Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alas poor images, I cannot find you!

By Michelle Lee
BWL Art Director

So how many of you, when trying to visualize the ways you want a cover to look, quickly get frustrated trying to find images?

(Waiting a moment as people start jumping up and down, madly waving their arms, screaming ME!  That's ME she's talking about).

I should have mentioned, make sure not to scare your pets with your answer.

(Waiting longer while poor Fluffy and Fido are coaxed out from behind the fridge and Tweets snagged off of the curtain rod in the shower; don't worry - Slither will come out of the sewer somewhere in the neighborhood - so just wait for screams to clue you in to his location.).

As you can imagine, many authors find themselves in the same ... exact ... boat when it comes to finding images.

So here are some tricks to image searches (from my own personal frustrated experiences).

* First off ... do some sample searches and see what comes up.  Go to images sites like 123rf.com and use their search function and search for random things, so that you can familiarize yourself with the site.  Like any skill, practice is going to work to your advantage.

* Don't get discouraged; sometimes cover artists have problems finding images.

* All too often, when it comes to something like finding the perfect image authors have to come to terms with the fact that they don't exist.  Going to wait a moment, and let that sink in.  The perfect images do not and will not ever exist.  We work with what is available, and within the bounds of what models are willing to pose for certain genres of images.  So sometimes, close-enough is what we work with.

* Now, if you're not finding images, not because of looking for the perfect one, but rather because nothing is showing up as a result of your search, just try new terms, and things that are close.  For example, I have found Regency era styled images by search for Medieval and Renaissance.  The terms Baroque, Vintage, etc also have worked when trying to find historical images.  So expand a little with the search terms.

* Generally one and two word searches work best.  This is by far the best advise I can possibly give.  ONE or TWO word searches.  For example: "Sexy Couple" is going to yield much better results that "Couple Sexy Embrace Bed Red Silk Lingerie Lace England Castle Curtains Blond Man Redhead Woman".  Yes, there will be more images to look through, but you are more likely to find what you need.  Many photographers put really good search terms to their images, but that can't think of everything.  So simple is going to yield better results.

* Also, keep in mind if Sexy Couple didn't work, maybe Attractive Couple, Nude Couple, Lingerie Couple, Embracing Couple, Couple Kiss, Couple Love, etc might yield better results so try alternative search terms.

* If I find a search term set that yields great results, and I know I might need to use it again, I will save the terms in a word doc.  I put what I am trying to find, and what terms I ended up using.

* * *

Now, I know that many authors feel they are not a good judge of images, and what would make a cover.  And that is fine.  That is the role of the cover artist.  But cover artists are not fluent in all fields.  So some genres are more difficult for an artist to find images for without author suggestions.  To that end - consider finding images that fit your characters, and suggest them.  Keep in mind however, the cover artist might not use them.  Because some images lend themselves to covers better than others, the cover artist and publisher is always going to reserve the right to opt for a different image.  But by suggesting possible images, you are more likely to get something closer to what you want than not.

For example, I am a biologist by training.  Specifically an ecologist.  So, someone saying to me 'I want a nice snowy owl on the fore-cover, and a timber wolf in the background, with a couple in between'.  As a result, I am able to fit those requirements without much effort, because I am familiar with both, and if not - I have easy access to field guides that will make me familiar with them.

But saying to me, 'This is set in Edwardian England, and I want the hero to have period clothing, and the background needs to be a period house, and so on', um I am going to space out at Edwardian, and my eyes will be completely glazed over by hero ...  So for that cover, I am so going to need every suggestion I can get.

So keep in mind that cover artists are not fluent in all fields, and thus not fluent in all genres terms and specifics.  We do the best we can, with what resources we have available - so make sure YOU are one of those resources.

* * *

Oh and one last, tiny little suggestion.  As you are searching, if you come across an image that screams at you - but for a book you aren't working on filling out the information for - SAVE THE URL, image number and site, whatever!!!! 

Either create a word document that you put all of them into, with the Genre/WIP Title etc with them, or bookmark them, something.  

So many times, authors lament that they had found the perfect image, but forgot to save it since they were looking for a different book's suggestions.  So don't let that be you.  Find some way to keep track of the images that stand out to you - because you never know when you will need to find it again.


  1. Great suggestions for finding the *almost* perfect image! Thanks, Michelle!

    1. LOL Yeah, I know. I have found so many that if there was just this one little detail different it would just be spot on. But then I couldn't find a version without that detail, or if it was without that detail - that had the right pose, etc. Frustrating at times, but we do the best we can with what is available. :)

  2. I appreciate your helpful tips, Michelle. I also learned something new about you--you have a background in ecology. That's cool!

    1. Yep ecology, latin for big 'ol geek. LOL That would be me. And I am glad the tips are useful. I always struggle to find something entertaining, while still imparting info.

  3. Hi Michelle,
    Thank you so much for that interesting blog. Sounds complicated to me so I am even more in awe of your talent.



    1. Margaret - thanks. It's really not too bad, just frustrating at times. Especially when I am looking at dresses and wondering - would that off the shoulder look fit that time period, or would it have labeled the woman as being of loose character.

  4. Excellent post, Michelle!

    I definitely get frustrated, possibly because I try too many search terms. However, it's also the case that many images are mislabeled, which greatly increases the noise level.

    One tip you don't mention: most of the stock photo sites I've used have the idea of a "light box" where you can save images that you think you might want later. 123rf lets you have multiple light boxes with different names (presumably for different categories). To use this feature you have to have an account, but that's free. I frequently hit on images that really impress me, but which are not relevant to my current search. I just put them in the light box so I can find them in the future.

    1. Good point Lisabet. I know I use my lightboxes extensively, but I wasn't sure how many authors would want to sign up, just to have them. Thanks for pointing them out. :)

  5. Love both your posts as always, Michelle. What a shame that my slot is the one before your - I can't compete!!!

    1. Sheila, you do wonderful with your posts. You have to remember, I am just weird. :)


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