Friday, February 15, 2013

Author Photos Step-By-Step:The Comprehensive Guide

by Charlee Vale

Warning, this is going to be a long post. But hopefully at the end, you'll be informed and ready when it comes to taking author photos.

As writers, a lot of us are camera shy, and with the new age of Internet we almost never have to see anyone face to face anymore. But there will come a time when that publisher, that blogger, that publicist will ask for a photo of you, and you’ll be left scrambling to find a good one, or trying to take one yourself. Don’t scramble, think ahead! When the time comes and your book sells, and that lovely advance check comes in (or if you are self-publishing, set aside some marketing money), save some of the advance to get professional photos taken.

There’s a trend that I see happening a lot lately, and as a photographer it makes me want to cringe. There are a lot of people now who think that having a nice camera equals being a photographer. That isn’t the case. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people having nice cameras—heck, I’ll nerd out about cameras with you all day!—but having one doesn’t substitute the time, practice, and skill it takes to be a professional photographer.

A lot of people think getting photos is simple, quick, and easy. But there are many factors to think about, and you really should consider all of them if you want good photos. That's why I'm here.


A photographer who is skilled in taking individual portraits. Is fair, reasonable, and friendly. Has a working knowledge of professional editing software. Who hasn't been doing this for two days. If you see A.) Bad lighting B.) Bad composition C.) No editing D.) Bad reviews based on solid evidence, then that's probably not someone you want to hire.


I know that photography is expensive, but I promise you it is worth it. As an author, your author picture is your introduction to the world. It goes on every book, every interview, every brochure. This single picture is how the world will know your face. No pressure, right? So do yourself a favor, and start with step 1.

1. Research.
Don’t have your friend’s mom take your photos because she’ll do it for free. Do your research. Any photographer worth their salt will have a website that displays their work, and many of them have great photo packages you can take advantage of.  Plus, I bet there are more photographers in your area than you are aware of! (And I'm not talking about Sears and Wal-mart.)

2. Hair
It’s a general rule that you don’t want to get your hair cut or drastically colored the day before a photo shoot. Allow 1-2 weeks if you’re making a drastic change so that A.) You are comfortable with in B.) the harsh newness of cut/color fades a little.

3. Skin
The same rule applies to skin that applies to hair. Don’t start a drastically new skin regimen to ‘clean up your face’ a couple days before you go shooting. You don’t know how your skin will react, and you may end up making your skin look worse. If you are really concerned about your skin in photos, talk to your photographer about specifically retouching your skin. (And yes, they can do that.)

4. Clothes
You know when you wear an outfit that makes you look stunning and everybody complements it? That is, of course, how you want to look in your photo. So I have a quick list of rules to help when selecting your photo-shoot clothing. (Keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule, but do try to stick to the rules.)

  • NO All-black clothing. Yes, black can be slimming, but wearing all black in a photo also has the tendency to make you look like a floating bobble-head.

  • NO All-white clothing. Wearing completely white is generally a bad idea as it washes out skin tone. (On some people pastel colors have the same effect.)

  • Keep the patterns to a minimum. Wearing a lot of very loud, very busy prints and patterns confuses the picture and draws the eye away from the face. We want people to look at YOU!

  • Color! Color is good! Stick to the color families that make you look good, but when wearing color, don’t be afraid to go bright and bold!

  • Shape. Most author-shots are head or bust shots. You probably won’t see more of the author than their head and chest. So pick clothing that has interesting details and necklines to create some visual interest and shape in the picture.

  • Everything in moderation. Of course you can break these rules a little, For example, some people look great in white! These are things I’ve learned based personal experience shooting portraits.

5. Make-Up
When getting ready for your shoot, most people do their own make-up. (There are some photographers who collaborate with make-up artists, or do make-up themselves.) This is very important. DO NOT use any more make-up than you would use on a normal day. Many people think that MORE = BETTER when it comes to photos. I am of the opposite opinion. I think that a portrait should show who you are, not a face you paint on. And a truly skilled portrait photographer can make you look good no matter how much make-up you have on.

6. Jewelry
Jewelry is fun, but keep it tasteful and to a minimum. You don't want your bling outshining you and drawing focus.

Just a little while ago, I did a photo shoot with FTWA's very own R.C. Lewis. She's given me permission to debut one of her new author shots as a good example of what one should be! Isn't she pretty? (Also notice that it follows ALL the rules.)


Every profession has its own set of spoken and unspoken rules. So I’m going to let you in on a few things etiquette-wise that will make your shoot a much better experience. (AKA, you won’t become a client from hell.)

1. Bring friends! But ask first.
I know that it’s a lot of fun to bring friends along on a photo shoot. Sometimes it’s for comfort’s sake, and sometimes it’s just for fun. But ask the photographer first. If your photographer owns a small studio space, then he might say no based on the face that it gets crowded quickly. But if you’re shooting in Central Park, it could be no problem. So if you’re planning on bringing an entourage, just run it by them. (NOTE: This does not apply to instances when the person being photographed is under 18, in which case a parent or legal guardian should ALWAYS be present.)

2. Camera talk–not as sexy as pillow talk
If you want to ask about the photographer’s camera out of curiosity, go for it. But please (and I am begging you here) don't say anything along the lines of ‘Wow. Nice camera. No wonder you take good photos!’ ‘I think I have the same camera.’ Or ‘If I had a camera like that, could I charge as much as you do?’ Comments like this bug photographers because the tools of the trade don’t define talent. Think of it as complimenting a chef on what kind of stove they used to cook the meal.

3. Trust your photographer!
The reason you hired the photographer is so they can do what they do best—make you look good. Remember, they do this for a living. This may be your first photo shoot. If you have a couple of specific ideas you want to try, FIRE AWAY, seriously, we love collaborating. But dictating every pose exactly the way you want it is pretty much a guaranteed disaster. If you have doubt about how the photos are looking, ask to see some of them on the camera. This goes for your entourage as well—too many cooks in the kitchen make for bad pie.


Phew! Your photos are taken! But the work isn’t over yet!

1. The Release
The photographer is going to have you sign a photography release. This is necessary because of copyright law, and the weirdness of it. GET READY: You own your likeness, but the photographer owns the images. So he can’t use the photos of you without permission, and you can’t use or print the photos of you without permission. So a release is necessary. Basically—a release is a legal document stating what you and the photographer are each allowed to do with the photos. READ IT CAREFULLY, and if you are not happy with it, request that it be changed. But you MUST sign it. It isn’t hard to tell a professional photograph, and you won’t be allowed to print the pictures at any independent location without a signed release. If you have any questions about whether or not what you want to do with the photos is okay, contact the photographer! PLEASE BE CAREFUL. THIS IS WHERE LAWSUITS HAPPEN.

2. The Editing
Every photographer is different, but most include a specific number of edited photos with whichever package you choose, and then have a fee for editing more than that. This isn’t because we are money-grabbing. Editing WELL really does take a lot of time and meticulousness. If we were to do that with every photo we took of you, we’d be old and gray and only be making ten cents per hour. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ask the photographer ‘Can you just send me the pictures? You don’t even have to edit them!’ You think you’re doing us a favor, but you’re not. If you use photos that are unedited by us, (and by extension not approved by us) then there’s the potential our business could look bad and we’ll lose clientele. Trust me, we’d rather edit them.

3. Picking your photos
I know that looking at 200 copies of yourself can be daunting. But you must do it. This is where friends and the photographer can help you in choosing your final photos. Try to be objective. Just because you’re squeamish about looking at yourself doesn’t mean all the photos are bad. Buck up, get over it.

4. Deadlines
Some photographers have stated on their website how long it will take for them to get either proofs or finals back to you, others base it on your needs or their schedule. Both of these things are great, but once you set a date for getting the photos back, don’t expect to change it unless there is an ABSOLUTE emergency. I just recently had a client who told me she needed her photos a MONTH AFTER she actually needed them, and then proceeded to text and call me several times per day until I sent them. This is the fastest way to make a photographer hate you. We’ll honor our deadlines; just make sure the deadline is accurate beforehand.

I just threw a LOT of information at you. I understand that it's probably overwhelming. If you have any other questions, feel free to shoot them at me in the comments, and I'll be happy to answer.

Now a funny video that is too close to reality for its own good. Hopefully after reading this post it will make you laugh too.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter.


JeffO said...

Thanks for the tips, I hope to get to employ them soon!

Riley Redgate said...

Such an awesome, informative post! You rock, Charlee. Thanks for sharing your expertise. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - awesome post!! So much to think about and learn. Thanks so much for the tips! And yes, RC looks fabulous!! :)

Sophie Perinot said...

Just a reminder that not every book has to have a photo in it. Pick up a copy of my debut novel and you will see no head shot and no "about the author." That's the way I like it. I did not, therefore, need to have author photos taken. Just used a picture I already had (and loved) for my website.

Julie Musil said...

I'm reading this waaay after it was published because now it matter for me! Thanks so much for the great advice.