As we celebrate picking up the bronze award for Best Use of Imagery at the International Content Marketing Awards (CMAs), our creative design services team talk through the magazine cover design and take a look at the magic behind the scenes at a Dialogue photoshoot for Bentley Magazine.
How to tackle magazine cover design
George Mpanga, known as George the Poet, was the perfect fit for Bentley Magazine issue 71 and featured as the magazine’s cover story. A passionate young voice for change, George is an award-winning podcaster and poet who is outspoken on a wide variety of social and cultural issues, including sustainability and eco-issues.
We secured an exclusive interview and photoshoot with George and set to work planning the best way to capture his voice and personality.
We had one day to interview, shoot and film George for Bentley Magazine at a studio in London. The idea of a portrait shoot was developed, placing both George and his words centre stage and showcasing the performance nature of his poetry.
George’s poetry is art, so we enlisted the help of typographic illustrator Oli Frape to bring to life the words from George’s poem ‘A Climate of Change’, which perfectly fit with Bentley’s sustainability messaging.
“I was delighted to get the chance to work not only with Bentley Magazine, but also on a piece written by George the Poet for this one-off, large-scale lettering piece,” says Oli. “Lots of my lettering work involves very refined and considered letterforms which are illustrative or expressive in their nature. This brief was less about illustrative lettering, and more about immediate, conversational and hand-written typography – to create the illusion that the wall of lettering was written by the author himself as he thought of it. I settled on a cross between my own hand (in caps) and a looser, sign-writer casual style. This enabled me to fill the large piece in a relatively short space of time and captured the immediacy required in the brief.”
The lettering on Perspex created its own technical challenges – on the day the Perspex didn’t arrive, leaving the team to find an alternative in the local area with no notice at all.
The Perspex sourced was far larger and heavier than the one intended, which made for yet another technical challenge – and a health and safety nightmare. Thankfully the Dialogue team, along with award-winning photographer Sam Chick and lighting technician Roger Bool, thought on their feet.
On the morning of the shoot, with George’s arrival imminent, Sam and Roger enlisted a local friend to supply scaffolding, that would allow the Perspex to be safely suspended. This allowed George to be shown interacting with the words without risking injury!
The final magazine cover
With set up safely complete, the day went without further hitches. George and his assistant commented that they had a brilliant time, as George went from photography to interview and back to the photography set smoothly.
The Dialogue team also managed to capture some behind the scenes film footage, which was cut together to produce a slick behind the scenes video and uploaded to the Bentley Network app, broadening the reach of the content.
The day went so well that a few extra shots were taken, with the team using a Chesterfield sofa at the studio to create an arresting image of George which worked wonderfully across a DPS.
George was very relaxed and easy going, and the resulting images made the layouts a breeze. Green was introduced as an accent colour to echo the sustainability angle of his words. A sequence of shots focusing on George’s expression tells an engaging story whilst his interaction with his words presents his poetry as art and shows him as the performer he is.
The photoshoot was such a success, George requested the images for his own business use.
Plus the Dialogue team and Bentley decided to upgrade the feature to the cover story of the magazine. Thankfully, all Dialogue photoshoots include a cover option, so the resulting cover shot was perfect. The cover uses George’s words in the negative space of the B and the shape of the letter perfectly frames George’s expression.
Experts in focus
We interviewed award-winning photographer Sam Chick, to get his thoughts on this extraordinary photoshoot and the resulting page layouts and cover:
What did you think when you saw the initial brief and idea for the George the Poet shoot for Bentley Magazine? My reaction to ideas is often both emotive and straightforward, usually determining whether I’ll accept a project quite quickly. This brief was simple and elegant and clearly allowed graphic and exciting pages to be created without overwhelming the presence of the subject. The idea would enhance and contribute to the presence of George, without overshadowing his character. So it was pretty easy to accept to be honest!
What preparation did you do prior to the shoot? Did you pre-empt any problems? Working carefully with Rich and Nicola well in advance, we pretty much walked through the shot list and ironed out most issues, from exact paint colours and surfaces to lighting scenarios. I’m a great believer in preparation and planning – this allows both a structure for sittings and the comfort and confidence to respond to the unexpected and be spontaneous as situations arise. We employed multiple lighting environments for various scenarios and were able to move between them calmly and fluidly.
On the day of the shoot, what went well? What challenges did you have to overcome and how did you overcome them? In a digital age it is all too easy to create visual ideas in post, so the original brief and request to shoot the lettering in camera was an exciting and welcome challenge. From the obvious issues of lighting someone through and next to reflective and transparent surfaces to the logistics of suspending a huge Perspex sheet safely alongside George, we had technical issues to overcome. With the right equipment (including some pretty hefty wind-up stands and some scaffolding) plus plenty of experience in the room, things went smoothly. Again, it’s all in the planning!
What was George like to work with? A calm, charismatic and deeply considered individual. I prefer not to overly direct and dictate people during sittings but instead observe moments which inspire me. George responded wonderfully and without self-consciousness to the group dynamic in the studio and my interventions and requests – in between fits of laughter. Nothing was too much trouble – George was a pleasure to work with throughout.
For you, what makes this a strong feature photoshoot? A combination of the elegant simplicity of concept from Dialogue, the freedom Rich and Nicola gave me to light and crop the frames and of course George’s presence. In short, it all quite literally came together on the day with everyone understanding a strong brief and working towards the same goal.
What do you think about the final feature and the use of your imagery on the pages? Editorial art direction and creation requires trust and collaboration to seamlessly combine typography, photography and the written word. Seeing the outcome in print as a collaborator and contributor I felt the final layout brought these elements together and created a dynamic whole greater than the sum of its parts. The cropping and use of typography alongside the photographed text was elegant and clean – the use of colour was bold, sympathetic and added to the flow of pages.
Overall the project was a genuine pleasure to work on from beginning to end – strong initial ideas and good collaboration throughout are what make these features so strong so it was a joy to work with the team on this one.