Monday, 29 August 2011

Project: Photographic book covers / Exercise Choosing your Imagery

This next section of the course looks really fascinating, wondering how and why books get the covers they do. As an avid reader I shall look through my own books as well as following the recommendation of the module to visit the local library and bookshops, thinking about the decision making behind producing the imagery.

Exercise: Choosing your imagery

To complete this exercise I need to find an example of book covers featuring five different types of photographs. For each category 100 words need to be written describing why I believe the publishers chose the direction, images and design for each book. The different types are: -

  • an out-of-focus photograph
  • an inverted photograph
  • an historical archival photograph, but not depicting the subject precisely
  • a still-life close-up
  • a minimalist landscape or outdoor scene with a large area of sky
Popping into the local library some of the categories had a wealth of examples to choose from whilst others were a little thin, especially the inverted photograph. Quite a few publications choose to use illustrations rather than photography and after getting home, on closer inspection one of the books chosen was an illustration. Also the historical, archival image depicted the subject too precisely so back to the drawing board with those two...

Books chosen after first library visit

Out Of Focus Photograph

Brother & Sister Joanna Trollope (publisher Black Swan 2005)
As these exercises lead up to Assignment Two: A photographic book cover, where you have to consider all aspects of the cover design elements: image, typeface, title, authors name, strap line, spine and blurb, not only did I look at the photographic choices but also the dimensions and layout of the book as a whole.

Approximate dimensions and layout 'sketched' in Publisher

Other Joanna Trollope titles were researched to see if this had a bearing on the design choice for Brother & Sister, from the titles below you can see there is coherence to the publications. The quotes, author's name, and titles are all in the same place and use the same typeface and font size. All the images are out of focus suggesting hidden facets of the characters lives and some mystery.

Other Trollope titles with the same layout

Joanna Trollope is a well known author and emphasis has been placed on her name rather than the title. This implies that the publisher recognises Trollope has a following which seeks out her name regardless of subject matter. Readers can instantly spot a title by the 'corporate identity' approach.

Brother & Sister (2004), is a novel exploring the themes of adoption and the nature of identity. The image on the front depicts a blurry male and female character, the male in the distance. The out of focus image alludes to the uncertainty of their own identity. The female at the front represents Nathalie as the main driving force to the plot line, whilst David (her adopted brother) is in the background, showing he is possibly more reluctant to follow her decision to trace their birth parents. A smaller version of the image is also shown on the spine of the book allowing for this information to be shown when the book is placed on a shelf. The colour of the photograph fades into the upper section of the book providing a clean space for the author's name. The light background continues on the back where the blurb, in a dark font is easily read.The image selected successfully expresses the element of the unknown and an awkward relationship.

Minimalist landscape/outdoor scene with a large area of sky

Assegai Wilbur Smith (Pan Books 2010)

Approximate dimensions and layout 'sketched' in Publisher

As with Joanna Trollope, other Wilbur Smith titles were researched to see if this had a bearing on the design choice for Assegai. From the titles below you can see there is coherence. The quotes, author's name, and titles are all in the same place and use the same typeface and font size. All the images are of an African landscape, sunset and with crossed weapons. Born in Africa, Smith has an abiding interest for the peoples and wildlife of his birth country; this is reflected in the majority of his work and the imagery on the examples given here.

Other Smith titles with the same layout

Wilbur Smith is another author considered a ‘brand,’ with emphasis placed on his name rather than the title of the book, recognition by the publisher that Smith has a loyal fan base.

Set in the Masai tribal territories, the minimalist landscape and lone figure instantly inform the reader of the African location. The large expanse of sky has left enough space for the strap line and authors name while the dark silhouetted foreground provides the perfect foil for the title. The generous area of sky left remaining has allowed for the inclusion of the Assegai weapons which suggest that conflict is a theme contained within the novel. The darker background allows the lighter text on both the back and front of the book to stand out. The simple landscape combined with the spears convey the location and possible story content well.

Still life close up

The Hollow Nora Roberts (publisher Piatkus Books 2008)

Approximate dimensions and layout 'sketched' in Publisher

Nora Roberts is widely recognised as a writer associated with the supernatural. Her trilogy  Sign of Seven concerns three main characters over a period of many decades who at the age of 10 took a blood oath at a pagan stone, unleashing a 300 year old curse. The first book has a stone embellished with an Ankh, the Ancient Egyptian symbol of life and in Wiccan/Neopagan traditions, it is often used as a symbol of immortality. This symbolism alludes to the theme of ritualism and paganism.

The Hollow is the second book in Nora Roberts Sign of Seven trilogy, the first being Blood Brothers and the last The Pagan Stone. It follows that the design of the covers would have a similar look, however from the novel Dance of the Gods and many other titles it can be seen that the publishers currently favour this layout for all of her books.

Nora Robert's novels with the same design

Being the second book in a trilogy, The Hollow uses similar imagery; a few loose stones appear scattered at the top and bottom of the design with one of the stones adorned with a pagan symbol. This symbol alludes to beginnings and endings, being a version of the Celtic Trinity Knot (or the Triquetra from Latin, meaning "three-cornered.") all clues to the mystical content of the novel and the three main characters from the previous story. Reading into the stone analagy further, the main character numbers swell to six, as the boys are joined by three girls, with the main character Fox finding he is becoming increasingly interested in Layla... possibly the two stones in the foreground. The choice of the plain white background allows the stones to immediately catch the eye. The authors name is the most prominent text with a quote from Stephen King placed next to the symbol.This adds weight to Roberts as an author and hints at the genre. The same image is used on the spine, with the white background continuing onto the back for the blurb. Simple still life has been used very well to convey a very complex plot.

Conclusions so far...

Having researched three design covers so far, although each one has a completely different photographic image, they do have similar features with images representing aspects of the novel. The main images have been echoed on the spine.There has been some degree of manipulation with each; with Brother & Sister the photograph has been extended to allow for the strap line and authors names to be added, the landscape on Assegai has been inverted on the back cover and spears have been superimposed, on The Hollow  it is impossible to say if the group of stones were shot together or separately and merged, but the different direction of the shadows imply that they were shot as individual items. It was also interesting to note the grouping of the stones did not follow the rule of three associated with still life images, but as mentioned, that could be due to the stones representing the number of characters in the book and their relationships.

With each cover, the authors' name was more prominent than the title, a minimum number of fonts and colours have been used. It was interesting to note that in each case the authors' names were printed in an embossed metallic or metallic effect font. Joanna Trollope's novel Brother & Sister has more font styles and colours therefore for me, this is the least successful design even though the image works well to convey the contents of the book.

The designs also incorporate quotes/strap lines to catch the readers attention, the publishers logo and cover design information, a barcode and price.

Having read an awful lot of novels I had never previously taken much notice on how the blurb was styled. The word count for each was between 120-150 words, all were centred and used fonts which were a contrast to the background.

The size of the paperbacks were very similar approximately 200mm high 120 mm wide. The thickness varied with the number of pages in the book.

The most pertinent point that comes across is that the designer/artistic director had intimate knowledge of the plot line and characters choosing the elements accordingly and even with looking as just three novels there is an indication that specific genres seem to prefer a certain style of imagery.

Notes on book covers for learning log
second and third library visits

Historical archival photograph

  • an historical archival photograph, but not depicting the subject precisely -
finding an image to fulfil this remit was a little trickier, my first problem was with the interpretation of the task. Did 'not depicting the subject precisely' mean not depicting the physical subject within the photograph or not depicting the subject/theme of the novel? I decided that it could mean either and to trust my judgement when an historical archival photograph was eventually found . On my trip to the main library in the borough, I discovered that it was really difficult to find exactly what I needed!

Some of the images appeared to be archival but could have been modern day constructed images, others were illustrations and the rest were very obvious depictions of both the storyline and the object photographed. Eventually I came across The Dig by John Preston, publisher Penguin Books 2008. The image is credited to Fox Photos/Hulton Archives/Getty images. Hulton Archive deal specifically with historic stock images and editorial shots. Inside the archive The plot concerns an archaeological dig set in 1939 and the image does not depict the theme even if it does the era.

The Dig John Preston (publisher Penguin Books 2008)

Approximate dimensions and layout 'sketched' in Publisher

The Dig is John Preston’s fourth novel but there is no pattern to the layout of previous covers. Unlike the designs examined so far, The Dig has its image at the top of the cover and has been extended down to make space for the text. The cream colour of the front is continues on the spine and back cover. The title is below the image in large red lettering, with the authors name below in a slightly smaller black font.This provides more evidence to the theory that when an author is more prolific/well known, emphasis is given to their name rather than the title of the book. There are two quotations on the front by well known writers; Ian McEwan and Robert Harris adding weight to Preston as an author.

Other titles by John Preston
The Dig is a fictional account of the discovery and subsequent archaeological dig of the Viking longboat burial mound at Sutton Hoo, in 1939. The archival image hints at the historical content of the story, sets the period and alludes to the wealth of the main character, yet it gives no clues to the dig itself. This adds intrigue, as the audience will wonder what ‘the dig’ refers to and encourages them to read the blurb on the back. On the back there are four further quotes promoting the book, which in turn persuades the reader to pick it up. I'm not quite sure if this is a completely successful image to have chosen. Although the image does portray the historical element, I am not convinced it raises enough curiosity to catch the imagination.

Inverted photograph

I still have as yet to track one this space...


As with the historical image, to find a cover with an inverted photograph to suit my purpose proved very difficult. I had to visit the main library, WH Smith, Waterstones and my local library twice before finding a book cover with an inverted image.

An inverted image could mean could mean upside down, mirror images, inverted colours and/or tonalities... there are a few examples given in the module but both were upside down, maybe I should have stuck with my gut feeling that anything within the definitions given above would have been ok, but feeling unsure I emailed my tutor to check if any would be within the remit to write up on, the answer was 'well what do you think?'

TBH I think any would be ok, but it is handy to get confirmation you are headed along the right lines... eventually decided to see what I could find and go from there. Hoping to get a different example to the inverted idea of upside down idea to show research had been completed rather than just blindly following the module, it was disappointing not to be able to find anything at all.

Definition: (1) ~ image: one that shows the subject upside down when projected or seen. * Also an image whose tonalities and colours are reversed. (2) ~ telephoto: design of lens with strongly negative groups in front and positive groups behind for short-focal lengths such that the distance from the rear vertex to focal plane is greater than the focal length. * Also known as reversed telephoto, retro-focus. (3) ~ selection: process in image or graphics manipulation by which all the objects not at first selected become selected, thus reversing or inverting the original selection. (4) ~ microscope: made to look at under-side of objects which cannot be turned over e.g. Petri dishes, so the objective points vertically upwards.

Using the The Book Cover Archive link I found the following book designs :-

Not many at all, given the number of covers that must be on the site, and of the examples found most were upside down rather than colour adjusted or horizontally reversed. Added to the fact I found it difficult to physically track one down shows it is not a popular design concept. Having had physical examples of the previous categories emphasised how important it is to actually get hold of the books. You can measure the dimensions, discover how effective embossed text is, colours are truer than on screen, find out more of the plot than the blurb offers to work out why different photographic elements were chosen. It also helped with looking at the overall layout, spine and back cover. I am left wondering why inverse images as not as popular? Do the designers themselves shy away from the ideas? Do the publishing houses reject them? Has it been found that the same novel but with a different jacket sells less copies with an inversed image? I may have to email a few publishing houses to find out....

On my second trip to the local library to look at designs in general, which genres used which imagery, did any cross over, which used more photographs than illustration (notes on a different post) I eventually found an inverted photograph. It is an upside down reflection rather than a reversed/inverted image but I made the decision to run with it.

Ordinary Thunderstorms William Boyd (Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing 2009)

Approximate dimensions and layout 'sketched' in Publisher
The dimensions on this are larger because it is hardback.

Looking at Boyd's other novels some have been published by Penguin Books; these had a different artistic approach. Having said that I have found two different versions of Brazzaville beach by Penguin, one of which follows a similar creative pattern to Ordinary Thunderstorms. I am now intrigued with Brazzaville Beach as the imagery is so different....a brief scout about shows that a different thread of the story has been chosen to illustrate the contents of the book Brazzaville Beach - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In Ordinary thunderstorms the main character, Adam Kindred, a young climatologist, has his world turned upside down. The photograph chosen for this novel cleverly picks up on many of the themes. A puddle not only alludes to the clouds Kindred studies but also provides an ideal device to project reflections. The London Eye highlights the location and the upside down character suggests the topsy- turvey events which occur throughout the book.  The grainy, hidden portrayal of the figure is a mechanism many thrillers employ. The black and white image works well with the choice of sans serif red and white type. I felt this book cover was a very successful design.

Notes on book covers for learning log
Summing Up
Having looked closely at all five categories the general design route for the majority of books is influenced by previous publications, if the book is part of a series and the idea of the author as a brand. The photographic images are then chosen taking into consideration the contents of the book and the genre. Having said that some devices such as out of focus images are used by many genres to suggest the unknown or mystery and still life can be successfully applied to any genre.
Quotes and strap lines are used to promote the book, publisher logos and barcodes are also applied as standard. Typefaces very slightly but apart from romantic sagas which employ more decorative fonts, they are large and clear, very readable. I did not discover a preference over using serif or sans serif.
Without reading the blurb it was possible to deduce something about these novels, either the genre, location or era. In this respect I think these designs all work well.

A very general observation

  • illustrations are used by most genres although true life stores/biographies and information books tend to use photographs.
  • out-of-focus photographs are associated with several genres but are used to convey a sense of mystery,intrigue, memories and, depending on the treatment, menance.
  • inverted photographs are used to allude to worlds turned upside down, or situations not really as they would normally be viewed.
  • historical archival photographs are used on fictional as well as factual publications to represent a particular era
  • Still life close up images are used across the board, again with both fact and fiction. The images can obviously represent the theme or use allusion and allegory.
  • Minimalist landscape photographs are also used across them with fact and fiction. These are used to show a set location, depending on the time of day and treatment can create atmosphere and if combined with figures hint at other themes within the book.


Images from :  [Accessed 29 August 2011]
[Accessed 1 September 2011] [Accessed 1 September 2011] [Accessed 29 August 2011] [Accessed 4 Spetember 2011]

General Information [Accessed 29 August 2011] [Accessed 28 August 2011]

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