How to Plan a Photo Shoot for Your Next Book Cover(s)


Meet Jamie Bennett at last! (Model: Peter Woerner)

For those of us self-publishing (or that have the responsibility of creating/obtaining the artwork for our book covers for some other reason), doing a photo shoot is a fabulous way to obtain what you need for your promo needs.

I recently had the privilege of doing this with several friends (and new friends).  And I thought, just perhaps, it might be useful to let you know how to do the same.  So, here’s how I did it, step-by-step.  (Some of these are thing I did, and some are things I should have done!)

    1. First, ask yourself a few questions. (Think about your ideal book cover images for the next 3 books you plan to work on.  You may choose to focus on only one, or up to 4.  But don’t do more than that.  And do you want just shots for the front cover, or some for the back as well?  What shots would help your promo materials?  Imagine your lead characters as perfectly as you are able.  Now, based upon their ages and looks, think about the circle of people you know.  Do you know anyone who looks “close enough” to any of them?  Do you know anyone who could ask around for you?  (For example, I needed college aged models, so I asked some college and older high schoolers I knew for friends that matched the descriptions.  And, as it turns out, one of them knew a girl who fit the description of the lead for my next book perfectly!  She looks exactly like my imagination’s eye had created her!)  Ask other people in your circles as well, simply telling them what you’re doing.  Most people are excited about the prospect of being on a book cover.  (You might also want to advertise for them on, etc.  Put up a thorough description of what you’re looking for in looks, as well as the type(s) of books the shoot is for.  And beware!  You might get some creepers this way!  Ask for a close-up and full-body shot, informing them that the photos do not need to be good, just “good enough” to see if they meet your needs.)
    2. Organize your time for the shoot–be well-prepared.  Plan which shots to take (approx.), and which groupings of models to do together.  Be sure to include ideas for solo shots of your narrator/lead, as well as any “couples” shots and group shots of secondary characters.
    3. Book your venue.  Or use your own.  Get creative and put up odd backgrounds, plain sheets over the wall paper in your house/apartment.  Create an environment conducive to your plot and characters.
    4. Inform your models of all the costume(s) pieces they need.  I had an 80s theme going, so I made sure to give them 2-3 weeks notice for obtaining the pieces needed.  Ask them to bring anything additional they have–your other models may need them!  Include everything down to the finest detail: types of pants/skirts, types and colors of shirts, dresses, etc.  Types of shoes, types of jewelry and make-up.  Send pictures for ideas.  Purchase/make or pull out of your closest additional things (including make-up and accessories).
    5. If you are not a photographer yourself, ask a friend who’s decent, even if they are only amateurs, to do the shoot for you.  Good for their portfolio and helpful to you, especially if they’ll do it for free.  Having more than one camera and photographer is even better.  (Editing can do wonders with “not quite pro” shots.)
    6. Find or create a model release form.  This is for your own legal protection, as well as your models’.  Be sure to be specific about whether or not you are paying your models for their time, and the rights you are claiming as the owner of the photos (include that you reserve the right to choose which photos are used on the book covers, press releases and other promotional materials, etc.).  Be sure to include the correct information on your release form for any minors that model for you (in other words, you must have their legal guardians/parents sign, as well as the models themselves).
    7. Ask all models how they would like to be credited where appropriate.
    8. Stick to your projected photo shoot window of time.  If you say three hours, stick to three hours.  Be sure to anticipate for set-up and tear-down times (if using a venue other than your own home).  Get your models to help with both set-up and tear-down, as well as transition while other models are changing costumes for different aspects of the shoot.
    9. Use music to help set the mood.  Unless you have professional models (which, unless you know them personally, are probably going to be very expensive!), the music may very well be needed to help them keep up their characters.  Create your playlist beforehand.
    10. Give thorough descriptions of your characters to your models.
    11. Don’t be afraid to use yourself if some of your models don’t show up!  Though, of course, this is not ideal.  (But notice in the photo below of the group of girls, I am at the drums, but you cannot see my face, so you’d never know it was me.)  Prepare your own costumes in advance, if you are planning a large number of models.  Or two will probably have to cancel at the last-minute.
    12. It is also a good idea to ask more models than are needed to come.  Have secondary or “extra” type character ideas for them in all if the models show up, to ensure their time is not wasted.  Or, better yet, plan 2-4 main covers, with ideas for the alternate models for the 3rd and 4th.  Use the most of your time and theirs.
    13. Be flexible!  Stick to the necessary things (like time-frame and main cover images as your focus), but you may have to use models that don’t precisely fit your characters’ descriptions (I did!).
    14. Speak clearly to your models as they work.  Let them know if you’re creating the sorts of shots you want or not, based upon their acting.  If they need to tweak, give them more information about their characters as their depictions unfold for you.
    15. Most of all, be sure to have fun, and make the environment fun, safe, encouraging and healthy for your models.

Mystic Prose of “Forever My Song” (models, L-R: Olivia Jett, Ashley Bradberry, Rita Juanita Mock, Liz Bruce, Anna Grace Butler)


The Four Jays (models, L-R: Kevin Bradberry, Peter Woerner, David J. Leonard, Jeremy Kuder)