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5 Things I Learned Shooting a Book Cover

It was a hot week in late July when I was informed that we needed to do a photo shoot for my book “Girl Hunter.” I was informed that it was urgent and that we needed a photo of me yesterday or else.

I was in New York at the time preparing to leave for Austin, my new home. Who did I want to have shoot the cover? Where would I like to shoot it? What was I going to wear? Who is doing my hair and makeup? These were the questions I was asked in a flurry of emails and phone calls.

I started to sweat.

Because if there’s one thing my friends and family know about me it is that I prefer to wear the same thing every day, save for the occasions when I have to go out in public at which point I put on something else and immediately cast it off as soon as I get home. Seriously, there’s a nicely pressed shirt and pants lying on the floor next to me right now. I’m back in my every day uniform after a little public outing this morning.

I wear these rubber shoes with paint splattered on them in the summer. (The paint is from painting my grandmother’s walls and I like it). In the winter I usually wear a pair of Tom’s. Or my red cowboy boots.

And then there was the other matter of where on earth to photograph this thing. Since it was summer, it meant that the terrain in Texas was going to be all beige since not only is it hot but there was a long-term drought. Which left me with New York. And I only had a week before my plane was leaving.

Panic set in again.

My dad had a picture on the wall of his office that he took while driving through the Hudson Valley one day. As I rushed around the house at Tulipwood pacing and huffing and puffing I saw it and inquired and he said it was about an hour away and that he thought it was part of the New York Historical Society.

“Go knock on their door, I bet they’re open on Saturday for tourists,” he said.

So I put the pedal to the metal and pin pointed this location on a map and drove there on Saturday late morning. The field was next to a grand stone mansion from the 1800’s and so I drove up the grand pebbled driveway and marched up to the door which was wide open inviting me in along with the other tourists of the Hudson Valley.

“Helloooo?” I said from the entrance.

A lovely older woman said from somewhere far away… “Yes, come in!”

So I walked in and began to notice how lived in this museum looked. There were bananas on the kitchen counter and a whole set of plates and glasses. And then the lady behind the voice came from another room and just smiled at me curiously.

“Is this the New York Historical society?” I asked eagerly.

“Oh, that’s down the road,” she said, “It’s called the Elephant Hotel.”

Then it set in. “Is this your house?!” I exclaimed.

“Oh yes it is,” she said totally unconcerned that I had just walked right in.

So then I went on to explain that I was a writer and needed to take a photo of myself in a field most urgently and was wondering if I could possibly use her field Wednesday morning bright and early, pretty please with a cherry on top.

“Oh please do,” she said.

Then she proceeded to give me a tour of her amazing mansion with its 25 foot ceilings that she restored with impeccable detail. She even had a picture on the wall of the two people who built and owned it in 1870.

This is the barn outside her house.

This is the other side of it.

This is a swing hanging from a big beautiful tree. If I lived there I would swing on it every day.

And this was the beautiful field bursting with wild flowers.

And so with lovely Mrs. B’s permission, the photographer crew, a makeup man and I arrived early on a Wednesday morning and proceeded with a ten hour photo shoot.

There were hundreds if not thousands of photos to go through in the end, but there are some important lessons that I learned amidst all of the panic. Here they are, in case you ever have to plan this sort of thing:

1. Do your photographer research. I went through dozens of portfolios that were recommended to me and narrowed it down to about 3 people.

2. Before you officially hire a photographer, have a phone conversation with them and ask them about their method, their process, how they envision the day going, etc. If you can meet them in person even better so that you can establish a rapport before you have to shoot together. The best photographers are able to get the best out of their subject by creating a rapport and keeping a good energy at the shoot.

3. Have a really clear budget. Define with the powers that be how much will be allocated for wardrobe, makeup, photographer, location, etc. Make sure that is clearly defined in writing and presented to the photographers that are being considered to see if it is something they can make work. Some photographers work on much bigger budgets because their style requires complicated lighting set ups that are expensive to rent, along with multiple assistants to operate them.

4. Have someone there just for you. Whether it’s a friend you trust, a family member whose opinion you respect, or an art director in charge of this project, have someone there to direct you and who shares your vision. It’s a good idea to get constant feedback during this type of thing because you lose perspective after a few hours.

5. Know yourself and what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you’re not great at styling yourself, require a wardrobe stylist and don’t negotiate! I spent hours at the mall trying on 2.3 million shirts and texting people pictures from the dressing room. It wasn’t pretty. And if you’re not good at driving around and finding locations, require a location scout. It sounds dramatic but it makes a world of difference on how you come across in the final picture.

I’m going to do the big final book cover reveal next week… but I thought I’d show you what we didn’t choose for a book cover first.

We didn’t choose…

“Fierce Girl Walking in the Field”

We didn’t choose…

“Amused Girl Walking in the Woods”

We didn’t choose…

“Quizzical Girl on Her Way to Cook Some Dinner”

We didn’t choose…

“Means Business Girl in the Red Boots”

I’ll reveal the big news on Monday but I want to share one last thing that is the best part of all of this…

I made a new friend.

Mrs. B called me a few weeks after the photo shoot and said it was a beautiful day at her house and wanted to know if I wanted to go for a walk with her. So this weekend, I’m going to upstate New York and I’m going to go for a walk with Mrs. B.

The End.

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