There are several ways of designing an album cover. I am no expert at designing them, but as a graphic designer and electronic musician, I do have some experience designing a few. In this series of articles, I will show you how you can design an album cover.
The first thing that you need to figure out is what kind of album cover you want. Obviously, depending on the type of music you create, you will have a few aesthetics and styles in mind all ready. However, if not a designer, the task can be daunting. That will be the case if you try too hard to copy or be heavily inspired by something you have seen.
The best options for you, if not familiar with design software, are to go old school and analogue. There is nothing simpler than doing stuff with your hands. Plus, it is another creative outlet that is great to try out.
The easiest way to create an album cover is to take the photography route. Perhaps in the ’90s that was hard. Even in the early 2000s. However, nowadays, it is effortless. You can either use that pretty decent camera that’s in your pocket, or you can download an awesome image from a free stock photo library like Unsplash.
Let’s start with the latter. We love to browse and stock photo libraries are a great visual browsing tool. Plus, they are designed in a way that makes it easy to find the kind of photos you are looking for by typing in keywords.
Let’s say for a minute, that you are a post-punk band – like IDLES – and you are looking for a photo of raw material like concrete. All you have to do is type in the search bar “concrete” and loads of images will appear, ranging from close up textures to abstract architecture photographs in both colour and black and white (see the screenshot below).
Sure they are not square. But not to worry. You can either browse through the search results and try to find a square photo, or you can grab your favourite one and crop it. The easiest way for cropping an image would be to send it to your phone unless you have installed the Unsplash app on it and downloaded the photo directly from the app. All you are left with is to open your photo, tap on the edit icon, and then crop. You can send your cropped photo to your inbox, download it on your computer, and upload it with your music. Easy peasy! To give you an idea, here are two album covers that were made using abstract photography.
The results are great, plus you get a unique album cover without any effort. If you want, you can even share your cover on your socials and tag the original photographer. They will always appreciate it, and might even check out your music and become fans.
Now if you want to take the photo yourself, that is perfectly fine. Suppose you have a dedicated camera, perfect. You already take photographs and know how to deal with importing your photos and stuff. Hell, you might even know a few basics in photo processing. Assuming you’re not a professional photographer or enthusiast. If not, that’s cool. Just use the one resting in your pocket or bag. Yes, your phone.
You can take any photo. Landscape, still life, selfie, abstract. All that matters is that you are happy with the results. You probably take a lot of photos with your phone anyway. So editing and processing it on your phone is easy. If you want to use filters, that’s cool too. I would recommend using apps like VSCO, 1967, even Instagram. If you use other apps, that’s fine. Just make sure to download or send yourself the image when you’re done.
To show what this could look like, here are two examples by two British electronic artists, in two very different settings.
Once again, the results are brilliant. Now sure, you might be able to tell which one was taken professionally and which one wasn’t, but that is not the point. The point is that each cover represents the artist’s vision and music and, in my opinion, both photographs work. The colours and the composition are both great in each photo, and that is all you need really. Perhaps some good contrast too.
If you are releasing music while being locked in because of the pandemic, you can take a photograph of an object, a piece of paper or a photo. As redundant as it may seem, taking a photo of an existing image is kind of cool.
Now, you can also design your album cover with a photo of yourself. With a portrait or autoportrait – if you fancy it. However, if you’re going the autoportrait route and that you are using your phone as a camera, I recommend using the rear camera and not the selfie one. The rear one is always better than the front-facing one. However, autoportraits are tricky and challenging. They take multiple attempts before obtaining the right results and require lots of effort and patience. This is why I will mainly focus on portraits – which are taken by another person than you.
To achieve that, you will need a trusted buddy or relative to help you. The photo can be taken anywhere, but I highly recommend doing it outside. Your best option is to be in front of a plain background early in the morning, around sunrise, or before nightfall, when the sun is setting. Ideally, you are facing the light and not your photographer. That way, you will avoid any backlight while getting the most beautiful lights of the day. Meaning that – normally – you won’t need to retouch your photos, which makes things even easier.
If you are taking your photos on your phone, you can check the result instantly in between each shot. That way, you can adjust your posture and position for better results. At the end of the shoot, if you want to add filters, you can too. Nothing is against it. It’s just that I would avoid changing the colours too much as you already benefitted from the naturally coloured lights from the Sun.
Also, if you don’t want to go through a photoshoot, just look through your old photos. Maybe there’s already a portrait laying around that best represents you for that awesome album you’re putting out.
As you can see, every single album cover that we have looked at today were not difficult to create. Meaning that even if you know nothing about typography, layout or design in general, you can still manage to have a good looking album cover. Remember as well to not be too hard on yourself because this can really turn your mood down and make you feel worse than anything. So focus on creating art that you love. And if you don’t love what you’ve done, it’s ok too. All you need to do is not hate it, and you’ll get better with practice.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post because I sure did love writing it and sharing my thoughts on how to design an album cover when you are not a designer using photography. I am planning on writing the other parts in the future. So don’t worry, you’ll discover other ways to design an album cover, without actually designing.