How to Take a Good Author Portrait…

I got the email from my editor’s assistant two weeks ago.

Can you send us a portrait (that will be used for every book with your name on it ever?) two weeks from today?

Ok, I am paraphrasing, but that is what it felt like the email said. I knew this day was coming, eventually, but I didn’t think it would come so soon.

I’ve never taken an Official Portrait before. I’d seen them on book jackets, sure. The desks, cigarettes, tweedy jackets. Or the sweater sets, or the ironical photos of writers playing frisbee. I eagerly began googling “Great Author photos” and “How to take a good Author portrait.” And you know what? I couldn’t find many good tips on this process at all.

Probably because it feels nauseatingly ego-centric to write a piece claiming to know how to take a good photo. But luckily I live in Los Angeles, the great land of self-promotion, so I was able to glean advice from the various actors/speakers/reality stars/ real estate agents who sit for headshots every day.

So, I thought I might take a moment to share what I learned in my photographic adventure.

Tips after the jump….

  1. Find Inspiration. Find portraits you like. Try to figure out why you like them and then boil these qualities down into a soundbite that makes some conversation sense. Pinterest is great for this. After looking through my compiled photos, I could tell the photographer that I liked black and white images, with hands in the shot. You’re not going to re-stage every aspect of the shots you like, but they can give you some ideas of what the heck to do with all your peices.
    my pinterest photo inspiration board.

    my pinterest photo inspiration board.

    This photo of Jackie O was the first one that resonated with me. We came up with a sort of Cali version. (photo by Braden Moran)

    This photo of Jackie O was the first one that resonated with me. We came up with a sort of Cali version. (photo by Braden Moran)

    Hands in the shot. Maybe it's cheesy, but I love them. A cigarette so close to so much flammable hair was too edgy for me, though. (photo by Braden Moran)

    Hands in the shot. Maybe it’s cheesy, but I love them. A cigarette so close to so much flammable hair was too edgy for me, though. (photo by Braden Moran)

  2. Know thyself. In a physical sense. You don’t have to reach full spiritual enlightenment in order to take some photos. But if you have a great smile, use it. If wearing blue makes your eyes pop, wear blue! Bring out your best features and the things that make you distinctive.
  3. Find a great photographer. So. Many. Hits. If we were a baseball player – we’d be Ty Cobb. Our batting average was ridiculous,” my photographer said as we looked through the shots. The key word in that comment is WE. The mind behind the lens is the most important aspect to capturing a great shot. Find someone who does this sort of thing for a living, and someone that will collaborate with you, rather than simply tell you where to stand and leave it at that.  (If you are in Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s easy, just contact Braden Moran. :) )
  4. Think Actual Thoughts.  Tyra Banks isn’t joking when she tells her proteges that good photos are all in the eyes. Having something going on in your brain gives your shots depth and emotion. Figure some phrases out before you sit in front of the camera, so you have something to grab onto other than God, I hope my hair isn’t sticking up in the back. IS MY HAIR STICKING UP IN THE BACK? My go-to phrase (that I settled on with my boyfriend on the drive to the shoot) was “I got this.” And I honestly think it comes across.

    "I got this." (photo by Braden Moran)

    “I got this.” (photo by Braden Moran)

  5. Have Fun. Play music, give a little shimmy, drink coffee, climb into a patch of marsh grass on the side of the LA River. Trust that your preparation has worked. Don’t get so locked into your preconceived ideas of what you will capture. otherwise, you don’t have any room for things like this:
    Marsh grass can be a happy accident.

    Marsh grass can be a happy accident. (photo by Braden Moran)

    Point 3 comes into play here, as well. You need to trust that your photographer will let you know when something isn’t working and that he will destroy any unflattering evidence.

 

With some preparation and the help of a fantastic photographer, I went from being a basket case to really enjoying the process. Now all I have to do is pick the final shot. I mean, it’s only going to be on every copy of my book ever….oh good god….

One thought on “How to Take a Good Author Portrait…

  1. OK, so I am partial to the natural look. Thus the Jackie O type portrait is the one that resonates most with me. It is similar to the background portrait on the website which is stunning.

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