Head Shots

Head Shots
Terry Odell

Never mind that we’re a group focused on writing mysteries, which many people assume will be murder mysteries. This isn’t a post about snipers or ways to take out a bad guy.

A few years back, a writing buddy and I attended a conference headlined by a best-selling mystery author. When she took her place behind the lectern to deliver her speech, my friend and I exchanged dumbfounded glances. No way was this the person whose picture adorned the program.

But yes, it was. At least ten years and twice as many pounds ago.

If you’re going to be making public appearances, be they at conferences, book signings, zoom meetings, webinars, etc.—you should be recognizable. You’re your brand. Nothing like sitting at a table and having people walk on by because they’re looking for the person they’ve seen on your book covers or your Facebook page, website, or wherever.

Now, if your publisher puts your picture on your book jacket, you’re going to be stuck with that image for years to come. No getting around it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your website and your social media presence current. If you’re an indie author, you can change the author photos in books without much trouble, especially for ebooks.

What goes into getting a decent head shot?

When I had my first contract (for “Words”, a short story then with The Wild Rose Press,) they told me I needed a blog and a website. Which meant I needed a picture of myself. I had the Hubster take one.This was back in 2006, I think. We sent it to my photographer son, and he pointed out (vocally) the mistakes. And, because he knows his way around post-processing software, he fixed them. Those software programs have come a long way since 2006, and are easier for the lay person to use. If you’re going the DIY route, you should consider learning to use one, at least to do things like resizing for site specifications.

My son’s a nature/travel photographer by choice, but because I’m The Mom, he makes an exception now and does my portraits. Another perk is that he gives me a selection of poses which I can use in different places, or change them out from time to time, which is something you should try to get, too. These are examples of shots he’s done over the years.

Facebook has separate sites for profiles (my personal stuff) and pages (my Author stuff), it’s nice—for me at least—to glance at my picture and know which site I’m on. Also, I can use candid shots on my profile, which I change out more often.


Where does/should your image show up? Your website, of course. Your social media pages. And yes, it can be different depending on your audience. There’s your Gravatar, which will show up when you comment on WordPress sites. There’s probably a way to add an image to other blog sites, but I haven’t run into enough of them to dig into where to set it. What about your book pages at sales channels? Amazon/Author Central includes your photo. So does Books2Read. When was the last time you checked your pages?

Things to consider when setting up a shooting session.

Keep clothing simple. No wild patterns, no flashy jewelry.

Likewise, no distracting backgrounds. For my most recent session, my son had moved to a new home and no longer had studio space. No more different colored backdrops. No more studio lighting. So, he came up to my place in the mountains. We had nice weather, and the lighting was good on the deck, so we shot some out there and some in my office with my bookshelves in the background.

Be aware that the background should be In The Background, and not call attention away from you. Your photographer should know how to deal with this. Had the leaves been in focus, they’d have created a busy image. Same with the books.

Your head shot should say “I’m an author.” If possible, it should reflect your genre, your books, or something about you. If you write in multiple genres, consider different looks for each.

Bottom line. Your author photos should look like YOU. And they should look like you NOW. Is your hair totally different? Length, color, style? Do you still have hair? What about facial hair? Did you add/subtract a trademark mustache? I avoided redoing head shots when I was going through a royal blue hair phase because I knew it was for fun, and wouldn’t last.

I got into this writing gig about 20 years ago. Much as it pains me to see that older person looking out from the screen, that’s who I am. Might as well embrace it.

How do you handle your online image?
Any authors who do it well? How?

Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

38 thoughts on “Head Shots

  1. A very early good morning Terry. Regarding the author’s head shot photo, my current work is a novel set during the Vietnam War era a half century ago. For the bio I chose a b/w of 2nd Lt me at that time in my Air Force flight suit climbing into the cockpit of a F-80. Old even then. It was one hell of a real life adventure at the time and is told as a fictionalized account to provide the mortar between the bricks.

    I tried using a current photo but it did not seem to fit as well as the old me. Obviously I will need to address the fact that I have aged over the past half century when it comes time to meet and greet.

    • That’s a dilemma, Lars. The vintage picture adds credibility to the theme of your book, and should be obvious to readers that it’s not a current shot. You still have all the social media sites, etc., to let people know what you look like now. And you might find a way to use both.

  2. I know, I know. But it’s hard to give up an earlier image when you get to the age where one year = about 5 on your face!

    I like the natural photos best – showing the author somewhere they love – outdoors, in their office, whatever. Mine is staged, and though it’s a good likeness, I look like a 6th grade teacher.

    • Laura, I agree it’s tough to see the older you rather than the ‘you’ that’s in your head. Nothing wrong with staging a photo. I like yours.

  3. Terry, one feature that hasn’t changed a bit over the years is your great smile.

    Yes, I had a similar experience once when I went to the airport to pick up a guest speaker for our conf. I had to wait quite a while until the arriving crowd thinned out enough that there was only one woman who vaguely resembled the PR photo she’d sent.

    • Thanks, Debbie. I wonder what that speaker would have thought if you had left after thinking she missed her flight! I guess that’s why meeters and greeters hold up signs.

  4. I’m lucky to have a great photographer friend and my mother’s genes. Well, some of them, anyway. When she was 95 and in the hospital, it was comical to see different hospital staff come in with a clipboard and look at her and then back at their chart–my mother looked closer to 64 than 94…I doubt that will be me, though.

    I’d rather have a root canal than get my photo taken for my head shots. The photo in the avatar here is a few years old, but since I’m letting my hair be curly again, it works.

    I love your head shots! Especially the one in the leather coat and short hair, and your latest one.

    • My parents had great genes, too, Patricia. Years ago, my brother and I were trying to convince them to move into senior living accommodations. The four of us toured several sites, and at one, the staffer who greeted us asked if we were looking for a place for our parents. My brother and I pointed out that the other two people at the table were the parents.

      • Someone once asked if my mother and I were twins…she floated all day on that. I on the other hand…

        And Debbie is right, your great smile is there from the get-go!

        • I know the feeling. People would ask if Mom and I were sisters, not twins, but she loved it. I asked her if maybe they thought I was her age, not she mine. Got something muttered in German for that one.

  5. Thanks for the tips, Terry. Funny about the speaker who had gained so much wait and who had aged considerably. It does make sense to keep our head shots updated!

    • You’re welcome, Priscilla. These days, our social media images abound, and that’s what people think we look like. You don’t want to be left stranded at the airport!

  6. For some strange reason that I still don’t understand, I’ve taken my last two author photos in summer. And in both I look naked because my hair covers the straps of my shirt. LOL Every time I see them I’m reminded to take new headshots, but then life happens and I forget. Thanks for the shove in the right direction, Terry!

    • Always happy to nudge, Sue. The beauty of today’s digital cameras is you can see the pictures as soon as they’re taken, so if you’ve got that naked look, you can adjust.

  7. I regularly change my hair from long to short and then remember why I wear it longer, so I grow it out again. I change my head shot out about every two years. I know one author who still uses a “very young” photo of herself. She’s in her 80’s and no longer bears any resemblance to her “glamor shot.”

    • Good for you in keeping things up to date, Karla. I might have a couple of those 80s Glamour Shots hiding somewhere, but they’re not going on any of my promotional materials!

  8. Strongly consider a professional photographer. Not your cousin who takes the family photos, a professional photographer who pays their bills with their camera. A good photographer will talk with you about the look you want. They will take a lot of pictures and then give you a few to select from and then edit them to make you the best you can be. They should also know size guidelines. You are your brand. Put it to work to your best advantage on all of the socials.

    • Excellent advice, Alan. I’m lucky that my son doesn’t charge me for these shoots. He does everything you’ve mentioned in your comment. He does a weekly podcast, “The Image Doctors” and last week’s recording included a lot of what goes into taking portrait shots.

  9. Ray Bradbury used the same author photo for 30 years. Him holding a cat. A great pic. He also made lots of appearances and talks. I saw him several times, he was always popular, and I don’t think anyone was so shocked they wouldn’t buy a book.

    I guess I’m not sure about the need to keep absolutely current with an author photo if you’ve got a good one in the bag. Sure, if you can get an equally good one now, nothing wrong with that, either. Up to you.

    Genre specific…years ago Dean Koontz went from dark glare to smiling dude with dog. And he writes dark thrillers. What the heck? Doesn’t he want to break out?

  10. Yep. In the biz (art direction), it’s called “head-and-shoulders.” Here’s one definition: “A headshot is a portrait, but a portrait isn’t always a headshot. Headshots are typically head and shoulders vs a portrait can be anything where a person is the subject.”

    And like Terry says, the background should be clean (or non-existent). Photographers can do this with Depth of Field in shooting, or in post using Photoshop, etc.

    I’ve been lucky to be around lots of pro photogs who’ve taken my pic from time to time, and I use those. The little one you see here is from a photo session with a world-famous photographer. I had the photog shoot me standing next to him, and then I cropped him out (with permissions, of course).

    • Thanks for clarifying the definitions, Harald. Judicious cropping can make one image do double or triple duty. Some websites have size limitations and they’ll usually let you adjust your image to fit their template. I don’t have a lot of post-processing skills, but I do know how to adjust the image size in Photoshop.

  11. Excellent post, Terry. Thanks for all the tips and information.

    You are fortunate to have a son with the photography skills and the willingness to be your photographer. Great photographs, and interesting time line. I agree with Debbie; your smile hasn’t changed.

    Thanks for the nudge to start looking for head shots that need to be updated.

    Have a wonderful day!

    • My pleasure, Steve. While I was working on this post, I found a number of sites where my author picture was out of date.
      I’m sure my son wasn’t thrilled to deal with portrait shooting, but that’s what holding the Mom card gets you.

  12. Thanks for this helpful post, Terry. My headshots are mostly informal ones. My “casual author” photo for WordPress is the one you see here, taken by my wife in my writing office two years ago. I really need a new author headshot. Today’s post will help with that. It can be hard looking at myself in the mirror and seeing an older than I feel person staring back at me, but that’s how I look now. I just need to figure out how to wear it well 🙂

  13. Great photos, Terry! You’re lucky to have a professional photographer in the family.

    Lately I’ve been thinking it was time to get a new headshot. But then we went to visit a friend recently and a woman in the living room said to me, “You’re Kay DiBianca, aren’t you?” I was surprised and asked how she knew me. She said she recognized me from the photo on the back cover of my books. Phew. Maybe I can wait a few more years.

    However, I do have a question. I’ve been wearing tennis visors for years because I spend a fair amount of time outdoors running. People now identify me with the visors. Should I have a headshot taken with a visor? Maybe you could ask your son for advice on headgear.

    • Sounds like you’re good if people recognize you. I’m not sure about the visor. I think it would become a challenge to photograph well, because it might shadow your face. And would you be wearing the visor to any “in person” events, which includes online ones? I might save that for casual shots like Gravatars, etc.
      My son’s a nature photographer by trade, so I’m not sure he could give you an adequate answer on publicity shots.

  14. Another good blog, Terry. You’re lucky to have a pro photographer in your family. I hate having my photo taken. Each one is a reminder that time marches on — in hobnailed boots across my face.
    Authors do need professional photos, and ladies, please don’t get your make-up done at a Glamour Shots. If you need a good make-up artist, find someone who does make-up for weddings.

    • Thanks, Elaine, and good advice about the makeup. Not a lot we can do about the time march.

    • Allergic, sorry. 🙂 But I have a dog that we believe is really a cat who puts on a dog suit every morning. She acts more like a cat than a dog most of the time.

  15. I just had my author photo updated a year or so ago. I’m fortunate to have a personal friend who’s a professional photographer.

    Question for TKZers: My first 3 books have the outdated author photo on the back cover. Do you recommend having my cover designer change those covers and add my new photo?

    Great post, Terry, and great comments everyone! Happy Wednesday …

    • My thought is if the new and old pictures aren’t drastically different as far as looking like “you,” I’d leave them. My original hardcovers from Five Star still have my early image and I don’t think it’s a major issue. If I ever put them out in paperback, I’d probably include a more up to date shot, but I’ll let others chime in here.
      Most of my book sales are for the ebooks, and those are easy to swap out.

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