Why You Need a Good Headshot (and how to get one)

Framing a Camera ShotOne of the most important promotional tools for any author is to have a good headshot that they can send to magazines, blogs, conventions and other media. Plus, it is a great piece for your website or blog and helps your audience “connect” with you.

Many people falsely believe that they need to spend a lot of time and money by hiring a professional photographer to take dozens of shots, in different changes of clothing. That’s only true if you’re aspiring to be a model or actor. For you, the aspiring author, head out to the shopping mall. Almost all department stores and even some portrait speciality companies offer professional photography services that are very affordable.

Flash! Portrait Studio

The Picture People

JC Penney Portrait Studio

Sears Portrait Studio

Walmart Portrait Studio

You don’t need an expensive photo package. All you are looking for a few good DIGITAL pictures in high enough resolution to work for both print and on the web. Usually this is 300 DPI in at least a 4×6 or 5×7 size. You may have to buy some prints to get the digital shots, but be sure to tell the photographer that you are primarily interested in the digital services.

To get the most out of your experience, you should have at least two versions. The first should be a serious photo with good posture and looking as business-like as possible. The second should be a little more relaxed, smiling and showing more of your personality. While you only need one or two poses, I recommend that you use as many as are included in the sitting fee. Even if you don’t use it, this gives you an opportunity to select the best of the images, and not settle for one if it turns out you don’t like it.

Do’s and Don’ts

Don’t go to a glamour photographer for a professional photograph. Save that experience for your significant other. You want these pictures to look professional and convey an air of relaxed confidence. They should portray a relaxed, candid, warm, open, honest image. Have a warm smile on your face, but not a laugh. Imagine you are greeting an old friend. Look straight at the camera unless the photographer recommends an angle, and try not to use crossed-arms or other “defensive” postures.

What should you wear?  Try to dress as you would walking down the street on a business day. Make sure your shirt doesn’t have complex patterns or is all white or all black. Complex patterns tend to “dazzle” the camera, and all white or all dark can blend in with the backdrop too easily. Solid colors always work best, and the clothing should be simple. Textures can work well but not patterns.

Avoid hair cuts or hair style changes within 1 or 2 weeks of your photo session.  Excessive sun or tanning salon visits often show in portraits and should be avoided. Men should shave before the appointment, or make sure your beard is nicely groomed.  For women, make-up should not be overdone. Wear what you consider “everyday” daytime make-up. Take a few moments before the sitting to check your makeup or do some touch-up shaving. Between the professional lights and the camera, a little stubble or some runny mascara can be very noticeable if your session is at the end of the day.

Avoid jewelry that could distract from your face or that looks dated. Unless you are trying to convey yourself as “goth” or write speculative fiction, I recommend removing all nose and facial rings and limiting your earrings to one pair. Remember, you want to appear approachable to a large audience of readers (your customers), so this is not the time to try to make some kind of “statement.” Your written words will ultimately tell people who you are and what you stand for, so try to appear approachable to the largest audience possible in your headshot.


I hope this workshop on author bios and author headshots has been helpful to you. Best of luck with your writing!

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