Choosing the Right Author Photo: 15 Dos and Don’ts

POSTED ON Jan 4, 2024

Shannon Clark

Written by Shannon Clark

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Ahh, the author photo. If you’re like a lot of authors, knowing what works and doesn’t work can be a mystery. What should I wear? Should I smile or look serious? Do I have to hire a photographer?

These questions are important, but ultimately, you want the end result to be an honest reflection of you and your personality.

In this brief article, we’ll look at some of the Dos and Don’ts of author photos and offer suggestions for creating and choosing the right author photo for your brand. 

Is an Author Photo Necessary?

Unless you want to remain anonymous, you’ll want to have an author photo so that your readers can put a face with their favorite books. A professional photo is like a handshake of introduction. Hello, my name is Emma, and I write thriller novels.

Do I Have to Hire a Professional Photographer?

While having a professional photographer take your pictures can be an amazing experience, they are not a requirement for a great-looking author photo. With the right lighting and a great camera (smartphones work, too) you can save money and have fun in the process.

If you’re a new author, photos and websites are a place to save on your self-publishing budget. Once you start selling books and you want to take things to the next level, investing in high-quality photos could be a smart next step for your brand. 

Note: If you’re putting a large picture of yourself on the cover of your book or on the Author Page, then a professional photographer can help you create a more stylized, high-resolution photo that works for printing and marketing. 

Should I Smile? 

Do you usually smile? If so, sure, whatever makes you comfortable. You don’t want your picture to look forced. It should be relaxed and feel natural to you. You can find inspiration by looking for books in your genre that you like (or your favorite authors) and checking out the author photo. What is your initial response? Find one that you like and use it as a template for how you want your final picture to look. 

Dos

1. Do Have a Clean and Uncluttered Background

A slight blur to a busy background can work, but in the case of the image below, the neutral colors make the subject blend into the scenery. Removing the background makes it easier to focus on him.

2. Do Wear Something That Photographs Well in Black and White and in Color

You may never have a need to convert your photo to black and white, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

author photo example - wear contrasting colors

3. Do Smile Or, at the Very Least, Look Agreeable

Your expressions matter. A kind smile goes a long way toward making you look approachable.

4. Do Take a Picture Close Enough to See Distinguishable Features

Three-fourths and full-body shots are harder to see, especially in thumbnails. Make sure your face is recognizable from a reasonable distance.

5. Do Take Multiple Pictures with Different Backgrounds and Select the Best One

When taking pictures, the first ones are often not the best ones. It may take some time for you to relax and enjoy the process. Experiment with different backgrounds and locations. The best pictures are often the ones where you’re having the most fun.

6. Do Relax

Before taking pictures, make sure you are stress-free and ready to have fun. Tense people make tense photos, so take a deep breath, relax, turn on your favorite music, and snap away!

7. Do Use Good Lighting

Good lighting can make a picture look light and crisp while bad lighting can create unflattering shadows. Find a good light source, either artificial or natural, and make sure it’s in front of you and not behind you.

author photos - example of good vs bad lighting

8. Do Add Personality

You don’t want to go too far over the top when taking author photos, but you do want your personality to shine through. You can show this through what you wear, your location, and being your authentic self.

Don’ts

1. Don’t Chop Off the Top of Your Head

When you chop your head off in photos, it always looks like something is missing. Whether a friend is taking your picture or you’re using a timer, make sure you are positioned so that there’s ample room around your head and upper torso to allow for cropping.

2. Don’t Crop Yourself Out of a Group Photo

Cropping yourself out of photos can leave odd body parts floating around your face. Stay away from group photos. It’s okay to make yourself the center of attention

3. Don’t Go Over the Top

These photos are way over the top, but I’m sure you get the picture. If you’re a comedy writer, quirky may work, but if you are writing in more straight-laced genres steer clear of the confusing images.

There’s a way to add levity to a photograph without sending mixed signals.

4. Don’t Use Old Photos of Yourself

Whether three years ago or two months ago, if you look different, it’s time to update your photo. There are too many authors out there still using their 1980s glamour shots as their author photos. Don’t be one of them.

5. Don’t Wear Colors That Make You Look Washed Out in Black-and-White Pictures

6. Don’t Confuse the Reader with a Confused Expression


And one more. This gem came from Ingram Spark.

Don’t hold your book(s) in your shot. Clutching your book(s) in your professional photo reads a little desperate. Plus, what happens when you publish your next book? You’ll need a new picture. Remember: dignity is a virtue.

Takeaways

Author photos are like a first impression—they are lasting. A professional and approachable picture offers an invitation to come closer and get to know your brand better. An unprofessional photo can negatively impact how others perceive you.

Take the time to offer a nice picture so that it won’t detract from what’s important—your books. I always look at the author photo. I’m not as curious about what the author looks like as much as to see if the author thinks enough of themselves and their audience to put their best foot forward.

Shannon Clark

Written by
Shannon Clark

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