Every author needs a good, professional headshot to represent them to their readers in an accurate and positive way. Authors not only need an attractive and authoritative photo for the back cover and the author bio page of their book, they also need to use these pictures to give a consistent image of them on social media, their own websites, press releases, posters and other marketing materials, and of course when the media come calling. However, many authors use photos that just do not give the right impression and can be damaging to sales and their personal brand. Rodney Williams, specialist headshot photographer, gives some tips on how to avoid the worst errors.
How many authors on LinkedIn or other social media sites have no picture at all, or a picture of something totally irrelevant to who or what they actually are? My question is, why would authors not want to have a good photo of themselves? Authors want to do business with their readers; readers want to see the person who is offering their book(s) to us, irrespective of what they think they look like. Authors also want to build up recognition, a persona, with their fans, followers and readers – and be instantly recognisable to those they meet in person.
Too tightly cropped
Many other authors don’t want to go to the trouble or expense of having a professional headshot taken and decide to use a photo from their collection. They have been to a wedding, party or been part of a group shot, and really like this picture of themselves, but to use it as their avatar they have to crop more than three quarters of the picture. The result they get is a soft, fuzzy image giving a much worse impression than they may be aware of. I see this problem all the time and often wonder why authors do not have a picture taken of themselves in a professional manner.
The sun is a great light source: photographers would love to have a lighting kit with this awesome amount of power behind it, yet the sun’s positioning at certain times of day can give really bad results to our photos. For example, it is midday in summer and the sun’s position is overhead, leaving harsh and high contrast shadows across your face. Not very flattering. A professional photographer will use all sorts of techniques to counteract this. The most obvious is to use shadows of buildings or large objects, leaving no contrast across your face at all; another option is to use a flash and fill in the shadows with this extra light source, bouncing back the available light into the shadow areas. Better still, they will use a studio with a full lighting kit and background.
The rules of composition are sometimes not easy to understand, but when mastered you can create an impressive picture. Some of the rules of composition are: the rule of thirds, the rule of odds, fill the frame, and keep the image simple and uncluttered. Composition is a skill that can be learned by a professional, yet for some – even amateur photographers – it is an instinct. It produces a view of the world that is pleasing to look at. Get the composition wrong, though, and even something as apparently simple as your author headshot will look out of sync and unbalanced.
Here is some photographic jargon: Jpeg, TIFF and RAW. Do you know the differences between these? Which one offers the best possible quality? Well, it is not the low resolution Jpeg. You know the setting on your camera that gives thousands of exposures? You can keep on shooting pictures on one chip that never seems to fill up. A low res Jpeg just does not capture all the detail needed and will leave most of the information behind – this is why you can just keep taking pictures. Each image only records and stores a small amount of information and the quality suffers. The solution here is to use the highest possible resolution and then you will instantly get better results.
There could be a number of reasons for this, but most common is down to the camera we use. We shoot a lot of photos on our mobile phones. Have you ever noticed the size of the lens? It’s tiny and, despite new technology, works in the same way as a pinhole camera. When you study photography you learn about depth of field: simply, it is the amount of sharp focus in front of and behind the subject being photographed. The smaller the lens, the greater the range of available focus, which results in the background potentially being a distraction to the subject.
Ignorance is bliss
So why should we care about the camera settings? It’s easy to believe that if you put the camera onto one of its automatic functions it will do all the work for you. Well yes, up to a point it will. But the camera does not know the difference between the subject and background and will often focus on the wrong option available to it. A good photographer will avoid these settings, will most probably use the camera on a manual setting and therefore have full control over the picture she or he is taking.
If you bear these common errors in mind when taking your author headshot, you should get a much better result.