As every book lover knows, it’s nearly impossible to resist a swoon-worthy cover couple. I chatted with Lindee Robinson, a Michigan-based photographer, who’s shot book covers for romance favorites like USA Today bestselling authors Talia Hibbert and Jessica Sorensen. Below, the book lover chats favorite cover trends, a very memorable shooting moment and advice for others looking to break into the book cover space.
How did you start photographing for book covers?
I went to school at College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, where I studied Illustration and Photography with a focus in Retouching and, ultimately, storytelling. I was extremely busy and didn’t have a lot of free time since I also started my photography business to make money for school. After graduating college in 2012, I was working full-time at a greeting card company, but my nights were free so I got back into reading.
Around that time the New Adult genre—along with ebooks—had started becoming really popular. I started to read again and really fell back in love with it. I paid attention to the covers on the books I was reading and I thought it would be fun to do that. Having studied photography in college, I’ve always loved telling stories with my photographs so book covers seemed like a perfect way to combine my passions of reading, photography, illustration and retouching. Also, since I worked with a lot of models in college, I already had a good group of talent to work with when I started doing book covers.
Since I was working full time, I started off shooting book cover photography part-time. I originally started doing book covers as a way to keep my portfolio updated, because at my greeting card job so many people worked together on one image that it was hard to say that the work was mine and add it to my portfolio. After three years at the card company, there weren’t any options to move up since it was a smaller business, and even though my book cover photography started out as a passion project, things were going so well that I decided to quit and work full-time with my own photography.
Any advice for someone trying to break into this space?
The industry has changed a little bit since I started. When I was first starting out, there weren’t many people who just took book cover photos. Back then you were a designer who happened to do photography and made the whole book cover. This meant that when I started, I had to take the picture and design the covers as well. I had studied typography in school, but it wasn’t my strongest skill so it was tough for me because I had to learn about design and typography as well in order to break into this space. But I did it, and I’m glad I did because it made me a better photographer for this field. I learned what designers need and how the photos should be set up since I did that for a few years in the beginning. When I didn’t have to design the covers anymore because more and more people were doing these roles separately (photographer and designer), I stopped and handed the work off to people who did full-time design so I could focus solely on photography, retouching and the things I really love.
It’s been a few years now and I know that there are new book cover photographers out there who don’t design so I imagine that photographers in this field don’t have to start off with design like I did. This means that the process I went through might not be as applicable to those wanting to break into the field now, but my general advice to anyone starting out in the field would be network: Reach out to authors, photographers and network. Also, just start shooting, getting experience and building up a portfolio.
Lastly, I think it’s important to note that I spent the first year reading a ton. I read over 200 books in the genres I wanted to shoot before I started doing book covers. I wanted to understand what the genres were about and what I needed to do to create photos that would work for them. That being said, if you want to break into this space, I would suggest knowing your genre, knowing your stories and knowing your authors.
What book cover trends are you loving right now?
There are two cover trends that I really like right now: I love really simple, clean covers and I love super-fantasy and other worldly covers. These are two opposites, but right now I’m on both sides of the spectrum.
What does a typical shoot day look like?
The majority of the work I do is actually prep and post work plus editing. Surprisingly enough, the shoots themselves are only about ten percent of what I do. In order for the typical shoot day to run smoothly, I have to do a lot of prep work like finding props, contacting the models, talking to the author and prepping the location. Once I’ve organized and prepared everything beforehand, for the day of the shoot, I prep for the models to arrive, figure out outfits, shoot and then process the photos afterward.
The shoots themselves are a lot of fun. I do most of the work ahead of time so that when it comes to the shooting day, we’re just having a good time and creating together. Prior to the shoot, I always talk to the author beforehand and take notes so I can reference it on set to make sure I’m capturing what the author wants. I also usually put together vision boards to show the models ahead of time so they know what the author is looking for and we can all be on the same page. Once everyone knows what we’re doing, I just turn up the music so we can have a good time! It’s important with models to have a fun, relaxed environment because that’s how you get the best photos—especially when working with two people so close together who often don’t even know each other.
Favorite memory shooting a cover?
There have been so many fun memories from shooting it’s hard to pick just one! There is always interesting stories that come from shooting, especially when outside and dealing with the public. People always assume that these couples are real and often congratulate them, even though in real life they just met that day. It’s always funny when the ‘couples’ who just met go along with it and act like they’re dating or engaged.
But one story from this last summer stands out to me: We were going to a friend’s farm to shoot the cover for Forking Around by Erin Nicholas on private property (it’s important to note that it was private property and not a public place), and my model, Kelly, mentioned how beautiful it was out in the country, but that she also felt like it looked like a place where horror stories and murders happen. She went on and on about murder movies about evil people and scary children in the country. We were all just laughing about this on the car ride there. After we arrived on the farm, we were out shooting by a barn and half way through the shoot my videographer turns and whispers to me, “Look behind you. Someone is in the bushes.” I look over my shoulder and there was a child with a real bow and arrow cocked and ready to shoot at us. And I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, Kelly is going to freak. Mind you, we’re in the midst of filming a video and need the models to be in their best state.
I calmly say hi to the kid because I didn’t know what else to do. Instead of running away, he runs over to us and just sits right down next to the models. The kid asked them a bunch of questions and even told them that he wanted them to kiss. Kelly kind of freaked out a little bit, but after a while it was fine. It was hilarious, actually. He wouldn’t leave, but after a while I told him, “Okay, it’s nice meeting you” and he ran into the barn and hid. It wasn’t our barn so I didn’t know what to do and was worried for his safety, too. His sister eventually came to find him—and she was understandably upset, when he then jumped out of the barn to scare to her with his bow and arrow. We all were laughing (and a little scared!). It was definitely an interesting experience, especially since we weren’t expecting to deal with the public on private property, and of course, Kelly predicted the scary children part!
What’s a book you recently enjoyed?
I will preface this by saying that now that I edit so much, it’s really hard for me to sit down and read a physical book. I can only really read shorter books at night or in the morning. Things like novellas are fun, but don’t get me wrong, sometimes I miss being able to read a full-length novel. That being said, lately I’ve been into audiobooks because they’re one of the few things I can do while I’m editing.
Lately I’ve been into more fantasy or sci-fi romance books. I like a little bit of action or suspense with my romance. I’ve been reading a lot of Jeaniene Frost and I recently finished The Broken Destiny series. It was really good. I’ve also listened to some Ruby Dixon on Audible recently. Audible has been my life savor!
Where are you available for shooting?
Most of my shoots happen in the Metro Detroit (Michigan) area with models from the midwest (within about five hours, I would say). Sometimes I will shoot in Chicago or other nearby cities, but usually the models come to me. I also like to work with new models when I travel, but for booking specific shoots for authors, I mostly shoot in Michigan. That being said, I work with authors from all over the world.
The best place to reach me is Facebook. Authors can either add me or message me on my Lindee Robinson Photography page. Authors can also email me at LindeeRobinson@gmail.com or view more of my work and follow me on my Instagram page at @lindeerobinson.