You can’t judge a book by its cover.

~ someone less judgy than I.

Well, we can and we do judge books by their covers. Cover art is so important. Just like we eat with our eyes first, we get immersed in a story with our eyes first as well.

At least, most of the time anyway. The only time I don’t pay any attention to the cover on a book is when it’s an author I know darn well I adore. Even then, if the cover is bad, I tend to cringe before cracking it open.

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First, Some Terrible Book Covers

It’s possible Jerry’s only friends are fruit when he has a cover like this.

Eww. I don't even want to touch this book

Nuh uh. Eww. Must go bleach my eyes now. BBR.

Are they scaring us straight or killing us with laughter?

So you can see the need for good quality photography for your book’s cover art.

Whether you’re an indie author designing your own cover art or you’re an author who just needs some good old inspiration, here are the steps I’ve used that gave me high quality covers. This method provides content that I could use in countless ways for advertising and publicizing, and enough gorgeous shots to have my own coffee table book.


How To Plan a Book Cover Photo Shoot

Step One: Find a Photographer

Find yourself a photographer. If you’re lucky, like me, and happen to be close friends with one, you’re golden. They might work for free, or for a pitcher of margaritas.

On our way to a steampunk photo shoot

No margaritas were harmed in the making of this steampunk shoot.

If you’re not pals with any professional photographers, start looking around at the ones for hire in your area. Familiarize yourself with the look and “feel” of their work.

Genre & Style

Is your novel fantasy? You’ll want someone who is dreamy, artistic, creative, and not afraid to think outside the box (and probably good at photoshop, since your demands of unicorns and/or dragons may not be available in real life).

Do you write YA? Look for someone who shoots a lot of high school senior pictures. Not only do they know the ins and outs of teenagers (that sounded so much more awkward than I meant it to. Chalk it up to body watchin’ is fun!), they might be able to suggest a model for your shoot.

Looking for scenery? Maybe you don’t even want a person in your cover. In that case, look for a wildlife or landscape photographer.


Photographers come in all shapes and sizes, as far as what they charge. If your budget is nearly nonexistent, don’t despair. A newbie photographer or a student may still be willing to work with you, either for free or next to nothing. After all, their work is going to be on the cover of a book. That alone might be enough to entice someone.

Also, publicize them as often as you can, including in your acknowledgments in your inside cover, and during your use of their photos in social media and advertising.

If you can’t find anyone willing to work for peanuts, set aside as much as you can until you can afford a photo shoot. After all, we do them for Christmas cards, family portraits, new babies, etc! Your book is no different and deserves some special attention.

Plus, a harried photographer who just shot her upteenth cranky baby or stressful Bridezilla wedding, may love the chance to do something completely different. She may beg you to be the one to shoot your vampire cover.

Book Cover Art Photography

Tired of wedding veils, my photographer jumped at a chance to use some steampunk goggles instead.

Step Two: Find a Model

Just like finding your photographer, a model can be someone you hire (go to a modeling agency), a personal friend, some stranger you saw at the mall who looks exactly like your hero/heroine, or someone your photographer uses often and suggests.

In both my photo shoots for two different novels, I used two teenage girls I knew vaguely from church. Both were thrilled to be a part of something, and to be on the cover of a novel. They did it for both the portfolio of professional shots, provided to them free, and for the experience. Plus a lifetime supply of paperbacks.

Get a model by using the photos as their senior portraits

She had the best senior portrait of all of her friends when we were done.

How to plan a book cover photo shoot

Too cool for school.

Keep it legal

Especially if you are using an underage model, but really with anyone, type up a contract and have them (or their legal guardian) sign it.

Make sure they understand that you will using their likeness in the cover of a book, as part of your social media publicity, and the like. Be specific about how you plan to use them. These photos will yours just as much as theirs to do with what you see fit (obviously within reason).

I didn’t do this the first time around and learned my lesson, when my underage model’s dad got a little weirded out with his daughter being on the interwebs. After approving some shots, and not others, we came to an agreement and wrote up a contract together.

Keep it profesh

Helpful hint from me to you: when approaching a potential model, be professional. Have a business card, look the part, act the part.

In other words, don’t be a creepy weirdo who pulls up in a paneled van to a strange girl trying to cross the street and proposition her.

Creepy Hogwarts Express Van

Not how to do it.



Gather props and costumes. Depending on the lavish ideas of the cover in your head, this will be as simple or as complicated as you like.

Haunt the thrift shops, yard sales, raid your friend’s closets. Ask around at theaters or dance studios. They might let you use their costumes or props if you simply give them a shout-out in your acknowledgments, or in your social media hashtags.

Cover art photo session for book

My heroine, Sonnet Gray, plays the guitar. Easy prop I had at home, gathering dust and collecting the tears of a frustrated musician.

Steampunk Nutcracker Cover Art

Steampunk was a little harder. Yet, believe it or not, I knew someone who knew someone who actually makes steampunk accessories for a living. I had been briefly introduced to them a party. They were kind enough to let me borrow their amazing goggles, corsets, and gloves. I love you, Leather Mystics!

Steampunk Book Cover - Photo Session

The dress is a costume from a local ballet studio, safety-pinned up so you could see her scuffed-up black boots, and covered with a leather corset.

Step Four: SETTING

Find your location. If you absolutely have to have a castle, you may (or may not) be up a moat without a paddle, but if all you need is apple tree, a meadow in spring, a dilapidated barn, or a rainy street, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find your perfect setting.

For one of my shoots, we used an old cemetery. The ambiance for a ghost/historical mystery was just right.

Cemeteries in fall. My favorite setting. If you cut me open, I would bleed cemeteries in fall. Is that weird?

Steampunk photo shoot for book cover

Train tracks.

For my steampunk novel, we went to a few different locations: some old train tracks complete with some abandoned rail cars (and miscellaneous leftovers from some squatters. Yuck.), a local park, and downtown, where they had some great looking lamp posts.

Don’t rule out your town’s architecture: places like historic homes, libraries, storefronts, working farms, a great front porch, cemeteries, parks, lakes, rivers, log cabins, falling down farmhouses, hiking spots, cafes … the list could be endless.

And of course, always always always get permission to shoot wherever you are if it isn’t public property.

Plan your book cover art photo session

We had fun playing on this railroad car.

Book Cover Photography Ideas

She was game for anything.

Steampunk dress on a train

We had to remove a pair of undies and a syringe first. Good times … good times.

Step Five: Find the Inspired Shot

Have fun sorting through your photos. You should have lots to choose from. If you’re only using your photo shoot as inspiration, you’re done!

Book Cover Photo Art

When the photographer put this ginormous bouquet on our model’s head I was a little skeptical. But the finished shot was gorgeous!

Graveyard photo session to inspire book cover art

Fuzzy gravestones in the background. Lurve it.

Book Cover Photo Shoot

Boho chic. This scarf was completely ruined from all the sticker bushes. It was worth it.

Sonnet Gray from Shadows Lost

In my story, Sonnet is a time traveler. She can’t pack luggage, but it was the idea of it that I loved. The boots and floppy hat? Just right.

Book photo art for cover

In one of my other books, my heroine, Ree, has a white stripe in her red hair from a science experiment gone wrong. (Clip in from Sally’s Beauty Supply.)

Steampunk Book Photography Cover Art

Love the lighting and shadows in this one. And those goggles!

If you’re using your favorite photo as cover art fodder, move onto….

Step Six

Picking your photo. It’s the one, the winner, the wham bam thank you ma’am, apple of your eye. All it needs is some careful font, a well-placed title, your name, a blurb, etc. Here’s where you put your design education to good use!

Or be like me, and hire someone.

And there you have it! A cover that is completely and totally original, and exactly the way you pictured it (maybe better).

Shadows Lost

Shadows Lost

The original that I completely and madly fell in love with.

Shadows Lost - Final Book Cover

The final cover.

Once Upon a Winter

Steampunk Book Cover Art Original Photo

The one we went with for Once Upon A Winter …

Once Upon a Winter by Melyssa Williams

The final cover.

Conclusion: writing a book is hard work, but there are perks here and there. Planning a photo shoot is definitely one! Seeing your vision come to life through the camera lens is a well-earned reward, and a great investment.

Are you inspired yet?


How to do a photo session for your book cover art