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Resources for Writers

Barbara Scully on The Perfect Author Photo

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Article by Barbara Scully ©.
Posted in Resources ().

As a writer, you probably spend a lot of time in your PJs or an old baggy tracksuit, hair askew, fresh faced (see what I did there?) sitting alone in your writing place with possibly just a cat or two for company.  And that is as it should be for you as you slave away over the hot keyboard.

But a day will come when you will be on the brink of publication (online or in print) when you will realise that you are in need of a good portrait photograph.  Such a photo is vital in order to establish a credible presence on social media, for a website and for your agent/publisher.

So what should you think about before you recklessly just take a shot using your laptop or smart phone?  How are good portrait photographs made?

The photo that illustrates this article is of Sarah Webb, international best seller – it’s a fabulous picture taken by photogenic.ie – Sarah writes YA and women’s fiction and she looks fun and approachable in all her pics.

I thought I would ask a certain photographer I know well, Paul Sherwood (www.sherwood.ie), if he had any advice about getting such a shot done.

“Get it done professionally” was his unsurprising first piece of advice.  “You might get lucky doing it yourself or getting a friend to do it for you but it may not be of a quality that could be used for publication in the press for example.”

Paul also talked about how important good lighting is for portrait photography.  “Of course it all depends on the kind of portrait you are aiming to produce. For example window light is beautifully soft and might be good for a more informal kind of photo.  Either way a professional photographer will advise you as to your best option and will have studio lights to make sure you look your best.”

Paul also mentioned the background – “avoid a fussy background,” he said, “plain is best.”  He also suggests getting a shot done against a white background which means that it can be used as a cut out and placed against different backgrounds if necessary!

Paul  advises shopping around.  “There is no need to pay a small fortune for a photo, so shop around before deciding.. but do look at the photographers work.”  Finally check to make absolutely sure you have permission to use the photo for as long as you want to.  “It’s unusual nowadays but sometimes a photographer would only grant licence to use the picture for a year.  It’s not common but do check.”

Ok so a professional photographer is essential but what else should you do to ensure that your photo will be the very best it can be?

My first tip is to GET YOUR HAIR DONE.  This is vitally important.  Treat yourself to a blow dry.  It makes such a difference.  And bring a hairbrush to the shoot in case a quick tidy up in needed.

Hair sorted let’s talk about your make up?  Is this the same make up you have been applying since you were 15? Are you any good at make up?  You might need some help on this one.  If you don’t have a handy friend to assist you – check out the local department store make up stands.  They often offer a make-up session.

Next thing is to think about what you are going to wear.  Remember the star of this photo is you and although you might be a fan of riotously colourful garments, a block of one colour usually works best in portrait photos.  That said – give some thought to what colour suits you and works with your natural colouring.  The outfit is not too important if you are going for a head and shoulders portrait, but if you want a longer shot or a shot of you doing something (for example for a cook book you may be photographed cooking) put lots of thought into an outfit that is flattering and not too ‘on trend’ which may date the photo very quickly.

Niamh O'Connor is a crime writer and journalist

Niamh O’Connor is a crime writer and journalist

Before you visit the photographer work out your expression.  Yes I am serious.  Spend some time in front of the mirror and check your big smile, your face ‘at rest’, and your more thoughtful expression.  You may decide to use different expressions through the shoot to give you a couple of different shots to have at your disposal but remember your brand.  If you are writing women’s fiction a nice warm smile works (look at Sarah’s pic) but if you are writing crime thrillers it’s possibly best to go more thoughtful – see crime writer Niamh O’Connor’s photo left.

I hate to the mention the war as it were, but do remember that as we age our face naturally travels south.  So your ‘at rest’ expression ends up looking awfully sad.  Work it all out in front of the mirror first.

If you are going for a full or half length shot think about what you are going to do with your arms and avoid crossing them… it can look defensive and cold.

Remember that this photo is an important part of your brand.  If you are active on social media you will need something that is quickly recognisable as you, particularly if it’s used very small.

Finally back to Paul who also suggests that along with getting a head and shoulders photo, get a half length and full length.  You are paying for the photographer’s time so make good use of it.

So there you are….  If you haven’t got a good photo already, it’s time to book your blow dry and your photographer.

Good luck!


(c) Barbara Scully

Paul Sherwood is a professional photographer based in Dublin.  Check his website at www.paulsherwood.ie or email him directly at paul@sherwood.ie