Cover photos: a mix of frustration and satisfaction

Author: Rob Brown
Published: May 20, 2021
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Getting good photos to include in our magazine is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. There’s something about a great photo that not only excites me, but I also hope it creates a sense of interest in our readers and lets them enjoy our articles just that extra little bit. And an exceptional photo may pull in a few new readers from time to time, too.

First of all, let me get this out of the way. I don’t think we’re going to compete with National Geographic or Condé Nast when it comes to our photography. We’re not in the “artful woodworking photography” business. We mainly use images to relay a woodworking technique or show a nice completed project on our pages. Having said that, a strong image is simply a joy to see, so I try to do my best to run the best images possible on our pages.

The Final Cover
This photo, along with these sell lines and supporting images in the “skybar,” made up our final cover. The darkness outside the shop helps keep the interior of the shop that much more powerful. Probably half of the photo is of the exterior of my shop, which gives us a nice background for running phrases to showcase the different articles in the issue.

Mag cover

Starting Point
These two photos were a part of the first batch of shots I (very quickly) took with my smartphone. I shot them during the day, they were slightly out of focus and I didn’t stage them much at all. The team didn’t like the shot of me at my workbench, as they thought the view through the narrow door made the image a bit too claustrophobic. Neither are great shots, but they helped get the discussion rolling.

Getting Closer
This image from the second shoot is at late dusk, and is composed a bit more carefully. The focal point (me working inside the shop) is small, and it didn’t quite have the impact we were looking for.

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A Bit Boring
Also from the second shoot, this image shows the action inside my shop a lot tighter, but the straight-on view is fairly dull. The lack of anything even vaguely exciting on the rear wall is also not helping this boring photo’s chances.

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A Bit Creepy
While working on the second round I thought a shot through an older glazed window might be interesting. It was, but mainly in the horror film genre way. Our art director mentioned how it reminded him of the way Brian de Palma directed his horror-suspense films. This wasn’t the feel we were after.

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Almost There
In my third photo shoot, I got a lot more serious with composition, staging and lighting. I find in this image I’m a bit too passive, as I check on a freshly routed piece of wood.

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We Have a Winner
Rather than just stand there and look at some wood, I opted to don some PPE and pretend to make some sawdust. I like to see action on a cover, so that’s why I voted for this shot. It also has a more dynamic composition with an off-center focal point, and a good mix of high and low lights. There was some question about the use of a mask in the shot, as we wondered out loud whether readers would be tired of seeing masks well over a year into a pandemic, and might also unconsciously relate a negative thought with seeing one here. My thought was that seeing woodworkers wear PPE should be a comforting thought, rather than off-putting.

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All Done, Thankfully
What started out as a simple project, turned into a slog, but it’s finally complete. Well, just about. I still have to apply a finish to the deck once the boards dry out a bit.

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