On Writing

Author Photos – A Shields’ How-To

Okay. If you’re in this thing called a writing career for the long haul, you’re going to need to get photos of yourself taken. Them’s the breaks. Accept it, and we shall move on.

Whether the photo is for a poster, the back cover flap of your Best Seller novel or your blog, you’ll need it (them).

If you’re like me, you prefer being BEHIND the camera instead of in front – at least for photographs. (Television cameras? I say, bring them on please.) How do we turn off our wicked inner-critic long enough to get a photo done? You don’t. You work with her/him – or tell her/him to suck it and go sit in a corner for a bit.

Here are some pointers to help you get the best photos of yourself you can get.


Cliche, I know, but very important when taking self-portraits. The camera captures your essence whether you’re faking it or not. So you might as well just be your bad-ass self. Dress in clothes are are ‘you’. Style your hair like you do everyday. Not a make-up gal? Don’t throw on make-up then. You want to be comfortable when the flash goes, so don’t force or fake your way into your author photo. Don’t like your teeth? The don’t show them. Have a massive zit on your cheek? Embrace photoshop…or wait till the blemish is gone and then get the photos taken. Wear clothing you are comfortable in! Like scarves? Put on a scarf? Like hats? Wear a hat. You don’t like your arms? Don’t show them. You think your belly is too big (gah…this is a whole other blog post…) – don’t show it. Get comfortable. Just. Be. You.

*A note on props* – if you’re going to use props (a book, a laptop, a table), be sure to not make it (them) the ‘subject’ of the photo. YOU are the subject.

This cover photo could be used as an author photo as far as I’m concerned. I LOVE this image of Atwood at a table…powerful and purposeful. There is a table in the shot, but it’s not the subject. She is. 

Here is one of her author photos. What is the first thing you think of when you think of Margaret Atwood? That hair, right? Well…

photo credit: *not the actual photographer*: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-RLRVwcVpn_E/TjhA95PuNOI/AAAAAAAAAcQ/UpgbrVsugiI/s1600/margaret-atwood.jpg * I don’t know who took this photo, but I’ve credited the source I found it…so as to follow #7 as best I can.

Atwood is ‘being herself’ here. The hair. The wrinkles. And in black and white, it makes this photo, to me, beautiful.*


If you follow step #1 (Be Yourself), then this point may not matter so much to you. However, it’s always nice to be aware of who will be looking at your photos. Potential agents and/or publishers? Reviewers? Friends? Family? Readers? Fans? That photo of you ‘being you’ pretending to pick your nose…

…for example, might not be appropriate for the Globe & Mail when they do a feature on how amazing your debut novel is. (Also, your shirt may be falling oddly and making you look a wee bit preggers…and you’re not. Not even a wee bit.)

So give mind to who will be looking at and needing these photos of yourself. You may want to offer a few photos – the silly and the serious – this way, you will probably have a photo for every type of audience looking at them.

*A note on naked photos/selfies* – THEY WILL BE FOUND. So, if you’re taking them…be proud and accept your body when they do surface. Don’t blame the ‘cloud’ or ‘apple’ or ‘hackers’. Blame yourself. Me, well, there are naked photos of me out there. I was 19. In university. A student to a very liberal, very beautiful and inspiring professor…I’m admitting it now so when E! Now or TMZ finds them – hazah! – congratulations, I’ll say. Great work! Look how hot I am/was….*


When you’re in the ‘biz’, you’ll know a photographer and/or a friend will know a photographer who will do the job and do the job well. If it’s a friend, this is good. Your friend knows you well enough to make you feel comfortable. Let he/she talk to you as you pose and play…and you’ll get some natural photos. I’ve taken thousands of photos of people, and my main goal is to get them to (all together now) *BE THEMSELVES*! Because that’s what’s most important here. This is not the 1800s where daguerreotype-hard-faced, no-smiling photos are the norm. Oh hell, no. This photo will stare many a reader in the face…and if these readers are like me, they’ll be looking at the photo when they’re done reading your book…and hoping to catch a glimpse of humanity in their author photo. You want to give this to your readers. It helps.


You love that cafe you frequent when you write? Or that park you walk in every morning? How about your office and writing space at home? Love ice cream – what about that ice cream shop you frequent? Look, find the space that makes you feel ‘you’. If you need to be in a space to help relax you, then find that space, and get your photos done there. If this isn’t so much of a problem for you, then find a space with at least a nice background that suits the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ you’re going for.

Many author photos are head shots, and this means that the background is either blurry or basic because the main image is a close-up of the author. I prefer this style of author photo. I love the intimacy of a close-up. I love seeing sharp eyes staring out at me. But that’s just me. If you’re going for this type of photo, then really, your main concern should how the background colour/texture matches ‘you’.


It’s important to use a high-resolution photo for your author photo. Your photographer will know what this means, if you don’t.  A SELFIE FROM YOUR PHONE IS NOT HIGH-RESOLUTION ENOUGH. So um, don’t use a selfie. That’s just my advice. If you like the look of a selfie and you have a good camera (not  your phone), then by all means, hold it out in front of you and snap away…but it’s not as easy as it seems with a real, probably heavier-than-your-phone camera. If people are using your photo for print – posters/newspapers/etc. they’ll need a high-resolution photo. Might as well have one ready.


Make sure you’re in focus. Sweet heavens, I’ve had so many blurry author photos sent to me it makes me shiver. BE. IN. FOCUS. Not the bushes behind you. Not the laptop in front of you – YOU. Again,  your photographer will make sure you’re in focus (I hope!!), and if you’re doing it by yourself, make sure you get the photo in focus.


Always do this. Give credit where credit is due.

Here are my current author photos:

Photo by Katie Hawkins.

Have I followed my own suggestions?

I’m wearing my fav scarf. My fav earrings. I’ve styled my hair like I always do (right down to the out-of-place pieces). My eyes look alive and in focus. I’m smiling and I like my smile (enough). You can see my nose ring, which I like. I’m wearing the only make-up I always wear – mascara. I had a zit but I photoshopped it out. (Couldn’t wait for it to go away.) The shot is framed nicely. The background is blurry. I made the photo black and white, but I have colour options as well.

Photo by Katie Hawkins.

This one is my favourite. There’s a soft colour to it. I love how my eyes look. I like this smile better – no teeth. The angle is nice. I just love how this photos looks all around. It is ‘me’.

I also have these available:

Photo by Nick Shields.

This is the non-blurry image of me that is also on the cover of my book. It’s a bit sexier and wilder. I like this as an option. (It’s also in black and white.)

Photo by Assil Moussa.

This is a photo of me with my book from my launch. It’s also ‘me’. But – note my long hair. I no longer have long hair, so I have to update my bio page to include my new head shots above. My books kinda look weird in this shot, but it’s okay. 🙂

Alrighty. So I’m gonna go out on an embarrassing limb here and show you all the photos that didn’t work…with captions to help ‘show’ how something as simple as posture and placement can make or break a photo.

The ‘Off In The Distance’ Head Shot

The ‘Something Wicked Is Over There’ Head Shot OR The ‘Eyebrow Raise’ Headshot

Blurry! The ‘My Boobs Look Massive and Heavy While I Whip My Hair’ Head Shot

The ‘Chin-Rest-On-Hand’ Head Shot

The ‘Yup, I farted’ Head Shot

The ‘Trying to Be Sexy But Looking Like A Cannibal’ Head Shot

The ‘Oh Shit! Someone’s Coming’ Head Shot

The ‘I Puffed, I Puffed, I Passed’ Head Shot

The ‘There’s a Spider On the Ceiling’ Head Shot

The ‘About to Say Something’ Head Shot

The ‘I Can Fake Laugh And Make it Look Authentic’ Head Shot

The ‘Okay I’ll Smile A Little but One Eye Is Way Bigger Than The Other’ Head Shot

The ‘This is My Dimple and Double Chin* Head Shot

The ‘I’m Really Scared Right Now’ Head Shot

And my favourite:

The ‘I Have No Upper Lip’ OR ‘Hurry Up and Get This Effing Camera Out of My Face’ Head Shot

And some prop blunders:

The ‘This Chandelier Is About To Fall On My Head and I don’t Care’ Head Shot


The ‘I’m A Giant With Lots of Ideas’ Head Shot

And there you have, friends. Another Shields from-the-heart and embarrassingly honest ‘how-to’.

Please laugh and share.

Happy head shots to you all!

*All photos taken by Katie Hawkins – my friend!*

*No drugs were used during this photo shoot.

*No farts were…farted during this photo shoot.

Here are some links to photos of author head shots. (Or just visit that thing called Google…)





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