Author Headshot Photo: Why You Need One and OMG, What an Awkward Experience!
All authors need a headshot photo for publicity purposes. I needed one, too, so I scheduled a photo shoot over the weekend. It’s a good thing “supermodel” was not one of my career choices because it was an uncomfortable way to spend an afternoon.
The last time I had a photo taken, other than some kind of selfie, was way longer ago than I suspected before I looked up the date. To say that I have changed a bit is a massive understatement, so I knew it was time for an update.
I did a little research first because that’s what I do. I learned that, for an author, it’s a good idea to use a photo in your marketing that looks like you in everyday life. So when readers meet you in person it’s not such a shock, I guess! Also, they say to avoid selfies and similarly casual photos because they just don’t have a professional aura. Especially if you aren’t already famous, it’s important to exude all the professionalism you can muster.
Experts suggest that you don’t go crazy with make-up and hair styling if that’s not how you would prepare for an event. That reminded me of Barbara Cartland, the prolific romance writer. Her author photos were fabulously over-the-top with flounces and feathers, all in bubblegum pink. But at her personal appearances, she was also fabulously decked out, so she committed to that persona.
But that is not my persona, so I prepped much less fabulously, although I did pay a little more attention to my hair and make-up than I usually do. I also agonized over what to wear. Since I work from home, my wardrobe has never been extensive, and when we downsized recently, it was reduced even more, so the choices were limited.
My photography research suggested staying away from patterns and bright colors because you don’t want to be overshadowed by your own clothes. I also read that your clothes should underscore why you are the perfect author for this particular book. Are you a successful entrepreneur writing about business? An experienced chef writing about cooking? A learned professor writing about history? I had to think through the impression I wanted to give.
I’m a researcher of history, but not an academic. I write about mystery, but the cozy kind, not hardboiled. What on earth would this kind of person wear? Also, I was not eager for the humiliation of shopping for new clothes. I finally decided on a cream-colored shirt with a velvet jacket and black jeans. It was fine.
Now, to choose a background. Photo experts provided a lot of discussion on this topic. A plain studio backdrop is always appropriate. The lighting is controlled, and the color complements the sitter, but it’s also a bit sterile. Authors might prefer to be photographed in a library, at their desk, in the kitchen, or at some other location to indicate their subject matter expertise. Experts warn against going too far, however, with your customized background because what’s behind you can be a distraction.
We tried a number of locations, both inside and out. Since the downsizing, most of my books are still in boxes, so I currently have no library shelves. I tried local libraries, but their shelves were all too contemporary. My alma mater library would have been perfect, but I wasn’t going to drive three-and-a-half hours for a couple of photos.
While trying to think of something vaguely “upper class Britain in the early 1900s,” we came up with fireplaces. I also no longer have one of those, but a nearby hotel did. We waltzed in and took photos there. We also took photos in front of flowering trees, city streetscapes, antique doors, half-timbered houses, and old churches. All of which happened to be on the same block.
The weather was quite cold and gray which meant I had to control my shivering, but the light was actually pretty good for outdoor photography. No glare or deep shadows or squinting. I was cold, self-conscious, and awkward, but we wound up taking almost 300 photos!
Then it was time to sort through them all. Of the 300 photos, more than 30 of them caught me with my eyes closed. Apparently, I blink a lot and my timing is disastrous. Those were tossed immediately, followed by any in which my smile looked forced. Since I haven’t sat for a photographer for such a long time, I must admit that seeing shot after shot of myself was a really sobering experience. That old person in the photos looked so strange to me!
From the original 300 photos, I whittled it down to sixteen that I can use for various marketing purposes, including one for the back cover of the book. I don’t rival Barbara Cartland’s fabulousness, but I do look like I’m having a good time and anyone I meet in person will definitely recognize me. That seems like a win!