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How to find a photographer for your eBook cover image

Why does an author need to know how to find a photographer?

You judge a book by its cover. You know you do.

As a self-published author, you can find some clip art and pray not to get the same raven-haired beauty as everyone else.

Or, you can have some fun with it, do a photo shoot with unique images not just for your cover, but as promo materials.

Why I went with live models and a photographer

My love of cinema demands that I go with live model images.

To feed that itch, I recruited a team to create the images for a revitalized “Shadowdance” saga. That team included the following:

  • A photographer
  • A makeup artist/ hairstylist
  • Models

In searching for an illustrator, I found that I’d pay upwards of $250 for a single image.

In searching for the trinity above, I found that between them I’d pay around $600-$1000. But here’s the catch: I could get multiple images from a live shoot.


(Full disclosure: I have subsequently used clip art for some things, and it looks exactly like clip art. I fully intend to get me some unique models as time and my wallet allow.)

How to find a photographer – pro vs. amateur

Harry Wilkins setting up for my “Shadowdance” photo shoot back in 2016.

It’s a temptation to use your phone to capture your images. Then your promo work will look like Instagram posts.

That’s great for social media; not so great for the banner above your convention table or the web ad on Goodreads. People already think self-publishing is all ego and amateur; don’t perpetuate that idea by having amateur images.

This doesn’t mean you have to go with an expensive pro shooter (but if you can afford it, do it!).

Keep in mind, though, pros have the experience. They can get you locations or studio space at a reduced rate (or maybe even free!). They know models, makeup artists, hairstylists and other networked contacts that will make your life easier.

When talking to the pros, always share your concept of the book and your desired images. That expensive pro shooter may love the concept and work a deal for a lower rate or some other quid pro quo just to be a part of the team.

If your budget won’t allow for the pro shooter, ask around.

You may have a friend, colleague or familiar who loves photography, has an eye for it, and is willing to work with you on a low-to-no budget basis.

You may even get lucky and find someone who is a pro shooter, moonlights in another field and is dying to get back in the photography game.

They may even — gasp! — shoot for free!

Never know until you ask.

Keep in mind that an amateur probably won’t have the insider access to models, studios etc. that a pro would. This means more work on your end.

If you’re really stumped, try searching Model Mayhem for photographers. I’ll have more on that site in the “finding a model” discussion next week.

What to look for in a photographer

The first thing you need to see from a photographer is their portfolio. Most photogs worth their effort have a website with their images on display.

Portrait and wedding work can elicit some interesting images, but it’s the world of fashion that really lets a photographer bust out his inner Da Vinci.

When looking at the photographer’s work, see if their style matches the world of your book. You spent all that time laboring on that world; don’t dishonor that work by misrepresenting it in your promo images.

How to secure your photographer

how to find a photographer shoot
Model Dani Christina Miller and photographer Harry Wilkins at work.

Once you’ve decided on a photographer, you have to negotiate the deal.

Pro shooters will have a set rate, usually hourly with a minimum number of hours or a flat day rate.

If you’re shooting a single model with minimal clothing changes, you can probably get away with a half day, which most people hold to four or five hours.

Decide on the half/ full day thing at the outset. Whatever you decide, that time will ripple to the other players in your shoot.

Be prepared to pay a percentage of your fee up front to book the photographer. This is a standard “good faith” practice that shows you’re serious about the job. Don’t offer to pay a percentage. Only do so when asked and if reasonable.

If the photographer demands the whole nut up front, I’d be wary. This shooter had better be either a good friend or “Vanity Fair” worthy.

Once you’ve worked out payment with the photographer, book your date for the shoot. Book an alternate day as well, in case of, particularly if you’re planning for an outdoor shoot. And then, before any contracts are signed, figure out the legal stuff.

The Legal Stuff… so GET A LAWYER!

NOTE: I am NOT a lawyer and what follows is not binding legal advice. It’s just a snapshot of what to look for.


Entertainment lawyers usually give an hour free, or, even if you have to pay, the $250 or so they charge is a LOT better than the thousands you could lose later.

Legal stuff for photographers

Some photographers will then have you sign some form of contract.

Don’t be afraid; this is actually a very good thing as it defines the terms of the shoot, protecting both you and the photographer. If the photographer doesn’t have a contract for you, you should have one for them.

A standard contract will note the following:

  • the intended day of the shoot
  • the hours of the shoot
  • the photographer’s rate
  • what happens if things go over time
  • define how the client (you) and the photographer can use the photos generated at the shoot

Your best bet is to get exclusive commercial rights to the images.

Allow the photographer to use the images for their portfolio, but they can’t go selling the images without your permission.

Conversely, some photographers may want to maintain copyright and then “lease” the pictures to you.

This is a deal breaker.

You want to use them wherever and whenever not be beholden to someone else.

I know that’s a lot to think about for someone who just wants to be a desk jockey and write about fantasy worlds.

Filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles
Filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles

But as the great Negro prophet, Melvin Van Peebles said (paraphrasing), “This is not show ART it’s show BUSINESS.”

Hey; I pulled off a photoshoot that resulted in the covers of my “Shadowdance” saga books “By Virtue Fall,” “For Her Sins,” and “Fall to Grace.” You can do it too.

Next week, we’ll look at how to find a model for your photoshoot.

Have questions? Comments? War stories? Post them in the comment section below or post to @Shadowdancesaga on Twitter or Facebook.

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