Photoshop How-To Video: Creating a Book Cover Using Free Stock Photography


(scroll to the bottom if you want to watch the video right away!)

Producing a good book cover can be very difficult, especially if your book isn’t a YA Romance…

There are a lot of great resources online about great book cover designs – best practices, font choices, etc. These are definitely worth reading, and can give you different routes and artistic styles to pursue.

For my books, I wanted to convey the tone and story’s scale somehow through the image on the front cover. Hopefully the cover and content compliment each other.

My background in graphic design and compositing comes in handy for building my own book covers, but still is definitely not the silver bullet for creating a good cover. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean the result will be what’s needed.

I designed my first covers long ago…

So you can see what I was trying for…

Descent of the Gods pleisosaur art

Creating a cover, even if you don’t use it on the final book, has a couple of advantages – it allows you to explore a different creative approach to your work, plus it gives you a visible marketing piece to show people. It helps to change up your creative juices and allows other people to begin to visualize what you’re working on.

Last year, I was frustrated with these prior attempts being the only visuals I had to show for a story that was getting closer to completion and also filling me with excitement by how it was finally coming together.

I’m a classical guy. I love classical music. I love the old ancient epic stories and the smell of the old pages, and the illustrations they used. I love Paradise Lost and Dante’s Divine Comedy… And I fell in love with Gustave Doré‘s engravings he made to illustrate both books (check out many of them here).

In many ways, my story is a sequel to the events of Paradise Lost, so I decided to produce a serious of covers using Dore’s engravings.

dotg_cover_lg (1)

I love the classical feel! To me, it conveys the antiquity and gravity of the events memorialized by the story. However, the feedback I received was that I was probably limiting my audience by using such old-fashioned art.

So I started working on something fresh, although I still have a secret plan to produce special editions of the trilogy using Dore’s illustrations.  😉


I had just been to Sri Lanka for work, and brought back some beautiful landscape photography.

The Descent of the Gods novel & screenplay

And so I used this as the starting point to build a cover. By using pictures of rocks and rivers from my trip, the new cover started to take shape. The hardest part was to get the angel to look right… But eventually, using a lot of different photo reference material, it was acceptable.

Looking for pictures to use, you can also find lot’s of great photography that’s free (believe it or not)!

I used this artwork for about a year. It really inspired me that a finished product that lived up to my ambitions was in sight.

However, the image is somewhat stoic, and little by little I wanted something with more energy.

So I started working on a new cover.

The result was what I was hoping for all along. A few months later, I saw another image of a illuminated cavern, and that began the process of designing the cover for the sequel – The Children of Wrath.


I decided to put together a very short video about how the cover for The Descent of the Gods came together. Without boring you with the details of blending modes and opacity masks, I wanted to get across the strategic arrangement of different images and effects that work together to achieve the final result.

Photoshop skills are simply learned with practice and by watching YouTube videos. Although I use the full Photoshop CC version, Photoshop Elements is perfectly capable of doing almost all the same things for only around $90.

I hope you enjoy the video, and if you want to read and comment on the book while I’m preparing the final draft, please do! Read ‘The Descent of the Gods’ Now!


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