Increasingly, readers are photographing books and posting said photographs on social media and book blogs. This in mind, I asked my super talented photographer friend Sarah if there were qualities that could make one book cover not quite as photogenic as the next. She and I hit a bookstore to find out.
FYI: the images below, which were taken with an iPhone 6, seem to fall into the copyright gray area of fair use for educational purposes. This said, if anyone with copyright interest (author, publisher, designer, photographer, model, etc.) in any of the book covers below would like me to remove their cover, please message me via my contact page, and I will do so. To clarify, this post isn’t to comment on the design quality of the book covers discussed, but rather, how well those designs photograph. To be fair, the book covers would likely photograph better with a higher quality camera, but it’s also fair to assume that not all readers have high-quality cameras to shoot with.
How cameras translate colors: one of the things that we found was that for some covers, we were able to distinguish more detail in real life as opposed to in the photograph. To demonstrate this, for the first row of images, I’ve placed the Goodreads thumbnail next to my photo. For some reason, for How to be Loved, the book design, more purple in the Goodreads thumbnail, photographed in a light shade of pink, which makes the font harder to read. For Roman Crazy, because the motorcycle image has an orange tint over it, the detail blurred together a little in my photograph. For The Seasonaires, the camera seems to have changed the shade of yellow that the font is, rendering it less legible in my photo than in the thumbnail.
Metallic: notice how with The Bonfire of Vanities, depending on how I hold the book relative to light, the text can become obscured. It’s hard to tell, but I think this is happening because of a combination of metals and sheen. Circe, however, seems to photograph well, because while the gold is reflective, the black surrounding it is matte. The other way to achieve a metallic effect without using actual metal is to do what the designer of The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared did (I forgot to take a picture, but you can see thebeautraveler.com’s photo here) which was to give the illusion of metal by blending color with white to make it appear as though there’s a sheen on the banner.
Patterns: patterns can work in photographs, but they can also be problematic, and this is sometimes referred to as the moiré effect. The pattern behind The Female Persuasion, for instance, while beautiful, for me, is borderline problematic when photographed. When I took photos of the audiobook cover on my phone screen last year, I remember it being hella problematic. The patterns on the rest of the books in the layout below seem to work pretty well, however. For Crazy Rich Asians, there are some heavy patterns behind the people, but because, in this case, the patterns aren’t the focal point of the design, they don’t distract.
Obstruction of font: all of the covers below were legible to varying degrees in real life, but put them through a camera lens, and that legibility got reduced, especially for photos one and three. Photo one became less legible, I think, because not only is there some obstruction of the font, but the font color is closer to the background color than, say, photo two. Photo three is less legible because its degree of font obstruction is greater than that in photo two. The covers in photos two and four are more photogenic because there’s a higher degree of contrast and less obstruction of the font overall.
Out-of-focus font: the problem with making fonts appear out of focus as a design choice is the risk that all photos of covers with this choice could themselves appear out of focus. To demonstrate, the first photo shows two book covers side by side, one with out-of-focus font, the other with sharply defined font. If I hadn’t taken a photo of these two side by side, you wouldn’t have the reference point of Our House to clue you into the fact that it isn’t the whole photo that’s out of focus. With the exception of Hyperfocus, in which the play on focus makes sense because of the title, I’m not sure this design choice is worth the risk of all photos of these covers seeming, at first glance, to be out of focus.
Margins for hands: if you’ve ever cruised the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram, you probably know that one of the main ways folks take pictures of book covers is by holding them. This is going to sound silly, but, yes, I am saying that leaving margins for the bits of hand that show up in photos of your cover is an important consideration. If designers don’t leave room, then bits of hand could obscure important parts of the design, the key word here being ‘important,’ because as you’ll see with Watching You, my thumb obscures “a novel,” which is not such a big deal. Notice how, with The Art of Leaving, there aren’t margins along the sides or the bottom, and so I could barely hold the book for the photo, where, with Crazy Rich Asians, though there’s little bottom margin, there’s plenty of side margin for me to get a grip. And when it comes to leaving margins on only one side of the cover, remember that there are both left- and right-handed readers out there.
Word-splitting: my personal preference would be to not split words on covers if it can be avoided, but, especially with long words, it’s also important to have a font size that’s large enough to be read in thumbnails and photographs. This said, word-splitting works better if words are not split at unnatural junctions, such as in the middle of a syllable or, as is the case with The Art of Leaving, in the middle of a letter. Word-splitting also works better, in my opinion, for shorter words/titles, because it takes less time for my brain to compute that “EV” and “IL” spell Evil than it does to figure out that “ROS”, “EWA” and “TER” spell Rosewater. This can be an issue both in real life and in photographs, which is why I decided to discuss this design choice here, but take a look at the photos below and judge for yourself.
Non-standard text direction: as with word-splitting, non-standard text direction is an issue both in real life and in photographs. In the examples below, this design choice tends to work better with common words than with made-up ones. I would also argue that some non-standard text directions are easier for the brain to compute than others.
Room for stickers: from signed-by-author stickers to winner-of-fill-in-the-blank-award stickers to discount stickers to price tags to library bar codes, if the cover design doesn’t leave a natural spot for people along the book-selling distribution chain to place these stickers, they may place them over important design elements.
Glossy versus matte: in all cases, glossy covers predictably photographed with some degree of glare. In the images below, the only cover that didn’t photograph with glare was the matte cover on the far right.
Legibility: when making font choices, it’s important to remember that most if not all photographs of your cover will not show it at actual size. The font should be large enough and clear enough to read on a thumbnail or a social media photo. Below are examples of covers with cursive, some more legible than others.
In other news, my mystery THE BIAS OF RAIN has finaled for a Kiss of Death Daphne du Maurier award, woohoo!
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.
Can you think of any memorable book covers? What are they memorable for? Are there any considerations as far as book cover photogenicity that I’m missing? Chat with me in the comments!