The anatomy of a photobook cover

I posted a draft of my photobook cover to the Discuss forum for comment and request for input from a graphic design perspective. No graphic design input at the time of writing this, but some willing suggestions from other students that were much appreciated (link here).

Original draft cover not quite hitting the spot for me. Photograph, Andrew Fitzgibbon.

The element I was struggling with was the placement of my name – disconnected from the rest of the title and a little lost in the sky. One suggestion was to use the dark bridge, which helped with visibility but not with my feeling of disconnection.

I made an online study of photobook covers (including Dewilewis’s back catalogue – and noted the following for photobooks that feature photographs on their covers:

  • Monochrome is more straightforward as there are more options for placing text that will stand out from the image, including the use of colour text.
  • Some books have images inset, which allows for a large border for placement of text. Importantly, the original aspect of the photograph can also be retained – this is a factor for my ebook cover, which is 16:9 for screen viewing, versus my native photo aspect ratio of 3:2 (or approx 16:10.6). Perhaps that is why I read these kind of covers as more photographic in form, rather than graphic design driven.
  • Some books have no text at all – possibly for famous photographers who’s work needs no introduction?
  • The covers featuring full-bleed colour photography that worked well for me were the ones where the text had been designed along with the image, creating a whole image/text. This invariably mean text placement over areas of a selected cover image that would allow the text to stand in contrast to the image. Some designs featured text that was coloured to fit with the image – a quieter effect than heavily contrasted white or red text for example. However, full-bleed is not attractive in my context of the difference in aspect ratios between screen and photo.
  • The movement of the eye across the page is affected by the arrangement of image and text. In western culture we are used to reading from left to right and also generally spend more time looking at text than images (since it very clearly needs to be decoded). Looking at various book covers, I notice the text is either placed centre (ie neutrally balanced) or to the right so the left-centre image has priority in reading. Where text is place to the left, unless it is lightweight, it tends to dominate the viewing and almost put a break on looking at the image.

Using these observations, I tried various new layouts and arrived at the cover below. I’ve now used a border all around to maintain the photo’s aspect ratio and placed the text to the right, vertically as this better fits the available margin space. I’ve retained the original font/colours for the heading but reversed the direction so it flows from top to bottom (taking the eye off the page to the next page). I’ve added my name under the header text so it is connected and differentiated it with a different colour (picked from the image’s sky).

I’m much happier with this but I’m sure others will have their own perspectives!

Or maybe this way around?

9 thoughts on “The anatomy of a photobook cover”

  1. Text on the left for me, definitely. Otherwise I’d try to open the book backwards. I think it works better with your name by the title too.

    1. Hehe, this is already dividing my household. It will be an ebook so there’s no opening. But I prefer text right – read image first and then scan back after reaching the text. I tend to get fixed on the text when left. I want the image to take priority. I do wonder if this is one that is going to be divisive. Hope others find their way to comment!

  2. I’m with Kate on this – text on the left. When I look at the one with the text on the right my eye stops on the image and doesn’t move on to the text. There is a fading that is happening between image and text, which the viewer might discount. I’d be flipping the page without even realising the name of the book. Whereas if the text is on the left I read the text first, and the fade takes me through to something solid and concrete (your image). Am I making any sense :-)?

    1. I wonder it there’s a male / female spacial difference here – my wife is with you but my sons (unprompted) are with me. I do have a later version with txt on RHS but flipped up the other way. My wife is happy with that – will be interesting to see if your views change or soften 🙂

  3. Text on the right is quite nice but it needs to be readable from the right not the left. I.e. Keep the orientation as for the text on the left.

    1. Hehe – that has been done since this post. Also moved the author info to the outside which creates a nice flow toward lightness.

  4. Radical idea – did you try cropping the image to more panorama, full bleed across the book with the title across the top (against the grey band)?
    Otherwise I like the text on the left (and maybe on the right but the other way round)

    1. Hi Jane. Yes had a go at that. Part of the issue with cropping is that is destroys the composition of the photo, which I feel is important in a photo book. What I haven’t tried is letting go of the 16:9 format (a choice to optimise screen viewing) and using something more photographic. It would of course leave empty space on the screen but maybe it would remove some of they layout challenges!

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