Mastering Your Author Headshot with Photographer Ken Dapper

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what does your headshot say about you?

If you don’t have one, I recommend it. Here’s why. Most of us know the value of showing more often than telling. A high-quality, professional headshot shows readers, agents, publishers and others that we take our careers seriously. Featured on our business cards or information sheets, they provide visual takeaways at writers conferences, making us and our work more memorable. Headshots also give viewers hints at who we are—if they’re taken appropriately. Consider the following examples. (You’ll see why I’m using myself in a minute.)

You can tell by the first image that I write something dark or mysterious (i.e., thrillers). You may also pick up on hint of mischievousness. 😉 The image on the right suits multiple genres. Goofy shots of us hanging with pals work for Facebook, but even there we should use caution. Agents, publishers and others will probably look at your social media sites—so those drunken party shots none of you have (ha) should probably go.

Before I hand the blog microphone over to my friend, Ken, here are a few tips on having a successful headshot session—from the “model”/author perspective:

  • Choose a shoot time that works well schedule, mood and energy-wise. (Don’t start at 6am, for example, unless you tend to be perky then.)
  • Get enough restful sleep the night before, and fuel up with a balanced meal or snack. If your session is more than two hours, bring water and snacks along.
  • If you feel nervous or blah beforehand, go for a brisk walk or sing really loud in the shower—anything to cheer you up and get your juices flowing.
  • If you choose to do your own makeup, go with your usual “daytime” look—nothing too dark or heavy. (Unless you’re a goth author, and that’s how you normally look.)
  • If you go with a makeup artist, make sure they have headshot or fashion experience. If you’ve never met the person, you might want to bring a photo of how you look on a looking great, but natural, day.
  • Guys, you will need some make up—nothing scary, promise. Some moisturizer, powder and concealer is often enough. For more tips, check out Bonnie Johnson’s Headshot Make-Up Tips for Guys.
  • Look like you. Over-PhotoShopping or presenting ourselves in a style totally foreign to us is inauthentic—and it shows. Erasing a stray hair or blemish or tweaking the overall color is fine. But in my opinion, it ends there.
  • Don’t try too hard. Use your imagination to drift away during the shoot. Think about your book, your characters, your significant other… Anything but “Oh my god, I hope I don’t look stupid right now!” or “What should I be doing? AGH!” It’s unlikely you’ll drift so far that you forget to face the camera. And the last thing you want is to look stiff, frightened or posed.
  • In particular, don’t think about the photos during the shoot. This may sound odd, but it helps minimize self-conciousness—a potential awesome-photo wrecker. You know how we love characters with secrets? Have one! Look into the lens with your secret in mind… (Yep, that one. ;))
  • With digital photography the norm, you’ll probably have hundreds of shots to choose from. So move around. Make subtle shifts between shots—in your expression and body. When the photographer says, “Yes! Hold that!”, do. Playing around a bit is generally fun and helpful.
  • If you feel uncomfortable mid-shoot, take a break. Drink some water. Walk around. Tell the photographer how you’re feeling. It’s easier to snap out of awkwardness than you may think.
  • Have a trusted friend look over your proofs before deciding on your top picks. It’s hard to judge our own photos. That said, it’s important to choose images you feel strongly about. So as with many “writerly” decisions, get feedback then go with your gut.

Now for a TREAT. Ken Dapper is an artist in the truest sense of the word. He took both of the headshots above, and remains one of my all-time favorite photographers to work with. Since I couldn’t clone and send him to your homes, he’s agreed to share his expert insight here. (Thanks, Ken!)

AM: How did you get started as a photographer?

KD: I picked up a camera when I was in 6th grade. Over the years I shot as a hobby and really enjoyed landscape photography. I was lucky to have lived in great places growing up from SoCal to Texas and Alaska, so shooting was always an adventure. When I started acting and modeling after college I got to work with some amazing photographers in LA and NYC. That is when my interest really turned to shooting people. It just seemed like a natural fit given everything I was learning. I started to shoot my own and other models’ pictures for our portfolios so we didn’t have to pay photographers. I finally had the confidence and pictures that led my closest friends and agents to encourage me to shoot full-time.

AM: What do you love most about it?

KD: I love the freedom of photography on all levels. Everyday you pick up the camera there is something new to learn or experience, not only with the technical aspects of shooting, but with the subject matter as well. I also love the fact that ten people can shoot the same thing and come away with something so different. The freedom really lies within and trusting your choices in each moment as they can really make the difference between a great and OK photograph.

AM: What makes your approach so different from other photographers? 

KD: I think my experience in front of the camera has really helped my approach and knowing how to make the people I shoot comfortable. There is nothing worse than shooting with a photographer who is boring, can’t laugh or is not engaging. Knowing how to shoot is just a small part of it. I try to make it really comfortable and relaxed for everyone. I am a big fan of music and I always have it on. I often tell people,”We are going to crank up and listen to some tunes and oh by the way we’ll shoot some pictures too.”  It’s not the only way, but it’s what works for me and everyone really responds well.  Some Classic and Southern Rock, blues, country and everything in between always get the shoot jumping. Of course if you’ve got some favorites, bring your iPod.

AM: What common mistakes do people make regarding professional head shots? How can we avoid them?

KD: Too many people waste money by trying to save money. They end up spending more and getting pictures that do fit their style because ultimately hey have to re-shoot with someone else. Never settle for a photographer just to save a buck. Do your homework and find a photographer that you really think has great work at a reasonable rate and would represent your style.

AM: I hear this one a lot: “What should I wear?!?”

KD: Bring clothes that you feel and look great in, but stay away from busy clothing with stripes, logos or patterns. Stay solid and clean, and always bring plenty of choices.  You can never bring too much.

AM: How can we make sure our personalities shine and prevent looking nervous or “prom posing”? 😉

KD: Trust the photographer and the choice you made to shoot with him/her. The rest should take care of itself. If you settle for a photographer you are not completely comfortable with you open yourself up for doubt—never a good thing, as it relates to confidence.

AM: Let’s say an author wants photos for his or her website and book cover. Do you recommend getting a variety of shots? Or will one look work?

KD: I always recommend shooting a few different looks. It gives the client a chance to grow into the shoot and get more comfortable with what we are trying to accomplish.  I always give more to the shoot, even if they only want one look because I want the client to leave feeling very satisfied that they have enough choices.

AM: How many years will head shots typically last? 

KD: That depends on age, look and how you age. Generally it’s good to update your look every 1 to 2 years. Kids 6 to 8 months. When you dramatically change your appearance, like hair or body, then its always recommended to update at that time.

AM: How much should head shots cost?

KD: It really depends on what you need and who your shooting with. I think spending $400 to $800 is reasonable. You can always find someone cheaper, but really examine what they are offering and how their work stacks up to those at a higher price.  A lot of photographers are flexible, as are many business. So it never hurts to call them up and talk about what you’re looking for.

AM:  If readers would like to work with you or inquire about your work, where can they get more information?

KD:  At  Facebook…. Ken Dapper  …. or 646.456.6381. If you can’t reach me I will always get back to you within a 24 hour period, unless of course I’m home fishing in Alaska or on a surfing trip.

Great stuff, right? Ken would love to hear your thoughts and questions, as would I. So…shoot! 😉

Leave a comment


  1. Sound advice August, I’ve never had a professional shoot but have been lucky with some clever amature friends. There certainly are some por ones out there!

    • Amateurs can definitely be talented. Sounds like you lucked out! It’s amazing how much we humans value first impressions—which often takes the form of a head shot. 😉

  2. Fantastic and informative post. I dabble in photography and do headshots for my friends. I always tell them they need more than 1 headshot. So, I’m glad to hear a pro say the same thing. I’m always thankful they let me experiment with them. 🙂

  3. Great post, August! The one thing I would add from my experience with clients is that, unless they love being in front of a camera, they’ll need a little time to get comfortable when the shoot begins. I give my all the whole shoot, but I keep in mind that the first few minutes of a shoot are best spent “loosening up” with the subject. I couldn’t agree with Ken more on the importance of making it enjoyable. It definitely will come across in the photos!

    • Great point, Amber. Getting comfy is definitely key. Doing so while the photographer may be warming up too, seems pretty brilliant. 😉

  4. Oooh. excellent post! =) I did try to save money, and had a passport like photo taken…I look like I’ve just escaped from a chain quite the look I was going for. This gives me some new ideas and definitely will be looking for a new photographer!

    • LOL! (Sorry to laugh—just too precious.) If you’re as cute as that little squirrel, even a passport photo might do. 😉 Best of luck finding a great photographer!

    • Carrie, I love your author pic! You show that mischievous sparkle we have all come to know and love!

  5. Fantastic advice and love all the tips and tricks from both you and Ken!!

  6. I refollowed you since you are not coming up in my reader. It happened when I was unfollowing comments.
    Anywhoo, I love this! I need to do this sometime. I am very unphotogenic and do something weird when I smile for the camera.
    Hideous post! (hideous = awesome) as you now know! Hahaha!

  7. Once again great advice. My youngest brother is the Houston Astros baseball team’s photographer and takes great sports/action shots, but I can’t convince him to do head shots. I was trying to save money, which I now realize is not such a great idea.

    • There are other ways to save money. Many photographers offer big discounts for split sessions, so pairing up with another author/professional can help. I’d rather have fewer great shots than lots of “eh” ones. 😉 Glad the post helped!

  8. mgedwards

     /  May 24, 2012

    Wonderful post…as always!

    I think I did my Author Headshot completely wrong…a quick snapshot with a pocket digital camera at 19,000 feet, while I’m exhausted and sleep deprived, bundled up like a penguin, cold but sweating, hat crooked, ear buds hanging from my ears with a sheepish grin, looking like a holy man in the wilderness. I might retake it, but I couldn’t bring myself to trek up to the summit again. 🙂

  9. Can’t wait until I get to this stage. Ken is fabulous! This is one of the benefits of living in Rochester, NY. There are a lot of talented artists who won’t charge an arm & a boobie.

    Love this line about how people shouldn’t dress too goth: “Unless you’re a goth author, and that’s how you normally look.” Hahahaha! 🙂

  10. Great advice from both you and Ken, August! I particularly liked the link with guidelines for men.
    The “think about your characters” and “think about your secret” tips are priceless!

  11. “awesome” information, August I hate having my picture taken. perhaps I need to find a different photographer. that’s a good idea and i’m going to keep my eyes open. great tips.

  12. Fantastic post and great timing – I’m getting a new headshot done this summer. I asked around for recommendations and decided to go with a guy in my car enthusiasts group. He’s just out of school and still establishing himself, so his rates are reasonable, but the reason I chose him is I love his work. Thanks for the tips, I’ll reread this when the time comes!

  13. Coleen Patrick

     /  May 24, 2012

    This is next on my list. The current pic I have I took by myself in my backyard–completely meant to be temporary and yet I still haven’t changed it! Thanks for the great and timely info August!

  14. Good advice all around. I’m partial to natural lighting and think portraits taken outdoors generally flatter the subject (unless of course it is midnight!).

  15. Debra Eve

     /  May 24, 2012

    I’ve always loved that left-hand shot of you, August. It’s the leaves, and your smile. Something about the green and black says “earthy, mysterious, maybe dangerous.” It is perfect for thriller! I’ll definitely keep Ken in mind for the future.

    • Sweet of you say, Debra. Thanks!! (And bonus—Ken is right near your ‘hood. ;))

      • August is always a favorite of mine to photograph. She is always a lot of fun to shoot which is all you can ask for as a photographer. It definitely helps to have a client bring their “fun” to the shoot. Not to mention, she does not take too many bad pictures. 🙂 So whenever your ready to shoot Debra let me know!


  16. Raani York

     /  May 24, 2012

    This is fantastic information!! I really appreciate having read this blog post. I went to Ken Dapper’s Website – he has a great portfolio (your pic is there too August) 🙂
    I checked out where to find him – and I figured since he’s working in L.A. as well I might eventually contact him when I’m there the next time.
    Thank you very much again!
    And please, allow me to mention August: You are so unbelievably gorgeous!!

    • So glad you’re interested in shooting with Ken, Raani. I’d love to hear how it goes! Thanks for the blush-inducing compliment. *insert pink cheeked-face* 😉

      • Raani York

         /  May 25, 2012

        I can’t tell you any exact date when I’ll be crossing the ocean next time, but I’ll let you know.
        And it’s only the truth! You’re beautiful! 🙂

  17. Great info, August. I’ve had headshots taken many times. I never love them. Usually I look at them later and yelp! “What was I thinking!!??!” Dunno. Maybe could be the subject in the photo, hmmmmmm? 🙂

  18. Oh geez – I had a professional photographer friend take my photo for my first book and picked out a couple to send to my publishers -they picked one, but they fiddled with it and I look like my younger cousin *laugh* – I hate it — so, now my books have different shots of me that are pretty casual including one in my “hiking mountain woman duds” *lawd* – I just don’t take good photos when I’m posing. But, those casual photos are “me” – while the posed airbrushed one is sooo not me! The airbrushed me showed up on my last book – on the back, while inside the book on the “bio page” is the mountain kat photo – it makes me laugh.

    • Ha! I bet we all have some photos-gone-awkward stories. 🙂

      Super posed, airbrushed pics don’t capture us. (I just don’t humans are supposed to hold themselves so stiffly with perma-grins and doll-like plastic skin…;)) Even at family and friend gatherings, I prefer the candids.

      • At the time my hair was really short, and it kind of stuck up on top – but in what I thought was a cute funky way *laugh* – but they airbrushed it neat! made me laugh — and I don’t look my age in that photo, I’m so smoooooooothed . . . lawd. One day on my old blogspot blog, I put the original photo and the airbrushed one side by side – omg – brave of me – looked like me with my much much younger sister or cousin 😀

      • Hilarious, Kat. I’d love to see that post!

  19. Kourtney Heintz

     /  May 24, 2012

    August, how do you always provide the info I need when I need it? LOL. I was just thinking about getting a proper head shot this summer. I admire your headshots because they looks so natural and not the forced poses of author photos. I’ll definitely keep Dan in mind when I’m ready for a to get my pictures done.

  20. Great info! Wish I’d had it a couple of months ago, lol. I have always hated having my picture taken…and this was no exception. I sent some emails to local photographers, telling them EXACTLY what I wanted…and asked for a ballpark price. It might have been the wrong way to go about choosing one, but I decided to go with the one who actually sent the ballpark price. I had no intention of setting up an appointment just to discuss that, figured this woman was honest and that’s where I went.

    She wound up taking about fifty shots and, as soon as she snapped this one, I said enough. She wasn’t going to get a better one so it worked for me. She did manage to get rid of the shadows under my eyes but it looks like me on a good day. Unfortunately, unless I wake up looking like Sandra Bullock or Katerina Witt, everyone who looks at it will be able to tell that I HATE having my picture taken. 🙂

  21. Thank you August for your wonderful information! You are a classic beauty both inside and out! Kenn I thank you for your hints as well.

  22. The photo I’m currently using is over the 2 year mark, but thankfully I seem to be aging slowly because the first thing people say when they meet me in person is “you look just like your photo!” That said, it’s not a professional shot, and I’m saving up for a new one right now. We have a great pro nearby who’s done photo shoots for all the big magazines and with actors like Alan Rickman, but he’s pricy. I had originally planned to use the photographer who did my wedding photos, but I ended up being unhappy with a lot of his work as well as his professionalism (or lack thereof).

  23. Thank you so much for this August. I have a feeling I’ll be needing those tips soon.

    I usually hate photographs, I’m always so nervous and I don’t always photograph well but I love the one about ‘thinking of your secret’. I will keep that in mind for future headshots.
    Although I must be honest and say that it doesn’t seem all very reassuring to me since you are such a stunningly beautiful lady, something daunting like a headshot must be child’s play to you! 😀

    • You’re sweet, Nisha! But honestly, I struggled with headshots until I met Ken. Way different from acting and modeling, as we have to play ourSELVES. (Yipes!) Those character/daydream tips and finding an awesome, good-vibe photographer made all the difference. As a side note, you’re gorgeous! So nothing to fret about there. 🙂

  24. Karen McFarland

     /  May 25, 2012

    Great advice August! My hairstylist works up in Los Angeles on model shoots and has been after me to get this done. But I hate having my picture taken, so it hasn’t happened. And well, the budget isn’t there either at the moment. Thanks for introducing us to Ken! 🙂

  25. Great advice, as I’m going to be redoing my own headshot soon!

  26. GREAT post! Thanks, August. A professional headshot is one of the many things I actually do need. I’m saving this post for when I book a photographer!

  27. A very helpful post! I plan to get some shots taken when I’m no longer pregnant! I know it’s just my face, but still. I’m puffy.

  28. I’m so glad you posted this, August! I’m going to be having a head shot done soon. My niece is a pro photog and fine arts/photog teacher. I love all the work she’s done and am excited to have her photograph me. Your tips will really help, as will Ken’s, especially the prices…my niece will try to do this for free but I aim to pay her. Now I know what would make sense. Thanks!

  29. fivereflections

     /  May 28, 2012

    very interesting post – thanks – some of the famous photographers like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon were inspiring to learn about when i was a youngster – they both made their mark in fashion photography.

    • fivereflections

       /  May 28, 2012

      i meant to add the Vogue Covers they created…

  30. Great tips, August! I certainly can’t argue with the results….

  31. Bookmarked, bookmarked, bookmarked! This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, so thank you so much for this post! Yours and Ken’s tips are great and some things I would never have thought of. I’ve always admired your head shots so much… you and Ken are a great team. Well, he did have an exquisite face to shoot. 😉

  32. Of course, headshots would be extraordinarily useful if we were all as good lookin’ as you. 🙂

  33. You mean I can’t just go to Glamor-shots?

  34. Ooh, this couldn’t have come at a better time! I just contacted a photographer a few days ago about scheduling a photo shoot next month. 🙂 Thank you, August and Ken!

  35. Hunter

     /  June 7, 2012

    Reblogged this on Hunter's Writing and commented:
    Hmmm, wondering when I will have another headshot done. Slightly (erhmmm) older now…

  36. Great advice. Of course, for some authors there’s nothing scarier than being photographed. I try to avoid it at all cost myself, not least for privacy reasons. But that has to be balanced against the need to market my work, and publishers do lean on me for pictures. Awkward and, for me at least, a necessary evil.

    My avatar photo, incidentally, is my current standard author shot and is of me outside the Sydney War Memorial in 2010. The least bad photo of myself I happen to have…

  37. Daphne Shadows

     /  June 26, 2012

    Right. I definitely need to get a picture of myself. A waaaay better picture, even though its only for my blog for now. I honestly don’t have the money for a $400 head shot.
    Thank you so much for this post! It helps to know what I should be aiming for! 🙂

  38. I’ve been toying with the idea of having a head shot done. Now I’m sold. Thanks for the great post!

  39. Very needful. Getting mine tomorrow for my new book!! Thanks so much

    Temitope Babatunde

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