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Inspiration: 90+ Photo-Based Book Covers

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Book covers can be incredibly creative design projects. They can also be wildly challenging when compared with many other types of designs. A cover has to not only tell something about what the story is about, but also be appealing to the book's target readership.

Many book cover designers turn to photographs when creating book covers. Not all books have the budget for custom photo shoots, so often stock images have to be used. And what many readers don't realize is that many book covers are actually composite images, made up of multiple stock images to create the look and feel the designer is after.

Photo Manipulations

Overt photo manipulations are often used on covers for fantasy, science fiction, and horror books. These are things we know don't exist, yet using photos for the book cover makes the entire book feel more real to many readers.

Under the Dome by Stephen King
Art Director: Rex Bonomelli

Seventeen Seventeen Jerome by Richard Thornley
Designed by Jamie Keenan

Johnny Mad Dog by Emmanuel Dongala
Designed by Kwasi Osei

The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo by Darrin Doyle
Designer Unknown

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
Designer Unknown

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Designer Unknown

Historical and Vintage Photographs

Whether it's for a novel or nonfiction work, vintage-looking and historical photos are a popular choice for cover designs. They lend a sense of permanence to a book, like it's stood the test of time. These are particularly popular for historical works, obviously, but they're also seen on literary and other books from time to time.

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise
Designer Unknown

Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan by Phillip Lopate

Paris by Colin Jones
Designed by Jasmine Lin

The Bauhaus Group by Nicholas Fox Weber
Designed by Peter Mendelsund

The Pieces from Berlin by Michael Pye
Designed by Gabriele Wilson

At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill
Designed by John Fulbrook III

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Designed by Rodrigo Corral

Experience by Martin Amis
Designed by John Gall

Why Kerouac Matters by John Leland
Designed by Greg Mollica

Empire Rising by Thomas Kelly
Designed by Henry Sene Yee

Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough
Designed by Henry Sene Yee

The Essential Tales of Chekhov Edited by Richard Ford
Designed by Chip Kidd

The Distaff Side by Elizabeth Palmer
Designer Unknown

Abstract & Unconventional Photos

Sometimes an abstract or unconventional photo can say a lot more about a book's contents than a more literal interpretation. They can also be appealing to potential readers, as they add a sense of mystery to the cover, encouraging bookstore browsers to pick the book up and have a look. These are particularly popular for literary fiction and mainstream novels, as well as poetry volumes, though they're really seen across genres.

Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley
Designer Unknown

Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis
Designed by Siege

The River Wife by Jonis Agee
Designed by Lynn Buckley

A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis
Designed by John Gall

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
Designed by Greg Mollica

The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers
Designed by Lynn Buckley

Skin Game: A Cutter's Memoir by Caroline Kettlewell
Designed by Henry Sene Yee

Spook by Mary Roach
Designed by Keenan

Blood's a Rover by James Ellroy
Designed by Chip Kidd

Black Seconds by Karin Fossum
Designed by Christopher Moisan

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo
Designed by Gabriele Wilson

Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett
Designed by Helen Yentus

The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi
Designed by Rodrigo Corral

Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka
Designed by Mother

U.S.! by Chris Bachelder
Designer Unknown

Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames
Designed by Paul Sahre

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
Designed by Henry Sene Yee

The Good Life by Jay McInerney
Designed by John Gall

American Nerd by Benjamin Nugent
Designed by Jason J. Heuer

Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman
Designed by Paul Sahre

In Europe by Geert Mak
Designed by Jason Booher

Can I Have a Word With You? by Howard Richler
Designed by David Drummond

Garden State by Rick Moody
Designed by Paul Sahre

Vintage PKD by Philip K. Dick
Designed by John Gall

The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living by Martin Clark
Designed by Evan Gaffney

NoVA by James Boice
Designed by Paul Sahre

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander
Designed by Helen Yentus

Time by Eva Hoffman
Designed by Henry Sene Yee

This I Believe Edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
Designer Unknown

Portrait Photos

A brief introductory paragraph about the category, if appropriate

Too Fat to Fish by Artie Lange and Anthony Bozza
Designed by Rodrigo Corral

December by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop
Designer Unknown

Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints by Joan Acocella
Designed by Archie Ferguson

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Designed by Chip Kidd

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Designed by Keenan

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead by Frank Meeink and Jody M. Roy
Designed by Pinch

Perfume by Patrick Suskind
Designed by Gabriele Wilson

The Open Road by Pico Iyer
Designed by Helen Yentus

Can They Do That? by Lewis Maltby
Designed by Matt Dorfman

The Anchor Book of New Irish Writing Edited by John Somer and John J. Daly
Designed by Megan Wilson

The War Against Cliche by Martin Amis
Designed by John Gall

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Designed by Evan Gaffney

General Photos

Sometimes photographic covers offer a more literal approach. These often consist of images that are directly related to the book's contents, sometimes even custom shots taken specifically for the book. But they're still incredibly creative and require just as much skill to effectively pull off as any of the other types above.

Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller
Designed by Evan Gaffney

Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss

Sexy Librarian by Julia Weist
Designed by Kristian Bjornard

The Tourists by Jeff Hobbs
Designer Unknown

The Honeymoon's Over by Andrea Chapin
Designer Unknown

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey
Designed by David Konopka

The Abomination by Paul Golding
Designed by Chip Kidd

Wheeling Motel by Franz Wright
Designed by Carol Devine Carson

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
Designed by John Gall

Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom
Designed by Christopher Moisan

How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet
Designed by Christopher Moisan

These Granite Islands by Sarah Stonich
Designed by John Fulbrook III

Bow's Boy by Richard Babcock
Designed by John Fullbrook III

Missing Men by Joyce Johnson
Designed by Joe Montgomery

King Arthur in The East Riding by Simon Armitage
Designed by Samantha Johnson

The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D'Ambrosio
Designed by Rodrigo Corral

The Spatial Economy by Masahisa Fujita, Paul Krugan, and Anthony J. Venables
Designed by Ori Kometani

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
Designed by High Design NYC

The Assassin's Song by M.G. Vassanji
Designed by Kelly Blair

Making Certain It Goes On by Richard Hugo
Designed by Darren Haggar

Calamity and Other Stories by Daphne Kalotay
Designed by Kelly Blair

Fire in a Canebrake by Laura Wexler
Designed by Paul Sahre

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Designed by Paul Sahre and Christopher Brand

Insurmountable Simplicities by Roberto Casati and Achille Varzi
Designed by David Drummond

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Designer Unknown

Home by Marilynne Robinson
Designer Unknown

The Year It Snowed in April by Eva Bottier
Designer Unknown

Mozart's Ghost by Julia Cameron
Designer Unknown

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'Easter by Lisa Patton
Designer Unknown

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