My very first author photo was taken by Max when he was about 8 years old. I had just gotten my first magazine article accepted and they wanted a picture to go with the article. I set everything up in my backyard and had Max hit the button on my camera a few times.
It was a pretty decent photo, all things considered. I ended up using it for a number of years, and still use it on my Fermenting For Foodies blog as a very tiny author image.
When I finally invested in a proper DSLR camera, I had Brad help me with a longer photoshoot. We went out for an hour and walked around the city and snapped photos in a few different locations. The photos came out pretty good, considering Brad’s limited photography experience. And one of those photos is the one I’m currently using for my magazine column.
A professionally taken photo
After signing a publishing contract with Touchwood Editions I was given a twelve-page marketing questionnaire with a request for an author photo. I knew from my writing friends that a professionally taken author photo was important. It’s easy to spot the difference between a professional photo and one taken by your 8-year old son.
- High-quality camera, editing software and colour calibrated monitor.
- Better lighting and white balance use filters and reflectors.
- Understanding of composition that comes from experience.
Not convinced? Here’s a blog post with a bunch of good versus bad author photos.
Some General Author Photo Advice
1. Figure out what are you trying to say with your photo
An author photo is one way that your audience will connect with you as a writer. It’s important to figure out exactly what your brand is before you get your photo taken. If you aren’t sure what your brand is, think about what you are writing, what genre it is and what you want to communicate about yourself to your audience.
2. Try out a few different outfits
Don’t just pick out your favourite outfit and go with it. Pick out four or five potential outfits, try them on, then have someone take a quick photo of you, so you can see which ones you like the best. Avoid complicated patterns and too many colours. The picture is of you, not your outfit.
If you can afford it, it’s worth paying for a photo session. Then you can try on a few different outfits and a few different backgrounds. It really takes the pressure off.
3. How to avoid looking awkward
Awkward photos are my specialty. As soon as I see a camera, I end up with a weird forced smile or I fix my glasses. I just can’t act naturally.
Luckily, I’m good friends with a very talented portrait photographer, Tara Hughes. While we haven’t seen much of each other lately, we rented an apartment together at University and have stayed connected. (I still remember Tara’s all-night study sessions that somehow always involved a guitar and singing at around 3 am).
Catching up with Tara while she took my photo really reduced my awkwardness. In fact, she’s so friendly and easy-going, that even if you don’t share memories of having a pet iguana, you’ll still be able to relax.
Tara also had a few other tricks up her sleeve to help me feel relaxed.
- Deep belly breathing
- Changing postures
- Taking lots of extra photos (177 photos in our hour-long shoot!)
Tara recommended wearing natural eye makeup, mascara and lipstick two shades darker than you normally wear. The goal isn’t to look like you’re wearing makeup. Makeup for a photoshoot helps your features pop and makes you look professional.
Personally, I never wear makeup. So I had to go out and buy mascara and eye shadow for the photoshoot, and I wore tinted lip balm (affiliate link). It meant that the photos didn’t exactly look like me. However, I did look like a professional author.
5. General photoshoot advice
- Author photos need to clearly feature your face. Standard grade-school style shots of the head and shoulders are best.
- Make sure the photographer is willing to give you the rights to the photo. You don’t want to ask for permission every time you send it out or post it online.
- It’s equally important to give credit to the photographer whenever applicable. Photography is their art form, just like writing is your art form.