The author photo you send makes a statement about you—even before the recipient opens the document. The simple fact of how you label the file sends a message about your professionalism.
Am I overstating the issue? Just ask any periodical or compilation editor. Or anyone in a publisher's marketing office.
A Tale of Five Photos
Today for the publication I edit, I received five photos. Only one showed true professionalism; the other four were typical. And this was before I opened the files.
Is anything right with this image?
The quality of the first image was laughable. Intended as a headshot, the image was taken horizontally (“landscape” rather than “portrait”). Standing against a harshly bright outdoor background, the person's face was in deep shadow, with a pole in the background emerging from her head.
The image forced me to ask the author for something else. Surprisingly, the replacement was focused, correctly exposed, and taken against a neutral background. It was still a horizontal, but the 3MB file size allowed me to crop a head-and-shoulders image.
Two other photos were simply adequate. They weren't awful, but they didn't communicate that the writer really cared.
In all fairness, the fifth photo set the bar high. A studio image, its lighting was flattering and the image was crisp and tightly cropped. The subject, who speaks professionally to promote her writing, wore a scarf that matched the background color. Nothing in the image was over the top. It quietly said, “I'm a professional.”
What's in a File Name?
The file name of the fifth photo made me expect something good. The name of the image, from Ima Writer, was “Ima Writer 2013.jpg.” I was dealing with someone who cared to make things efficient for an editor. She knows what it's like to search a folder of anonymously tagged files.
The other four photos, two from “from Wanna Bee,” were labeled: “bookcover mug.jpg”; “newWBmug.jpg”; “#0053.jpg”; and IMG 0058.jpg.” Enough said.
You Don't Need a Studio
Producing an adequate author photo doesn't take a trip to a studio. With a bit of planning and a digital camera, you can achieve a photo that’s fine for publication. Just make sure you, and the friend who takes the photos, follow these tips.
1. Dress appropriately. Your appearance should say you’re a professional.
2. Stand in open shade, not facing the sun or with the sun at your back. This prevents harsh shadows or glare. If the camera has a “fill flash” option, try it.
3. Check what’s in back. Stand before a plain, uncluttered background—one not the same color as your outfit or that doesn't clash. Avoid the “tree-growing-from-the-back-of-your-head” syndrome.
4. Step away from a wall—if you take a photo inside. The flash will cast a harsh shadow behind you. Stand six to eight feet from a wall (and make sure it’s plain).
5. Turn the camera sideways and zoom in. Unless the publisher requests an “environmental portrait” that shows you at work, use a telephoto setting and take vertical “head-and-shoulders” shots.
6. Use the camera’s “portrait” setting.
7. Don’t settle for the first try. Taking extra digital images will yield better results. Try several poses, with multiple shots of each. Then send only the best one—clearly labeled.