Authors are often confident their words will speak for them. Particularly in the business world, where successful business owners and executives feel certain that their accomplishments in their work arenas will pave the way to literary gold.
But with more than 16,000 business books being published in the U.S. each year, competition for getting those words and books in front of readers is fierce. A high-quality, professional headshot gives a huge boost toward hooking readers from the jacket alone.
An author headshot is critical because readers form an opinion of the author — and whether their advice is valuable — before they even crack open the first page. The headshot conveys information about whether you are trustworthy, wise, and relevant to the discussion. While that feels like a lot of pressure, it can actually be a good thing! Books without photos remain more of a mystery, and the reader must open the book and make it through a few pages, or even chapters, before connecting to the book. Often, those books never make it off the shelf.
A well-done author headshot forms a human connection immediately — and the beginnings of trust — giving the reader a reason to anticipate the information inside and to lend it credibility from the first page.
Make a list, check it twice
We recommend coming up with a list of words that describe what you’d like to convey to the audience. This list guides the photographer and can be used to measure and compare any possible options from the shoot. It will also guide the choice of location, wardrobe, and overall tone.
Good author headshots:
- Can include some background, but the background should not take the focus off of the subject. It should be muted, and usually slightly out of focus.
- Should convey depth. Even a straight headshot in a studio can use lighting to be more three-dimensional: this both conveys more personality and is more visually striking and pleasing.
- Body language and facial expression should support the feelings and reactions you want to signal in your audience. We recommend looking directly at the camera to create the “instant connection” with the audience that the author is going for.
Here are seven examples of a good business author headshot
Each of these examples are — overall — a good business author headshot, but we’ve picked some with pros and cons in order to expand on things done well and things to watch for during final proofing and selection.
We developed this blog post out of some select research we did for a specific (White, male) client, and we acknowledge the examples we used poorly reflect the amazing diversity represented by the successful entrepreneurs and executives writing about their achievements. But the principles of lighting, composition, wardrobe, and engagement are the same.
What we love: Good use of relevant but unobtrusive background, warm and open body language.
What we don’t love: The background is a little bit light; this would be more striking if it were slightly underexposed or had less contrast with the dark suit.
What we love: The background in this photo is completely congruent with the purpose of the photo. And it sets the tone while being completely unobtrusive. The author’s posture, body language, and facial expression are warm and open, while still conveying trustworthiness and professionalism.
What we don’t love: While the crop of this photo enables this pose, it’s the upper limit of how much of the author needs to be shown. A standing pose would have allowed a tighter crop
What we love: For a studio portrait, the lighting of this photo creates wonderful depth; it doesn’t feel at all “flat.” The suit is nice, but the open collar signals a more open feeling. If the author were “buttoned up” in a tie then this photo would benefit from his chest being less prominent.
What we don’t love: The author is looking to the side, which prevents immediate connection.
What we love: This is a very well-done, straightforward photo. It is clear that it is not taken in a studio but the background is unobtrusive. The author’s facial expression is warm and he is able to convey accessibility in full business attire. This photo has a very appealing placement of the focal point (his face).
What we don’t love: The top of his head is cut off.
What we love: Good use of background and lighting. Includes an appropriate amount of the subject’s body.
What we don’t love: The strong chest and subdued expression convey power over warmth. This is not necessarily the best way to convey “success” to an audience.
What we love: This environmental portrait beautifully uses lines to focus the photo on the author. His placement in the photo is just to the left, using the “rule of thirds,” which is visually appealing, and it is well-lit.
What we don’t love: The subject’s expression and body language (crossed arms) convey success and power, but don’t give off a feeling of being open and welcoming, which would help connect with readers more quickly.
What we love: This is an unusual, distinct photo that really works. It is included as an example of a full-body environmental portrait that shows professionalism and openness, and is visually striking. It breaks many of the rules, but does it well.
What we don’t love: By having the subject’s face smaller in the photo, it misses an opportunity to connect and convey immediately through the eyes.
We hope this helps you start down the path (and make your final selections) for the perfect business author headshot. You’ve got a great story in you — get it into the hands of a wider audience with a photo that tells “a thousand” perfect words.