Photographer recommendations for an author photo?
January 14, 2016 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I am need of a professional-looking author photo! I haven't been professionally photographed since my wedding and I have no idea where to even start. I live in NYC and am more than happy to pay someone a reasonable rate, but I'm also not rolling in cash. Any recommendations for people I should look into? Any advice for how to best approach this process?

If it matters, I'm a woman in her mid-thirties. I'd like to look nice in these photos, but not necessarily feminine -- in this context, I'd rather look "handsome" than "beautiful," if that makes any sense.

The photos would be for promotional material and maybe the back flap of the book, so I really, REALLY need to be okay with looking at it a billion times.

I live in south Brooklyn but am happy to travel a couple of hours by train or whatever to work with a really good photographer.

ALSO: even if you don't have a particular photographer to recommend, anecdotes and advice regarding having a professional portrait taken would be quite welcome as well!
posted by Narrative Priorities to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
Best answer: Look into headshot photographers for actors. They really know how to work with a subject to get whatever "look" you're going for, and most actors in NYC are pretty poor, so you can often find people with reasonable rates.
posted by xingcat at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're looking for a headshot photographer, and you're going to want to pay for some Photoshopping. When I did this, I paid $150, in Atlanta. Well worth it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I needed to find a photographer to do business portraits, I googled "business portraits" and looked at portfolios. It became obvious very quickly who was good and who was not. Then check customer reviews (with a grain of salt, of course, since disgruntled people leave reviews far more often than happy customers.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:26 AM on January 14, 2016

Emily Goodstein Photography is great. She is based out of DC but travels regularly for work to NYC. (Disclosure - I have used her as a photographer several times and know her as human person, too).
posted by anya32 at 8:28 AM on January 14, 2016

Best answer: Professional studio portraits generally aren't that expensive. But if cost is really a barrier, if you go to any acting school (private, college drama department, whatever) there will be a bulletin board with flyers. Lots of people start careers as photographers that way, and the prices will be low. Some of them will likely be terrible, but you can tell from sample shots who's even remotely good.

You want to make sure that they:
  • know how to expose: highlights should be bright but not blown out to white, and shadows shouldn't be so dark there's no detail.
  • know how to light: faces should evenly lit without too much contrast from one side of the face to the other, but with a good separation of subject and background. Good portrait photographers will also make sure they manage (or create) the catchlight so that it is a pleasing size and shape (personally I think some of the natural catchlights in the examples at that link aren't that great, but there are also some really good examples in there, both natural and studio).
  • know how to manage backgrounds so the background itself isn't distracting: the bad actor headshot cliche is the brick wall of an alley, and the bad photographer cliche on top of that is that the bricks won't be out of focus enough, and the pattern causes your eye to move around.
  • have the right equipment: you will want a studio portrait, which means you want to see that they have a plain background and don't only do the back-alley sort of headshots; this will also tell you whether they've got lighting (see above) or if they're just relying on a large window. You shouldn't have to care what lens they're using, but you should be able to see in their samples that the subject's face is in sharp focus (and not just, say, their irises) while the background has a soft blur and not any sort of defects like sharp edges on the blur itself (photographers refer to a pleasing sort of background blur as bokeh) or inadequate separation, so the background itself isn't quite blurred enough.
  • know how to use Photoshop (or whatever) to do basic retouching and color correction without the adjustments becoming a distraction.
So, given all that you should be armed to make snap judgments about who's worth hiring and who's not.
posted by fedward at 9:30 AM on January 14, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you for the advice -- it made my search MUCH easier once I understood what I was actually googling for!

I ended up going with a photographer named Jiyang Chen in Washington Heights, who did a fantastic job.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:00 AM on January 19, 2016

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