I am not a person who is comfortable having her picture taken. I get crazy eyes in front of a camera and behave like a trapped animal, which is why I don’t have many photos of myself around. Because of that, I did a lot of preparations and research before my author photo so that I wouldn’t have to get it done more than once. In the end, I had to have my author photo done twice because I got an expensive (to me) haircut a year after the first one. I wanted to maximize my haircut since I wasn’t sure when I’d have the chance to get it again. So, since I survived two photo sessions and got photos I’m happy with, I’m going to share my tips so that you can be happy with yours.
The first and most important step: choosing the right photographer
You need a photographer who has the same vibe as you do and can make you relax. As much as possible, don’t settle for someone just because they’re cheap (or expensive) because it’s not about the price.
When you’re looking at photographer portfolios, first ask yourself if the photographer’s style suits how you want to be seen as a writer. If you’re a whimsical forest creature, you probably don’t want to go with a photographer who takes a lot of corporate-looking portraits or insists on very stark, post-modern imagery.
Then (and this is very important), meet the photographer and have a chat about your author photo. Get a feel of your potential photographer’s personality and whether it’s something that will help you feel comfortable. For example, I find that I feel more comfortable around chatty photographers who will talk with me about non-serious topics. Others might feel more relaxed around photographers who are quiet and don’t ask a lot of questions. If you don’t really like your photographer’s personality, it’s best to find another one because you will definitely regret how you look in the photos.
A good photographer prepares
Aside from showing you their portfolio, during your initial meeting, an experienced photographer will ask you the following:
theme or look you’re going for
type of locations you’d like
what clothes you’re planning to wear (they’ll usually ask you to bring extra clothing)
(sometimes) how you’re planning to do your hair and/or makeup
They might ask you to put together a mood board or send other author photos that you like to them, or just images that you like. This is really important so that they get a strong understanding of what you are looking for. One thing that I should caution, though: choose ONE theme so that you don’t confuse the photographer. Be consistent.
Location is everything
Then before your author photo session, your photographer should send you a list of locations that they think will fit what you’re looking for.
Otherwise, if they have the time, they might go scouting with you to check the locations and lighting personally (as what happened with Doretta).
With my latest photo, I initially wanted to do the shoot in a Chinese restaurant but then my photographer pointed out that I might not feel very photogenic while being asked if I was done with my tea by an unimpressed waiter. So instead, we opted for a very plain background in his studio but with bright colours in my clothing and lipstick to get that feeling of brightness and vibrance.
However, if you feel comfortable having your picture done in a public location, go for it. I feel like author photos in libraries and bookstores tend to be overdone and impersonal. Instead, think of the narrative you want your author photo to tell about yourself.
Clothing is really important, and a pox on those who pretend it isn’t. Again, think about the narrative you want to tell with your clothes, and then, in the context of that narrative, dress in a way that makes you feel most yourself. Some authors think they have to dress up or conform to some kind of publicist’s image of themselves–NO.
I chose a white traditional Chinese undershirt and a leather jacket because, well, that’s how I normally dress, but also because I wanted to show how comfortable I am with my culture, and the leather jacket added a strong pop of colour because I like things quite colourful and bright in real life. I also brought a men’s cheongsam as my alternate outfit, and I like the photos from that, too.
Of course you want to look good in your author photo. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it. My only advice is that you groom yourself up to a level that you feel comfortable doing because I’ve seen author photos where the author clearly is not used to having so much makeup on her face that it’s ruined the picture.
Getting your hair and makeup done is an entirely different production with its own tips, which I won’t go into here. However, you should make sure you have a consultation and even a test run, if possible. I ended up doing my own makeup (after practicing every day for at least a couple of weeks) because I wanted something fairly simple.
One thing I will say though if you’re doing your own makeup: don’t forget to define your eyebrows and your eyes.
During the photo session
Relax. There’s no other better guarantee of a good author photo. However, there’s also no shame in practicing your facial expressions and poses in the mirror. Photographer and The Unpublishables contributor Mike Ricca sent me these two videos that really helped with getting a good picture. Mostly they’re the things Tyra Banks says during ANTM, but for us camera-shy folk.
I’d suggest practicing these techniques a few times in the mirror, and you’ll find yourself getting the hang of it, and it’ll look more natural.
This may seem like a lot of work for an author photo, but if it can help move books for you, why not do your best to get a good one done? You’ll also help your photographer, since they can then proudly say that they were the ones responsible for your author photo.