What do you first notice when you see a CD cover? My guess is it’s the image, whether it’s an illustration or a photo. The images on your package can make or break the design and be the difference between getting noticed or being left on the shelf. In many cases, a great design starts with great photos. The images are what “drive” the design. If you plan to include photos of you or your band, you want those photos to look professional.
How do you get great photos? One obvious answer would be to hire a professional photographer, preferably one with experience working with musicians. But maybe that’s not in your budget. Let’s face it, times are tough so if you’re considering taking photos yourself, review these tips and spend some time planning ahead. Time spent in the beginning can save you time and money later. The 6 key ingredients to a great photo for your CD package are preparation, resolution, lighting, composition, background / location, and clothing.
• Set a date and time for your photo shoot and invite everyone who needs to be there. If shooting outside, set a rain date.
• Discuss ahead of time what you and your band mates will be wearing. No, it’s not too “girly” to discuss clothes! If you want everyone to wear a white, button-down shirt with a bow tie, make sure everyone is on board with that.
• When picking your location, get permission from the property owner to do a photo shoot. For example, if shooting in the lounge of a swanky restaurant, call ahead of time and speak with the manager to clear the date and time of the shoot with them.
• Make a list of what you need to bring to the photo shoot so that you don’t forget anything. That may include any props that are needed, composition sketches (see composition tips below), a change of clothes, camera and batteries.
• Charge your camera battery. This is oh-so-important. If you have spare batteries, bring them to the photo shoot.
• For professional results, your image should be 300ppi (pixels per inch) at print size, or at least 1500 x 1500 pixels for a typical CD cover. Use the lowest image compression setting, or uncompressed (often referred to as RAW mode) if possible. Essentially, you want the largest image and file size your camera can save. Read your camera manual if you need help figuring out settings.
• If the info above doesn’t make sense to you, just take your digital photos at the highest quality setting on your camera. That means a REAL digital camera, NOT a phone camera.
• If you’re shooting with a film camera, you will need to get prints made and then scan them. The same specs are true here: 300ppi at print size, and be sure to use the highest-quality scanner you have access to.
• Lighting can be adjusted with the help of image-editing software, but there’s only so much that can be done without distorting the image. If your image is too dark and you try to significantly lighten it on the computer, it will make your photos look grainy. If your image is too light and features are “blown out” or disappearing, it’s not possible to bring those features back.
• If shooting outside, keep an eye on the weather forecast. This may seem obvious, but if you want a sunny day, shoot on a sunny day or preferably a slightly overcast day for best results. If you want a cloudy / moody setting, shoot on a cloudy day. Be aware of where shadows fall. They can either add or detract from your photo.
• If shooting inside, set up enough lights so that you don’t have to use a flash. If you must use a flash, read your camera manual about getting the most from it. A built-in camera flash can often brighten the foreground too much and leave the background too dark. If you have a detachable flash, use that instead. If your camera has a red-eye reduction setting, use it.
• Try sketching out some compositions – where you want people, where you want the background elements, etc. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw a straight line; a quick sketch to indicate what goes where is all you need. Then you’ll have something you can refer to during the shoot rather than going in “blind” with no ideas.
• Props can also be part of your composition, such as the chair you’re sitting on or a bible you’re holding. If props help convey your message, they can be worthwhile. Keep in mind that too many props can be confusing and distracting to the viewer.
• Don’t over-complicate your photos. Often a simple composition is the most effective. Many famous photographers are known for drawing the viewer’s eye to the important part(s) of the photo by minimizing the distractions of other elements.
5. Background / Location
• Notice what’s going on behind you in your photos. If you’re shooting on a busy street, you might not want that shirtless guy standing behind you in the photo (or maybe you do?).
• Unless you’re going for a very specific look, it’s often best to avoid stereotypical or cliché locations or props. If you’re interested in having a unique background, steer clear of the two types of backgrounds we see the most often: 1. brick walls, 2. railroad tracks.
• Clothes with clothing manufacturing logos or other brand names can be distracting and take the focus away from you or your band members.
• If you’re going to be posing in a dark room or in front of a dark background, it’s best not to wear dark clothing. You may end up looking like a floating head!
Does all this seem like a lot of work? That’s because it is! That’s why there are professional photographers. However, if a pro just isn’t in the budget, then hopefully these tips will get you going in the right direction. Happy shooting!
Article by Kristen Bower, an Art Director in our Design Studio.