Behind the scenes of a book cover shoot: Emma Gannon and Ebury


My friend Emma Gannon (freelance writer, digital consultant, founder of IRL Panel, blogger at Girl Lost in the City, among a whole host of other skills and accolades) has her debut book, Ctrl, Alt, Delete: How I grew up online, coming out this July with Ebury Press. When Emma first made this announcement last year we had an email exchange along the following lines:

Holly: Can I shoot your book cover?

Emma: OMG yes!

Ctrl, Alt, Delete: How I grew up online is out 7th July 2016

In quick succession there was a flurry of emails about inspiration, references images, covers we liked and didn’t, what Emma wanted to portray, what she wanted to avoid etc. It was the kind of conversation you rarely have as a photographer: an emphatic YES and lots of creative ideas flowing instead of a ‘no’ or ‘we’ll get back to you’ and lots of red tape stifling creativity. 

To be fair, it wasn’t *that* easy. Emma did need to discuss with her publisher and they did need to agree to commissioning me but I’ll always remember Emma’s positive attitude and enthusiasm from that initial email exchange. And actually, at that point, Emma and I had only met twice I think! She was very trusting and I’m so glad of that. 

It was a few months before everything was agreed. Business elements such as the usage license, fee and contract (see my last blog post on the business of photography for a more thorough discussion on that topic) needed to be agreed before we started looking into a suitable location to shoot, building up the mood board and locking down the kind of shots we wanted to achieve.

Over the next few months, Emma and I had met a few more times, including a shoot together for Primark so I was really excited to shoot when the day came. It’s hugely important to have a good rapport with your subject and the team on set. It’s part of your role as the photographer to make everyone feel welcome, at ease and valued. I might write a blog post about the importance of leadership for a photographer, let me know in the comments below if you’re interested. On that note, my wonderful assistant Sam was invaluable to this shoot. I can’t stress the importance of a good assistant enough. I’ve only started using assistants for all my shoots over the past year or so and it’s made a big difference to how I do business. Sam was waiting for me outside the studio and took all the equipment out of the cab and after discussing the lighting set up he got to work straight away. This left me free to discuss the plan with the client. 


One important thing I realised quite quickly in my research was that a book cover can’t be shot in the same way as an editorial or a campaign, where you have several images to tell your story. Additionally, the elements of an editorial or campaign such as dramatic locations, high-fashion make up and clothing etc are too distracting for a book cover. Simplicity is key. A book cover needs to be an engaging portrait that has an immediate impact and still tells a story about the pages within.

Emma’s book isn’t released until July so I hadn’t read it by the time the shoot came around but after discussions with Emma and her publisher, Sara, we wanted to convey that the book contained some secrets that Emma was laying bare, for the world to see. We had already established that colour was a really important element as was Emma’s personal style so there were lots of bright, stylish outfits to try throughout the shoot. The lighting set up was simple, I used a 175cm Octa soft box (which is massive!) to give as much soft, flattering light as possible, a little fill light on the side and some black poly boards for contrast. 


We tried lots of different poses and we hit on about 3 different set ups that we really nailed. I didn’t envy the publishers having to choose one image out of the hundreds I sent on the contact sheet. I really love the final image and art work created by Ebury. I’m also delighted some of the other images from the shoot have come to see the light of day through Emma’s podcast and blog. 

After I exclaimed how much I loved Emma's outfit, Sam rather patiently pointed out that it was probably because I was wearing the same ensemble #twinning 

It was such a fun shoot with a lot of laughs and a lot of 80's pop. Here's to Emma's success with this book and I hope to work on her next one too!