Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Trouble with Greed: Behind the Cover

The Trouble with Greed Book Cover Photoshoot

There is always a challenge to shooting a cover photo—at least one challenge. Sometimes it’s finding a model; sometimes it’s finding a prop. As was the case with this photo, it was finding the right venue.

As I’ve made clear, I know next to nothing about photography. And art—let me just throw that in right now. But I do understand some things can’t be faked. And the whole idea behind my book cover photos is genuineness. It's why we have used real people from the beginning.

When initially doing research for book cover ideas in preparation for making my first book cover, I discovered pretty quickly I did not want a composite image, one constructed from multiple graphic images, tweaked and manipulated through Photoshop. Now, there is a way to do this and make stunning images, and thus stunning book covers. Professional graphic designers do this all the time—for book covers, for movie posters, for album covers. I had to eliminate this as an option because I am not a graphic artist, or an artist of any kind, I did not have access to any of the necessary equipment, and I did not know anyone who could help me. Whatever images I tried to produce this way would look amateurish, and that is the kiss of death for an indie author.

I did know a photographer. Not only did Sabrina take amazing photos (and still does!), she was willing to help me. But in our discussions, one thing we continued to consider was genuineness. What could we do with this real photo we really want to set up and shoot?

In that first photo, we used a real gun. We didn’t edit the background to backfill some fictional background where we’d never been. And this set a precedent for us moving forward.

Where to shoot?

That being true, I knew the cover for book three would be the most difficult so far. We put the bad guys on the covers of the novels. In this novel, the bad guys are a female nurse and a male doctor. We could have taken the nurse and doctor out of their environment, the place where the true story took place, but that wouldn’t have been genuine, and we would have had a harder time conveying a concise and accurate message from the single cover image. So where to shoot?

As many of you know, I have worked in the healthcare industry for nearly fifteen years. Ten of those were spent in the hospital system of Fort Collins, which has since spread to include multiple facilities across Northern Colorado. Last year, I was once again doing work for the emergency department, which includes a free-standing emergency room in Greeley, Colorado.

Originally, this facility was conceptualized as an ER as well as a surgery center. As such, a small section of the building is surgery suites. From working there, I knew the surgeons rarely used the place and that it quite often sat empty. I also knew the suites were not sterile. (The kinds of procedures they perform there don’t require it.)

It was perfect. Not only would it give us the level of genuineness we needed for our image, we wouldn’t be in the way back there. That was one huge obstacle down.

Note: A HUGE thank-you to Adrianna, then manager of the free-standing ER in Greeley, as well as my mom, senior manager of regional emergency services, who helped put me in touch with all the right people and pave the way for this photoshoot.

The models

I’ve mentioned often my friend and the photographer who shoots the cover photos, Sabrina, moved to Texas about two years ago. Before she moved, we shot covers one and two. By then, we’d established a pattern and had learned so much. I couldn’t even imagine working with another photographer on my covers. So Sabrina graciously carved out several hours for us during one of her trips home. And we made good use of the time; we shot the covers for books three and four that night.

With a location secured and photographer in town, it was a matter of lining up all the other details. The principle bad guy in book three is a woman, so for sure I needed a female model. Nancy, my dear friend and cover two model, instantly agreed. I think she even traded shifts to have the night off just so she could be there. She's a true gem.

I also wanted a male model, since my main bad guy is teamed up with a guy in the book. I called Patrick, another friend and the man from cover two, and he also agreed. I told him it would be faster and less boring than the last time, but we both knew I was lying. And he agreed anyway, bless him.

With that, everything came together. And then it became just a matter of getting the right image, which is always the tricky part.

Because we always go for silhouettes, the lighting is always an issue. It takes several tries to get the light right, and this shoot was no exception. 

Here's one of our early photos. This was an experiment for lighting, as well as general spacing and arrangement. That's Patrick and Nancy, all gloved up and ready for mayhem. 

This room presented a few challenges. For one thing, there is a line of windows along the back wall (visible here) that have no covering. (That's one reason the surgeons use this space a lot less. Some of their procedures require darkness, so they can see their monitors. Also, at the right time of day, the sun just beats in there and it's hard to see.) We had to wait until it was naturally dark outside before we could truly begin.

Additionally, all the monitors and equipment have lights on them, so once we got the room dark, a bunch of little green, red, and blue points of light were showing up in our photos.

In this first photo (above), we tried using the exam light. Patrick is silhouetted, but Nancy is pretty well highlighted, as is the bed, where our victim would soon be.

We rearranged the furniture, trying for a better shot. And we added our victim (my mom). Here we're still trying to use the exam light. You can see how it's just too much light. Also, this is a good example of those equipment lights; you can see the green light on that computer on the left.

My mom did not volunteer for this job. She was selected by default. There were six of us there: Nancy and Patrick as models, Sabrina as photographer, me doing lighting and other equipment arrangements, and my mom, supervising along with a woman from the hospital's PR department. I couldn't ask the PR lady to be in the shot; it just felt wrong. Plus, she had stepped out for something. So Mom got suckered in with a, "Just lay down for a minute so we can see what the image will look like with someone in the bed. Just one picture." Of course one picture was all it took to realize we needed someone in the bed--otherwise what were the devious doctor and the greedy nurse doing in this operating room . . . ?

She was there for an hour, maybe longer. Just like Nancy and Patrick wore those horrible masks the whole time. Anyone who's worn one can tell you how uncomfortable they are. The hairnets, the booties, and scrubs--that's all manageable. The masks, that's above and beyond. That's how awesome and dedicated these two are.

One of the reasons Adrianna suggested this room was because of this cool light setting. I'm not sure which procedure they use this green light for, but it is very cool. When you're standing in the room, it's trippy, like psychedelic trippy. So we tried it. As you can see, it's way too much light.

The only special thing about this room is that we were all required to wear booties on our shoes. You can see them on my mom's shoes here. I can't remember why, but there was something about the floor. It was a small concession in order to be able to use this room.

We tried all sorts of things with the lights. Pretty quickly we eliminated the overhead lights, the exam lights, and the cool green light. In the end, we ended up using my shop light, which we've used for every photoshoot now, I think. It takes a very small amount of light to get these photos, and this one was no different.

The shop light on it's own, with the lowest watt bulb I had, was still too bright. As an experiment, Sabrina threw her sweatshirt over the light. (It's covering my mom in the green photo.) It was a salmon color, but it rendered the images red.

So now we were on the right track. The red was unexpected, but it seemed to fit the theme of the book, the gruesomeness of it, so we went with it.

The next question was where to position the light source. These next three photos were essentially the result of us trying to figure out the best placement for it.

You'll also notice all these photos were shot horizontally. It had been a while since we'd done a book cover, so we were a little out of practice. Once we remembered that little detail, we were really cooking with gas. 

Now it was just a matter of positioning. What should each of our bad guys be doing? Here's Nancy working at a bucket on a prep cart while Patrick stands over the victim, his gloved hands together in what we hoped was a menacing fashion. 

But Pat's hands were lost in the monitor behind him, so we gave him something to hold. The face mask on the anesthesia machine, like he was going to put his victim to sleep. There. Much scarier. And easier to make out.

 But do we need Nancy and the cart? What if they were both working on the patient?

Nope. Now there's a big gap in the left side of the image and that's weird. Bring the cart back.

Better. From there, the only question was who should be looking where.


These became the cover finalists:

Both Nancy and Patrick looking down.

Nancy looking up.

 Patrick looking up.

Both of them looking up.

A second version of them both looking down.

I think the one where Nancy is looking at the camera is super creepy. Not sure why she scares me and Patrick doesn't, but dang.

Fun side note

With this third cover, Sabrina noted each photo had it's own color theme. The first one is blue, the second yellow, and the third red. This was an absolutely unplanned, but interesting and fun, coincidence. And it might be something to play with in future covers. 

The cover

Here's the final image for book three:

Both of them looking down. Red, creepy, scary. Perfect.

This is the final cover with the original font and title layout.

This is the final cover, updated in November. All of the covers were updated, and I love the way the turned out. They are sleek, simple, and striking.

It's never a simple undertaking to get a photo for a book cover. The image we use is always one of the last we take. There is no more boring a task than standing around unmoving (which often meant holding their breath!), but once again Nancy and Patrick brought it off like rockstars, like they'd done hundreds of photoshoots and this was just another day in the life. They were amazing! And they look so good!

The whole team was amazing, and this was one of the best shoots we've had. Which was a blessing, because we had to race from this one to the next, where the model for cover four was waiting to meet us.

I cannot thank Nancy, Patrick, Adrianna, my mom, and Sabrina enough. Nancy, there will be a part for you if Zoe Grey ever goes to Hollywood. And Patrick, you sign as many book covers as you can. A special thank-you also to University of Colorado Health for allowing my photo crew and me in to the surgery center to shoot there.

The Trouble with Greed

On Sale Now

Also available in a boxset, which includes the first Zoe Grey novella, Rookie.

Other posts you might like:

Zoe Grey Novella: The Making of the Cover (Coming soon!)

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