How to take an author or artist photo for your press kit + three things you’re already doing wrong

To launch my new book Jesus Potter Harry Christ I recently had a photoshoot with photographer Steven Vigar. I was surprised to learn it was difficult to find articles about how to shoot an author / artist photo, author /artist portrait examples, or even what makes good author / artist portrait photography. So I’m making my own, to chronicle the experience, and give fellow authors and artists tips on how to do it right.

Whether you’re an artist marketing your paintings or an author promoting your books, you can’t afford to hide your face. Especially in the modern age of myspace and facebook, people except to see pictures of everyone. This is especially true for authors and artists. You might ask, shouldn’t my paintings or book be enough? After all – it’s not really about ME, is it? And that’s where you’re wrong. This is because whenever people buy something, support something, share something or even like something, they usually do it because they respect or identify with the source.

A few reasons why you NEED a photo:

1) Creates personal interaction. People feel like they know you, they see you as more human. Just having a picture does increase sales. (You really should be making videos of yourself doing the things you love as well).

2) Gives you a chance to appear as an authority. If done right, a good author or artist photo will make you look good. Cool, smart, professional, etc. You can even try to look the way that your target market expects you to look.

3) You need one for your Press Kit. What’s that? You need to have a file of important information available just in case anybody wants to do a story about you. It should have your biography, statement, summary of key works, contact information, and a few stunning, high quality, high resolution pictures of you that can be printed.

How not to take an author or artist photo or picture

1) Don’t put your head on your chin. Unfortunately, everybody does this so much is come to be expected. This is what it seems natural to do, even though it is totally pretentious. The nice thing is that, even if you do it, most people won’t realize how dumb it is (because they are used to seeing it anyway). But don’t do it.

2) Don’t take a staged, weird or uncomfortable pose. It should be natural. It can even be an “action” pick of you doing something. (Writing or painting for example).

3) Don’t take an old family photo, a too-casual photo, etc.

The difference between cool and corny

Cool people do fun things cuz they don’t care who’s watching. Corny people do stupid things that they think might be cool. The difference is very, very subtle. It’s safer to take a standard, nice portrait of you smiling at the camera rather than try and do something fun or crazy and make yourself look stupid. If you can pull it off, a nice action picture of you doing something crazy and enjoying yourself could work really well… but it’s risky. Instead, try these tips:

Secrets to taking a great author or artist picture

First off, let me say I’m no expert to taking pictures. Like most people, I’m a little comfortable having my picture taken. Especially when a real live photographer is taking professional pictures of you. I feel self-conscious about where to put all my appendages. Here are some tips I learned from Steven Vigar.

1) Try everything. Taking pictures is a game. Take lots, and lots, and try everything, and see how they look.

2) The hands problem. Where to put my hands was my biggest problem. I like to stick them in my pockets, but that’s no good. We tried folding my arms, holding until my collar, leaning against a wall, or just hanging them by my side. The easiest solution would probably be doing something (like reading/holding up your own book) or painting /writing) so keep that in mind.

3) Dress nice. Even if you go casual, go nice casual. You want to make a good impression, that you’re professional and you care about your reputation. As an artist or writer, you may want to appear like you don’t give a damn, and that’s fine. Cool, stylish, grunge clothes can work too – if they’re awesome. But  your clients – especially art buyers – might not be impressed. Why not be safe and look good for the people who can afford to actually buy something?

4) Smile. Yes, moody, pensive, frowning author portraits are common. But they’re overrated. A warm, genuine smile works better. A laugh is great too if you can capture it.

5) Find pictures that you like to copy. Don’t try searching for “author / artist portraits” or “author / artist photo“. You won’t find much. Instead, check out actor or models headshots or modeling agencies. They know how to take portraits.

6) Work with a professional. This is especially true for authors. Artists can get away with having lots of fun pics on their website. Authors usually need one great one; and you can tell right away if a picture is professional or amateur. An amateur picture says “this author isn’t successful enough to afford a photographer.”

This doesn’t mean you have to spend tons of money. Let it be known on your blog or on Facebook that you need some pics taken. Trade or barter or buy a cup of coffee for whichever hobbyist photographer with a great camera offers to help you out.

7) Drink beer. This was the last thing we tried to ‘loosen me up’ enough to let my personality come out. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Here are a some of the author pics taken by Steven Vigar. Which one do you like?

For more of Steven Vigar’s stunning professional photography, click here.

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