Tips for creating a professional head shot

Years ago a writer sat for a head shot if she was lucky enough to need a photo to adorn the back of her book. Today, with the surge of social media, all writers should have a professional-looking photo, lest they find themselves transformed into an ominous outline with a question-mark face.

Don’t answer the need by quickly cropping your face out of a recent group photo taken at Aunt Gilda’s birthday party. Whether your head shot will be at the top of your high-visibility print column or will accompany your digital conversations, the photo should represent you at your best. That said, don’t stray too far from your everyday look.

Lori Ann Robinson, an image and fashion consultant in Los Angeles, says you should choose clothing that’s simple but flattering. “Patterns can be distracting,” she advises. “Wear your best colors if the head shot is in color. Also, make sure your neckline is flattering and frames your face, and keep to simple jewelry.” Women may benefit from getting hair or makeup done by a professional, Robinson suggests.

It’s up to you whether or not you wear your eyeglasses. “It’s easy to light the studio to avoid glare in the glass, and so that the subject’s eyes are visible,” says Joanne Smith, of Headshots Photography in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Remember that you may count on this photograph for multiple years, so avoid trendy items or jewelry that may soon look dated.

It’s OK to have your photographer touch up your photo to minimize signs of age, but don’t go overboard, Robinson warns. “If you [end up] doing a book signing, you don’t want to look too [different] from your picture. People may not recognize you,” she says.

Those writers with the opposite problem–fear that their photo broadcasts their fresh-out-of-school status–should not try to age themselves. “Look well groomed and professional, not older,” Robinson advises.

Your photo doesn’t have to capture the perfect smile. Sometimes a different expression–thoughtful, laughing, friendly–can work for you. The key is not to look contrived. Tell your photographer what you’d like to capture, and he or she should be able to help you achieve a natural outcome.

Creative by nature, many writers bypass the traditional bust shot for something with a bit more flair. Tread carefully, though, when going for the unique. This picture may be the only image many people will associate with you. You don’t want to be forever remembered as the writer in the hammock, or the one chewing a quill pen. “It’s fun to be creative, although there is a fine line between creative and cheesy,” Smith says. So shoot some creative shots and some traditional images, and then decide which works better for you.

Creative shots will include more props and background, so consider the final size of the photo, Smith adds. “Often it becomes a thumbnail-sized image in a magazine or blog. Your readers want to see your face, so, if it’s too small in the frame, you lose the impact of a tight head shot,” she says.

When done well, a creative shot can enhance your image, Smith says: “For example, we shot an [environmental] writer outside with trees and plants in the background, which suited her column. If you’re a romance writer, a head shot taken at sunset on the beach may work well.”

Photography costs vary by region, so shop around to find the going rate in your area. Seek someone who will provide a variety of shots and is flexible. Most important, choose someone that makes you feel relaxed and comfortable.

To cut costs, look into photography schools, or round up some fellow freelancers and try to negotiate a group rate.

You may hesitate to pay a photographer or other professionals to help you put together your head shot, but a small investment may be worth it to have a photo you’re proud of.