The Before and After of Author (All?) Photos


If you love every picture of yourself, or you’re one of those naturally photogenic people, you won’t need this post. And I probably don’t want to stand next to you in any photo.

For the rest of us, there are tricks to make ourselves look less double-chinned, squint-eyed, or serial killerish in photos. I know. I am decidedly not one of those naturally photogenic people. Thus, my gathering of every bit of advice I could find before having an author photo taken. (Now I want to figure out how to outlaw people from ‘tagging’ me in candid shots they’ve taken. Isn’t there something about souls being stolen?)

After reading the hints below, try on different clothes, jewelry, make-up, hairstyles, and take as many self-portraits as you can stand. No one will know how vain you might be (the truthful backstory of any author photo.) I bet Jonathan Franzen tried out smiles in his mirror before deciding on his steely gaze and gently tousled hair.) Using Apple Photo Booth or a similar program to take photos of yourself in various outfits and poses is the best way to plan your author portrait. Photos tell more truth than simply staring in the mirror when we all do some unconscious auto-focus to look better to ourselves.

What I’ve Learned

Color counts. Wear the color that looks best on you close to your face. This is the most important thing to do.

Pick the right clothes. Don’t overdress. Say no to busy patterns, large florals, and anything loud. Make certain your clothes send the message you want to project. What persona do you want to project?Warm and welcoming? Wise? Mysterious? Approachable? Unapproachable? Plan this.

Hide your blemishes. Photos freeze you in time. They can’t show all the good (though they can certainly reveal plenty of bad). Learn your good and bad angles and make sure your photographer considers them. Choose a photographer with whom you can be honest. Avoid anyone who intimidates you. Good photographers can work with you to play down certain features and emphasize others.

To hide a double chin, lift your head, put it forward, and tilt your head down a bit. Not too much, or you’ll actually exacerbate the problem, or look insane. Position yourself so that the camera is a bit above your eye level. Of course, there’s always the old trick of putting one hand under your chin as though you’re resting your head on your hand. (And of course, nobody knows what you’re doing. (Avoid pushing extra skin into weird positions.) Some say resting your tongue against the roof of your mouth helps.

Stick your neck out. Models present a 3/4 pose to the camera, with the neck lifted and the head tilted slightly down. When standing, they place one foot in front of the other and one shoulder closer to the camera.

Relax. Really. Have a glass of wine with your shoot. Just one, though, or you’ll think you look a whole lot better than you do wearing that bright fuchsia lipstick. In the photo below (taken many years ago–8?) I’d had one relaxing glass.

Become an actor. Imagine yourself somewhere great, staring at something fantastic. Or, if you’re trying to appear mysterious, bring forth the mental scene to engender mysterious feelings. Want to look warm? Imagine the love of your life in front of you.

Choose a smile and practice it. Smile with your eyes. That’s how you can project warmth. Imagine someone you love, or someone you would love to love, or someone you want to know, walking in the room. Your eyes get wider; your smile gets more relaxed. Practice until you can instantly do this.

Sit or stand straight. Don’t have your shoulders around your ears or your back slumped.

Make-up for the camera is different than the everyday variety. Visit a make-up counter or Sephora. Tell them you need photo make-up and let them play (it’s free, and they’ll love the opportunity to demonstrate their skills. And if you’re anything like me, the credit care will come out.)

Lively faces tend to look worse in photos, because transient expressions don’t come across well when captured in a still photo. Learn how to control your expression in front of the camera. After reading this, I noticed that my friends with the calmest faces, did look best in pictures.

Look slightly above the camera when the picture is taken to avoid red eye and seem more relaxed.

For full-length photos, position your body 45 degrees from the camera and turn your head towards the lens. Stand with one foot crossed in front of the other and place weight on your back leg. Posing this way will slim and flatters. Pull your shoulders back.

Look on professional photographers’ sites for hints on make-up, clothes, and other facets of preparation for a photo session.

Bring more outfits than you think you need. Simple, classic looks are best. Oversized clothes wrinkle and make you look heavier in the pictures. Solid colors are best. Wear flattering necklines and long sleeves. Loud patterns and busy fabrics will draw attention away from your face. White or light pastel shirts can become washed out on camera. Layers often work well.

Try different looks, such as elegant, edgy and casual. Warm colors or monochromatic tones are often best. For most people, pastels, khakis, oranges and yellows are not flattering in photos. Avoid over-sized, clingy, satin, and shiny clothes. Keep accessories simple.

Bring your photographer home. I found myself far more relaxed when getting my picture taken at home—near my makeup, closet, hair products, teasing comb, and Xanax. Of course it helped that my sister was my photographer. She’s an expert behind the lens, she was patient through my ninety-nine changes, and unlike the professional I once tried, we could go on for hours. So if you have family who are talented, consider giving them the photo credit.


(Above is based on an excerpt from the book WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOUR BOOK LAUNCH by Randy Susan Meyers and M.J. Rose.)

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  1. Posted November 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    I love this! Bookmarking it right now…

  2. Posted February 16, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Such good advice!

  3. Posted February 17, 2017 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    This is seriously awesome, Randy. Though I had to laugh, because your advice is spot on–even in your “bad” pictures you still look so lovely! Thanks for the advice as I soon head into my second-ever round of head shots as an older, grayer author than I was with my debut (those grays tend to multiply, don’t they?). Practicing my head tilt already. 🙂

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