March 20


How to Get The Best Author Photo

By Boni Wagner-Stafford

March 20, 2020

Unsure how to get the best author photo? Or even how much effort to put into getting one? Many indie authors are shy, or modest, or frugal, and don't want to hire a professional photographer "just" for their author photo. Here's why we believe you should.

You're writing a book for people to read. Which means you have an audience of readers in mind. You want those readers to connect with your book. Whether it's your memoir, a self-help book, business book, professional development book, or an award-worthy piece of journalistic nonfiction, your readers are going to want to connect with you. Especially if they loved your book, they are going to gobble up the About the Author section at the back of the book. They might even Google you and see what else they can find out about you online.

I’m talking about a feeling of connection. Reading your words is one part of it, seeing the eyes and face of the author whose words they have just spent eight hours reading is another level altogether. This is why it pays to try to get the best author photo possible.

If your book is tied to your business, this acknowledgement that the reader wants to connect with you—and you want to connect with your reader—is a valuable two-way street.  Do you want readers to hire you for coaching or other services, or to purchase the suite of products you've written about after they read your book? If the answer is yes, you definitely want to include a professional-quality author photo.

Let's dig a little further into the ramifications of the three main options: no photo, any photo, or a professional photo. And then we'll talk a little bit about how to get a great professional photo.

Options for the Best Author Photo

1. No Author Photo

It might not be horrible to forgo an author photo. Let readers focus on the words, rather than on the person who wrote them.

Well, sure. If you don't include an author photo you don't have to hire a professional photographer, you don't have to address the wrinkles or jowls or sharp nose or whatever else you hate about your own image.

You'll also remain an enigma to your reader. A disembodied voice. Ask yourself this question: is it easier for you to trust someone when you can look them in the eyes? Without an author photo, you are missing out on a key way that you can build trust with your readers — readers who are leads and prospects for your business.

2. An Amateur Author Photo

Yvonne Caputo in B24

You might be tempted to use a favourite personal photo as your author photo. You look younger, or skinnier, or you really like the smile in this one photo.

You may have an emotional attachment to it, like the one Ingenium Books author Yvonne Caputo has with this photo of her sitting in the navigator's seat of a B24 bomber, the same aircraft her father flew in WWII. Since that's also the subject of Yvonne's book, Flying With Dad, an argument could be made that this is a great photo to use. There are two main problems with this photo: the dark background and the resolution. The background is so dark the viewer can't easily tell where she is, and the resolution means the photo will look fuzzy or slightly out of focus when printed.

Non-professional, personal photos can be spotted a mile away for problems with resolution, composition, extraneous objects that detract the focus, and a whole host of other potential issues, all of which scream, "Amateur!" We may be indie authors, proud to self-publish, but we do not want to give anyone a single reason to label our book as sub-par.

3. Professional Author Photo

As long as you hire a good photographer (as in, check references and look at the portfolio in advance!) you won't be saddled with any of these amateur issues. Yes, you'll have to pay for the service. You'll also want to review licensing terms to be sure you can legally use the photo in the way you intend and appropriately credit the photographer. But you'll end up with a great-quality photo that will help imbue authenticity, credibility, and confidence around your book. That is what you want.

Direction for Your Photographer

Hiring a professional doesn't mean that you must resign yourself to a boring corporate-style suit-and-tie shot. Perhaps you want some personality and creativity to show through, or you want a photo that aligns with the theme of your book. You can help ensure you get the results you desire by a little preparation in advance.

1. Research

Research photos to find examples of author photos that you like and dislike. Bring samples to the first meeting with the photographer.

2. Eye Contact

Be sure you get a photo where readers can see your eyes. This is really important for a business or other nonfiction book when you want to build credibility and trust. This wouldn't be as important if you write cloak-and-dagger mysteries, for obvious reasons. If you're writing a piece of creative nonfiction, you can take more liberties and an author photo that doesn't let the reader see your eyes might work just fine. Be sure the pose you choose is purposeful. 

3. Colour

Consider colour schemes and how the photo might fit with your cover design. Think about your clothing, backround, and keep an option open to use an author photo in black and white, for more flexibility with potential cover design changes after your photo shoot. 

4. Poses

Request a series of poses, or at least more than one. You might choose one pose for the back cover of your book, another pose for your media kit, another for the poster you're making for your book launch event, and still another for your author webpage.

5. Subject and Settings

Think about the subject of your book and your area of expertise, and then think about scenes, settings, outfits, and props that might work to incorporate into the shoot. If you're a financial planner, you probably want at least a collar, if not a jacket and tie, unless your target clients are rock musicians. But if you're a drummer, a T-shirt while sitting at your drum kit would be great.

Real-life Author Photo Examples

Let's use some real-life author-photo examples and talk about why they work.

Henrik Mondrup

We coached Henrik through his decision-making process when he needed a new author photo. He had a perfectly good suit-and-tie headshot, but it was a few years old and didn't quite create the look and feel we thought would be best for his book.

Here we can see Henrik's face and eyes. He has an open and relaxed body position, and he looks approachable and confident at the same time. This is a great author photo.

Yvonne Caputo

Once Yvonne realized her B24 navigator's seat photo wasn't going to be ideal as her author photo, she hired a professional photographer and the results show.

Again, we can see Yvonne's face and eyes, her body language is relaxed and comfortable, and she looks approachable and open.

And, bonus, we see her with her book!

Heidi Hackler

As a holistic health coach, Heidi's author photo does a great job of showing off her healthy-looking hair and skin. The dark background helps her face stand out.

Readers can immediately feel the warmth of her smile — which by the way, reaches all the way up into her eyes! This truly does look like the best author photo Heidi could have chosen. 

So before you decide whether to skip including an author photo, and before you make a mistake on which photo to use, think through your original objectives for you and your book. You'll soon find that it will be clear which option will help you achieve your goals and objectives. Our bias is that we indie authors should put our best foot forward, stand up tall, and proudly claim our book — by including the best author photo we possibly can. 

Unsure how to get the best #authorphoto? Or how much effort to put into getting one? Here are some tips #hireapro #bestfootforward #nonfictionauthor

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A version of this post first appeared as a guest post for the Alliance of Independent Authors.

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