rather expensive, starting at about £80. I even visited several craft shops but they only sold childrens' felt puppet kits. A Newton's cradle was slightly cheaper, with a reasonable size starting at £10 but this looked cheap and tacky, also I was reluctant to spend money on a prop which I wasn't sure truly represented the storyline. Had this been a paying commission I may have been more willing to spend money on completing a test shot which possibly may have been dismissed. Nabbing a model was not as easy as it should have been and my teenage son was having a strop with me and refusing to play. Taking all of these obstacles into consideration I chose to work with a simple design of playing cards and dice.Very rough sketches were made of several design ideas.

Finally deciding that my original idea was the most favourable. as it related to a scene within the book and represented several themes: the gambling, dice, reflections of life.

Playing cards
The playing cards were chosen to represent the fact Rhinehart plays poker, he likes to gamble with life (ie throwing the dice) as well as gambling in reality. An important turning point in the plot is when Rhinehart sees a die hidden beneath some cards and chooses to make a decision based on the number depicted on that die.

Ordinary plain red, blue or cards from a Bridge set were the options I had. The playing cards chosen were part of a Bridge set with the images La Loge and La Balançoire by Renoir on the reverse. I opted to use these to represent the female characters in the book. Images by Renoir are now in the public domain but if I was producing this design for publication I would look further into the legalities of using the cards.

The information on the card box states:
Pierre Renoir ‘La Loge’ by courtesy of Felix Rosenstiel’s Widow & Son Ltd London Pierre Renoir ‘La Balançoire’ Musee d’Orsay, Paris © Photo R.M.N.

Another reason for choosing this set was that it contained two sets of cards. This meant I could show two different female images.

There is a possibility that the target audience may not immediately pick up on the female reference but this was a risk I was willing to take. The main character is male therefore I did not want to strongly feature women on the cover. The original UK cover has a naked female depicted but as Thomas McGee pointed out the portrayal of the naked form can limit the stores willing to carry the book. There is also a possibility that the depiction of a naked woman on a book cover may appeal more to the male population therefore from the outset you alienate half your prospective customers.

Many book designs feature portraits to depict the main or secondary characters. However, even then they are heavily cropped or blurred. The thinking behind this is that firstly the readers prefer to imagine their own protagonists and secondly by showing certain characteristics you may only appeal to people who prefer blue eyed blonds or dark haired 'heroes'.

A light hearted look into this topic was spotted on this blog:

Not wishing to directly show the human form, the cards were an ideal option. The fact the cards are not ordinary playing cards also catches the eye and create a spark of intrigue; 'That's different. I wonder what they represent?'

The original UK book cover has elements of design that I don't fully grasp, such as the graphic arrows and some kind of frames/ladders? The novel NoVa by James Boice has the sun shining through a fence which has connotations of a nova, the meaning of which is not instantly apparent. Without reading the blurb on the back of The Opposite House by Helen Oeyemi, I would not know the image shown was of Cuba. Therefore I came to the conclusion that the allegory of some of the elements does not always have to be immediately obvious to add to the visual appeal.

The dice were chosen because this is the main theme of the novel. Luke Rhinehart starts to make many important decisions on the throw of a dice and gradually influences others to do the same. His first decision is whether or not to rape a neighbours wife; if the number one is shown on the die hidden below a playing card he will. This is why the die is shown hidden below cards and depicting the number one. The two dice behind emphasise the throwing of the dice.

Rhinehart spends a lot of time reflecting on his life and the decisions he is making, I wanted to represent this theme within the book therefore decided to use a sheet of perspex under the subject to create an inverted image. Research has shown that the use of inverted images is not commonly used, although I could not discover a strong reason against it. Choosing to incorporate a reflection created more visual impact, allowed me to use and show a card (the ace) which echoed not only the colour of the dice but also the number one. As it is a device not frequently used it also makes the cover stand out.

My final design has a black background, the two main colours used are then white and red.
The red and white text also contrast with the black background. A small amount of blue is incorporated. The white and red font echo the red and white of the dice. They co-incidentally pick up on the red and white of the publishers logo which helps marry the spine detail to the main cover. As does the blue outline of one of the playing cards. Two colours of playing cards were chosen to allude to the two sides of Rhinehart. His outward portrayal of a serious psychiatrist and inner turmoil of a man slowly going insane. Again this is a very tenuous allegory but recognised symbolism of colours intimate that red is passion and danger, while blue is associated with cool and calm.

Within the two covers studied and my final design, the colour red features strongly. Red is an extremely dominant colour and even a small amount will draw the eye. It's the colour associated with love, passion, anger, heat, fire, and blood.Within the art world red is often said to symbolise excitement, energy, passion, love, desire, speed, strength, power, heat, aggression, dominance, danger, fire, blood, war, violence, all things intense and passionate. As many of these were themes within the book it seemed logical to opt for red dice and some red text.

It is important to note that the symbolism of colour does vary within cultures, in China for example red is associated with joy and happiness!

Taking and selecting the photograph

100mm 2.8 macro lens                                     Tripod
Cable release                                                    Black velvet
Perspex sheeting                                               Lighting tent
2 spot lights                                                      2 angle poise lights
Greaseproof paper                                            Die
Playing cards                                                    Blu-Tack

Black velvet was placed under a sheet of Perspex. The velvet provided a smooth dark background and the Perspex created reflections from the subject. Previously research into still life photography for DPP stated that black velvet would absorb the light so you don't get unwanted reflections and bright spots. Images taken for DPP Assignment Three indicated that this was true. Black cloth and card appeared more grey under the same lighting conditions and the grain of the cloth could be seen. Websites and online forums all suggest that velvet has a 'nap', the direction in which the velvet lies. If photographed from the wrong direction the velvet becomes more reflective and can appear grey. This can also occur if the lighting is too close or too harsh.

Below is a test shot showing the four different possibilities photographed under natural daylight. From left to right it is black velvet with the 'correct' nap, black velvet nap reversed, black fabric and finally black paper.

The peg is included to provide the camera with something to focus on and also show there was no colour cast. As you can see the direction of the nap does affect how the velvet appears. The texture of the fabric is clearly discernible whilst the black paper appears very grey. 

Blu-tack was employed to stop the cards and die slipping. The lighting tent cut out unwanted reflections of the room; I have three overhead velux windows and large patio doors. These are great when usually taking still life but caused too many reflections and different shadows in the perspex. Due to the reduce lighting caused by the lighting tent I had to use spot lights which the tent diffused to reduce highlight clipping in the lighter areas of the cards and white spots on the dice.

The camera was set up a few feet away on a tripod and a cable release was used to avoid camera shake due to using slow shutter speeds. I used my 100mm 2.8 macro lens to take a close up, still life image.
The first test images to establish placement of the subjects and I realised the velvet had been placed in the wrong direction for the nap, making it appear grey. This could have been due to the lighting alone but once the velvet was turned round the problem disappeared.

The top card was originally a joker to reflect the dark humour contained within the novel, but this looked over complicated. It was changed to an Ace which I felt echoed the one spot and the red on the die.The flatter card position was rejected as you couldn’t see the image on the reverse nor the top; the height and angle of the camera on the tripod were altered. I also felt that the steeper angle of the card and subsequent reflection helped lead the eye to the centre of the image whilst framing and emphasising the die.

The 2.8 aperture provided a shallow depth of field when shot at close range; however I wasn’t convinced this was the effect I was after. Wanting a sharp image with no noise I took the image at ISO 100, the low lighting levels meant that a slow shutter speed was needed to gain the correct exposure. Not having a light meter I used my cameras spot meter and manual setting to measure the light. On reflection I decided greater depth of field provided a better result, meaning more of the die and cards were in focus, and settled on f10.

A technique that can be used to overcome the shallow depth of field of subjects when using macro is to take multiple images at differing apertures and blending them together. This is known as composite focus or focus stacking. However to achieve this technique successfully really calls for equipment such as micro-focusing rails and specialist software; Combine-Z 'Archemid', 'Helicon Focus' and 'Image-Pro Plus' to name a few, and a vibration free area. It can be achieved manually in Photoshop but this can be a tedious process. My dodgy tripod and bouncy floor does not allow for such fine adjustments. Added to this there can be a problem of parallax concealing some of the distant areas behind nearer blurred parts. (Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines)

For the past few weeks I have been suffering from vertigo which makes the room spin rather alarmingly and leaves me feeling very nauseous all which combined to make bending over taking photographs a challenge. The idea of bending over taking many images to combine later in Photoshop filled me with horror. Taking an image at f10 with a slow shutter speed was the compromise reached to obtain the sharpness I required.

The ‘snakes eye’ hidden by the playing card was relevant to the plot as it is the scenario Rhinehart faced when he made his first decision based on the number one showing on a die. Several test shots were taken to get the positioning of the die/reflection how I wanted. At one point the uppermost card shifted revealing the blu-tack so I shot more. An option could have been to clone out the blu-tack but not only did the movement affect the angle of the card/reflection I felt it more professional to re-shoot.

Once I had established the depth of field and position of the die, test shots were taken for colour balance. Initial shots proved the two spot lights alone were not sufficient to light the entire scene, lose shadows or light the underside of the card. I placed two different angle poise lamps at the front which were diffused by using greaseproof paper. This prevented unnecessary shadows and glare. Unfortunately because the angle poise lamps had energy saving bulbs and were diffused with greaseproof paper this provided mixed lighting (which really should be avoided) and affected the white balance.

Due to having mixed lighting I took four test shots using the Auto, Tungsten, Fluorescent and Custom White Balance. Previous testing of the settings in my camera (DPP) had revealed that on occasion using the AWB was more successful in representing 'white' than the option which reflected the actual lighting conditions. I shot all four options available to me so I could ensure I was getting a 'best' result; the two anglepoise lamps having energy saving bulbs I was not sure what colour cast they would give. The Perspex would have bounced the different lights around the subject. Using a white card I set a custom white balance.The results surprised me when the AWB had less of a colour cast than the Custom. Just in case I had set it incorrectly the custom balance was reset but the AWB was still showing a better result with a reduced colour cast.

A work round for this could have been to light and shoot the individual elements and merge in photoshop, I did not think of this whilst shooting but given the affect of the vertigo I probably would not have used this technique at the time. However, it is something to bear in mind for the future. I did experiment with my snoot but encountered the problem of the light needing to be a certain distance away from the set up. I didn't have an assistant or clamp stand/table available to position the light and keep it there whilst I took the photograph.

Using Adobe Bridge and ratings the final image chosen was @ F10, 0.4 sec, ISO 100, 100mm. It had the required angles, imagery and sharpness, depth of field and colour balance.

Creating an image for the spine I photographed 2 dice, the first one at a similar angle and position as the one hidden under the card. I used the same setup as with the main image other than using the Perspex sheet.

I experimented with depth of field, f2.8 was once again too shallow with only the front corner sharp, and I finally chose f8 1/10 secs, ISO 100 100mm.

Processing the images

The images were opened in RAW, Adobe RGB (1998) 8 bit 300ppi.

The white balance needed some correction and the white spots on the die displayed highlight clipping. These were easily corrected using the white balance tool and the exposure slider. The reflection of the underside of the card was slightly darker than expected and dust had settled on the velvet and Perspex even though I had been meticulous about cleaning them. Contrast was increased slightly; the spot removal tool and adjustment brush used to make local adjustments, then the image was opened in Photoshop.

The image was straightened and the last few remaining dust spots and specks on the die cloned out and saved as a tiff.

The image for the spine did not need exposure adjustments in RAW or spot adjustments for dust, the Perspex was not used and the velvet was cleaned again. If using Perspex again I need to find out how to make it less static. Due to cropping the image the minor amount of dust on the background were removed. A small colour correction was made to match the colour of the reds of the main image. A further correction was made using an adjustment layer when the image was placed on the cover design; the white spots had some dirty marks/paint missing and these were adjusted with cloning/spot healing.

Preparing the images

Once processed, I had to prepare the images for my book cover, ready for the rest of the design and the incorporation of text. My initial thoughts had been to extend the black background, use white font for the title, red for the strap line and white for the author’s name, gaining inspiration from Beowulf and Ordinary Thunderstorms.

Extending the image restricted me being able to resize and move the main image so I created a new document based on the average size of a paper back; height, 200mm width 125mm, spine 22mm @ 300dpi and used this as my design template dragging the images onto the new document and resizing as required. The images were sharpened after re-sizing. Local adjustments were made using a curves layer to increase the contrast and density of the colours.

Other details were added to the spine and the back cover; the publisher’s logo, dice image, quotes, design details and a bar code. Elements were placed on the cover with the help of rulers, grids and guides.

Although happy with the design so far I felt more could be added. Taking into consideration the technique of using two images and manipulation, that many of the designs researched had an echo of the main image of the spine, the photograph of the two dice was incorporated into the front cover. This was done using layers and layer masks. I could have created a montage owith more images but wanted to adhere to the idea of an uncluttered cover which was dissimilar to the previous publications. Melanie Harr-Hughes, Director of Production for Tate Publishing states:

Resist the urge to ask your designer to put "too much" on the book cover. The end cover design will be 100 times more effective, if it is only sending one central message, and isn't mottled with several tag lines, a lengthy subtitle, too much imagery, etc. This one is probably the most challenging, and we completely understand the desire to want to portray every single element that your book is about on the cover. Think of it this way- if the cover design could be viewed as a person speaking, would you rather have "one" person speaking, or "several" people speaking at the same time at you? Obviously, with several people trying to speak at the same time, the voices all get jumbled together and nothing gets heard. Conciseness is king here.

I noted that some of the designers occasionally present the same idea, but with only a slight alteration to the background/colour to the publishers.

Copyright Paul Buckley

Copyright Paul Buckley
Therefore I created a second design by altering the font colours and using a gradient fill. Some of the book covers I had looked at during my research had a gradual gradient as a device to incorporate an image with a darker/lighter background with the type.

Each design was saved as a tiff with layers intact and I learnt how to group the layers for each section; the front cover, the back cover and the spine. This made working with the whole document much easier.

Incorporating the type

The type elements that needed to be included were: the title, author’s name, strap line on the front, title and author’s name for the spine and blurb on the back.

Although it was a fairly straight forward cover design, considerations had to be made with regards to the lettering; size, effects, whether to have it centred or aligned to one side. Traditionally the title is most prominent and at the top but research proved that this isn’t always the case. I had already decided that I was going to adhere to two typefaces, have them in distinct contrasting colours to the background whilst echoing the colours within the photograph, but was unsure which to use.  The more visually successful designs, to my mind, had the minimum number of font styles and colours, contrasting with the background, with the author’s name and book title using the same colour.

The recommended serif/sans serif fonts are Georgia, Times New Roman, Arial and Verdana.
For the initial designs, when working out the placement, I used Georgia for the titles and author’s name with Arial for the quotes and blurb. The majority of the time the blurb on novels seem to be serif fonts but having looked at The Dig by John Preston, which had sans serif throughout I decided I liked the clean effect it offered. The type was positioned with the help of grids, guides using align and distribute. The vertical font on the spine was achieved using Standard Vertical Roman Alignment. Wanting the text to appear bolder layer effects bevel and emboss were experimented with. These were quite effective on screen they did not print out so well therefore I reverted to using a duplicate layer to create a drop shadow effect. Again this was more effective on screen so the drop shadow was moved down and to the right slightly more. I also noted that the ‘A’ and ‘N’ ran together and the ‘h,’ being taller than the ‘T,’ stood out and caught the eye. Experimenting with other fonts Palatino Linotype had similar characteristics and weight.

A more in depth examination into why certain typography is used why, when and where was looked at here:

Fonts finally chosen and incorporated into the design, I preferred the original black cover.

Although the overall design layout was important this was a photographic assignment which had to take into consideration conceptualising the theme of the book, the taking and selecting of a photograph that suited the purpose and allowed for type elements within the composition.

The existing covers for The Dice Man are very busy and colourful; they both used three different colour fonts on the front cover. One mixes out-of-focus photography and graphics, the other also has partially blurred imagery. Both incorporate dice. The different colours for the US version help catch the eye but to me appears very fussy.  The UK cover uses montage to convey several elements from the book, while the US version appears to just use dice on a coloured background. It is impossible to say whether this is a montage or th dice were actually placed on what appears to be a games board. Whilst I like the blue tones and colours from the same palette on the UK cover (blue as well as suggesting calm and soothing can also be associated with depression) and the red certainly catches the eye, I don't understand the significance of some of the design elements. It could be said that on first inspection a reader may not understand the significance of the cards on my cover, this would become more apparent on reading the book, therefore you could argue that the cards add the element of intrigue whilst the inclusion of the dice, both single and 'thrown' emphasise the title.

In the respect of using dice to convey the themes of the book the creative idea for my cover is not totally new, none-the-less the approach was different from the existing publications.
  • Plain black background
  • No graphics
  • Sharp images
  • Use of inverted image (reflections)
  • Manipulation to add/combine two elements
  • Playing cards – represents gambling as well as the female characters
  • Showing the ‘number’ one
  • Type centred
  • Two type faces
  • Two colours only for the fonts
  • transferable to ebooks
I subjected my cover to the same analysis given to the books researched.

I noted that several publishers/designers asked for public opinion on their chosen designs so thought I would also apply some market research to mine. I placed an image on Facebook containing the two current UK and US designs and my final choice.

I asked a favour from my list of approximately 100 friends, they cover a wide demographic being a mix of ages 14-60+ both male and female.

I'm asking all of you for a favour :o) Can you please say which book cover you prefer/would pick up in a book shop and why it is better than the others? It is part of my book cover research for my current course. Many thanks :o)

I did not say which market they were aimed at nor that the middle design was mine. At present 27 people have replied. 8 preferring the Uk cover, 2 the US and 17 said they would chose my design over the others.

Some comments were:

middle ones my fav coz of da quote thing under da title n although the last 1 has dat too its got too much colour to make da txt stand out :)

Middle. Eye catching. Makes it appear more adult very clear text. Not too fussy. X

not the left, between others id go middle

The middle def. Its bolder and looks more dramatic than the rest

I like the middle one because of the black clearness. I asked my Michael and he likes the one on the left because of the neutral colours with the red standing out. The one in the middle he said the card thing distracted the eye. Hope that helps. x

Mmm.. the middle one I think, I like the layout, simple and easy to read, the black background gives it a sense of quality I think. I prefer the font on the middle one as well. hope this helps! xx
Middle one. Crisp,clean image although I can't see the relevance of the cards when it's called "The DICE Man"
i like the middle one. the plain background makes the font and image stand out more. the one on the right looks a bit old and outdated and definitely too busy. i quite like the image on the left one but not sure about the arrows. it's a pretty good cover but i still think the middle one is more eye catching.

muel says he doesn't like the right one at all but the left and middle are both quite good. the middle one looks more modern and he'd probs be more likely to pick that one over the left. 

I like the middle one, the text is clear and the image is eye catching without being distracting. The third one is far too busy, with too much text information, and the mixed font sizes and styles make it difficult to read. xx

If I was choosing book based on the cover, I 'd definitely look at the middle one first.

The left one is a bit too busy without saying much, the second is clear and simple though not quite sure about the cards as I don't see their relevance vis a vis the title. The third is very 70's looking, dated by today's standards. Hope that makes sense for you Jan, basically prefer middle one :o)

So all in all I was pleased with the results. Of the few 'negative' comments over not being sure about the relevance of the cards, these potential readers would still have picked up my cover as the design was clear and eye catching. One person preferring UK cover said of mine 'it's more like an ebook' which meant I was also along the right track for appealing to that market.

The UK book was chosen on the whole due to the calming blue colour and the splash of red catching the eye. Some comments made also mentioned they liked seeing quotes on a book but this did not worry me as my design has them on the back so this has been catered for.

I thought it amusing that people commenting on the relevance of the cards as the book was called The DICE Man did not query the relevance of a naked women on a book titled The Dice MAN.

My favourite comment has to be from the person who liked the UK version because ' in a quick glance his name looked like it said Urine!' Not sure that I personally would like that recommendation but hey if it sells the book ;o)

The final image was sent as a Tiff, original size @ 300dpi. The option was given to send either as a Jpeg or Tiff. I chose to send as a Tiff as Tiff files (tagged image file format) because as far as I could see from research they are a standard in digital imaging, particularly where printing is concerned.

I found this info in Digital Photography Special Effects  Michael Freeman Thames &Hudson (2003) which was borrowed from my local library. It appeared a brand new book but as the publishing date was 2003 I checked on Amazon and this is the current edition. Several other websites back this info but they had not been recently updated or had no date on at all.

Tiffs can be given a lossless compression by the LZW(Lempel-Ziv-Welch) method which does not degrade the image in anyway but it is not universally readable. As a rough guide an image to print A4 size @ 300dpi RGB Tiff uncompressed is approximately 25MB.

The theory behind LZW is above my understanding but for those who want to know more read here
A question mark has been raised about TIFF being industry standard so I need to do further research into this.....
as mentioned up there ^ found this on UPDIG
File formats include: lossy compression types such as JPEG; lossless compression types such as LZW compressed GIF and TIFF, PSD and most raw file formats; and uncompressed types such as standard TIFFs. Some formats, such as JPEG2000 and HD Photo (JPEG XR), offer both lossy and lossless compressions. For the web, use JPEG. For printing, uncompressed TIFF is often preferred, although high-quality JPEGs (Level 10-12) can be visually indistinguishable from TIFFs, and some printers prefer their smaller file sizes.
Cambridge in colour also still recommends Tiff although that has no date on at all....
I found one website that advised that Tiff had been superseded by PSD's....??
A 2011 website dpBestflow (admittedly American) commented that  Many design directors and publishers prefer it because it is an uncompressed format and doesn’t lose any quality with multiple saves. TIFF also has the advantage of supporting greater bit-depth and layers.
Have also come up with some web info suggesting PDF's are now the standard and these are more recent.... so rather confusing! Will continue to look, probably give a few publishers a phone call as they don't seem to like responding to email! So much for the digital age ;o) One large publishing co even has on their FAQ page...if you are a student please don't bother asking us, we are far too busy but good luck with your project.....
ATM I feel like I'm doing lots of work and getting nowhere and learning nothing...and feel like giving up....
Different formats can be sent for different purposes for example, the design brief mentioned earlier also requested
  • One additional Book Cover Image (front+spine+back) at full size resolution 300 dpi in jpeg format for website/marketing.
  • 650 px front cover high image required for Nielsen PubData catalogue.
  • 1280 px (height) 72 dpi front cover image for Kindle ebook version.
To complete this assignment research into typefaces, layouts and book design was very important. I applied everything learnt from examining cover designs into my own, deducing that the more successful designs used the minimum amount of typefaces and colours. Successful designs being ones finally chosen by the publisher, fitting the brief, the genre, depicting the main theme of the book and ultimately appealling to the target market therefore selling the book. Planning and drafting rough ideas helped with the selecting of a photograph that suited the purpose and I would definitely recommend drafting to anyone planning a design.

Still life images can be successfully used with different genres so it was an acceptable kind of photography to use for the title chosen. I'd use this again but possibly be more creative with lighting and surreal manipulation. On reflection I should possibly have asked for an extension to my deadline given that I had been unwell and could not get hold of some of the props which would have allowed me to explore other ideas.

Conceptualising a book with one single element can be difficult therefore using one or two props in combination with manipulation/montage is a device that works well to communicate a complex storyline. I chose to use cards and dice. Using the die showing the number one hidden under a card reflects on scene from the book, Renoir images allude to the female characters and the protagonist being educated, the cards and the die hint at Rhinehart’s personality of a gambler and risk taker, differing cards suggest the two sides to his character (a professional psychiatrist whose own world is driving him mad). I acknowledge that these inferences maybe too subtle but overall feed back obtained from my survey showed that they would still chose to pick my design from the bookshelf over others.

Sharp imagery was used for two reasons, firstly due to the other covers employing out of focus images and secondly to imply the clarity of the decisions taken on the roll of the dice.

Rhinehart reflects on his life, relationships and work therefore reflections were incorporated. This was also a visual device chosen to make the book stand out from the crowd as inverted imagery seems to be quite an unusual route taken in book design, although I was unable to establish why this is.

With the final cover completed there are some things I’d like to try or do differently. Should a similar assignment be undertaken again things I would like to attempt are the freezing of motion/exaggerated motion blur (I was tempted by the Newton’s cradle) experimenting with shutter speeds and using my flash off camera. Unfortunately I don't have remote flash firing capability at the moment, I'm not sure what I need to do this therefore need to complete further research. Finances preclude me from experimentation in the very near future if it works out expensive :o/ Trying to capture smoke is something I’d like to practise for possible inclusion in other areas too. I’d also like to experiment with homemade coloured filters or bulbs to add/change atmosphere.

The plain background and positioning of the main image left space for the type element. Although it can be a more sophisticated approach to incorporate the type into the photographic elements, research as shown this is not commonly used but with a different subject/theme this is something I would like to try.

Knowledge of the subject matter means a better chance of producing an effective image. This applies to all areas of photography not just creating book jackets. In printing the final jacket and analysing it, with a minimum of props, allusion and manipulation the themes of the book have been visually conceptualised and feedback provided suggests the main image works to provide a successful design.

Research  [Accessed 29 August 2011] [Accessed 29 August 2011]

Freeman, M. 2003 Digital Photography Special Effects. London: Thames & Hudson
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*update reworking Here