Composition for book design

When book author Sarah Virág commissioned a set of headshots for her new book, I had no idea how her book designer would use them. In addition, her web designers would also use the images online, and they would be looking for something different. All I knew was that designer-friendly composition was key.

Sarah is a confidence coach and writer. Her book and coaching business focus on helping people to have more confidence and live their lives to the full.

Positive attributes

Her portraits needed to make her look amazing, confident and professional but also friendly, happy and approachable. That’s due to the nature of the industry she’s in, but, to be honest, the majority of our clients want their portraits to reflect these kind of attributes. It’s very rare that clients ever want to come across as nervous or unfriendly!

On top of these standard considerations, however, was a more specific brief: the portraits needed to work well on a book cover as well as for more typical business uses.

Account for unknown future uses

When – as in this case – you don’t know the final layout that your images need to fit into, shoot with variety in mind. This gives designers the most wiggle room now, and also future-proofs your photographs for other needs your client may have later on.

At Sarah’s shoot we did everything from this outdoor image to low-key and high-key studio ones; full lengths and three quarter lengths; bust shots (like this one) and close-ups. This is good practice for any shoot, as the variety will add difference to your individual portraits and therefore help you sell more of them.

However, it can be harder in practice, as there are so many things to consider during a shoot: lighting, camera settings, posing and interaction with your subject, to name a few. But it’s worth keeping either a mental or written checklist, or at least pause for a few minutes so you can flick through what you’ve captured so far and identify any gaps. Don’t be the photographer who waits until the shoot is over and the images are loaded on to the computer only to instantly realise that you haven’t got any full length portraits, or that your subject is incredibly close to the edges of the frame in all of your images.

Leave space in your compositions

One other tip is to shoot wide and loose. It’s much easier to crop an image than it is to add extra pixels in afterwards. In this shot, I’ve positioned Sarah according to the rule of thirds, with her face at one of the key intersections. The ‘negative space‘ to the left of the image could be overlaid with titles and text in a magazine editorial. It could be cropped out for a social media profile pic. Or – as here – it can be used to wrap around to the back of the book, too.

This particular image works well because the lighting on Sarah is pretty good, her expression is great, and the colours are lovely. The out-of-focus florals in the background compliment the tones in Sarah’s outfit beautifully – it’s almost like I thought it through!