Wednesday, May 11, 2011

5 Tips for Taking a Great Author Photo

I have never been photogenic. For those who might argue, I offer my kindergarten picture.

Luckily, I figured this out quite young, and I’ve become adept at avoiding cameras. My plan was to be one of those reclusive authors who lives in a cabin in the woods and has her manuscripts delivered to the publisher by secret courier.

Alas, the publishing gods have told me this is not an option in the internet age. Your author photo is an essential part of your marketing plan. You want industry professionals to recognize you. Readers want to interact with a person, not a book cover.

In order to get the dreaded author photo, I had to study what others did naturally. I spent hours looking at pictures and reading photographers' advice.

Here are the most oft-repeated tips along with a few things I learned from my own photo shoot:

Ask for Help: You might not be photogenic, but chances are you know someone who is. If coordinating hair, make-up, and photographer seems like a Herculean task, get some help. Think of the friend who always wants to drag you along for a make-over, or that annoying cousin who tortures you with the camera at family gatherings. Chances are they’ll know where to go for the best pictures, and they’ll be happy to give you advice. (I would never have made it through my first photo shoot without help from my good friend, Peggy Staggs. Thank you, Peggy!)

Set the Tone: Your author photo should hint at what genre you write. Typically, a serious literary work will have a more formal shot, while a romantic comedy can take advantage of a quirky location and unusual colors.

One idea is to match the themes and colors in your author photo with the themes and colors of your website or novels. Before you go this route, consider all the situations where you might need to use this photo. You want something that will work for everything you publish.

Avoid the Clichés: The thinker pose, the author with her cat, the author “surprised” at her desk. All of these are clichés I’ve seen mocked on the internet. It’s probably best to avoid them. You wouldn’t want anyone to think your writing was clichéd. Don’t give that impression with your photo.

Keep Your Hands off Your Head: Typically, authors pose this way either to look thoughtful or to hide a double chin. Whatever the reason, the resulting photo rarely looks natural. If you have features you’d like to disguise, it’s best to discuss them outright with the photographer at the start of the shoot. A professional will know how to minimize any flaws and show you at your best.

Try to Look Comfortable: Nothing is worse than a photo where the subject is visibly cringing, scowling at the camera, or looking to escape. Relax and imagine you’re having a great time. You don’t have to smile, but the best photos are those where the subject looks like he wants to be there. The easiest way to do this? Bring along that friend, the one who always makes you laugh, and the torture will be over before you know it.

No photographer can take a middle-aged woman and make her look like she did in college. But hopefully with these tips will help you obtain a photo which serves all your professional needs.

I would love to hear advice from our readers. What tips do you have on taking a great author photo?


Dawn Marie Hamilron said...

Hi Clarissa, I've never been photogenic either. I wouldn't even show my kindergarten picture; I look like a dweeb. I've not gone for a professional shoot yet, so I appreciate your tips. Thanks for sharing. :)

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post! I'm definitely not photogenic either, and I actually did my author shots just last week! Luckily I have a friend who's a photographer and I think, for me at least, what worked was having someone behind the camera that put me at ease. I have to say, writing a book is so much easier than having your picture taken! ;)

Eliza Knight said...

Great post Clarissa! I just did my new photo this week. I had my sister who is a hair stylist/make up artist/ amateur photographer come out to help me. We did up my hair and makeup and then we went out to an 18th century bridge in my town. I really wanted to have old stones as the background since I write historicals. It was a beautiful day, so the lighting was perfect. We tried without smiling, but the smiling looked much better. I agree with all those pointers you gave. I would also say to have fun with it. This is your image you present to the world--many of whom will never meet you in person. You want to portray who you are.

Abigail Sharpe said...

My professional shot looked awful. The shot that my friend took of me goofing off was awesome.

It helps if you have a friend who's a photographer and can take many, many shots of you while you pretend you're a cover model. :)

Luanna Stewart said...

Just thinking about getting a cover shot done gives me hives. I've never looked good in a photo, IMO. I always blink at the wrong moment and look half asleep or under the influence of something, hehe.

Thanks for the excellent pointers!

Patricia said...

Thanks for blogging about this topic because I've never seen anyone deal with this subject before - ever! I just found one of my pictures that I thought looked like "me" as opposed to anything purposely posed, pretending to look "writer-ish" or anything. I never gave it that much thought although of course everyone is going to see it and it shouldn't be a haphazard endeavor. Thanks for that.

D.R. Grady said...

As someone who still needs to get some professional pictures done, thanks for this advice! said...

I have zero tips. I rarely take a picture I like. This is timely, though, because I've been putting off my photo. I chose a photographer, but I haven't made the appointment. I keep thinking, " Let me lose five pounds and then I'll go." Ugh! Vanity, you're killing me.

Liz Lipperman said...

I wish I had read this before I had a professional head shot done. Although the gal did a great job getting out my wrinkles, it looks too formal, and everyone who knows me knows I'm not formal. What was I thinking?

Great advice.

Liz Fredericks said...

Excellent post, Clarissa! I've recently learned about the wonders of technology in touching up the professional photo. I'm amazed by what's possible now. I must say, however, that as I see the photos of the writers who are posting on this, I'm seeing a number of lovely, photogenic people, so I don't buy into the 'I'm not photogenic' position. Yes, you are!

Rayne Hall said...

I'm glad you're speaking out against the 'hand on chin' pose, so often used in author photographs, always looking slightly silly.

Strangely, it's only female authors who pose in this awkward pose. It makes them look unnatural, uncomfortable, unconfident - which is not the ideal image to project.

To appeal to readers, the author needs to look confident (to project that she has confidence in her own writing) and comfortable (to convey that she's comfortable with her own writing).

The awkward hand-on-chin pose suggests someone who's awkward in her role as author. In addition, it's very close to certain body language clues for dishonesty (finger on lips) and for anxiety (hand at base of throats). Those aren't good signals to send either.

It hadn't occurred to me until you pointed it out that maybe all these unfortunate ladies are desperately trying to hide a double chin. Actually, there photographic techniques for hiding a double chin. One is for the photographer to stand higher up than the model, and to photograph downwards while she looks up. I've seen this work superbly, really dynamic, in portraits of older actresses and dancers. I think it would work just as well for authors.

Rayne Hall

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Isn't it remarkable how most people do not like photos taken? My Mother is the only person in the world that I know you loved having her photo taken. She always said she wasn't posing, but she was. :)

Very interesting ideas and comments. You are right, though, I do love to see who the author is and always look. Am disappointed if there is no photo.

Since I am no published yet, I have pushed the idea away, to be faced at another time. Thanks for the tips...

BTW, I thought your kindergarden photo was adorable.

Anita Clenney said...

I just had my first professional "author" photo taken at a writers retreat. I hate my pictures. There's always something I don't like. But this woman was good, or she got lucky. I think everyone in the world has that one shot that looks like them but a 1000 times better. However, the chances of catching it is like winning the lottery. I got that shot. I couldn't believe it when I saw her play it back. It was me, but better than me. And the strange thing is when she saw it, she commented how it had a paranormal feel to it. I write paranormal romance and mysteries. So now I'm waiting anxiously on the photo. This one will have to do me about 10 years. :)

Magdalen said...

I have a slightly contrarian opinion -- I'm not fond of photos that don't look anything like the author. Look at the publicity photo for Susan Elizabeth Phillips and then meet her in person. She's a tiny woman who you just know is someone's favorite grandma. The photo makes her look like she's ready to chair a meeting of the board. (I had to have someone tell me that's who she was; she looked so unlike her photo.)

I understand the vanity element -- we're not conceited or vain for wanting a photo that doesn't look hideous. But as a reader, I'd rather see a photo that looked enough like an author I could pick her out of a crowd, e.g., at RWA's literacy signing.

I'm about to have some photos done. I've asked a friend who's a professional photographer, and in the email I sent him a photo (the one of me in this avatar) I like and a photo I don't like because it made me look too much like an extra in a horror film. All I asked was that his photo be of professional quality and that it look like me...double-chin and all.

morgan said...

I like your kindergarten photo and your current one. I am convinced I look like Meg Ryan I just haven't found a camera that works right to capture my Meg Ryan-ness. My favorite photo is me laughing because it seems the most natural as opposed to all the wax figure photos.

Clarissa Southwick said...

So sorry I wasn't able to keep up with the comments today. You all have beautiful photos and fantastic suggestions. Thanks for commenting. I really do appreciate it, and I look forward to seeing your photos on book jackets soon :)

Jill James said...

I have a friend who is a photographer. She was so helpful. We made a day of it. We drove all over our little town and she took pictures and then I took her to lunch. She got some really great shots, I think.

My avatar is one of them from that day.

Gabriella Hewitt said...

Thanks for these tips. I've been dreading the whole photo experience. I don't consider myself particularly photogenic either. LOL! Reading the comments, I think I need to cultivate a photographer for a friend. ;-)

P.L. Parker said...

I'm totally unphotogenic - and OMG, I have my dog with my in the picture. I know I need a new one but I take such awful pics.

Jane Toombs said...

When I decided to have a pro shoot at a conference, I had to sign up ahead of them. They sent me a list to suggestions:
Wear you hair the way you normally do even if you hair-dresser is going to fix it.
Wear make-up, even if you usually don't, but keep it subdued.
Wear long sleeves. Bare arms can look awkward.
Be sure to choose a color that flatters you.
We will try to make you smile or laugh. Be prepared.
Best advice I ever got, for the best photo anyone ever took of me. Jane
BTW: If you do use a pro,make sure you can use the photo however you want. I did that to be sure I wasn't violating any rules the pros might have.

Marilyn Sue Shank said...

I lucked out. The college I used to work at required headshots for publicity pix and the guy just happened to catch me at the right angle and lighting (and high enough to leave the body to the imagination). I've been using that as my website photo and since the university used it in public domain, Random House is using it on the book flap, too. Whew! Especially because I have a Billy Bob smile from a chipped front tooth I can't afford to repair. I thought they were going to have to get the cover illustrator to Photoshop a tooth in for me!

Marilyn Sue Shank said...

I forgot to mention, Clarissa, that I think you were a real cutie in kindergarten!


Josie said...

Great post and adorable picture. I'm certainly not photogenic, but my lovely 16 year old Korean daughter is--she's a model and actress.

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