Make your author profile look professional, even if you can’t afford a photographer!
Brandi Spencer (formerly B. C. Marine), Secretary-Treasurer Authors 4 Authors Publishing
As authors in the age of social media, having the right image to represent you is more important than ever. Now, we writers tend to be solitary creatures by nature, so the thought of having your picture taken makes most of us want to hide. That’s okay! I’m here to help you with some tips and tricks to get you an image you’ll be proud to upload—or at least less embarrassed. There are many alternative ways to create a profile picture, such as a logo or drawn portrait. But the vast majority of authors use a headshot—and it’s what most readers expect—so today, so that will be our focus.
To provide some context and practical application, I’m going to use my author photos as an example. This is not because I think I look especially awesome but because I know exactly why I made the decisions I made and can walk you through them.
Get a photographer...or a friend...
Or at least a warm body. While you don’t necessarily need to hire a professional, your official author photo is usually not the best place for a selfie. Why? Even a zoomed-in or close-cropped image will not look the same as one actually taken within arm’s length of your face. When the camera is too close, it will distort your face, making whatever is in the center—usually your nose—look larger and rounder. Another person will be able to stand farther from you and get a more flattering angle.
In my case, I opted for a professional. My second son was only a few months old at the time, and I was still feeling deeply self-conscious about the extra baby weight, so it felt worthwhile to pay someone who get the right lighting and poses. However, as you’ll see, I saved money elsewhere. If you have a talented friend, are highly photogenic, or simply lack the funds, you can still get a good photo without a professional photographer, but I definitely recommend having someone to take your picture.
Choose an inspired background.
This is important to pick first because it will affect most of the other choices. What kind of author are you? Are you serious or whimsical? Do you write a lot of urban, historical, or fantasy? Your background can reflect that. An old barn door might work for a historical or ranch romance writer. An indoor photo against a plain background would be good to keep the focus on you. For me, the Pacific Northwest is a huge influence in my work, so it was important to take my photo in the forest.
Although the background is an excellent place to add some personality or flavor, be careful that you don’t overdo it. If your background is too busy, you can get lost in it. So for mine, we took pictures in just in front of things—a tree, a trellis, a pond—but if we’d tried to capture large sections of the garden behind me at once, it would have been too much.
Dress like yourself—mostly.
While it is important to look like yourself or make a statement, don’t get so hung up on that that you discard some basics. You want to be comfortable, because it will show in your photo if you aren’t, which means not wearing something you’d never normally wear…to a point. If you wear T-shirts and sweatpants every day, you’ll want to step it up a bit for a professional image.
Much like your background, simple clothing is better to keep the focus on you. A plaid shirt is a Pacific Northwest staple and essential to my closet as well, but I went with a solid-color sweater instead because busy or bold prints can be distracting.
You’ll also want to take into consideration your overall coloring when choosing your background and clothing. In my example, white or pale pink would fade into my skin tone, so they would be poor choices for me but might look lovely for someone else. And anyone who knows me well wouldn’t be surprised to know that green is the predominant color in my wardrobe and is usually flattering on me, but I didn’t choose it for my picture. Why? Because with a background of leafy plants, a green shirt would blend in and make me look like a floating head. Instead, I went with a rich burgundy sweater to complement both my coloring and the green in my background. Though not my all-time-favorite color, it was still a shirt that I liked and would wear—and do, in fact, wear fairly often now.
Make sure you’re well groomed.
This might seem obvious, but make sure your hair—if you have it—is properly styled, cut, and colored as needed. You don’t need to change your whole look, but if you have a couple inches of roots from a grown-out color or are overdue for a haircut, schedule to have that taken care of before you plan to have your picture taken.
Admittedly, this is where I had an advantage in saving some money. As a cosmetologist, I have the training, tools, and products to do my own hair and makeup, but there are some tricks to save money here for you too. If you get your hair cut or colored the day of your photo, it will be styled as part of the service. Even if it’s the type of salon that charges extra for styling, it should still cost much less than a blowout or shampoo and style on its own.
You can also get a demonstration or mini-makeover from a cosmetics store or department if you’re shopping for something. Granted, not every store will do this, and some will only do part of your face to discourage people from scamming makeovers. However, if you buy at least one of the products they use on you, you can make it worth the salesperson’s while.
Lastly, hair and makeup tend to diminish in front of the camera. You don’t need to look like you’re entering a 1986 Texan beauty pageant, but a little extra volume in your hair and slightly more makeup than you’d ordinarily wear will look normal in a photo.
Take a gazillion photos and poses.
You’re not likely to get the perfect picture on the first shot. Try as many angles and poses as you can, including different facial expressions. In this digital age, it’s not like you’re going to run out of film! Sometimes, the best image will turn out to be the one you least expect. My favorite picture ended up being one of the last ones taken of me during my shoot.
When you pick out your official image from all the pictures you take, it can also help to have some input from others. Get someone you trust to be honest with you to take a look. Certain aspects like approachability or pensiveness can be difficult to gauge about yourself. You might think a photo makes you look serious when it actually makes you look angry or intimidating.
Remember that it’s a headshot.
The primary use of your author photo is for the back of your books and profile images on social media. These are usually teeny tiny pictures, the social media ones tend to be cropped in a circle now. You want to make sure people can see you in them. A traditional headshot is the best way to do that as it will have your face somewhat centered and taking up an ideal portion of the image so that you can be seen well without being cut off. For a larger picture like your author website, a shot from the waist up or even a full-body shot might work, but you’ll want to crop or zoom to no lower than mid-chest for a headshot. Further out than that, your face becomes difficult to distinguish in a profile picture.
Pictures can be replaced, especially if you’re taking a lot of them. It’s not the end of the world if some of them don’t turn out. The more fun you have with your shoot, the more it will reflect in your expression. Remember how I said some of my best pictures were at the end? That’s partly because I was less stiff and comfortable with the process by then; my expressions were more natural. So relax and go with it!
I hope some of these tips will help you with your next author photo. Join us next week for our interview with Karen Heenan, author of Songbird.
Let's Keep in Touch!
Can't wait? Check out our website for available books!