Sep 04 2011

Is Your Authorial Photograph Effective?

I was reading through the website of Michael Hyatt, the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers.  Besides his marketing director’s advice on how to promote fiction, one thing that really thing that caught my eye was a particularly effective photograph of the author.  A lot of authors have a photograph on their website and/or inside their books (sometimes even on the front cover in non-fiction), but a lot of these shots are not terribly effective.  Here are some tips that might help you do it better.

Headshot of Michael Hyatt

1. Photograph yourself in a natural pose.  The most common sort of authorial photograph is a disembodied headshot floating on a monocolor background, but I’d recommend against that because it is rarely interesting and feels too staged.  In real life, people don’t stare straight ahead and smile very often.  (Unless, perhaps, they’re taking an arrest unusually well).  His head’s on a slight angle, which makes it easier to imagine that he’s having a conversation with you.


2. Please work in some body language and/or setting details to help make the desired impression.  For example, if you were a businessman and publishing guru and were marketing yourself as a keynote speaker, you’d probably want to come across as personable, professional and literary.  Leaning towards the viewer, tilting your head slightly and grinning effectively establishes him as personable.  His clothes and slightly disorganized bookcase (disorganized enough to suggest that he actually uses it and that it isn’t just a stage prop) help establish him as a literary professional.


3.  Please remove anything that might distract viewers from you and what you are doing.  For example, if this picture had been in color, the books (and perhaps the wall and shirt) probably would have distracted viewers from the subject.  Shifting to black-and-white made it easier for viewers to focus on what the photographer wants them to see.


4. It doesn’t have to be symmetrical.  For example, even though the head is in the center of this shot, we see all of one shoulder but only part of the other.  The bookcase and his chair are one side and empty wall is on the other.


5.  Please look excited!  Enthusiasm–believable enthusiasm–is contagious.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Is Your Authorial Photograph Effective?”

  1. Chihuahua0on 04 Sep 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Say, will you ever provide examples of you, or you prefer to keep your appearance a secret?

  2. Danion 04 Sep 2011 at 5:25 pm

    LOL Good question. This article reminds me of one romance author who changed his picture to a female pair of panties. Needless to say, was not amused.

  3. B. McKenzieon 04 Sep 2011 at 5:52 pm

    For economic reasons, I made my main character look very much like me.

    Superhero Nation writing demotivational

    So, yeah, that Most Likely to Be a Centerfold? My friends must have rigged the vote. That, and the actually attractive people had to compete against each other, but there was only one mega-geek in the running.

  4. Danion 06 Sep 2011 at 1:57 pm

    LOL I had a feeling you were going to use one of those pictures. Honestly, thought you were going to throw Agent Orange up. (Hope that’s the right one. Would not want to bum Florida fans.)

  5. Damzoon 06 Sep 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Is it just me or that guy in the picture looks like your main character.

  6. B. Macon 06 Sep 2011 at 2:52 pm

    “LOL I had a feeling you were going to use one of those pictures. Honestly, thought you were going to throw Agent Orange up.” Hah. The 20-something accountant looks very much like (a somewhat romanticized version of) me. The mutant alligator, uhh… not so much.

    “Is it just me or that guy in the picture looks like your main character.” He also looks like most of the 30-something male professors I’ve had. I think most white-collar professional men tend to look somewhat alike when they’re dressed for work.

    That said, Gary is dressed in a suit and tie, whereas the publishing guru above is dressed somewhat more casually. (When you run the company, you have more latitude to dress down).

  7. Stefanieon 07 Sep 2011 at 3:21 pm

    As a professional photographer, I have a lot to comment on and add to this.

    For starters, I disagree with that photo as a good example of a nice authorial photograph. No offense, of course, but that’s my professional opinion.

    In the example photo, yes, it is kinda nice to have the bookshelf in the background, but the empty wall space on the right and the white thing (lamp? couch?) on the left are both very distracting and messy, and the bookshelf vertical isn’t actually vertical, all of which make me think that the photo was not taken by a professional photographer, or at least not by a professional portrait photographer. The B’n’W conversion is also done pretty badly, which is another clue for me. (In case you want more explanation about why the B’n’W is bad, remember that, for one, it’s called “black and white” and not “black and grey” for a reason.)

    Crops should generally stay within the normal ratios: 1:1 (square, generally not great for portraits), 2:3, 3:4, or 4:5. The 4:5 ratio is what most print sized are scaled to (aka 8×10 headshots, which are very common), but cameras usually shoot in 2:3 or 3:4, depending on the brand. Because of that, most people are used to those dimensions. Those dimensions are also easier on layouts and designers. And for a portrait, you almost always want a photograph in the portrait orientation (meaning vertical, not landscape/horizontal).

    1. Natural Poses. Great in theory, but some people just can’t function normally in front of a camera. Remember that scene from “Friends” ( Funny because it’s so true. Photographers make people do silly poses mostly because the silly poses look much less silly than how people normally choose to look in front of a camera because they’re nervous or uncomfortable.

    2. Body language/details. For the body language part, see above about the posing. As for props/detail, simplicity is key! Go for texture, pattern, shape, or color, but definitely not all of them at the same time. Generally, the background should also be blurred out because the people looking at the photographs want to see YOU not your bookshelf, regardless of how cool your taste in other books is. If you use props, they should be very minimal and very natural looking. They shouldn’t look like props. They should add more “atmosphere” than detail or specific communication (like symbols–a no-no). Feel free to make your photograph unique in some way, but remember that boring is so common because it works. Unique doesn’t always work as well, but then again, when it does work, the results are amazing. Proceed with caution and plenty of pre-thought.

    3. Distractions. I already touched on this one. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! In everything! Clothes, background, props, light, etc. You want the photo to be clean and uncluttered. That makes it look professional, and you want it to look professional if you want to be treated like a professional!

    4. Symmetry. I agree with this one. Symmetry is generally not a desired element in photography, especially not with portraits. Symmetrical portraits = mugshots = no-nos. The best poses for faces are 3/4 (meaning you see 3/4 of your face, but you’re not turned so far away from the camera that your further eye “floats” or doesn’t have some skin show on the hairline side; B. Mac’s caricature has a 3/4 pose) or 7/8 (meaning you only show 7/8 of your face, which generally only hides one ear on one side, unless your ears stick out a lot). The background shouldn’t always be symmetrical, but it SHOULD always be balanced. Don’t let one side be really cluttered while leaving the other side empty.

    5. Enthusiasm. Definitely really important. This may sound silly, but practice expressions in the mirror before your photo shoot. Pay close attention to what your face feels like when you have a big, natural smile on your face, then remember what that feels like so you can recall that expression. Try to think of specific memories that you can use to encourage yourself to have a truly natural smile. Your expression will most likely make or break the photo (no “camera breaking” pun intended), so this is really important! Practicing really does make a difference.

    My extra:
    6. Professional portrait photographers and lighting. The lighting is the most important part of a photograph (“photo” means “light,” don’t forget). A professional photographer will know how to light you so you look your best. Your friend with a professional camera most likely won’t know how to light. Just as in writing, the tool does not impact the final product as much as the skill of the person performing the task, so make sure you get a REAL professional portrait photographer (and not a professional landscape photographer either). It really will make a huge difference.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply