How to take author headshots
You may be a new author about to publish (or self-publish) for the very first time, or you may be a seasoned author with a string of published books under your belt. Whichever you are, to market your new publication, you’re going to need a killer author portrait photo to go with it.
But why is it so important? Well, because people are visually reliant – that is, we rely on our vision more than our other senses to inform us about the world we live in, about the people we interact with and about whom to trust or even like.
We make instant judgements about people when we first see them and, fair or not, a good proportion of readers will decide whether to buy your book based on your author profile picture.
Here we attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding:
- Which character to play in your photo
- The style of the image
- What to wear for the photoshoot
- Where to use which headshot
- …and much more.
So read our take on how to captivate your readership audience with your best-ever author headshot photo.
Your writer profile picture
Perhaps more than any other portrait photo, the author headshot needs careful consideration about how you present yourself.
For most, a headshot photo is quite straightforward – if are you a legal professional, dress in a suit and look appropriate to that profession, for example – you need to look how people expect you to appear.
But as an author, you are marketing to various audiences depending upon the book subject and your core readership group.
If it is a thriller, you don’t want a big, beaming smile and a fun image. Conversely, if you are having your author headshot for the back of a children’s book, you don’t want to look like a serious crime expert.
If your work is non-fiction, then is it historical? Scientific? Business-centred or humorous? Does your image link up with your subject? Do you look as if you know what you are talking about?
Four very different headshots (above) telling four very different stories.
Think first about the market you are appealing to – whom you have written the work for – and then keep them in mind as we go through the rest of the points below. It is your main audience that you are putting on a performance for.
Also, keep in mind that the headshot is about you – not anyone else. So the photo should be just of you. If you have collaborated on a book, then each of you should have a separate headshot and separate write-up to go with it.
For the writer, the author headshot is a strong marketing opportunity.
Composing your headshot expression
Once you have decided on the image you should convey, have a practice in the mirror!
For almost all other headshots, as we have said, the subject needs to be themselves – but not the author. So, you may need to practice your stern, serious look (or your smile).
The emotion you feel when having your photo session should match the image as well. If you need to look like you’re having fun, it’s much easier if you are. Remember, the camera never lies – if you are smiling only on the outside, it will show up in the photo.
For some great tips on smiling and looking genuine, check out this article on the subject.
Alongside emotion, practice your poses. Again, this will depend on your ‘character’ for the headshot, and because you will be trying to put across a specific image, there’s room for more flexibility here than with most traditional portraits.
You may want to use your hands for emphasis (look at the different poses in this article) – holding your chin, for example, to look consultative, or ‘jazz hands’ for a fun, zany character (usually a no-no for a headshot under other circumstances).
At this stage, the mirror is your friend, so use it well.
Take time to practice. If you are a legal professional and taking a headshot for business, you probably want to look serious; however, if you have written a book about the legal profession, you may still want a smile in play, as customers will be less inclined to buy your book if you don’t look approachable and friendly.
What to wear for your headshot
Next up for careful planning – what to wear.
Your clothes should be simple, neutral colours (as for all headshots) but in keeping with your character.
If you have written a business book, almost certainly this will indicate a suit or other smart business attire. But as a rule of thumb, you will otherwise want to look more casual (approachable and friendly).
For most, this will mean an open collar; try to stick with two layers (shirt and jacket, for example) as more can be a distraction. Keep jewellery to a minimum for the same reason – unless it is a part of your character (or you have written a book about jewellery, perhaps).
Always keep in mind who the photo is for – it’s a marketing tool to appeal to your widest reader group.
Props or not to Prop
Usually, props are a bad idea for headshot photos, apart from exceptional circumstances.
But since a book cover author photo is also a marketing photo, then once again its time to bend the rules a little.
A crime writer can completely change their look simply by holding a dagger – it suggests menace and murder – but not by the author, since this is selling the story. Rather, it’s a clue to what the reader can expect to find within the pages of the book.
A music writer could pose with a guitar and it helps to set the scene for what follows.
Of course, it’s important to say here not to have a prop just for the sake of it – it must be relevant and consistent with the book message, otherwise, it will only serve to put people off (or at least question what it’s about when they find no relevance in the book itself).
What we are saying is that while you are going through the process of considering how to appear in your photo, as an author, don’t rule out a prop if it will enhance your message.
Use a professional author photographer
At this point, it’s important to say you must use a professional.
Many people use their own photos for headshots – be it for LinkedIn, Facebook or a multitude of other platforms. Whilst they never really look good, when it comes to an author headshot, using a professional is a must.
Not just restricted to the back cover or fly-page of the book, many online selling sites require a photo of the author to accompany the sales page (even on Amazon). They are frequently used in displays in book shops as well. That’s because statistics repeatedly show that books sell better when the customer can see what the writer looks like – which is why author headshots are used so much.
So if the writer profile picture is so important, then it needs to be taken by a professional photographer. Every time – no exceptions.
Professional headshots look professional.
And to add to that – as we have already discovered – author headshots are a very different proposition to other profile pictures, so you need to find a professional who specialises in, and has experience of, taking these types of image.
Once you have found one, you then need to review their portfolio and check their style of headshot is suitable, that they take photos creating the same look that you are looking for. If they don’t – find another who does.
This can take some time, as they also need to be local to you and either have a variety of backdrops at their studio (we’ll come back to that in a moment) or be flexible enough to come to you.
Be prepared for a few nights trawling the internet searching for just the right photographer who (quite possibly) can help make or break your book.
The good news is that there are other ways to do this – so keep reading!
Creative author photos
Once you have found your photographer, and the photo session appointment has finally arrived, it is very important that you communicate to them exactly what you want.
Ideally, you will have written them a brief in advance, so they have a clear idea of what you require, but even so, on the day itself, your photographer should not be in a rush to rattle through the appointment – they should be looking to take time to talk with you first to really understand what you are looking to achieve.
Once you are both understanding each other, they should start off with a few test shots to get you used to the camera. The key is to relax. For more advice on headshot photo sessions, head over and read this article here.
Although you will probably have a pretty distinct idea of how you wish to appear in your photo, do listen to your photographer and allow them to make suggestions. They have done this before, remember, and they know what does work and what does not.
They will do everything they can to bring out on camera the character or image that you have described to them. In addition, a good photographer will also take a few shots you were not expecting, and you will probably be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Keep an open mind – tell your photographer what you want but never forget that communication is a two-way channel – so listen to them too.
Background and colour
As promised earlier, we now turn to the subject of the backdrop.
Headshot photos are often taken against a plain or neutral background; however, this is another of those rules that can be broken (with some consideration) for author headshots.
Time for another pause whilst you answer the following question – and this time we are not looking at the person in the photograph but the background.
OK – so that may be a bit obvious, but it makes the point – backgrounds matter for author photos, but it depends upon context, so use your judgement.
A business author against a London or city skyline works. Referring to the crime writer we discussed earlier, you could easily imagine them sitting with their dagger in a library setting, surrounded by a background of books – but not so much outside in a pleasant woodland setting.
However, if you are publishing a book about foraging for food and outdoor survival, then woodland would be a perfect setting.
Once you have your image, clothes and background sorted, you will now have to consider a colour or black and white photograph. Several thoughts on the subject can be found here, but for authors, generally, black and white should be reserved for when there is little or no background and the subject matter of the book lends itself to a non-colour image.
This is another conversation you should be having with your photographer, and one where you should allow them to take the lead, based on their experience and professionalism.
Where to use your headshot
Once you have your professional author headshot, the next question is where to use it (apart from on your book).
A good general rule is to use the same headshot photo consistently across your social media and business platforms, and there is good reason for this.
A consistent approach helps people to quickly understand that they on the right page! If a reader sees your up-to-date photo on the back of a book, but then goes to your social media page and your profile image is 10 years out of date, they will probably wonder if they have the right person.
A consistent profile image (headshot) across all media, including your book, helps the reader know that they are in the place they want to be – and familiarity is always welcoming.
Keeping your social media and website headshots up to date is important (see this review for further information) so if you have just had a professional headshot taken for your new book then use it.
Always remember that your headshot photo is more than just a picture of you – as an author it is also a key part of your marketing strategy.
You may wish to have a different creative headshot for each book you have published, or you may prefer the consistency of using the same photo for a number of different projects.
Keep in mind that a headshot photo should be (reasonably) up to date and that as an author, it is not just a portrait photo of you, but also a part of your marketing strategy.
We did promise earlier that finding a professional headshot photographer need not mean evenings whiled away scrolling through website after website.
Splento has author headshot photographers available near you for a fixed hourly rate – just £99 – which includes retouching and editing. They are globally local, meaning that they have experienced photographers close to you – wherever you are.
Take a look now at their portfolio for some amazing headshots , and you can also discover how to make your own booking for a headshot photo session.
How do you see your ideal author headshot for yourself? Has this article given you a fresh idea about your style for your next photo? Comment below now and tell us about it.