Take Cover! Shooting LEAGUE OF STRAYS

I admit, the cover of LEAGUE OF STRAYS scares me. In a good way. I know there’s some serious stuff going down just by looking at the fearsome redhead and the cool yet sinister leather-clad hottie behind her. (Hey, remember the video letter to my high-school crush? He kinda looked like the cover model!)

How do you get a cover to be so evocative? Well, you hire photographer Jonathan R. Beckerman. And then you let me interview him…

Jonathan, the cover of LEAGUE OF STRAYS is very true to the character descriptions and the overall story. The apprehension and fear in Charlotte is palpable, as is the dangerous confidence in Kade.

How did you begin work on this project? What are your first steps to creating the perfect photographic depiction?

First I gather the character descriptions from the creative directors Chad Beckerman and Maria Middleton and begin an extensive model search for people who seem to fill the bill. This model search includes agencies, online model castings and friends of friends. Sometimes it is the neighbors next store that have just the perfect look.

In this case I found Kade through a friend’s sister who was a senior in high school. Charlotte was referred from one of my other clients.

Once the set, hair, makeup and wardrobe have been assembled, we begin to shoot.

Being part of a shoot like this is a performance for each model, and I coach them through it. I encourage the look of each character, similar to the way a director inspires actors.

How much does title placement factor into your work? Do you know where the publisher wants the title beforehand, or does it fit in after the right image is selected?

The title placement is always the hardest part. In this case, the image is so dominating in the frame and it was difficult to add the title without taking away from the drama of the image. I must take the title into consideration when I am framing the shot, always leaving enough room for text. That being said, there are times when the title is figured out after the image is selected. I believe this cover was one of those occurrences.

In addition, I always shoot horizontally so that the cover can bleed over onto the back cover and the inside flaps.

What do you want your cover to convey to someone who is considering reading LEAGUE OF STRAYS?

I aim to accurately describe the emotional condition and look of each character. I focus on creating dramatic lighting and shoot for expression as to achieve a single moment that depicts the environment and the atmosphere of the entire book. Ultimately, I want it to be like a movie poster; something that draws you into the theater.

Any funny and/or challenging stories about this cover creation that you’d like to share?

Getting models is a big challenge for YA covers. I always find myself posting on my Facebook page “looking for 14-year-old girl for young adult book.” No matter which way you spin it, it just doesn’t sound right.

Then scouring the Facebook pages of my girlfriend’s sister’s high school friends to find the perfect character doesn’t look any better.

Then you have to approach the sister when you think you have found someone. Boy oh boy, the politics of high school cliques is brutal. High school girls are not model agents. It can be quite the challenge to get the model you want especially if they are not friends with the person you think will work.

If by some miracle it all works out, your selections are accepted by the publishers.

This all being said, some agencies will not even respond to your needs, so maybe high school girls are good agents.

We shot this cover in two sessions: one outside and one in the studio. It was quite freezing outside, so much so that I could not feel my trigger finger on the camera and had to shut it down. Luckily I got everything I needed just as the ambient lighting came to an end. It is quite hilarious to witness.

Overall, it is very rewarding to hold the finished copy in my hands. Thanks to the hard work of all who contributed. LEAGUE OF STRAYS is going to do very well in stores.

Thanks, Jonathan, for giving us a glimpse into your artistic process.

And now the drumroll please! Today is the last day to comment and be entered to win an autographed copy of LEAGUE OF STRAYS! A winner will be randomly selected and announced next week.

Good luck and beware of overly confident hotties in leather!



Filed under cover art

13 responses to “Take Cover! Shooting LEAGUE OF STRAYS

  1. That is really interesting. I never considered how much hard work it would be to cast and create an original photo shoot (without looking like a stalker). Great interview Tara!


  2. I’ve always wondered how photo covers get made. Jonathan is so thoughtful and intelligent about his approach. This is a fascinating and informative post, Tara. Thanks!


  3. It’s interesting that Jonathan employed “real” kids rather than professional models for the cover shoot. Makes for a more authentic look.

    And, Tara, your high school crush looked like Kade? Good thing it was unrequited. Who knows what kind of trouble you could’ve gotten into. 🙂


  4. L.B. Schulman

    One of the things I love best about the cover is that Charlotte looks like a real person. Many YA’s use breathtaking models for their covers, but not every character can look that perfect. Where is the average girl? The cover definitely gets the sinister nature of one of the characters right, too. Thanks, Tara and Jonathan for the great interview!


  5. This was so interesting–another subject I really hadn’t thought about. Thanks to you both for a great interview!


  6. Since so many covers feature Photoshopped stock images, I guess I didn’t realize that LEAGUE had had it’s own dedicated photo shoot. That is so frickin’ cool! Really great to hear about how it all got set up. And LB, I agree–the girl especially is fantastic and a total breath of fresh air from the models-in-flowy-dresses that dominate so many YA covers these days.


  7. I love covers that immediately pose a question to the observer. When I first saw the LEAGUE OF STRAYS cover, I immediately wanted to know what the relationship was between these two–it’s not your typical lovey-dovey couple. Well done, Jonathan and Tara, and kudos to L.B. for writing such an intriguing story!


  8. I had no idea that photographers for book covers used real people to model, and not modeling agencies. Imagine what it must be like to be an ordinary high school kid and have someone contact you to be a book cover model. As I parent, I would probably think it was a creepy scam artist. Then I would check him out on facebook and see that 14 year old girl comment…


  9. Laura Dineen

    I am intrigued by this book! As a teacher, I see so much bullying in schools. From big incidents to small things that go largely unnoticed. I will be picking up a copy of this for sure! Best of luck on the debut of your book! I’ll be sure to pass the title on to other teachers as well!


  10. Jonathan Beckerman

    Great Comments! It was such a fun project. I love working with Abrams



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