Shooting a book cover

On May 1, 2013 by Simon Fleming

Last year I was hired to shoot some portraits for Alison Hepple to be used on the cover of her book Silent Tears, a collection of very personal poetry she had written.

The shoot was both simple & complex at the same time in that we only needed one portrait of Alison to use on the cover but that one image needed to essentially convey the theme of all the poetry contained in her book. To do this you need to talk to your subject – and really listen to them. I also took the time to read through some of Alison’s poetry before the shoot. Her words obviously came from the heart and carried some very strong messages of personal hardships she had experienced as a child living in Africa. Having spoken to Alison prior to the shoot, I had a fairly good idea as to how I would need to light her in order to achieve the image that was needed – and also to suit the artwork for the cover design. For a change Photoshop was going to feature highly in my mental checklist of tools required for this particular job, and knowing that I would need to light her in a particular way to not only minimise the amount of post processing but to also produce the best result from it. I wasn’t going to be the one doing the post-processing and artwork (or so I thought) but I still needed to shoot with an idea of how the image would need to be used later on. This is where it can be really helpful to have some first hand experience, and good knowledge in the ‘digital darkroom’ side of the process. We both agreed on a certain expression we thought would best suit and then set about achieving that. One other very important aspect of the final book cover was that Alison’s eye was to play a prominant part in the final image, so I had to make sure the lighting was good in this regard for the post processing work to be done later on.

This was the basic unedited image we chose to use.


The selected portrait was to be blended into a background image that Alison had already on hand, and after speaking to her post shoot about how that was going I decided to put together something myself for her as she wasn’t happy with the version her publisher had created. It wasn’t bad but it certainly wasn’t what Alison had in mind. After seeing it myself I offered to put together my version for her as I felt as though I knew exactly what she was looking for in the cover design, and I also thought it was too important to not get this right for her.

This is the final version of the cover I put together. Her eye has been artworked to match the tones in the sea, and a tear has also been added – to reflect the title of the book “Silent Tears”.



And cover as published…


The shoot certainly panned out into a much broader project than I had originally anticipated but one with a very satisfying result for both myself and Alison.

On the technical side, the images were shot against a white seamless background. Lighting was via a 12×36 inch strip box to one side, and a small 24 inch soft box aimed from the same side and below to provide a little fill. I also had one speedlight tightly gridded and aimed at Alison’s eye – set to a fairly low power setting just to provide a little catchlight and to make sure I had good detail and illumination of her iris.




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