I’ve worked with some of the best photographers in the USA. I’ve been in dozens of studios all over the country and have been privy to their backstage techniques. These photographers have photographed Miss America contestants, professional hockey and baseball players as well as CEOs, authors, doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs. I got the skinny directly from them on their tips for getting the best head shot possible.
While the written word is powerful in landing a media placement, as a book publicist I know that a great photo can clinch a media opportunity just as well and sometimes even faster. How? It’s simple. The photo immediately tells the reporter if the author looks credible and it tells a TV producer if the person is going to look good on a TV interview. If you don’t think they care, think again. It also declares race, sex and sometimes creed. It all matters, and don’t assume it’s a negative thing as it helps news producers provide a balanced newscast so that all voices can be heard. It’s the same with print or broadcast media.
To be sure you convey your message in your headshot and to put your best face forward you’ll want to hear some tips on How to take a great headshot.
First let’s talk about the use of the head shot and its purpose as that dictates the style.
Author Headshots will be used on a book cover and press materials, website and social media. You want multiple variations as the thumbnail close up on Amazon will be different from the one you use on LinkedIn, Amazon and your book flap. Is this a serious book? If so then you should look professional. If it’s a cookbook then look like a cook in proper attire in the kitchen. If you are a doctor, then look like one!
Renowned photographer Sam T’ang of Sam T’ang Production Studios, who regularly photographs Miss America and Miss USA contestants, says planning ahead is critical and offers these tips:
- Get a good night’s sleep and rest the day before your shoot. (You don’t want wrinkles or baggie eyes for your shoot).
- A good headshot should focus just on your face. Clothing should be complementary & should have contrast, IE, someone with lighter color hair should have darker tops or suits, someone with darker hair should have lighter colored tops or suits.
- Clothing/wardrobe should not be busy or have patterns. Always bring several different outfits if possible. It is always better to have too much than only one outfit to work with.
- Backgrounds should be clean, un-cluttered and should not have a pattern (unless it’s an environmental portrait).
- Accessories (Women). Jewelry should be subtle and not overpowering (again, the main focus is on the face).
- MAKEUP/HAIR (Women & Men). If it is possible to have a makeup artist/hair stylist, hire one! Makeup is not only important, but makeup looks COMPLETELY different on camera than in real life and the camera PICKS UP EVERYTHING. Everyday makeup under professional photography lighting and strobes will look like you have no makeup at all. A professional makeup artist is well worth the investment!
- A professional photographer should understand lighting conditions whether it’s natural light or strobes (flash). Good lighting makes a huge difference in your photos. Be aware that shooting under fluorescent lights will cast a green tint to your photos.
- There are many talented photographers out there, but only a few who actually specialize and can take a GREAT HEADSHOT. A good photographer should make you feel comfortable and be able to communicate and direct you, thus making your shots look natural and relaxed instead of stiff or too posed and awkward.
- Almost all images are retouched and edited. One caveat just doesn’t have your photographer OVER RETOUCH your photo or use FILTERS that make you look too plastic and not real (unless that is the look you want).
Jack Kenny whose photography book CUBA is filled with photos of the people of Cuba says he likes shooting outdoors in available light. Natural light outside can be beautiful. I like to shoot in doorways or windows or under overpasses, keeping the subject just out of the direct light.
For headshots, says Kenny, “I like to work both in the studio and in natural light. Sometimes I use a combination of the two where the natural light isn’t sufficient to “fill” the subject. For males I prefer to use a single light source (in varying sizes depending on the drama desired). The light is placed at a 30 to 90-degree angle from the subject and sometimes I use an edge light on the opposite side or a reflector to fill in the shadows. For women I tend to use a softer light – usually two front lights – one weaker than the other, and I keep the light sources closer to the camera.”
According to Steve Kovich who shot for the Detroit Red Wings, Tigers, Lions and is currently the Tampa Bay Rays official team photographer, “You want to create depth and mood. Lighting a subject from high above and off to the side is what I like to do. This lighting style is commonly referred to as “Rembrandt” lighting as this is the way the light came into his studio.”
“On the creative end, it’s the ability to evoke or more likely to capture emotion. Whether it be happy, sad, or otherwise,” says Kovich.
In the end, says Jack Kenny, almost any light can be used depending on the effects desired, but a true headshot should emphasize the subject and not the photographer.
About Sam T’ang
Based in Detroit and Miami, Sam T’ang is a national and international published photographer specializing in Beauty, Glamour, Fashion and Swimwear. Sam’s work has appeared in advertisements, calendars, magazines and posters: MAXIM, STUFF, PLAYBOY, FHM, COSMOPOLITAN, GLAMOUR, TEEN, YOUNG MISS, PERFECT 10, OCEAN DRIVE, HAWAIIAN TROPIC, VENUS SWIMWEAR, FITNESS USA, AUTORAMA, and many others.
Sam has photographed headshots for the Miss America, Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Venus Swimwear, Miss Hawaiian Tropic pageant contestants, the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings players headshots/promos as well as thousands of models, actors and celebrities. (www.SamTang.com) 248-845-8274 and 305-502-1354.
About Jack Kenny
Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kenny specializes in headshots and has photographed dozens of CEOs, doctors, lawyers, authors, and entrepreneurs. Kenny is also author/publisher of Cuba where he takes readers on a photographic journey through modern day Cuba. www.kennyphoto.com (734) 395-1265
About Steven Kovich
Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, Steven Kovich has photographed celebrities such as Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon and Hulk Hogan as well as hundreds of sports figures including Derek Jeter and Red Wing hockey great Steve Yzerman. He’s also the Tampa Bay Rays official team photographer. His list of corporate clients includes Hyatt, Ameritech, AT&T, CBS, Coke, Chrysler, Domino’s Pizza, Detroit Symphony, ESPN, Ford, Dupont, General Motors, Getty Images, Proctor & Gamble, Pulte Homes, American Red Cross and the US Postal Service. Kovich’s web site has few words as he lets his photos speak for themselves. www.kovich.com 727-452-2349.
The Bottom Line: Your headshot is one of the most important elements in your book promotion. Get a professional to shoot it. Don’t skimp out and use a cropped shot from your summer vacation!
About Book Publicist Scott Lorenz
Book publicist Scott Lorenz is President of Westwind Communications, a public relations and marketing firm that has a special knack for working with authors to help them get all the publicity they deserve and more. Lorenz works with bestselling authors and self-published authors promoting all types of books, whether it’s their first book or their 15th book. He’s handled publicity for books by CEOs, CIA Officers, Navy SEALS, Homemakers, Fitness Gurus, Doctors, Lawyers and Adventurers. His clients have been featured by Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, CNN, ABC News, New York Times, Nightline, TIME, PBS, LA Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Woman’s World, & Howard Stern to name a few.
Learn more about Westwind Book Marketing at https://www.WestwindBookMarketing.com or contact Lorenz at [email protected] or 734-667-2090 or fill out the form below. Follow Lorenz on Twitter @aBookPublicist. Want help titling a book? Check out Scott Lorenz’s new award winning, bestselling book: Book Title Generator- A Proven System in Naming Your Book www.BookTitleGenerator.net.