To have a decent author photo, you don’t need to look like a model or a movie star, but spending the time to get a decent picture will make a difference. It is important to make the best possible first impression with the media, and your photo is one of the tools you have (in addition to an author bio and press release) to do that.
First, look at other authors’ photos on their books and websites. See what “look” you like in an author photo. Decide whether you want something inside against a plain or basic background or if you want to be outdoors, in natural light. Do you have any current photos that could be good? Who is going to take the picture? Will you use a professional photographer or is your spouse handy with a camera or phone?
Here is a checklist that can help you prepare for your author photo:
Image/Wardrobe: You need to have a couple of different outfits on hand so you can compare after you have taken your photos. Are you writing about secret agents and spies? A sharp suit is probably most appropriate for your author photo. Are you a chef? Aprons, hats, and other kitchen accessories would be useful for your wardrobe. For women: do you wear makeup? Either go to your local mall’s makeup counter to get a professional’s touch for the day of the photo shoot, or hire a makeup or salon technician for a couple of hours. For men: you don’t need to worry as much about the makeup, but getting a fresh haircut or considering whether you want that Michael Moore’ish’ baseball hat as a prop is your homework for your shoot.
Scope of picture: In the performing arts, agents and directors expect what they call “three-quarter shots,” which typically include your face, upper body, and maybe your legs. You can decide what you want to do, and even if you do a full body picture, you can crop it to meet your needs. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone twist you into a pretzel or convince you that you look better with your hand on your face. Just look at the camera and try to be as relaxed as possible, unless there is a connection to your work that requires something unorthodox. If you are writing a treatise on how to bungee jump and want to be seen hanging from a bridge, please by all means do it.
Location: Whether you decide on indoors or outdoors, make sure the background of the shot is clean of debris or unnecessary items that will take the focus away from you. That shiny, peacock print wallpaper might look great around the mantle, but will cause the viewer of the image to peer at your photo and desperately try to figure out what she is seeing. Garbage cans, giant leaf bags or garden tools, a sink full of dishes, etc. are all “better” viewed off camera.
Photo specs: Your final photo needs to be at least 200 dpi and can be stored as a jpeg, tiff, or gif file on your computer. A downloadable picture should live on your website under your “media kit” or “press” tab. Your image should also be found on your book, bio, and any other marketing materials or social media accounts you use.
Do you have to spend a fortune on a professional photo shoot? Not necessarily, but you should do the best you can to secure the finest image that you feel confident about using in your book and sending to media outlets.