Putting your Best Face Forward

January 29, 2019 § 10 Comments


Blue sky, green wheat field, and a redheaded woman in a blue jacket and a wheelchair, sitting chest-deep in the wheat.My friend Erin Clark is Instagram-savvy, writes great blogs, and illustrates them with amazing photographs, most often of herself. I’m always astonished at just how terrific she looks—the photos are interestingly composed, she’s usually wearing something sexy or adventurous or high fashion, and her face and body look great. I figured it was due to great shopping/scavenging skills and nature’s gift of fabulous cheekbones.

When Erin visited me in Dubai, my husband and I took her to dinner at a restaurant in the Marina, a waterfront area with wide sidewalks and beautiful city lights. Erin wanted a photo, so we walked and wheeled along until we found a good background. My husband offered to take the shot. “Thanks but I’m good,” Erin said. I thought she’d get a couple of selfies, maybe a couple more of the two of us. Instead, she took more than fifty shots, posing like a model, tossing her hair, angling her face. A woman walked by and asked about Erin’s Instagram—clearly, there was Instagram involved—and they swapped names and posed together.

Back at my house, Erin sorted through nearly a hundred pictures, edited and filtered the best few, and posted one photo to her feed. And I realized, that’s why she looks great in every photo. She could pick the one with the best combination of light, background, facial expression, hair and body, because she had a lot to pick from. Smile not great in that one? Toss it. Hair’s good but eyes are closed? Delete.

I see a lot of author photos, in conference programs and on book jackets and here on the Brevity blog. Many of them aren’t doing justice to the writer’s personality, looks, or writing. Am I judging what you look like? In life, I try not to. But the author photo is part of the whole package. A good headshot helps writers sell their work the same way 1-inch margins and 12-point Times New Roman do. It’s one more way to look professional.

Headshots used to be a hassle. You had to book a photographer (not the JCPenney photo studio), do the shoot, wait for contact sheets, wait for prints, duplicate the photos expensively and mail them in an envelope.

Now, anyone can have a good headshot for basically free. Some tips:

  • Use the best phone camera in your vicinity. Borrow the latest model if you can. (But your phone is probably good enough.)
  • Pick a background with texture but not distraction. Brick walls, abstract wallpaper, tree trunks. There’s a reason a bookshelf is an author-background cliché.
  • Wear solid-colored clothes that contrast with your skin. The old adage about don’t wear white on camera applies mostly to white people. If you have darker skin, pick a color that contrasts rather than blending in. Black tops are usually not great for anyone, so if you love dark clothes go for a jewel tone or another deep, rich color.
  • Natural light. Stand near a window. If you’re outside, go for soft morning or evening light. Try a few where your head blocks the sun and you get a beautiful hair-halo.
  • Make sure the phone camera is in focus. Seriously, touch the screen and let it do that thing where it sharpens on you.
  • Take. 100. Photos. Smile and frown. Laugh and look serious. Take your glasses on and off. Move your hands. Do that fun thing where you turn away from the camera and then turn back fast so your hair flies around. Get silly. Having fun between shots makes a more natural photo, even with a serious expression. You’re not paying for film, and the more shots you take the more you’re likely to feel good about one of them. Generally, you should have 1-2 great photos for every 40-50 frames. (That ratio holds true for professional models and photographers, too!)
  • When choosing the photos you like, ask friends for input. Often, others see the photo as a whole when we’re focused on an imperfection no-one else is looking for.
  • If something’s weird in your background, or there’s one hair across your face in an otherwise perfect shot, use an app like Touch Retouch. (It’ll also remove telephone wires and no-swimming signs from your vacation photos.) Backgrounds can be fixed with a faux-depth-mode app like Portrait.
  • When you save your photos, do so in high, medium and low resolution. You’ll need that 72kb file for Twitter, but a blog or journal needs one around 1.5mb, and a printed program or poster will turn out better with a TIFF or JPG of 5mb or more.
  • Don’t put photos you don’t like into the world. I’ve heard authors complain, “Why’d they pick that awful photo of me?” (1, it was on your website so they assumed you liked it, and/or 2, you didn’t provide a photo so they googled and picked the first decent shot they found.) Even “this one or that one?” posts on FB should be about fine distinctions between a few great shots.

It’s OK to hate being in photos. But sharing your work with the world means sharing part of yourself—so make your author photo something you’re happy to share, too.

_____________________________________________________
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor.

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§ 10 Responses to Putting your Best Face Forward

  • This is GREAT advice. Oh, the expense and time with getting head shots. But that’s just it! It doesn’t have to be a “head shot.” It really is an author photo.

  • Zane Ewton says:

    These are great tips for doing it yourself, or with a little bit of help. You can also find great photographers who are a joy to work with and will understand how to give you the images you want, without breaking your bank account. Sometimes it’s worth getting a little extra help.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I agree! And so many conferences these days offer a headshot option for a good price. Many photographers will also welcome us into their studio and spend an hour taking better shots than we can get ourselves!

      • Zane Ewton says:

        Or even get you out of the studio and capture something with your personality. Studios can be stiff and awkward. But to your main point, nobody should settle for bad author photos when there are options (regardless of budget) to have a great one.

  • jeffseitzer says:

    It is funny how photos by professional photographers, though highly “professional,” tend to lack edginess. It’s liberating to know that DIY is not only acceptable, but also even advantageous. And it’s great to have some guidelines so that they don’t appear a little too DIY. Thanks.

  • What marvelous advice! I used to take a roll or two of film to get the one to publish of my dogs when I was showing Afghan Hounds. I developed and printed them myself, but the labor was free and I knew I needed a lot to choose from. How foolish of me that I have never applied that standard to myself!

  • This is a great piece. You made your advice so friendly and easy to identify with. It is great advice though.
    Hope you visit my blog @ theholyspirit-augustina.home.blog . I will be happy to have you there; comments and likes.

  • […] photograph of you, or that is evocative of your writing topics. Read our previous blog post for secrets to a good headshot, and search “free stock photos” for a professional photo that shows something about […]

  • Great suggestions! Thanks.

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