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Turbulence 1 cover art deconstructed

I've been itching to share some Photoshop and cover art tidbits, and decided to start with Turbulence. I'll include thumbnail images in the post, and you can click any you want to enlarge.

I found my pilot and I found my aircraft for the cover, but they would look atrocious together if I just put them on the cover as-is.
The model is definitely my protagonist, but his lighting is all wrong and his red shirt is distracting. This plane looks awesome, I adore the perspective and sense of drama, but it's too bad it's monochromatic. I have other images of planes with color. I decide maybe I can make the plane image look less monochromatic with some painting and effects.

The first thing I did was pull Paul (that's my protagonist's name) into some software by OnOne called PhotoTools, and because I'm so organized, I even wrote myself a note as to which filters I used, because chances are I'll want to use more photos from this very brightly lit shoot in the future. My note to self says, "layer has OnOne "just enough darkness" and "golden haze??" applied so he looks less marzipan." This is the first time I've used the Photoshop note tool in years.

So, here he is extracted from his background, with those two filters applied. I like the midtones in his face a lot better now. And he looks less marzipan.

Unfortunately, even with my darkening, his edges are still not wonderful when he's composited with the background. It's not the fault of my selection either. The selection is pretty good. It's that the way the original shot is lit, his edges are just very bright. On the left you can see the edge of his hair looking too bright.

My solution is to create an adjustment layer to make him really, really dark, but to mask that adjustment layer so it only affects his edges. Here is the mask, and also his hair blending better with his background. Edges are really fussy, and I think the reason why most bad Photoshop compositing looks bad is that the designer doesn't understand how to handle edges.

Moving on...gotta do something about that red shirt because it doesn't look very pilot-like to me at all, plus it will draw the eye down to the lower left hand corner of the cover.

It's easy enough to make an adjustment layer to desaturate it and brighten it so it looks like a medium bluish green-gray shirt. I decide that's fairly pilot-like.

I also add some First Officer's wings, and a shadow over those so they don't look stuck-on.

Then I begin adding some greenish gradient overlays to the entire composition and decide I like the way the overlays greenify the shirt. It seems to be pulling the composition together in a way that makes the Paul layer work with the airplane layer (which, you will recall, is too blue and monochromatic, so I've still got to deal with that....

It's time for lighting effects (right), probably my favorite thing in the world lately. The effects on the Into the Bermuda Triangle cover feature a large flare behind the title. I got that from a stock art site...I collect abstract elements that catch my eye. It's also got some bokeh, which are the round, hazy dot-things that look like ghost orbs. I painted those with a paintbrush set to a green I picked up inside the composition to start unifying things. I'm not so great with Photoshop paintbrushes quite yet. I plan on exploring them more this year. I also noticed that I was really loving some of the oranges and peaches in the flare, so I picked those up and painted the orange bokeh in the upper right.

What's awesome about incorporating oranges and peach tones was that it gave the illusion of color to my overly-monochromatic jet photo. Yay! I also picked up the peach tones in my lettering.

I could have used a preset style on my typography, but I find they always look wrong to me. Canned. This particular effect on my last name is only three styles: a gradient overlay, an inner glow, and a soft drop shadow to make it stand out from the airplane layer. There's a kickass course at Lynda.com by Nigel French on using layer effects if you want to be an effect ninja.

And now, here's my final cover, with unifying color effects applied and typography in place.

Watch out for Turbulence 1: Into the Bermuda Triangle officially being released with my May newsletter!


May. 13th, 2012 10:05 pm (UTC)
I love having cover designs deconstructed, especially when your original elements have such challenges. Great solution! Hope you'll do more of these kinds of postings.
May. 13th, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
I would like to...but, man, it took a lot more out of me than I expected! (I think I need to go lie down now, ha ha!) I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
May. 13th, 2012 10:44 pm (UTC)
Love your covers and seeing how you do it very informative. If only I could retain that information. I just open my Photoshop and go 'hmm what did Jordan do?' And I scratch my head and marvel at the blank that is my brain when it comes to this stuff.
Love the cover and love the story :o)
May. 13th, 2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
When I worked at a T-shirt shop in the late 90's I used to stay after work and watch the VP work in Photoshop, and he would explain to me what he was doing and why. I think some things are a lot easier to learn hands-on, with a mentor like I did, or in a classroom.
May. 13th, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
I agree, somethings are easier with a teacher. I learned what I know about PS without a manual or an instructor, just hands on.
Amanda Corlies
May. 14th, 2012 04:20 am (UTC)
I got thrown to the wolves and had to figure out photo shop for my internship at the art museum. Though, I still don't know half of what I can do with it. But, I definitely agree, I learned more hands on than I ever would have it someone tried to explain it. Thanks for the deconstruction. Very helpful information. I'll say it again. I love your covers, Jordan. They are fantastic.
May. 14th, 2012 09:56 am (UTC)
Needing to use a program in a work capacity will definitely motivate someone! I think training doesn't sink in until we see how we might use it.
May. 14th, 2012 08:41 am (UTC)
From call centre drone to pilot in...well. quite a few not very easy steps! Fascinating stuff. It's so interesting to see how an artist takes the basic images and puts them together. I never get tired of looking at the high resolution versions of my covers to see all the details and layers the artist puts in there.
May. 14th, 2012 09:57 am (UTC)
I was relieved when I realized I didn't need an image of an actual "pilot" to make my guy read as a pilot. The pilots were too beefy, middle-aged and smiley. I wanted someone pretty and a little neurotic.
May. 14th, 2012 04:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this is the difference between a good cover art, and one that looks like an unintentional collage. The color palette of the guy and the background is the same too, making them look like they belong together.

It's nice to have all these adjustment layers, layer masks, and layer styles these day. Back when I started with didn't even have layers. (And we did our design uphill in the snow both ways. :P)
May. 14th, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
HAHA! I used to work a stat camera, talk about uphill in the snow barefoot.

The guy I learned from did a lot of work in channels because color separations were a big deal in screenprinting. I guess that was good because I learned how to do color separations for 2-color offset jobs, which I then had to do for several years at my low-budget design job.

Channels are still weird. But I'm learning to check the black channel in a CMYK job for hidden surprises before I order a proof.
May. 14th, 2012 05:30 pm (UTC)
Channels can also be useful when converting an image from color to grayscale. I use that a lot when making custom brushes.

I've never did print, but I did web since the days of web-safe colors, and saw those limitations go away little by little. Then started them all over with mobile.
May. 14th, 2012 07:42 pm (UTC)
I used to use channels for that when I was printing duotones with heavy dot gain and shitty registration. I think working with problematic equipment and processes sometimes makes you a more competent software user.
May. 14th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
Wow, I had no idea all the steps that went into making a GOOD looking cover! I'm thinking that a lot of those steps are skipped for low-budget ebook publishers/self-publishers...
May. 14th, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
I'm not exactly sure why bad covers are bad. I think it's more lack of training, maybe. My last day job paid for me to go to whatever seminars I wanted, and I just decided it's a "business expense" to keep up my training. (I don't know why I put that in quotes...you know what I mean.)

People could learn leaps and bounds just by watching the weekly free Photoshop User videocast...but the expense there isn't money. It's time and dedication.

I hope I don't sound too preachy--I see a lot of small presses cheap out, on some of the Print on Demand groups I subscribe to. People insisting on doing typesetting in Word rather than paying a designer to do it in InDesign, stuff like that, and then complain InDesign is too expensive and/or hard to learn (yes, it is expensive and hard to learn). But to be taken seriously you have to put out a professional looking product.

I should probably just delete that all, LOL
May. 14th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
Don't! It's interesting. I wonder if it has to do with going into the venture without understanding or assessing (or, sometimes, without caring about) all the parts that go in to publishing an effective product - just thinking that Word and Photoshop and rudimentary skills in both will do the trick.
May. 14th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
I think there is some mental block to spending money in the small publishing/self-publishing business. I did a book cover for someone who was balking at paying $10 to get a paper proof. What about "back in the day" when he would have needed to spend a few thousand for a press run and then store them in his garage?

If these people started a landscaping business, would they go out and try to mow lawns with a pair of scissors and call it "good enough"? Or would they buy a friggin' lawnmower and hire someone who knew how to either use it or teach them how?

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