Canadian Geographic Photo Club - What goes into choosing and designing a cover?
  

What goes into choosing and designing a cover?

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In our popular online cover vote contests, we ask our readers to rate three options. To initially narrow the choices down to three, however, Canadian Geographic researches anywhere from 20 to 200 potential cover photos.


But what do we look for in the first place?


Searching for answers on behalf of our readers, I decide to embark in a CG-style "Explore and discover" mission that takes me around the office quizzing the key-players.


"It's a complicated matrix," says Rick Boychuk, our editor-in-chief, when I pop into his office with the seemingly naive question.


"We always think we know everything about covers", he says in a slight tone of frustration. "But in reality, we know very little."


"We know the basics," he says after a quick mood recovery. The problem is we're never sure about the national or world context in which our magazine is going to hit the newsstands. External factors often influence sales.


Take for instance our Jul/Aug 1996 Tornado cover. Two months earlier, the Hollywood movie Twister starring Helen Hunt had been released, and as a result, CG sales soared on the newsstands.


An engaging image certainly helps. But sometimes it's not the image that makes the difference, but rather the story it represents. Consider our Jan/Feb 2005 cover of a buffalo. Few would argue the buffalo is an appealing animal, but as an iconic figure of the west, it seemed an ideal image for an essay on how the Canadian west was divided into the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.


You can have a great image, says Rick, but if it isn't supported by a compelling story, it won't do well.


The CG basics of choosing a cover, though, involve a certain rhythm that we respect, says Rick. In a given year, regular CG covers would include at least two landscapes and two wildlife covers. The other two covers are wild cards. CG Travel issues usually feature a landscape that, whenever possible, includes a human element as in the current March 2008 issue.


In the case of wildlife photos where the eyes of an animal are visible, having the eyes looking right at you creates an ideal magnetic effect. Readers also seem to prefer images of animals in their environment as opposed to plain portraits. And landscapes with great depth of field take our readers in an exciting journey.


But in every case, cover photos have to be bright, engaging and very importantly technically impeccable.


In fact, our production designer, ZoÇ Lindsay, says CG only fine tunes a cover. We do very little sharpening of an image to avoid distortion, she says. And if necessary, she'll bring up the colours and make sure the details are not lost.


Kathy Frankiewicz, CG's photo assistant, researches and finds a set of cover options. She looks for an engaging image that is not too cluttered and that content-wise would work well with a set of preliminary cover lines the editors have given her.


The image has to be vertical or a horizontal image that can be cropped to vertical. In either case, the photo must have suitable space for cover lines and the CG name plate. The latter is always white and goes at the top. The cover lines are preferably placed on the left because in most newsstands, it's the side that's usually visible when magazines are displayed.


If we assigned a photographer to the cover story, we ideally use a photo from the shoot. But photo assignments don't always yield the best cover option. And even if an image is great, it might not make a good cover.


A good example is our Sept/Oct 2007 issue featuring the Mackenzie Delta River. Our photographer shot beautiful images on that assignment, but unfortunately, we couldn't find one that worked well for the cover, so we ended up using a stock image.


Often times CG has to resort to stock photography to find cover options. This doesn't necessarily mean photos from a stock agency. Sometimes we'll approach a photographer whom we know might already have the kind of image we're looking for, says Kathy. And we always find out the publication history of a photo, because we avoid images that have already been used widely in other media.


Once we've narrowed down our cover options, Suzanne Morin, our art director, puts her creative skills at work to design some catchy covers. Her office could almost be mistaken for a greenhouse, so as we chat about covers, I wonder if the plants contribute to her coming up with fresh ideas.


"My role is to present a choice for my three clients," she says, drawing with her fingers quotation marks around "clients." When she designs covers, she has three audiences in mind: subscribers, newsstand buyers and advertisers, each represented respectively by our editor and our publisher; our circulation department, and our ad sales department.


The challenge is the clients don't always agree, she says. "It's part of the game and that's what makes it interesting." Indeed, the best covers for selling advertisers on the magazine are usually the ones that do worst in the newsstands, says Shaenie Colterjohn, from our ad sales department in Toronto.


A good example is the May/Jun 2005 cover on nuclear energy. It bombed in the newsstands, but Shaenie says it was a great cover for getting new ad clients. "It spoke to the intelligence of our editorial."


Ad agencies are look for engaging, provocative artwork, she says. And because they are approached by so many media looking to sell advertising space, it's crucial that the cover leaves a striking impression in the five seconds they take to look at it.


Similarly, the newsstand market is so hostile that for a cover to grab a buyer's attention it must be incredibly attractive.


Brian Master, CG's circulation consultant, judges our cover options from two distances to make sure they catch his attention. First, he stands back two metres, and then places the cover on the floor to look at it from above. He's an advocate of "less is more," so too many cover lines that obscure the image are a no-no for him.


Our publisher, AndrÇ PrÇfontaine, looks at covers from the readers perspective and makes sure they reflect the overall philosophy and values of the publication. "Our readers are expecting Canada," he says. "So if we're not presenting Canada, we better have a good reason for it."


He says he tries to be respectful of the editors autonomy and role in choosing a cover. But if the publication's integrity may be compromised, he would be compelled to interfere.


Our Jan/Feb 2008 cover vote contest presented a good example of such a situation. Among the options was a very engaging cover with penguins. Although the cover was related to our main feature, a pictorial on polar wildlife, penguins don't exist in Canada; they live in the South Pole.


So if the penguins cover had been voted number one, AndrÇ would've thought about it twice before running it.


Canadian Geographic only started doing the cover vote contest less than two years ago. The first cover our readers had a say on was the Sept/Oct 2006 cover on the Gulf Islands. Cover votes have helped us tremendously, but they don't dissolve the challenge.


"You can't win every game, no matter how good you are," says Rick Boychuk, our editor-in-chief. "You just have to work on your cover to get the best one you can."


"Each cover presents its own mystery and conundrum. In the end, we never know for sure why it does well or it doesn't."


In our popular online cover vote contests, we ask our readers to rate three options. To initially narrow the choices down to three, however, Canadian Geographic researches anywhere from 20 to 200 potential cover photos.


But what do we look for in the first place?


Searching for answers on behalf of our readers, I decide to embark in a CG-style "Explore and discover" mission that takes me around the office quizzing the key-players.


"It's a complicated matrix," says Rick Boychuk, our editor-in-chief, when I pop into his office with the seemingly naive question.


"We always think we know everything about covers", he says in a slight tone of frustration. "But in reality, we know very little."


"We know the basics," he says after a quick mood recovery. The problem is we're never sure about the national or world context in which our magazine is going to hit the newsstands. External factors often influence sales.


Take for instance our Jul/Aug 1996 Tornado cover. Two months earlier, the Hollywood movie Twister starring Helen Hunt had been released, and as a result, CG sales soared on the newsstands.


An engaging image certainly helps. But sometimes it's not the image that makes the difference, but rather the story it represents. Consider our Jan/Feb 2005 cover of a buffalo. Few would argue the buffalo is an appealing animal, but as an iconic figure of the west, it seemed an ideal image for an essay on how the Canadian west was divided into the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.


You can have a great image, says Rick, but if it isn't supported by a compelling story, it won't do well.


The CG basics of choosing a cover, though, involve a certain rhythm that we respect, says Rick. In a given year, regular CG covers would include at least two landscapes and two wildlife covers. The other two covers are wild cards. CG Travel issues usually feature a landscape that, whenever possible, includes a human element as in the current March 2008 issue.


In the case of wildlife photos where the eyes of an animal are visible, having the eyes looking right at you creates an ideal magnetic effect. Readers also seem to prefer images of animals in their environment as opposed to plain portraits. And landscapes with great depth of field take our readers in an exciting journey.


But in every case, cover photos have to be bright, engaging and very importantly technically impeccable.


In fact, our production designer, ZoÇ Lindsay, says CG only fine tunes a cover. We do very little sharpening of an image to avoid distortion, she says. And if necessary, she'll bring up the colours and make sure the details are not lost.


Kathy Frankiewicz, CG's photo assistant, researches and finds a set of cover options. She looks for an engaging image that is not too cluttered and that content-wise would work well with a set of preliminary cover lines the editors have given her.


The image has to be vertical or a horizontal image that can be cropped to vertical. In either case, the photo must have suitable space for cover lines and the CG name plate. The latter is always white and goes at the top. The cover lines are preferably placed on the left because in most newsstands, it's the side that's usually visible when magazines are displayed.


If we assigned a photographer to the cover story, we ideally use a photo from the shoot. But photo assignments don't always yield the best cover option. And even if an image is great, it might not make a good cover.


A good example is our Sept/Oct 2007 issue featuring the Mackenzie Delta River. Our photographer shot beautiful images on that assignment, but unfortunately, we couldn't find one that worked well for the cover, so we ended up using a stock image.


Often times CG has to resort to stock photography to find cover options. This doesn't necessarily mean photos from a stock agency. Sometimes we'll approach a photographer whom we know might already have the kind of image we're looking for, says Kathy. And we always find out the publication history of a photo, because we avoid images that have already been used widely in other media.


Once we've narrowed down our cover options, Suzanne Morin, our art director, puts her creative skills at work to design some catchy covers. Her office could almost be mistaken for a greenhouse, so as we chat about covers, I wonder if the plants contribute to her coming up with fresh ideas.


"My role is to present a choice for my three clients," she says, drawing with her fingers quotation marks around "clients." When she designs covers, she has three audiences in mind: subscribers, newsstand buyers and advertisers, each represented respectively by our editor and our publisher; our circulation department, and our ad sales department.


The challenge is the clients don't always agree, she says. "It's part of the game and that's what makes it interesting." Indeed, the best covers for selling advertisers on the magazine are usually the ones that do worst in the newsstands, says Shaenie Colterjohn, from our ad sales department in Toronto.


A good example is the May/Jun 2005 cover on nuclear energy. It bombed in the newsstands, but Shaenie says it was a great cover for getting new ad clients. "It spoke to the intelligence of our editorial."


Ad agencies are look for engaging, provocative artwork, she says. And because they are approached by so many media looking to sell advertising space, it's crucial that the cover leaves a striking impression in the five seconds they take to look at it.


Similarly, the newsstand market is so hostile that for a cover to grab a buyer's attention it must be incredibly attractive.


Brian Master, CG's circulation consultant, judges our cover options from two distances to make sure they catch his attention. First, he stands back two metres, and then places the cover on the floor to look at it from above. He's an advocate of "less is more," so too many cover lines that obscure the image are a no-no for him.


Our publisher, AndrÇ PrÇfontaine, looks at covers from the readers perspective and makes sure they reflect the overall philosophy and values of the publication. "Our readers are expecting Canada," he says. "So if we're not presenting Canada, we better have a good reason for it."


He says he tries to be respectful of the editors autonomy and role in choosing a cover. But if the publication's integrity may be compromised, he would be compelled to interfere.


Our Jan/Feb 2008 cover vote contest presented a good example of such a situation. Among the options was a very engaging cover with penguins. Although the cover was related to our main feature, a pictorial on polar wildlife, penguins don't exist in Canada; they live in the South Pole.


So if the penguins cover had been voted number one, AndrÇ would've thought about it twice before running it.


Canadian Geographic only started doing the cover vote contest less than two years ago. The first cover our readers had a say on was the Sept/Oct 2006 cover on the Gulf Islands. Cover votes have helped us tremendously, but they don't dissolve the challenge.


"You can't win every game, no matter how good you are," says Rick Boychuk, our editor-in-chief. "You just have to work on your cover to get the best one you can."


"Each cover presents its own mystery and conundrum. In the end, we never know for sure why it does well or it doesn't."



By Maria-Lucia Castillo

By Maria-Lucia Castillo

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