In a recent post, Why Author Branding is Crucial to Book Sales Success, one of the issues I touched on was the importance of an author photo or headshot. While we often hear, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the reality is that looks count when people choose a book. Your author’s photo conveys a lot about you in just a few seconds. The impression it makes will color the image a potential reader has of your book. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. Investing some time and money in professional author photos can elevate your book’s status and how potential readers respond to it. 

A headshot is essentially a photo of your head and shoulders. Readers like to get a feel for who an author is, and a close-up photograph does this. While you might think this is as easy as “saying cheese” and having a friend snap your picture, this isn’t the case. There are several aspects of creating author photos successfully.

Pose Properly

The most flattering angle for most photographs is a three-quarters profile. Check out some author bios; you’ll seldom see anyone facing the camera directly or in profile. The ¾ pose, with your face turned just slightly to one side, flatters your features and keeps your features from looking flattened out. Be sure your posture is good – slouching over a desk or rounding your shoulders gives the impression you are tired, discouraged, or lacking in confidence. Head up and shoulders back! 

Your smile is one of the most important features in your author photos, so take some time to practice smiling in front of a mirror. Be honest about what you see. When you smile, does it look natural and relaxed, or stiff and uncomfortable? You may need to discover what triggers a more natural-looking smile and use that when getting your photos taken. If you have a particularly toothy grin or don’t like how much of your gums show, practice a slight half-smile to see if that will be more flattering. 


A professional photographer uses flattering, appropriate lighting, but if you have to do your own author photos, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t use harsh, overhead lighting.
  • If you’re photographing outside, do it earlier in the day or toward evening, when light is softer.
  • Don’t backlight your photos, as this will create harsh shadows. The same goes for lighting from underneath.
  • Use natural light whenever possible. If you’re inside, take the photo near a window with sunlight flooding in. If you’re outside, choose a shady spot but well lit, so you get the light but not the glare.
  • Don’t take your picture with a flash. The flash will flatten features and wash out your color.

The Right Background for Author Photos

The background can drastically change the message of an author’s photo. Although it should never be the focus of your author photos, the location sets the stage. For most photoshoots, a neutral, soft background is best. You want your face to be the focus of attention, with the background remaining just that. If you do want a bit of interest in the background, choose wisely. For an environmental writer, a nature scene can work as long as it isn’t too busy. Keep it generic – some trees or a garden. If you’re a geography expert or write travel books, a map or globe (in muted shades) can accentuate your expertise. 

Authors Photos: The Right Attire

Do you want to convey a formal, businesslike demeanor? A nice suit and tie is a good choice. If you want a more youthful, casual vibe, wear an open-neck shirt or blouse. As a romance novelist, you have some leeway to play up your femininity. You’re an outdoor adventurer and your book is about extreme sports? Wearing the appropriate activewear will help establish your role as an experienced expert on the topic.  It may be tempting to go with a glamour shot; your author photos aren’t for a gala or a Hollywood premiere. Aim to look comfortable, confident, and authentic. 

Your author photos are used for book jackets, press releases, social media, and more. Take the time to determine what you want your author pictures to convey, then work with a professional photographer to achieve it. A great photo can create interest in your book, while a lousy picture may lead people to put your book back on the shelf.

Dudley Court Press

Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a full-service, hybrid publishing house, we help thoughtful people write their books and become successful published authors. Contact us to discuss our assisted self-publishing option today.

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