AP6: The Headshot
One of the things I love about writing how-to advice is when my example material isn’t the best. It’s like trust me, just don’t copy me. This time, we’re talking about getting a decent author photo. Luckily, you can take another if it doesn’t turn out. Or hire a professional.
But I Don’t Wanna
I don’t know about you, but I don’t photograph well. My eyes are naturally squinty from being averse to sunlight. My hair always looks messy five seconds after I straighten it out. But my face is part of my brand, derpy hair and all. When I use the same pic on all my social media and website, it assures somebody who finds one of those that they’ve got the right guy. People will recognize you at your book signing. That’s all pie in the sky right now, but the more I look professional, the more people think I am.
Prepping For the Shot
Get a haircut. Plan the to take the photo within hours of getting that haircut because you just had an expert make your hair look decent. Figure out what background you’ll use and make sure it contrasts with your hair, your skin tone and outfit. Somebody with dark hair in a black shirt against a dark background looks like a floating face. I got this part right in my pic, it’s part of why I like brick backgrounds (that’s my garage). The most important part is that all of you must contrast with the background. If your hair frames your face, your hair is the contrasting line from your face to the background. This is all part of photo composition, check the links at the end for more.
Side Tip: Pic a nice outfit that you will never wear again. A business friend of mine pointed out that if she wears the same dress she wore in her business site photo, it sets a weird vibe when meeting actual clients, so she tucks it way back in the closet.
Lining Up the Shot
Using the best camera you have, your friend will put you in position, and make sure the light source is behind them, not you. For the love of all that is holy, do not stand in front of a window, or have a light on behind you. Do not stand straight , you’ll look like a robot. Put one leg forward and put more weight on the back leg. Try a shot looking at the camera, one just past the friend’s shoulder, and one where you look a bit more off in the distant. In my photo, I am looking across the street and whatever my neighbors were doing in their garage that day.
Side Tip: When shooting a smile pic, tell the target you’ll count down and want them to say the word you tell them. Then do “3..2..1..Penis!” because nobody can say penis without smiling. It really does work, and you’ll get a better natural laugh and smile compared to the forced version.
Taking the Shot
Find the best way to anchor the camera so it doesn’t wiggle. My wife has a tripod and a cable-release (a wire that triggers the camera without holding it). For a smartphone (what I used), rest your elbow on your belly, and bring the phone up into position. This reduces mobility of your arm, thus cutting out some jiggle. Line it up, and push the button. Take a couple photos in each pose, because you might have a quirk in one of them.
Get those photos onto a computer and crop it down to a reasonable squarish size. The goal is to get rid of excess background, the pic is not about you next to something, it is solely about you. Take a look at other “successful” author photos and see how they were cropped. Most are head and shoulders or upper body, rather than full body photos. Part of the reason for this is the actual image you’ll see on a site is a thumbnail, the less body you have in the picture, the bigger your head will be (and easier to recognize). Crop through the stack of photos so they are all about the same size. While using the image editing tool (I use Paint.Net) you might apply an effect, but I’m not a big fan of that.
Side Tip: Don’t get crazy with image resizing yet, when you go to upload them for sites like Twitter and Facebook, you should look up the recommended sizes and resize for each site.
Side Tip: Make copies before every change. You want to retain the original files and each crop.
Pick and Choose
This is the hard part. Load up all the pictures so you can step through them. Windows defaults to stepping through images when you open one up, for instance. Now cycle through and see which one you like best. Show it to friends, without saying what you think and see what they say. Once you’ve got that photo, that’s the one you’re going to use forever. I kid. You should stick with the same photo for a few years. If your look changes radically, it’s up to you on whether to shoot new pictures. Don’t use a photo from when you were twenty while you are in your sixties.
This article, and a few others focus on prep-work. Getting things ready so when you pull the trigger to make a website or Facebook Page, you’ll have the content to upload on day one. It makes those later steps easy and bring a smile to your face when ten minutes later, you can send a link to a friend because it’s ready for the public. This is exactly what writing is, a lot of work behind the scenes to get ready for the big reveal.
For other articles in my Author Platform series, click here:
If the mention of my wife having some fancy camera equipment didn’t give it away, I actually do know a thing or two about photography thanks to her. But don’t take my word for it, check out these links, for more info: