Picture-Perfect Personality

Today’s guest writer is Emilie Haney, a freelance writer, photographer, and graphic designer living in Northern California. She’s a member of ACFW and writes young-adult fiction. She’s got a soft spot in her heart for animals and a love for the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. In her spare time, you can find her designing fun, bookish items for her Etsy and Society6 shops, all while drinking too much coffee. Connect with Emilie on Instagram at: www.instagram.com/createexploreread.


Your smile says a lot about who you are. Is it small and mysterious, hinting at humor? Is it broad and wide, showcasing your jovial personality? Or are you a nonsmiler who strives for congenial anonymity while still being in the public eye? Whatever your smile (or no-smile) preference is, you must make sure it’s out there for the world to see in a bright, high-quality headshot.

For almost seven years now I have been the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference photographer. This means I’ve had the pleasure of photographing hundreds of writers during headshot sessions I offer at the conference. These writers have ranged in experience from being at the beginning of their writing journey to New York Times best-selling authors. You know the thing they’ve all had in common? They’ve recognized the need for a professional-quality headshot.

I don’t like having my photo taken.

I am not very photogenic.

I need to lose weight first.

My photo is only five years old.

I’m a writer, I don’t like being in the public eye, I’ll let my writing speak for itself.

Yes, I’ve heard all of these excuses; and I’m sorry to say, none of them are valid reasons not to have a great headshot. I know from experience that agents and editors notice when a writer has made it a priority to have a professional-quality headshot taken. It shows investment in your writing career. It also gives them a window into how you will present yourself, whether that be to other writing professionals or to future fans of your books.

While I realize that it can be difficult for some who absolutely do not like having their photo taken, a great photographer will help you feel at ease. That is my number one priority when I meet with clients at conferences, and I know from experience that it is possible to capture even the shiest person in an engaging image.

Here are four pieces of advice I have to those interested in taking a great photo:

1. Smile like you mean it.

As I mentioned, there are many types of smiles, including the “nonsmile”; but make sure whatever you do is natural to who you are as a person. You may also consider your brand (i.e., a suspense/thriller author may want a more serious image), but this is not always necessary. At all costs, make sure you are represented in a genuine way.

2. Showcase your personality.

Don’t be afraid to show a little personality. Perhaps a laugh or a relaxed pose or you with your favorite mug. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but whether the image looks genuine or not should dictate whether you choose to use it as the “face” of your brand or marketing. These photos can also be used as secondary images on websites or social-media pages.

3. Think through what you’ll wear.

When my clients ask what to wear for their headshot session, I suggest they choose something they are comfortable in, but also something that represents the image they are interested in presenting. A business professional will likely want a dressier image than someone who wants to come across more casually. I recommend staying away from light colors or intense patterns as those can draw the eye away from the focus: your natural smile!

4. Make sure it’s professional quality.

No cell-phone shots or Aunt-Gertrude-who-says-she’s-a-photographer images (unless she really is a professional photographer). If that means paying a professional, do so! You can often find discounted prices in the off-season, pay for photos at writers conferences at a discounted price, or even ask for a smaller photography package that includes fewer images. Whatever you do, be respectful of the photographer and the fact that it is their business and livelihood.

Wherever you are in your writing journey, know that your readers (or potential readers) will want to see images of you. They’ll love cell-phone pictures and real-life shots shared on social media, but they will also expect a professional image on your book covers and your website, as will your publisher. Be sure the headshot you use is current; is high quality; and showcases your genuine, picture-perfect personality.

The Christian Writers Institute has a good 45-minute video course called “Ten Photo Secrets for Bestselling Authors.” It is only $6 and will help with your headshot appointment.

If you’re interested in updated headshots and will be attending the ACFW Conference in San Antonio this September, consider booking a 15-minute session with me. I promise we’ll have a great time while creating genuine, professional images.



14 Responses to Picture-Perfect Personality

  1. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 25, 2019 at 6:26 am #

    Useful, fun and well-written post, though for me the term ‘headshot’ has rather a different meaning.

    They say I have a winning smile
    that never hits my eyes,
    for I have walked that last long mile
    where everybody dies.
    They say it makes them feel a bit,
    well, “Uncomfortable’s” the word;
    they’re seeing one whose fell remit
    has left a frozen heart inured
    to life’s kind and gentle graces,
    and to a Christian spirit’s play;
    perhaps something like the faces
    with Leonidas at Thermopylae.
    So perhaps best use some handy aids,
    and photograph me in mirrored shades.

    • Avatar
      Emilie July 25, 2019 at 9:37 am #

      Glad you liked the post, Andrew! And as a photographer (and occasional suspense writer) I am careful to clarify when I say I’m going to “shoot” someone I always mean with a camera 😀

  2. Avatar
    Angela Carlisle July 25, 2019 at 6:54 am #

    Great tips, Emilie! I love the headshots you did for me, and I hope when I’m due for a new set that you’ll be available. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Emilie July 25, 2019 at 9:31 am #

      Hey Angela! I remember our session – so fun! And yes, I hope so too!

    • Avatar
      Erendira Ramirez-Ortega July 25, 2019 at 10:22 pm #

      I must say that I am pleasantly surprised that none of the sample portraits here have the writer with their hand over their cheek– that overdone pose writers of the recent past are known for. Kudos for turning the tide. Our portraits, like our writing, shouldn’t depict tropes of the industry but rather express a unique freshness to the beholder.

      • Avatar
        Emilie July 30, 2019 at 11:43 am #

        I completely agree Erendira! I personally feel like headshots need to progress with the social media culture – this to mean means genuine smiles and relaxed poses instead of stiff, awkward poses 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Maria July 25, 2019 at 7:54 am #

    This blog post is excellent. The advice for getting professional headshots for authors is just right.

    Unfortunately, the example photos of “professional head shots” are unimpressive.

    Apologies for the complaints, but I care about authors looking professional, and these headshots do not on account of the random backgrounds. White painted brick for a background in focus? Maybe for the author of “Orange is the New Black.” Various plants “growing” out of the sides of the authors’ heads, or random lines, plants, or shadows skewering the tops of heads?

    The man who looks like his head is leaning toward a dark air vent as if it is sucking his head toward it? The basic position of the authors is all the same, nothing in the poses that takes advantage of each individual?

    I agree, get your head shots done by someone who is a professional, and that includes not just lighting and posing, but a professionally evaluated scene or background, and poses chosen just for you.

    Here is one photographer’s portfolio (I did an online search, and this was the first good one I stumbled upon, I had not previously seen their work). The link http://headshots.myraklarman.com/portfolio/19 takes you to a good example of two different headshots for one person, and if you click the right arrow you’ll scroll through many great headshots. This one is my favorite: http://headshots.myraklarman.com/portfolio/50

    • Avatar
      Emilie July 25, 2019 at 10:23 am #

      Thank you for your comment Maria. I’m sorry that you felt the need to negatively evaluate the headshot examples that you see, but I’m glad you enjoyed the written portion.

      The headshots you’ve linked are very nice and have likely been photoshop edited much more than the ones shown here. You see, I offer headshot sessions as an affordable service to authors at conferences. I have 15 minutes to do what a photographer like you’ve linked achieves in 3 hours. Contrary to what you said, I do try my best to choose backgrounds that accent each client – their brand, personality, and genre. I use natural lighting and strive to capture the most genuine smile/look from each client. It’s tough to help people feel totally comfortable in front of a camera in just 15 minutes. 🙂

      I don’t personally agree with your evaluation of the images and know first hand from my clients that they are happy with what I’ve created for them, but I’ll take your comments as constructive criticism for the future.

  4. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver July 25, 2019 at 7:56 am #

    Excellent and helpful post, Emilie! I noticed a lot of the people you photograph wear blue. Is there something significant about that?

    How often should a person update a head shot?

    • Avatar
      Emilie July 25, 2019 at 9:35 am #

      So glad you liked it Roberta! And that is so funny – I didn’t even notice the blue. What I often to suggest to my clients is that they wear something they feel comfortable in but that also fits their brand (casual, business casual, etc.). I also advise staying away from white and lots of crazy patterns as that can draw the eye away from the face to the clothing.

      As for the frequency – I say as often as possible (usually every year or two). The reason for that is people can change rather drastically (or not at all). The gauge might best be described like this: If you don’t look like your headshot, it’s time for a new one 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Savanna Ammons July 25, 2019 at 4:02 pm #

    This advice is helpful. Thank you, Emilie. I love the photos!

    • Avatar
      Emilie July 25, 2019 at 7:37 pm #

      Thanks so much Savanna!

  6. Avatar
    Paula Geister July 27, 2019 at 8:36 am #

    Thank you for the good stuff! I recently had a professional photographer take a head shot of me for business purposes. I had mine done about three years ago and it was time. I especially want a photo on my business card. When I attend events, like conferences, having a photo helps people to remember who Paula Geister is. We seem to remember faces better than names. I do anyway.
    Again, thanks for the solid advice.

    • Avatar
      Emilie July 30, 2019 at 11:44 am #

      Oh yes, that is really big part of having great headshots – making sure people can recognize you! Those cards will help so much with that! Thanks so much 🙂

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