Author's photo is problematic
February 19, 2018 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I've gotten a contract for my first book, hurrah! I need to furnish an author's photo. Boo!

I had pneumonia 3 years ago and stropped dying my hair, so I've gone from radiant red to a not-too-bad silver. My hair also took on this odd texture: where before it was curly, now it looks a bit flat and it also feels like straw.
I also gained a bit of weight (I was subsequently diagnosed with Hashimoto's, another can of wax, but.)
I took me years to love myself, and although I am a believer in radical self love and acceptance, I am none happy with my current appearance as applied to an instrument for a marketing tool, but I don't want to use an older picture (no matter how flattering) that no longer looks like me. But I can't imagine putting the current me on a book for all eternity either.
posted by intrepid_simpleton to Society & Culture (11 answers total)
Professional photographers are paid to get pictures of you looking good. Reach out to a couple portrait photogs in your area and they'll help you figure out how best to present yourself in this context.
posted by Think_Long at 1:08 PM on February 19, 2018 [16 favorites]

Get a blowout or whatever style you'd like - pay someone for this. Then yes, go to a portrait photographer (not a mall type studio - I worked in them for years and they can do an ok job but it's a gamble not worth the time). Tell them what the picture is for (make clear it will be in print, there will likely be a copywrite waiver fee unless it's included in the package) and that you don't just want barely angled, looking at the camera headshots, but you also do want a variety of that type. You should get a few to pick between and there should be at least 2 or 3 you can live with (and hopefully even love!) to pick between.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 1:17 PM on February 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

You can also get someone to professionally do your makeup, which might make a huge difference.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:24 PM on February 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

Is there a picture within 5 years that you really love? That's recent enough.
No? Moisturize a whole lot and exfoliate daily for several days to get your skin as glowing as it will get. Haircut & blowout. Wear a top that has a pretty neckline. Ask locally for recommendations for a photographer.

When getting your picture taken, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Consciously relax your shoulders and push them down. Many people get nervous and their shoulders get tense, but you'll look better relaxed.

When you get proofs, hold them up to a mirror in addition to looking at prints. You see yourself in mirrors, so you see a reversed image. That's a big reason most people hate their pictures; it looks subtly and undefinably wrong.
posted by theora55 at 1:28 PM on February 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

Congratulations! And yes, all of the above. Also worth noting that some authors do well with accessories..hats, scarves, etc.

Bottom line, though, your words will speak for themselves. So try not to put too much stress on the importance of the photo.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on your first publishing contract! I absolutely understand the anxiety of the author photo. Steel yourself. As an author, you're going to start to have a lot of photos taken of you.

If you attend events, conferences, signings, go on tour, a jeebillion people will want to take pictures WITH you. A quarkrillion more will be taping and photographing your panel and uploading it to social media.

On top of that, you'll probably want to replace your author headshot periodically. I am coming up on my 10 year publishversary, and I've had 5 in that time.

Your author photo soon becomes white noise in the grand scheme of things, I promise. So, as someone who got ragingly drunk so she could stand to have her spouse take her first headshot, I advise: style yourself nicely and take a picture. Don't look at it too much; hand it off when you have to. It gets easier!
posted by headspace at 2:11 PM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Congrats! I will need to get headshots in the next few months and am woefully unphotogenic. My plan is to hire a photographer who will take my pic in some really nice light (everyone looks better photographed in natural light at the end of the day). And I will either hire a stylist to do my makeup (plus get a professional blowout as suggested above) or go to a makeup counter and ask them for eye makeup recs the weekend before (since eye makeup makes the biggest difference for me, YMMV).

If money is an issue, put a call out on Facebook, etc. There are a lot of part-time professional photographers out there, or really good amateurs. Don't ask them to do it for free, but you can probably get a good rate.

And as for the makeup - it's absolutely not necessary but you may be surprised at what it can do! I personally have mixed feelings about makeup, but I think for something like this, where you're trying to put forward a very specific version of yourself, it can be useful: it can give your face more-defined angles (low-key contouring is actual magic), make your skin tone work beautifully with your new hair color, bring out your eyes, etc. You can also just go to somewhere like Sephora/Ulta and have them do your makeup under the guise of shopping (you should buy at least one or two of the items to be fair), which will be cheaper but riskier than paying someone to do it for you.

One other thought: I almost always hate how I look in pictures when they are taken, but usually like them later on. I think it's sort of like hearing your own voice - it's weird. I bet in 10 years you won't look at that pic and think about how much you hate your hair or your weight - you'll look at that pic, on the book you wrote and published (!) and feel a lot of affection for the version of you pictured. That said, there's nothing wrong with using tools to feel better about the pic now.
posted by lunasol at 2:21 PM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I went to a reading yesterday that featured a few local authors I'd corresponded with but never met in person. I knew what they looked like, or assumed I did, but it turned out at least one was using a picture that had to be ten years old at least because one person who I'd assumed was about my age turned out to be in their late fifties!

(This is when I confess that I mostly use a couple different author photos that are 8-10 years old myself. I look fine, more or less, but even a couple sessions with real photographers--friends, so it was free, and casual non-studio shots--haven't netted images I've been happy with. So I've mostly just used two old photos I like a lot.)
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:33 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

A decent pro photographer should also be able to remove any blemishes, odd shadows, etc. before printing the final version.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:36 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the advice to find a professional photographer. Make sure you negotiate rights to use these photos everywhere! By default, photographers usually own their photos of you unless you buy out all their rights. It'll cost you more but it will be worth it when you can just send photos wherever without asking for permission or paying more.

When you're in the photo shoot, don't let them pose you with your arms crossed or on your hips, looking over the top of your glasses, wearing sunglasses, with your hands anywhere on or near your face, with any kind of smirk or wry grin, with lighting below your face (unless you *want* to look like you have a fat neck), and do not wear a hat. No hats. NO. HATS. AUTHORS: DO NOT WEAR HATS IN YOUR AUTHOR PHOTOS. No.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:46 AM on February 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bypass the photo completely and commission an illustration. Something that captures your essence w/o being a caricature. Each Sunday, the nyt book review interviews an author and uses a line art style illustration but there are many other styles. Message me if you need a resource.
posted by pmaxwell at 8:38 PM on February 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

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