Author Photos: A How-to Guide
Today I’m going to talk about something that doesn’t get brought up a lot — author photos. Now, I’ve talked about this on the internet before, but I’m glad I get the chance to update what I’ve said before and hopefully help some of you that are about to embark on your publishing adventure.
As writers, many of us can be camera shy, but there will come a time when that publisher, that blogger, that publicist will ask for a photo of you. A couple of things might happen then — you’ll be left scrambling to find a good one that’s a few years old, or trying to take one yourself or getting a friend to do it.
Don’t scramble. Think ahead! When the time comes and your book sells, you’re going to need that photo. Even if you are self-publishing, a headshot will be helpful from a marketing standpoint.
Now, this post is written assuming that you are having professional headshots taken. This is something that I really, really, really think you should do. Yes, they will be expensive. Yes, you could likely save money by having a friend take photos of you. However, your author photo is your introduction to the world, and it really is worth the time and money to put your best photo forward.
Below, I’m going to break down how to get an author photo, from the beginning stages of researching a photographer all the way through getting your photos edited. If you have any questions, you can of course ask me below in the comments. I’ll be checking the post throughout the rest of the conference, so feel free to ask!
WHAT YOU WANT
Just like researching a book before you write it, you want to research a photographer before you shoot with them. Every photographer has a different style, and you want one that speaks to you. If you have friends who are actors, they are a fantastic resource for headshot photographers, as they also need headshots!
Some things to look for immediately during research:
- Someone who specializes in headshots or has decent experience with portraits
- Someone who has a good portfolio and body of work
- A professional website where their contact information is clearly displayed and which showcases their work.
- If they have a yelp page, someone who has good reviews
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure about something or want to get to know the photographer a little better before you set up an appointment. Most photographers will be happy to answer questions about things like how long it takes them to get the photos back to you, how long their sessions are, what kind of photos they like doing best, etc.
BEFORE THE SHOOT
Great! You’ve found the photographer of your dreams. Their pictures make your heart sing, and you know they’re going to make you look like a movie star. Your appointment is booked and you can’t wait to have a photoshoot just like you’ve seen on TV! But wait just a second. Before you jump into the magic, there are a few things to think about and prepare.
Hair — It’s a general rule that you don’t want to get your hair cut or drastically colored the day before a photo shoot. Allow 1-2 weeks if you’re making a drastic change so that A.) You are comfortable with it B.) the harsh newness of cut/color fades a little.
Skin — The same rule applies to skin. Don’t start a drastically new skin regimen to ‘clean up your face’ a couple days before you go shooting. You don’t know how your skin will react, and you may end up making your skin look worse. If you are really concerned about your skin in photos, talk to your photographer about specifically paying attention to your skin when they’re retouching your photos.
Clothes — You know when you wear an outfit that makes you look stunning and everybody complements it? That is, of course, how you want to look in your photo. So I have a quick list of guidelines to help when selecting your photo-shoot clothing — what makes you pop in real life may not be the same in two dimensions. (Keep in mind, there are always exceptions, but take these things into account.)
- No all-black clothing. Yes, black can be slimming, but wearing all black in a photo also has the tendency to make you look like a floating bobble-head. No one wants that!
- No all-white clothing. Wearing completely white is generally a bad idea as it can wash out some skin tones. (Pastel colors can have the same effect.)
- Keep the patterns to a minimum. Wearing a lot of very loud, very busy prints and patterns confuses the photo and draws the eye away from the face. We want people to look at YOU!
- Color! Color is good! Stick to the color families that make you look good, but when wearing color, don’t be afraid to go bright and bold! Most author photos are headshots, meaning you probably won’t see more of the author than their head and chest. So pick clothing that has interesting details and necklines to create some visual interest and shape in the photo.
- Everything in moderation. Of course you can break these rules a little, For example, some people look great in white! When in doubt, do a test shot. Bring a variety of tops to the shoot so you can change and get some different looks.
Make-Up — When getting ready for your shoot, most people do their own make-up. This is very important: Do not use any more make-up than you would use on a normal day. Many people think that MORE = BETTER when it comes to photos. That’s not necessarily true. Cameras now pick up on the details, and the more make-up you put on, the more make up you’re going to see. Do what makes you comfortable, and you’ll look great!
Jewelry — Jewelry is fun, but keep it tasteful and to a minimum. You don’t want your bling outshining you and drawing focus.
DAY OF SHOOT
Every profession has its own set of spoken and unspoken rules. So I’m going to let you in on a few things etiquette-wise that will make your shoot a much better experience. (AKA, you won’t become the client from hell.)
Bring friends! But ask first — I know that it’s a lot of fun to bring friends along on a photo shoot. Sometimes it’s to help you feel comfortable*, sometimes it’s just for fun, but ask the photographer first. If your photographer owns a small studio space, then she might say no based on the fact that it gets crowded quickly. However, if you’re shooting in Central Park, it could be no problem. So if you’re planning on bringing an entourage, just run it by them.
NOTE: This does not apply to instances when the person being photographed is under 18, in which case a parent or legal guardian should ALWAYS be present.
*Also — if you are uncomfortable being alone, and the photographer refuses to shoot you unless you are alone, this is a red flag.
Camera talk, not as sexy as pillow talk — If you want to ask about the photographer’s camera out of curiosity, go for it. But please — and I am begging you here — don’t say anything along the lines of ‘Wow. Nice camera. No wonder you take good photos!’ ‘I think I have the same camera.’ Or ‘If I had a camera like that, could I charge as much as you do?’ Comments like these bug photographers because the tools of the trade don’t define talent. Think of it as complimenting a chef on what kind of stove they used to cook the meal. (On this same note, do not touch the photographer’s equipment without permission.)
Communication — Talking is the key to a good photoshoot. Making sure the photographer knows what you want and need is a good thing. If they start posing you for full body shots, when it’s supposed to be headshots, say something. Ask if you can see the photos so you can see what poses look better.
Trust your photographer — Now, while communication is good, there also has to be a degree of trust of the person who is behind the camera. The reason you hired the photographer is so they can do what they do best — make you look good. Remember, they do this for a living, and you chose them based on their work. Collaboration is great, and usually makes for better photos. However, the photographer is the one seeing the photo. Trust that they want to make you look as good as much as you want to look good. This goes for your entourage as well — too many cooks in the kitchen make for bad pie.
AFTER THE SHOOT
Phew! Your photos are taken, but the work isn’t over yet. There’s still the whole process of choosing and editing, but don’t worry, you’re almost there!
Picking your photos — I know that looking at 200 copies of yourself can be daunting. But you must do it. This is where friends and the photographer can help you in choosing your final photos. Try to be objective. Just because you’re squeamish about looking at yourself doesn’t mean all the photos are bad. In fact, looking at that many photos can actually teach you your best angles!
NOTE: Pretty much without exception, the photos at the end of the shoot will be the better ones. By that time, you’re more comfortable with both the photographer and the process, and have relaxed. If you have an outfit you really want to wear, leave it for the end so your best shots can be in it!
Editing — Every photographer is different, but most include a specific number of edited photos with whichever package you choose, and then have a fee for editing more than that. This isn’t because we are money-grabbing. Editing well takes a lot of time and attention to detail. If we edited every photo we took of you, we’d be old and gray and only be making ten cents per hour. Communicate with your photographer what you’re most concerned about, whether it’s acne or freckles or anything else.
Deadlines — Some photographers will state on their website how long it will take for them to get proofs or finals back to you, others base it on your needs or their schedule. Both of these things are great, but once you set a date for getting the photos back, don’t expect to change it unless there is an absolute emergency. Telling the photographer you need the photos a month after you actually need them is one of the fastest ways to sour a good working relationship.
I’ve included a few headshot examples from my past clients below. Some of them follow the guidelines, some do not.
That’s all I have for now. Please hit me up in the comments if you have any questions!