Throwback Thursday: The Year in Natural Home & Garden Covers

Reader Contribution by Jessica Kellner and Editor
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I thought for today’s post I’d share a little bit of behind-the-scenes info with you all about the labor of love that is our Natural Home & Garden cover development process. If you’re a longtime reader of NH&G, you know that we’ve done lots of styles of covers. Over the past year, we’ve worked to develop a consistent, recognizable look for our covers that we hope represents the content, style and mission of the magazine. It’s been a learning process!

When I first took over as editor, starting with the March/April 2011 issue, we were using already shot photography for our covers. This can be great because there are many photographers out there with lovely portfolios, and if you can find the right image, you can create something really lovely. The problem, however, was that we wanted images with strong ties to the content inside the issue. Ideally, we wanted covers that tied directly to our cover stories. When searching for cover images, you also can’t choose just any old image. It must be formatted in a way that allows you space for your cover lines, to give readers an idea of what they’re going to find inside the issue. You’re also searching for something with bright, engaging colors. Once you combine all of the requirements, what seems like a vast pool of photographers’ work suddenly shrinks to nearly nothing. So many times we found ourselves encountering the “this image would be great if only…” scenario. If only it had the exact plants we were talking about in the article. If only this chair were moved to the left instead of dead center. If only that window frame didn’t bisect the page. You get the idea.

We decided that, in order to create a truly authentic image that was us, that represented both the content and the personality of the magazine, we needed to shoot the covers ourselves. It’s very lucky that we have a fantastic photographer here in the area of our office in northeast Kansas. Thomas Gibson made his way to us after years of working in California. He proceeded to move from Kansas City to just outside the college town of Lawrence, Kansas, (where I live, as well), and built a 7,000-square-foot studio with sleek concrete floors, enormously high ceilings and awesome rolling wood barn-style doors on exposed hardware. He also created the largest natural light studio in the country, where we shoot our covers.

We shot the first cover we did with Thom (above) outdoors (you can read Thom’s blog about it and see some photos of me, Thom, his assistant Travis, and Health & Lifestyle editor Ginevra Holtkamp). We wanted an outdoor tabletop scene with summery lemons and lemonade. We were hoping to evoke the relaxed feeling of a summer afternoon. I love the cover, but we realized a few things we wanted to change for next time, such as bringing down our camera angle and streamlining the text.

Since that cover, we’ve been working to improve with each cover. We view our covers as a corner of the room of the Natural Home & Garden reader. Before every shoot, we get feedback from readers via our incredibly helpful Editorial Advisory Group (become a member and vote on upcoming cover subjects and photos). Every issue, we test all of our article topics to determine which stories should make it on the cover. Then we decide which of the reader favorites best lend themselves to the cover image. We normally set up two to three distinct scenes, sometimes representing a couple of different articles. We spend weeks shopping at secondhand stores for props, and we also get some eco-friendly items lent to us from sustainable companies we have relationships with. Then we shoot a whole slew of options, narrow down to our favorite six or so, mock up test versions for every one, and have our Editorial Advisory Group vote online. It’s a long but incredibly fun process, and I feel we’ve been turning out some great results.

For the November/December issue, we hoped to evoke the Simple Life theme with a vision of a handspun Christmas, with a cut branch from nature and beautiful but functional yarn balls as decor. We did a pale green and bright pink color palette as a spin on traditional red and green.

If you haven’t received your copy yet, check out a sneak peek of the March/April 2012 cover below. We found the vintage blue dustpan on eBay, and the company Full Circle, which offers eco-friendly cleaning tools, was kind enough to send us the sponges and round scrubbing brush. The big glass containers holding baking soda were left over from my wedding reception, and the baskets were also from my home.

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