Pub Rants

The Dreaded Headshot

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STATUS: Uh, it’s Friday, right? I think I’m going to be working this weekend…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MRS. ROBINSON by Lemonheads

Trust me, I can sympathize. Every time I sell a client book, I immediately tell the author that it’s time to write the official author bio and to go get the professional headshot done.

This is usually met with a groan (and occasionally with author excitement).

And I know the feeling. Guess what Sara and I did today? Yep, we had our professional headshots taken. I try and do a new photo once a year (but it ends up more like a year and a half and sometimes two between shots). I wait until I change my hair style or have some other reason to endure the process yet again. In this case, it’s grown out so I don’t have super short hair anymore. I’m overdue for a new photo.

Off to the studio we went. It can be the equivalent of going to the dentist. Today I learned the importance of a really great photographer who can make you relax. That ended up being immensely helpful in the quality of the shots Sara and I did.

The first 20 shots could pretty much be thrown out. Then I decided to find out if “moving around” a bit could help the process. Boy did it. I got quite a few decent, more relaxed, normal-looking shots. When I have them to share, I will. (I haven’t done the official choosing yet as I plan to forward the link to all my clients so they can vote on which one they prefer. I figure it’s only fair when THEIR shots have been subjected to my vote and opinion. Turnaround is fair play and all.)

Here are some good tips the photographer shared with us before our shoot. You may find them helpful when that time comes for you!

1. A successful picture will direct attention to your face and not to your clothing so wear sold colors and avoid patterns.

2. Long sleeves are better than short since bare arms compete for attention.

3. Medium to dark tones are best against a dark background (who knew?)

4. Avoid bright colors (as they compete) and stick with neutrals. Also, splashes of bright can draw the eye away from the face.

5. Red is a good color for outside shots.

6. Avoid white or super light colored shirts. (Are you sensing a theme here yet? I think black or brown is going to be your best bet—unless of course both colors don’t work for you.)

7. Avoid shirts and sweaters that completely cover the neck (interesting!). V-necks are fine as long as they aren’t super wide or exaggerated (and I might add, too plunging as they would also compete with your face).

8. Throw out all these suggestions and wear what makes you comfortable. Big smile here.

In general, if you are going to a professional photographer with controlled lighting, make up probably doesn’t need to be too heavy (and I’m sure the guys just breathed a huge sigh of relief there). Lip gloss also tends to be too shiny.

And once there, see what you can do to relax or put yourself at ease. I think it helped a lot that Sara and I went together as we could casually chat and laugh at what didn’t work.

All in all, this was the least painful experience I’ve had doing the shot. I’ll definitely go back to West End Photography so you can certainly bookmark it if you live in Denver/Boulder.

And one last comment. Be sure that when you do the shot, you have the photographer agree to sign a photo release (or copyright assignment). That way you own the picture and can then use it for any type of promotional material without having to get permission, etc.

That’s really important.

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34 Responses

  1. Sherry Thomas said:

    Actually, neutral greens and blues are also great for indoor photography. That’s what my photographer suggested and she took some great shots of me.

    But I have to say, once every 18 months? I wasn’t planning on taking another set of professional photographs for at least five years–though part of the reason is that my photographer is so good I ended up spending a huge amount buying a big old special-mounted portrait of myself. Ah, the vanity.

  2. Lady Heidi, Duchess of Kneale said:

    Oh dear. I had my author shot redone a few months ago for promo with my current publisher, and I broke rules 3 4 and 6 in favour of number eight.

    I am happy with the result (out of 31 shots taken), and think it looks glam. And isn’t that what counts?

    Dunno about the every 18 months at this point. Right now, it’s been every five years.

    Someone can talk me out of that later if they can present a plausible reason.

  3. joelle said:

    Another good way to find a person who will give you an excellent headshot, rather than a portrait (which is often formal and stiff) is to use a photographer who does actor headshots. You can call any local professional theatre or talent agency and get recommendations, or look on the web. My headshot is about five or six years old, but I look exactly the same. If you saw it, you wouldn’t be able to tell if I’d just had it done or not, so I’m still using it. I think what Kristin is saying is if your look changes, a new one is necessary.


  4. Mark Wise said:

    That’s something I really hadn’t thougth about before, so thanks for the info. I definitely didn’t know about the photo copyright.

    Thanks a million!

  5. Aimless Writer said:

    Can’t I just use a picture of my dog? She’s a very cute golden who has a real nice smile. Or the cat? She’s all black so should photograph well.
    Just how important is the photo?

  6. Diana Peterfreund said:

    I’m definitely in favor of getting photos redone every few years. In fact I’m working on arranging a new one now. (Last one was early 2005.)

    I’m discombobulated when I meet people in person that look nothing like their photos, only to find out that the photo was taken 20 years ago.

    If it’s important, I think it’s because if you do an event, you want to look like what people think you do. You want to be recognizable at conferences or booksignings.

  7. jan said:

    Ditto what aimless writer wrote. What if I don’t want my photo on the book jacket? I’ve seen a few books with no author photo at all. If I, as a new writer, say “no photo,” what happens?

  8. Jackie L. said:

    I had to have a professional photo done long ago, didn’t know any of the above, and wound up looking like a total idiot. So I don’t think this is a vapid post, at all, anon.

    I have succeeded in avoiding any professional photos for 20 years now, which for me works quite well.

  9. Lorra said:

    As a veteran of stage and television, I’ve endured more than my share of head shots and so I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

    First some hard and fast rules: Never get a haircut, a perm or anything freaky within two weeks of your head shot. If things go badly, at least you’ll have time to shop for hats. Also, don’t get a dark tan – you’ll look stupid.

    Now decide what image you are trying to project: loving grandma who knits and bakes cookies or a person glamorous enough to entice a television producer to take a chance, invite you on the local talk show for an interview? Obviously, it depends on what you write and your own personal outlook on life.

    Forgot about your good side and worry about your goofy “camera face.” Check out candids and family pics – do you look like you just sat on a pin or have had lemon juice squeezed into your eyes in virutally every shot? If so, it’s time to practice looking “normal” in the mirror. A really good photographer who is accustomed to taking headshots for television or theatre personalities can bring out your best side, but I’m not so sure about your average portrait photographer, thus the advice to practice not looking goofy (unless that’s the look you’re going for.)

    As for makeup: wear it! Don’t know how? Then it’s time you learned, and practiced, so you don’t end up looking like Amy Winehouse. Every big department store has makeup artists who are more than happy to demonstrate the use of foundation, powder and eye makeup. Tell them that while you don’t want to look like you just finished cleaning the garage, you still want to look natural. And if you’re not happy with a particular look, have them remove the makeup and try again or try another product line.

    As far as doing your own makeup, a good rule of thumb (in unskilled hands) is that less is more.

    After the makeup person shows you how to apply the products, you can either buy them (This can be very expensive. But if you’re going to be making a lot of public appearances, then it might be a good investment.)or arrange to have the same person apply your makeup the day of the shoot.

    Take extra makeup, hair products and hair appliances to the shoot. (For touch-up, drug store products shoudl be fien.) A good thing to have on hand is a scarf and a wad of paper towels or a man’s handkerchief. When you change your top, tie the scarf so it protects both your hair and makeup. Tuck paper towels into your collar when touching up or applying your makeup.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Congratulations on six years, Kristin! It’s so great that someone as nice as you can do business in a hard-driving world like publishing and stay true to who you are! You are so great for helping all of us with your super blog, and your advice means so much to all of us. I can’t think of anyone who has done more to lend a hand to unpublished writers than you. As the saying goes, “Don’t let the haters get you down!”

    Personally, I’ve read most of your clients’ books, and have to say that it is an amazing body of work that you have represented. And all in only six years! This site is the first one I click on in the morning and the last one before I go to bed. When I eventually get published, I hope you won’t mind if I mention you in the acknowledgements!


  11. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Wow, mortgage AND headshot advice in one easy blog post!

    Jan, I don’t think anything happens. Don’t get worked up about it. It may say something in your contract about providing an author photo (or it may not), but you can negotiate, and have you seen the one they use for the Shopaholic books? there’s a LOT of leeway as to what constitutes a picture of the author. Publishers understand that some authors have privacy issues. You’re right, most paperbacks DON’T have them.

  12. Jo said:

    How exciting for you and what an amazing blog you have! As an aspiring writer there is nothing as refreshing as finding a fellow writer who is farther along this road than I, and who liberally gives advice based on personal experience. May the future see you achieving your heart’s deepest desires, and a grand audience awaiting your work!
    – Jo

  13. Jana Lubina said:

    I act as well as write, and I agree completely with what lorra said above. Headshots matter less in the writing world then in the acting world, but they’re still important and I wish more of my favourite authours had more pictures up of themselves on their websites.

    Personally speaking, I really think the “traditional” actor potrait should just be retired already. Especially the ones that show the author staring off into the distance at nothing and not making eye contact with the camera. Investing with a good actor’s headshot photographer would almost certainly alleviate that. But one thing I really disagree with, is having to get a headshot every year. For actor’s, a new headshot is not required unless your look has dramatically changed. So, if you cut 6 inches off your hair, yes. If you’ve aged significantly, yes. But otherwise, it’s just a waste a money.

    I can’t see how that would differ with writers where looks are not the first, nor the second, concern.

  14. bookfraud said:

    some excellent advice here, but if we’re talking about book jacket photos, how much does the author really have to say about the photo? the publisher’s marketing department is all over this stuff, drives the process, and has the final say on which photo is used.

    a friend of mine’s book photo tries to make him look like an edgy intellectual, and though he is extremely intelligent, he’s a lot goofier than edgy.

  15. Anonymous said:

    As someone who hasn’t been headshot since graduation, what kind of price range should we expect for this service?

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  17. Anonymous said:

    I have a tabby cat. I love the color. She is also very snuggly for a cat. When I come home she actually greets me at the door. It makes even the worst day wash away. That’s how I feel about this blog. I look forward to it every day, just like my tabby, Matilda.


  18. Anonymous said:

    I love reading this blog so much that I don’t eat until after I get to stop in and take a look at the day’s helpful topic. When I’m done with work for the day, I rush to my pc and log on, just to get my fix before I have any dinner at all!

    That Mrs. Nelson should take any time out of her very busy day to drop us these valuable nuggets of wisdom is reason for acclaim and praise. Thank you so much for all your help, Agent Kristin! Without you to tell us about the publishing industry, many of us would be aimlessly spinning our wheels, taking stabs in the dark and accomplishing nothing.


  19. Anonymous said:

    Great advice. I’m not published, but I am working hard on my writing. Obviously, I would like to be published in the future, but I dread the whole author photo. How common is it for an author to say no to having a photo? Do you need to have a good reason? Is it difficult to take that position?

  20. Chris Redding said:

    You think getting one person to look normal for a camera is rough. Try four.
    We had a coupon for one of the frou frou family portraits. You know, cost as much as a compact car for anything other than a postage stamp. It was fun, but we never smiled at the same wattage in any pic.
    So we picked the serious one. We kind of look like we’re on the beginning of Family Feud.

  21. chris J said:

    Anonymous asking about the cost–I paid about $350 for a one hour session done at a couple of different angles, all digital. The cost included the rights to the pictures. (This was in Colorado by a photographer who does a lot of publicity stuff as well as portraits.)

  22. Jana Lubina said:

    $350 for ONE hour? That doesn’t sound right. The top headshot photographers here (Toronto) and many in L.A charge about that for 4 hours with four outfit changes.

  23. chris j said:

    It was for the total package–prints, disk files, rights–of 20 to 30 images taken with a couple of backgrounds, a couple of clothes changes. There was also an option of doing it again for free if I didn’t like any of them. It was worth it, I think.

  24. Anonymous said:

    My husband is a professional photographer with years of experience doing head shots, weddings, catalogs, etc. In that time I’ve learned much about the trade.

    When checking out a photographer, ask to see their website for samples of their work. Also ask what the fees are since they differ and you can have a sitting fee and then find out that there are other costs that are tacked on afterwards, such as editing.

    Depending upon the subject editing of just ONE photo can take between 2 to 20 HOURS and you have to pay the photographer for that time, so find out the hourly rate. Some will have package deals as well. So shop around!

    Karen Dales