by Diane Brophy

Show up, sit down,  smile. And then get a perfect headshot? We all wish. But there’s more that goes into a headshot than just showing up and having your photo taken. How do you make sure you get the photo you need—for the brand you want to portray? Even in COVID times, all career authors—whether published or pre-published– need a headshot.

Here’s how to prepare for the big moment.

Find examples

Look for photos of authors you admire—especially those who write in the same genre. Are they brooding and noir? Or glamorously sophisticated? A quirky modern YA? What image do you want to project? Bring the ones you like to your photographer. They need to know if you want the windswept romance look or gritty streetwise mystery or a relatable women’s fiction. This photo should reflect how you want the public to see you—and you have one instant to do it.

Choose your outfit

Two major factors: comfort and color.

You want clothing to be comfortable and well-fitting, so you’re not fidgeting and yanking at buttons and collars and necklines. Sit in front of a mirror. Does your jacket bunch or droop? Do the two sides of your collar match? Are the shoulders of your blazer too exaggerated? Remember, high fashion is great for the magazines but as an author, you want to appear professional. In your own style, of course, but it’s best to look classic, not trendy. (Unless you want to get a new photo every few months.)

What works best? Solid color tops, blouses or shirts. Choose a color that accentuates your eyes and goes well with your skin tone. No patterns and no busy prints—you want the viewer to focus on your face. And watch the frou-frou and decorations and gimmicks. Ruffles, puffy sleeves, lave, gauzy insets, cutout shoulders.

(I recently had a client come in for a headshot and she wore a blouse with puffy sleeves. This client is a very petite woman and she thought the puffy sleeves made her arms look bigger. They did. )

Pro tip: after you’ve selected what you are going to wear, look at it carefully to make sure there are no wrinkles and go over it with a lint brush. The camera picks up everything!

Choose your face

My advice–keep the make-up natural looking. A photo with heavy makeup is instantly noticeable—not because it’s attractive, but because it’s so obviously overdone. Remember, your professional photographer can do retouching—so let the photog get rid of the wrinkles, instead you plastering them with coverup.

Men, you might just need a touch of powder to cut the glare. Women who are comfortable doing your own make-up, that’s great. But for this, you might want to hire a make-up artist.

Still, here’s a warning: I highly recommend doing a trial run a few days before your headshot session and NOT the day of.

When I was starting out as a photographer, another photographer invited me to sit in on a headshot session. The client getting the headshot was a beautiful young woman. A skilled esthetician did the young woman’s makeup, and we all thought she looked gorgeous.

However, during the session, the young woman broke into tears. She hated how she looked. And, as a result, she hated all the photos. The photos were objectively stunning, but no matter.

And they had to start all over.

Choose your accessories

Your jewelry choice is easy – none. As with the clothes you choose, you don’t want anything to detract from your face. Hoop earrings or oversized necklaces can be a distraction. And so can big chunky oversized statement pieces—unless that’s your brand, of course! But most people should keep it simple. A classic chain necklace. Small post earrings. Bracelets and watches are fine, too, because they aren’t near the face.


If you wear glasses, wear them. But clean them glasses before your session. The camera picks up everything, even the smudges and dirt on glasses

Decide on your hair

My best advice? Wear your hair as you normally would. Style it as you normally would, and with the stylist who normally does it. Sure, go to the hair salon and get your hair done the day of your session. Or do it yourself if you have the knack. If you are shooting outside, be aware it might be windy.

But don’t decide to get a new hair style or new hair color just before your headshot session.

I had a client who came in straight from the salon–her stylist had blown her hair straight, and it looked great, but my client didn’t normally wear her hair that way. You guessed it. After viewing the photos, my client said she wished she hadn’t changed her style.

Facial hair

For men, you may grapple with the facial hair question. Some men may not be shaving daily and have grown a COVID beard. If you like the facial hair just make sure it’s trimmed and even for your headshot.

I recently had a gentleman come in for a headshot and during the last 6 months he chose not to shave. The day of our session he arrived clean shaven and once he saw the photos he wanted to reschedule another shoot for when his beard grew back in.

Whichever way you choose–make sure you are comfortable with your choice.

Don’t worry

Your photographer can take hundreds of photos, so don’t worry if they ask you to sit a certain way, or think a certain thought, or if they try to make you laugh, or even stop smiling. Try doing what they suggest. Go for it. They understand the lighting, and the angles, and the background. They see you through the lens in a way you can’t.

Be patient, be cooperative, take a risk. You may get something fabulous.

You can also ask to see the shot in the camera. This is the time to check your hair and makeup and make sure all is well—and that may make you even more comfortable.

You want to look relaxed, natural and confident. You want to project the right image. You want to be happy every time you see the photo. That can happen.

Do you have questions about your author photo? Happy to answer–let’s talk about it on the Career Authors Facebook page.



Diane Brophy worked in the corporate environment for 15 years before getting married and having children. Thereafter, she was a stay at home mom for 13 years before deciding to go back to work. She always had a camera nearby and loved photography, so she decided to start her own photography business. She says that was one of the best decisions she has ever made.

email: [email protected]