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 www.dapperphotography.com  Facebook…. Ken Dapper Photography.com  …. kdapper@mac.com 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! 😉