How to Take a Kick@$$ DIY Author Photo

Think THIS.
NOT this.
NOT this.

I feel like I’ve had this conversation with my PR/marketing clients (and myself) at least a million times:

Me: “You need a new author photo.”

Author: “Why? The one I’ve been using is a perfectly good photo of me.”

Me: “Yes, it’s a great photo of you. But it’s a posed shot taken at a conference.” Or, “But it’s more than five years old.” Or, “But it’s pixelated, and/or has TERRIBLE resolution.” Or, “But the lighting is god-awful.” Or, “But it’s a super awkward size, has awkward framing, or can’t be cropped without losing some serious quality.”

(Note: the Subtext of All My Specific Reasons: It is a NICE picture of you. But it is not an AUTHOR photo.)

Me: “An author photo is not a picture. It is a BRAND ICON. It’s your version of the McDonalds golden arches, or the Pepsi red and blue beach ball. Or the Nike swoosh. It’s how your readers/followers/fans and the world in general connects all of your social media personalities and online properties. It’s an instant recognition generator. With a single look, it not only introduces you to the world, but it exemplifies what you stand for and what you have to offer. It’s the KEYSTONE of your online persona.”

All Authors in the World, (at least in my experience): “But…But I HATE having my picture taken!”

Me: “Yes. I know. We all do. But that’s why we have to suck it up and do it anyway, as many times as it takes to get that one ICONIC image.”

Author: “But having professional photos taken costs a lot of money.” Or, “I always feel so uncomfortable working with professional photographers. I feel like I’m being judged.” Or, “Why can’t I just use a picture I already have, from that day when my hair was looking REALLY good, and spruce it up on Photoshop or something?”


"Your author photo IS your brand."
“Your author photo IS your brand.”

Don’t panic, because there’s a REALLY GREAT ENDING to this conversation, and I’m going to share it with you now. Are you ready? Here it goes.

1. No one said you had to PAY anyone to take your author photo. You can take it yourself with a digital camera and timer. You can ask your husband/friend/family member to take it. You can take it yourself with an iPhone (although, this will only work for lower res photos such as profile pics, etc.). With today’s technology, it is EASIER than ever to take a professional looking photo.

2. There really aren’t any ironclad rules about how an author photo should be staged or formatted. As long as it’s high resolution / high quality (and I’ll go into that in more detail in a minute), the lighting is good (again, see below), it vaguely resembles what you look like in real life (no 1990s Glamour Shots, please), and it effectively represents your BRAND as an author, you can pretty much go with whatever works the best for you!

3. It’s SO MUCH EASIER to TAKE a great picture, than it is to MAKE a great picture. Would you take a Harry Potter book and try to revise it into an erotica book? NO. (Not to say there wouldn’t be a market for that. But if you DID want to do this, it would be 100x better to start with the concept of a HP erotica book and work from there. Tweaking things to be something they’re not is INCREDIBLY AWKWARD.) This is why you DO NOT Photoshop. You do NOT crop your sister in law out of your wedding photos and just use that one. The more clean/professional/”expensive” your photo (and the rest of your web presence, by the way) looks, the more likely people are to assume your product (i.e. your books) will match. And BELIEVE ME, people can tell if you’re using something for a purpose other than what it was originally intended for. (Are you still slightly horrified by my Harry Potter erotica example? Because I am.)

"Ooh, a photo of a CAMERA??! How META."
“Ooh, a photo of a CAMERA??! How META.”

With those VIP points in mind, here are some tips on how to create the best possible DIY Author Photo:

(Note: most of these tips come from my personal experience as a broadcast reporter and film producer, and if they can work for me, they can work for YOU.)

Staging: Find a quiet place with good lighting (or create one, as mentioned below). The background should be SOLID, but not white. Muted colors are best. If you can hang a black or dark-colored sheet behind you on the wall (minus the cat hair, of course), even better. Also, for optimum ease and comfort of photo taking, you should be SITTING. DO NOT show the chair or any furniture in your photo. Also, no picture frames, wall sconces or light switches.

Styling: Your hairstyle and clothing should be chosen with a “head and shoulders” perspective in mind. Solid colors are best, since prints will distract from your face. Your FACE should be the central focus of this photo. Wear more makeup than you normally do, because 50% of makeup is invisible to the camera. Eye shadow and blush are ESSENTIAL for women. If you’re a man, you might want to flirt with some mascara or a light touch of skin-tone base powder. Put your hands in the photo if you must. Don’t go too crazy with the accessories. Remember, the focus is YOU.

Quality: Use the nicest digital camera you can get your hands on. Borrow if necessary. Once you’ve got your staging set up, take as MANY photos as you possibly can. Switch up your position (very subtle like) and/or your facial expression every 5-10 photos. Take breaks in between to look at your photos objectively, and see what works. Hate everything? DON’T LET YOURSELF GET FRUSTRATED. Just take a breath and try something new.

Lighting: The importance of lighting in photography CANNOT be stressed enough. If the lighting is good, you’ll appear up to ten years younger and your eyes will seem to glow with an intelligent, almost ethereal light. If your lighting is bad, you’ll have dark circles, thinning hair and several additional chins. IT’S IMPORTANT. Your lighting should be bright enough to banish the shadows from your face, without being bright enough to “wash you out” (that’s where your face is so pale that your features begin to disappear). Sit directly facing a window on a cloudy day, or find a desk lamp with a soft, white bulb. Make sure the light is coming from directly in front of you, or directly in front and slightly above. NEVER from directly above or below, or to either side. That creates nasty shadows. Look at the photos as you go to check for any unsightly shadows or frizzy stray hairs being captured by the camera. Also VIP: try to “find the light” with your eyes, without looking directly AT it. That’s how you’re going to achieve that awesome inner-eye glow.

Insider Tips: Try putting a mirror behind the camera, and looking at it as you pose. Just make sure to flick your eyes to the camera lens when the pictures are actually being taken. If you’re not a person who usually wears makeup, stick to neutral colors (eggshell, pink, beige, light brown) but PILE it on. Use shimmer powder (VERY sparingly) to highlight the inner corners of your eyes, and use bronzer to “burn out” the outer edges of your face (top of your forehead)–which brings the focus back to your EYES, where it belongs. You can also swish a little bit of bronzer underneath your chin to create a slightly stronger jaw line. Just make sure to BLEND your makeup, and check the photos to ensure that your neck doesn’t look like a totally different color than the rest of your face.

Quantity leads to Quality: Like I mentioned before, the more pictures you take while you’re made up and staged, the better chance you’ll have of finding even ONE photo that makes you happy. If you’re having a volunteer take the photos, don’t feel bad about asking them to rapid fire and take about a hundred. Or stop them if you see something that’s not working. If they’re willing to help you do this, chances are they’re willing to help you do it RIGHT. Bribe them with cake, if necessary. Cake usually works. And OF COURSE, if you are lucky enough to have an amateur photographer friend or a pro who’s willing to take these pictures for you for free, DO NOT FORGET to thank them profusely and give credit to the photographer whenever you post the photo.

Go nuts. Have fun. Experiment. And feel free to share your success stories in the comments. (Bonus if you include a link to your AWESOME new author photo.)

For more helpful info on how to build your author brand, how to market yourself successfully, or just random publishing tidbits in general,
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Note: Photos used in this post are public domain and were obtained from

5 thoughts on “How to Take a Kick@$$ DIY Author Photo

  1. Awesome post! My friend took my author photos, no photoshop, and they came out great. One thing I want to mention, as a professional makeup artist, you don’t have to wear more makeup but make sure you wear makeup. Digital cameras pick up a lot of detail. In my photo (twitter: @kristenstrassel), I wore what I wear every day. Pay attention to your eyebrows and lips! Blush, mascara, and a little eyeliner is essential. Make sure you like like you.


    1. Agreed. When I say wear more makeup than you usually do, I guess I’m speaking more in terms of eyes and lips. Again though, no clown makeup. You definitely SHOULD still look like you.

  2. Another tip: When it comes to camera height, make sure the lens is at or above eye level. This keeps any shadows where they need to be and can actually reduce the appearance of any extra..ummm…chins. [Seriously]. Also, no one wants to look up an author’s nose. 😉

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