This is a common scenario for me: “You do photography, don’t you? Could you help me make an album jacket?”, says X. Y pulls out his camera, responding “Ok, no problem, how about this?” , lettering is inserted and it is printed, with the results six of one and half-dozen the other. Yet without a cover, the record cannot be distributed and since commissioning a pro to do it is expensive, you end up thinking: I need some tips to make professional looking covers worthy of sending to Indy artists. Over the next several installments, I’d like to discuss this and the related issue of “over-taking photos”
Album photos are square format
What is the difference between album cover photography and regular photography? We are not used to taking square format photos, so taking photos with this aim in mind is more difficult done than said. Reducing error requires leaving a lot of empty space around the photographic subject. For example, when taking horizontal format shots, you trim left and right, which means you have to consider the upper and lower balance in the composition. You should leave enough space so that you can cut the photo down 10 to 20 percent from top and bottom. Because the digital camera yesterday was high resolution, even if it was a little small relative to the frame, if it is jacket-sized, this reduces the potential of problems arising.
You need empty space for lettering.
It goes without saying, but the place many photos fail is at the stage of entering the lettering. Album cover photography is essentially advertising, so there are definitely things that need to be communicated. In addition, the people that come into contact with the photos are average people without a lot of depth of knowledge. On the artist’s side of things, his/her face is essentially used to sell the record, but if the song name and the name of the artist don’t stand out, there is no point. In other words, you can’t do it with the attitude of, “..as long as the artist’s face looks good, it’ll all work out.”
It is a good idea to give some consideration to the color of the lettering and where to place it, etc., beforehand, deciding “this would be good for the artist jacket,” etc. For various reasons, though, things don’t go as expected. Nevertheless, since many ideas come to mind as you are taking photos, it is not necessary to make firm decisions, a “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there” approach is fine.
How large the photographic subject should be inside the frame is also a large factor for the artist. What about the face, bust shot? Or even full body shot for a different impression? For full body shots, the advantage of there being a lot of white space that can be used for lettering, the difficulty being what to use for the empty space. Though difficult budget-wise, if you take it in the studio, you don’t have to worry about the background. If you take it at home or in the neighborhood, though, you still have some space for the bust shot.
The only thing we have to prepare is a reflector board.
When you get to the actual shooting stage, it is assumed the frame and clothes are decided beforehand…so the only thing you actually need to prepare whether shooting inside or outside, is a reflector board. You are likely thinking, reflector board – that has to be pro equipment, and they’re expensive. Good news is you don’t need to fuss that much, you can just buy two A3-sized styrene boards at 100-yen shops and tape the long edges together with duct tape as you would a book.
Reflector boards have various purposes, however removing the shadow below the neck is the main aim. Use it by opening it in front of the chest and holding it there. Though you can’t expect it to erase everything, it can reduce the shadow significantly.
When the shadow below the chin is too persistent (because of the strength or angle of sun’s rays, for example), you need to change your approach remembering that that area actually doesn’t need to be taken. Taking from directly above hides the area below the chin.
JPG’s in portrait mode
Assuming you are not a pro doing imaging and retouching and adjusting various settings, the best approach is taking the largest jpg size in portrait mode and letting the camera take care of the fine settings. If you want to concern yourself about ISO, the upper limit is around 800 and the lower, 100. If you are not up to scratch on this technique, you can also use fully automatic mode. Though usually when doing photos for someone, taking good photos is the priority, so you leave it up to the camera. Lately even entry- to middle- level JPG output is fully automatic and gives you good results for appearance and the tone is also automatically adjusted.
One more thing, using automatic settings to a certain degree ensures you can press the shutter without fussing over fine settings. In other words, the time until the shutter is pressed is reduced. With more leeway in terms of time, ideas come to your head easier, implying of course is that you can try a larger number of poses and framing. This is helpful because you need to a certain extent be able to be in “mass production” mode.
With the photo framing ideas, the reflector boards from the 100 yen shop in place, and with the camera in portrait mode, we are ready for the actual shoot. Next time, I will discuss the issues to consider for the actual shoot.
※ Manfrotto’s sister company, Lastolite offers a broad selection of reflectors that help control light and shadows.
Kei has an interesting background. He started as a graphic designer, then worked as a software engineer and finally a photographer. He has ample background in retouching. He also has experience in making album covers for indy artists. “over-taking photos” and “picture taker is different from photographer” are his pet theories.
His main photographs are of women and cats (apparently he does others as well).
Today’s model was Yurika, who a recently emerged artist. Her debut song is Heartbeat available on iTunes is receiving favorable reviews.