How to Make a Professional Cover Photo Without a DSLR Camera

When I launched my blog last Christmas, the most comments I got were directed toward my cover photo at the top of the screen. Friends that were heavily into photography and videography nodded their approval, and several asked just exactly how I did it.

Well. I’ll tell you it definitely wasn’t with a Canon Rebel and a light studio, that’s for sure.

Imagine a nineteen-year-old college student alone in the house and an ambitious project in her head. Oh, and a random pile of boxes, books, and her brother’s school supplies stacked on a chair across the table. Imagine a large hole puncher propping up her iPhone on the top of the makeshift tower. Yeah, that’s my “studio” for you.

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I first took a picture of the table will all its glorious writer-arist junk spread everywhere.

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And then I tried taking one of me sitting with all my writer-artist junk everywhere.

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Because of the weird angles necessary to accommodate my head, I lost a lot of space and I was much larger in the photo than I had originally thought. I imported both into Photoshop and put them in the right dimensions, then slowly began to tweak the photo.

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I used a clipping mask to do all the “erasing” around my body. This is useful because if you mess up, you can always undo your mistake and you never actually lose anything important.

Now that I was the right size in the photo, and the dimensions were all good, I was ready to start working on the background.

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The books were a little drab-colored for me. I wanted them to have a few warmer colors in them without losing their muted tone. So I made two copies of this original picture. One I saturated all the reds, and the other I saturated all of the yellows. I made a clipping mask on the top one and allowed some of the red to show through to the yellow, to give the books a little more of a color variance.

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Then I blurred the photo with a Gaussian blur, and desaturated it back some.

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Next are some fine-tuning steps like making sure your original clipping mask doesn’t have any holes in it, making sure the two photos merge without throwing off the natural order of angles and perspective — stuff like that. That included tweaking my laptop a little bit so it looked like it was part of the original photo.

But the most noticeable thing I did here was fix my helmet head, the bane of the amateur Photoshopper’s existence. Sometimes, you can even see the mistake in magazines or professional advertisements. When someone cuts a person out of a background like I did in step one, it’s very hard to cut human hair out with the background so that it looks realistic. A lot of times you get the hard, helmet-like box look (which you can see it the second photo). One of the ways I fix it is color dropping my hair and picking a soft brush at one or two pixels. And I actually draw back my hair.

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Next step is to start adding the fake “Pro Photographer” look that made people think I actually had equipment *laughs quietly to self*. Just Google professional photographer portfolios and you’ll notice they absolutely love little fuzzy lightning bugs in their photos. It proves that their aperture and shutter speed are top notch to capture the little floating dust particles in the air.

I won’t explain the process here, because I actually used a short tutorial for this part. The Digital Photography School’s Sarah Hipwell did a great job explaining how to add the dust particles (and lens flairs if you want) in Photoshop here.

I did this process several times in different layers, with different sized brushes. That way I could make some more transparent than others, and it built the effect nicely all around.

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Then, to give it the final “cool-factor”/”I’m a pro photographer but not really” look, take a large soft brush and paint the edges with black (on a separate layer, obviously). It’ll give it another cool light effect and make it seem deeper and richer of a photo.

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And there you have it. A totally faked photoshoot that looks almost Canon-quality.

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