6 Key Ingredients for Creating Good Photos

by Disc Makers on October 5, 2009 · 0 comments

in Design

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.

1. Preparation

• Before your photo shoot write out your thoughts and even make a rough sketch so you’re sure to think things through. Plan out potential photo-shoot locations, what you’ll be wearing, what kind of mood you want your photos to have (dark and gloomy, happy and spiritual, etc), how many photos you are thinking of including in the package, and what you want the “message” to be for someone who is seeing it for the first time (that you’re young at heart, that you’re a religious group, etc).

• 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.

2. Resolution

The top image is high resolution, the bottom image is low resolution.

The top image is high resolution, the bottom image is low resolution.

• Every digital image is made up of pixels. The more pixels in an image, the clearer and better the image will look and the less you will notice the actual pixels (pixels are tiny squares in the image). Just because an image looks good on your computer monitor does NOT mean it will look good when professionally printed. Your monitor is comparable to 72ppi (pixels per inch) and most professionals print at 300ppi. If you use a low-resolution image (anything below 300ppi) for your printed package, the image will appear blurry or pixelated.

• 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.

3. Lighting

In the Springsteen and Twilight covers, the lighting brings your attention to their faces and helps set a mood or tone.

In the Springsteen and Twilight covers, the lighting brings your attention to their faces and helps set a mood or tone.

• Good lighting can make an image more dramatic, can demonstrate a certain mood, and can make your images more memorable. Bad lighting can obscure facial features, cause strange and distracting shadows, and make it hard to tell what’s going on in an image.

• 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.

4. Composition

The U2 cover shows a keen eye for composition in how the figures relate to each other and to the background. The Amy Grant cover uses props effectively to create a dynamic composition.

The U2 cover shows a keen eye for composition in how the figures relate to each other and to the background. The Amy Grant cover uses props effectively to create a dynamic composition.

• Composition has to do with the placement and spacing of people and objects; how the person or people in the photo relate to each other, what’s around them, and the background. You may have heard the term “negative space,” which is the space around a person or object. You’ll want to consider that space when “composing” each photo. For example, if there are two lead members of your band and your drummer and bass player are more secondary, you may want to put the two leads near each other in the foreground with the two other band mates a little further back.

• 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

It’s clear that the Sam & Ruby and BB King covers were shot on location.

It’s clear that the Sam & Ruby and BB King covers were shot on location.

• Pick a suitable location for your photo shoot. The viewer notices not just the people in the photo, but what’s in the background, too. Unless your CD or DVD is about cooking, you may not want to take your photo in your kitchen with your Grandma Martha holding a casserole next to the oven in the background. (That doesn’t mean we don’t love Grandma Martha. We do, but she’s not in the band.) If you want your background to be a tropical beach, but you don’t live near a beach, consider taking a road trip. It is possible to change the background of a photo with computer “magic,” however the final result may not be completely realistic-looking due to lighting and perspective. So whenever possible, shoot on 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.

6. Clothing

Janis Joplin’s clothes reflected her personality. The formal wardrobe of Rascal Flatts sets a mood and helps tie in all of the other elements on the cover.

Janis Joplin’s clothes reflected her personality. The formal wardrobe of Rascal Flatts sets a mood and helps tie in all of the other elements on the cover.

• Whether you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt, a tux, or a cowboy hat, what you’re wearing contributes to the mood of your images and can hint at the type of music you play.

• 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.

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