The raw photo that became the cover for Mind Control

I knew that getting the right covers for the Perceivers series was going to be tough. The usual method is to find a picture from a stock photo site and manipulate to become part of a great cover. But not only doesn’t this give you an exclusive image (as in the many, many ‘woman with bird cage’ covers), you may find it difficult to find the image you want.

Michael starts off his adventures with the perceivers aged 15 and, although he reaches 20 by the fourth book, Mind Power, I still wanted a younger person on the cover. But when I looked through the stock photo sites, there were very few young men to chose from. I did find one or two, but when I looked for more pictures of the same model, the other images weren’t going to work — mostly, they were smiling which wasn’t at all the mood I was after. I spoke to my cover designer and she agreed that images for this age group are very difficult to come by.

The finished cover for Mind Control

Getting my own photos

Then I read a blog post by someone who had had her own photos done for her book covers because she wanted someone of a certain ethnic background (I wish I could find this blog post, but I can’t. If anyone can point me in the right direction, I’ll post a link). This seemed to be my solution. I could get the sort of images I wanted and I could have the same models on all the covers so they looked like a series.

I put an advert on Models Mayhem, offered to pay a small fee to the models plus give them a photo from the shoot which they could use in their portfolio. I wasn’t too prescriptive as to the look of the models as I was never going to get someone who exactly matches the images I have of Michael and Pauline (introduced in Mind Control) in my head. I also decided to go for slightly older models. Firstly, because the rules around working with children present their own challenges, secondly because there are very few teenagers on these model sitess, and thirdly, because a lot of young adult movies (eg, The Hunger Games) actually have people in their twenties playing the parts.

This is the image Emily chose for her portfolio

Of the people who answered the advert, Nick was the best match for a Michael and was very keen. In fact, he had to travel down from Manchester for the shoot and I was sure the train fare was going to pretty much wipe out his whole fee. I asked if he was sure if he was happy to travel so far, and he said he was. The woman I initially chose was a bit nervous at the prospect of nudity, despite my assurances that I wanted her to keep her clothes on! When she stopped answering my emails, I decided I better look for someone else. Fortunately, due to a cock up on my part in not cancelling my ad on Models Mayhem, I had a late application from a dancer called Emily. She immediately agreed to do the shoot, and I had my ‘Michael’ and ‘Pauline’.

This is the image Nick chose for his portfolio

The photoshoot

My photographer was already lined up. I’d chosen someone with a great portfolio on her website, a list of prices upfront and a talent for working with people who were not necessarily experienced models. Charly Woodhouse has her own studio in Southampton (England) and is great.

On the day of the shoot, everyone else got there before me and the models were already in makeup. The first question that stumped me was what sort of makeup I wanted. Not being a makeup person, I just said to emphasise the eyes, as the books are all about telepathy. This involved my cover designer “photoshopping out” some of the eyeliner which the makeup artist put on Nick. Entirely my fault!

The other thing I hadn’t thought too much about was costume. What a character is wearing on a cover can really help evoke a feeling. I just said for them to bring tops and trousers which were plain without any branding and stuff on them. Apparently, such items of clothing are rare in the wardrobes of people in their early twenties.

What I had thought much more about is the sort of poses I wanted from the shoot. I had written down lots of ideas, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. One idea I had was for Nick to put his fingers to his temples like he was focussing his mind, but Charly thought it made it look like he had a headache. Then Nick said he had done some sort of medical photoshoot and had to look like he was in pain and used a similar pose. So that idea was out of the window.

The other unexpected thing was that Nick is a good foot taller than Emily. We got him to take off his shoes and Charly found some high heels for Emily to wear, but Nick still spent a lot of time bending his knees to make himself shorter. If I remember correctly, he’s bending his knees on the cover for Mind Control.

Venturing outside

One of my ideas which was near impossible to achieve in the studio was the pair of them leaning against a wall in an urban setting. This was when we ventured outside and got the shot which became the cover to Mind Power. I had asked Nick to bring a hoodie top to wear, but the item of clothing he’d packed turned out to be an unpleasant shade of salmon pink (sorry, Nick!), so he suggested he wear the coat which he’d worn on the journey down instead. Emily had travelled down in a leather jacket, so I got her to wear that too and we got a great shot.

(Going outside was an impromptu move and the lighting wasn’t great, despite — or, possibly, because of — my lack of ability holding up a reflector to bounce light back into the faces of the models. You can see the original raw image is a bit on the dark side (entirely my fault!), but it was easily lightened up in photoshop).

I sent the results of the shoot to my cover designer and, between us, we picked the four shots for the covers. As Pauline doesn’t appear in the first book, Mind Secrets has just a shot of Nick on it. I always had an image in my head of Michael timidly crouching down as if on the run, so this was the shot we chose for Mind Secrets. It was a difficult look to achieve because I didn’t explain it that well and the photographer couldn’t really get high enough for the shot. She wasn’t too keen on it because she thought it lacked depth of field, but the designer did a great job and I think it works well.

The photo taken against a wall outside the photographer’s studio

The raw photo transformed into the final cover

Definitely worth it

In the end, because I went with older models, I probably didn’t need to go to the trouble of doing the photoshoot. But I’m glad I did. It made sure the people on the covers are the same for the whole series. If I’d gone the stock photo route, that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened. In the end, I got some brilliant covers and, like a crazy person, I’m doing another photoshoot for my next and upcoming series.


Photographer: Charly Woodhouse

Cover Designer: Karri Klawiter

Male Model: Nicholas Harley Naismith

Female Model: Emily Colclough

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