Choosing a suitable cover image for the AP Christmas Special can be a tough job, so for the past couple of years we’ve decided to turn to you, the readers, for help.

The first time we announced we’d be using a reader’s image for the cover we worried what would happen if no one sent in anything suitable. Last year, when we asked again, we worried whether our success the first time was a fluke. Now that it’s abundantly clear it wasn’t, we decided to do it again, and you have come up trumps once more. We received more than 500 entries to our cover competition, which we advertised in the magazine, on our website and social media channels, and many of them were quite outstanding.

Our regular weekly portfolio submissions prove that we can count some of the most talented photographers in the country among our readership, but the requirements of a cover image go way beyond just being a good picture. It needs to have a graphic impact that hits you immediately, preferably from a distance.

Christmas Cover Competition 2015

The photographer

Gareth Williams, from the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales, took this shot with his Pentax K200D and 55mm lens in the comfort of his living room. ‘I had to move the baubles off the tree to get enough distance between them and the lights to make the bokeh possible,’ says Gareth. ‘To keep the baubles still and in place, they were taped onto a lighting stand.’ And what will Gareth spend the money on? As he recently bought some new lenses he’ll do the honourable thing and spend it on the family, who have always supported his hobby.

Simple images work best, with uncluttered areas where cover lines can be placed and read easily. It should go without saying that the image should be portrait format, like the magazine cover, or if it’s landscape it needs to be of a high-enough resolution that a portrait-format image can be cropped from it and still be big enough to cover the 290mm height of the cover. (We received a lot of landscape-format entries that we had to reject immediately for this reason).

Once our technical and compositional needs had been met, it came down to what we were looking for in the image. We received a lot of great landscapes that beautifully illustrated the theme of winter, but not necessarily Christmas, and after mocking-up a few of our favourite submissions as covers, we decided that we wanted the magazine specifically to reflect this festive period.

cover competition 2015

Selection of entries for the 2015 Christmas Cover Competition

Of the images that fitted all our criteria, the one we finally settled on was by Gareth Williams. Photographing a Christmas decoration may seem a little obvious, and even perhaps clichéd, but it’s surprisingly difficult to do well and Gareth showed great skill in his work. His red baubles provided the visual impact we were seeking, the lighting is lovely, the composition perfect for our needs, and we love the bokeh from the out-of-focus decorations in the background. A hearty ‘well done’ to Gareth for his achievement.

It seemed a waste not to do something with some of the other amazing images you sent us, so we’ve decided to run a separate feature in the next few weeks focusing on your best winter images.

Cover Tips

  • The job of a cover image is to stand out from the other covers on the shelf. Before submitting an image, look at your shortlist as thumbnails in an image browser. Note which images draw your attention and stand out. These are likely to be the ones that will make the best cover images.
  • It sounds obvious but magazines are mostly portrait format, so shoot in portrait orientation. Although it’s possible to crop from a landscape-format image if the resolution is high enough, it’s best to use all the available pixels where possible. Remember, we need around 3,600 pixels on the vertical axis.
  • Don’t crop in too tightly – leave lots of space for cover lines. Busy images with lots of detail are generally unsuitable, as they make superimposed text difficult to read. There should also be plenty of space at the top for the magazine masthead.
  • Try various angles and subject placements, with the main focal point to the left, the right and centre, to give the art editor lots of options for where to put the cover lines.
  • If you’re submitting a portrait, it’s generally best to have good eye contact, with the subject looking directly into the lens. Covers where the subject has a strong gaze tend to draw the viewer’s attention much more than those where the subject is looking away. Also, the eyes should be pin-sharp.
  • Remember, magazines work well ahead of the publication date – especially monthlies – so submit seasonally dependent images (such as spring flowers) four to six months before the issue comes out.
Amateur Photographer welcomes the submission of photographs and articles in AP, on our website and social media. Find out how to submit to Amateur Photographer.