The story of a cover

Editor Amy Duff drags art editor Sarah Barnett away from her screen to ask: how do you create a Vanity Fair-style cover for a business magazine without the help of Annie Leibovitz, a Hollywood cast and a huge budget.

AD: Hi Sarah. You were briefed to create a cover for the November issue to celebrate enterprising young professionals in finance. The challenge was that they worked in offices around the UK and in one case, Saudi Arabia. How did you do it?

SB: Without a budget of thousands and an army of assistants, you turn to the next best thing… technology. By dint of their profession, our cover stars are usually very busy people, wearing formal attire, always in office locations. They often lack the time to smile at a camera and get picked at by hair and make-up. And the atrium of a Big Four firm or a chief executive’s office, while lovely, isn’t the Chateau Marmont. Creating an impactful cover every month can be a challenge. The Vanity Fair treatment was even more of a challenge but we live in a modern world and our team at economia are clever about content.

AD: So once the cover stars had been selected and interviewed about how they make their mark, the challenges they have overcome and their best piece of advice (questions designed to appeal to younger readers ), how did you choose a photographer to shoot them?

SB: It was an easy choice. David Vintner is an International Photography Awards Lucie-winning photographer who has shot for Esquire, The Guardian, the Independent and Sunday Times magazines, and Wired. He has photographed legends such as Stirling Moss, Michael Palin, Nick Cave, Sir Ian McKellen and Nigel Farage.

AD: Hang on a minute, Nigel Farage?

SB: OK, OK… Timothy Spall, Tom Dixon, Simon Pegg…

AD: So he’s a high calibre photographer. And why shouldn’t our cover stars have a star photographer to capture their moment? So how did you design the cover so that it looked like they were in the same room, a la Vanity Fair?

SB: Photoshop! Oh, and Adam Orzechowski. He’s one of the best art-workers in the business.

AD: It sounds like this concept required some in-depth research. What was the process for that?

SB: The most important thing about doing a series of shoots is lighting and positioning of the subject. The photographer needs clear direction about how the editorial and design teams want it lit and how we want them to appear to interact together. So we started by looking at what’s already out there. We found a lot of nice shoots of groups in black and white; some people were sat, others were standing, and simple props were used to help balance the picture. This seemed like a good starting point.

AD: So what issues did you need to pre-empt?

SB: David and Adam began by planning the angles of the shot, which needed to be consistent across all shoots. Abdullah Ogaili (our photographer in Riyadh) needed to receive the measurements and lighting plans from David so that he could emulate the environment in Saudi Arabia for Khalid Alkudair. If something was lost in translation then Khalid’s shoot would stick out like a sore thumb and we wouldn’t be able to have the full group together.

AD: With six subjects shot, and 239 photographs to work with, what was Adam’s role?

SB: Adam went through the photographs, decided how to arrange the composition, and 15 hours of retouching later had created a group shot. The lighting creates shadows to give the impression they were all in the studio together.

AD: Explain the 3D type on the cover – what was the thinking behind that?

SB: 3D type is complicated, a clever person studies for years using a special programme called Cinema 4D, which is like a computer programme that looks like its made for a fighter pilot’s cockpit. It involves lots of maths but the end result is fantastic – the designer can make a word that looks like it’s carved out of stone.

AD: Once the editorial team had devised a cover line – “About the young idea”, also the name of the recent exhibition and CD celebrating The Jam, which we thought summed up the energy and innovation of youth and the next generation – you gave it to Nuria Madrid to work on. What did she create?

SB: Nouria came back with headlines designed in lots of different and clever ways. Words made out of glass, gold bars, red plastic and slick sexy blue plastic! We opted for the blue type because it looked bold and contemporary but crucially, we thought our client would like it, too.

AD: The result was a contemporary take on a Vanity Fair group shot. Well done!

SB: Thank you. Lots of computer skills and trickery were required but the overall result allowed us to showcase a very successful group of people in an engaging and innovative way. And both teams agreed, the end result was awesome. More importantly, the client loved it.

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