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How to Take Portraits for an Author Website

This is an article we’ve written for our authors’ photographers. If you are an author about to have a photoshoot for a website, you’ll want to share this resource with your photographer before the shoot.

You’ve been hired by an author to take pictures for their new website homepage? Congratulations!

Shooting portraits for an author website can be a fun challenge. Why? Because authors don’t just want professional photos. They want photos that will resonate with their target audience and reinforce the website’s strategy and goals.

The Difference Between Author Portraits and Typical Portraits

The biggest difference between shooting photos for a website and normal portraits is that a typical portrait is a finished product. A photo for a website, on the other hand, is a component of a bigger project. That photo will be cropped, modified, and integrated into a larger work of art.

Before

This is what the photographer provided us.

Angela Hunt

Website Version

This is what we did with it.

Angela Hunt Website

Facebook Version

Angela Hunt Facebook

Notice how these three uses are quite different. This portrait was so tight that it did not give the designer much creative flexibility. The best author portraits give the designers as much to work with as possible.

Here are some tips that will help you capture just the right shots for the new website.

1. Shoot for the author’s goals & audience (not the author).

How do you know whether to put your client in a sterile portrait studio or out by a stack of hay bales?

If the website company is worth its salt, your client has already thought through who the target audience is for the new website, and laid out the specific, measurable site goals. These things determine what the feel for the website should be. If possible, it’s a good idea to talk with the client’s contact at the company about these details, as well as with the the client.

Important: it’s not the client’s or the web company’s job to tell you how to capture the desired feel. The most they can – and should – tell you is how the site should feel, based on the website goals. Listen for words like “trendy”, “down-to-earth”, “professional”, “glamorous”, “gritty”, etc..

You are the artist. Your client has come to you because you are fluent in the language of photography. Listen for the message that your client wants to send, and then figure out the best way to translate it into that medium. The more everyone can row in the same direction the more effective and attractive the website will be.

Tweetables:

  • Taking photos for a website is different from your typical portrait session. Click to Tweet
  • Has an author just hired you to take photos for their website? Congratulations! Read this first. Click to Tweet
  • Planning to have portraits taken for your website? Share this article with your photographer first. Click to Tweet
  • @AuthorMedia explains how taking professional portraits is different when it’s for a website. Click to Tweet
  • @AuthorMedia explain what makes a good photo for a website. Click to Tweet

2. Give the client lots of advice and feedback before and during the shoot.

Remember, photography is a language that your client likely doesn’t speak. He/she should look to you for advice on what outfits to bring and where the photoshoot should take place.

First, you should identify the client’s expectations ahead of time. Not many clients understand that it’s your job to determine the best way to communicate their message. This means it’s also your job to educate them if they start dictating methods to you instead of discussing outcome. You are the expert.

Find out what their expectations are, determine whether or not they are in line with the desired outcome, and give the client guidance and explanations accordingly. This will avoid both an unhappy client and an unhappy web team.

Then, tell the client exactly what you need from them. Some things they will need to know:

  • How many outfits should they bring? What colors/types? Are accessories advised?
  • Do they need to have professional makeup and hairstyling done? If so, do you work with a makeup artist/hair stylist or do they need to find one?
  • Where do you plan to have the photoshoot? Will there be more than one location?
  • How much time do you want them to reserve for the photoshoot?

3. Shoot in landscape, not portrait.

This is the most important tip of the lot. Portraits were great in the world of paper photos, and they are still useful for specific uses like senior portraits. But in the days of photoshop, a skilled designer can do so much more with more space. You can always crop the photo down, but you can’t add to it.

So give the designer negative space to work with. For website banners and homepages, lots of negative space gives designers a lot more options. The more space you give the designer, the more useful the photo becomes.

Good

Marlene Salcher

This photo does not give the designer much flexibility. As in most photographs, this image ignores the rule of thirds.  The black background forces the designer in a specific direction, in terms of design. Most likely this kind of photo will wind up on a sidebar instead of incorporated into the design as a whole.

Better

Marlene Salcher

This photo gives the designer a lot more flexibility. Can you imagine text in that negative space to the left? So can we. Notice the effective use of the rule of thirds in this photo.

Cherie Fresonke

Notice how in this photo the author is looking into the negative space. This draws the reader’s eye into the text once we put it there.

4. Use caution with Photoshop techniques.

Often, clients (especially female clients) will want you to remove wrinkles and blemishes. This is fine for a photo that hangs on a wall, but you have to go easy with photos for public figures. Authors’ photos go ahead of them. You don’t want readers’ first thoughts to be how old the author looks compared to the photo. That is not a good first impression.

So this may mean going a bit lighter on the photo touch-ups than you would for a typical client. You are the expert, so how much touch-up to use is ultimately your call. Just make sure you know the purpose of the photos, so you can best serve the client.

5. Sell your time & expertise as a service, not a product.

In the olden days, photographers thought of themselves as product creators, selling a photograph as a physical product. Back in the ’90s it was common for photographers to sell their time at a loss and make it up selling products (photos).

This business model may still work for school pictures, but not for professional author portraits. Authors need a photo they can legally use in a variety of mediums. They may want to put it on the back of their next book or on their Twitter profile. Putting artificial limitations on copying and distribution will only help you lose high-profile clients. Don’t be afraid to charge what your time is worth (both in shooting and in touch-up), then give the author unlimited access to the photo.

Planning to have professional portraits taken? Ask your questions in the comments! 

Have you had professional portraits taken, or are you a photographer who has worked with authors? Share your tips & advice in the comments! 

About Thomas Umstattd

Thomas Umstattd Jr. is the CEO of Castle Media Group the parent company of Author Media. You can follow him on Twitter @ThomasUmstattd. and on Google+ He loves helping people use technology to change the world.

3 Responses to How to Take Portraits for an Author Website

  1. I love these tips. Wish I could’ve afforded a professional photographer, but my 10-year-old daughter took the author pics on my blog. I thought they turned out well–we were in the woods, and tried to time it so the lighting would be right. Plus, I felt natural smiling for her. I did have my hubby take some pics, too, but tend to worry a bit more about how I’m looking for him (understandably!).

    I’d really like to set up a photo shoot at some nearby rocks, but I’m waiting till I don’t have to worry about bears in the woods. Such is the life of a rural, poor author. Grin.

  2. Thank you for these very helpful tips. Each one seems so obvious–once you read it–but unless you’re a photographer, you might not think of these. I’m saving this one for future reference!

  3. These are some great tips Thomas which for once put portraiture into a context in which they will be used! Here at Writer Pictures we strive to help promote great portraiture of writers and to help facilitate writers getting good portraits taken. Whether it’s a few tips and pointers or helping to arrange a shoot with a suitable and affordable photographer we love our company and hope to be a useful tool for writers to photograph and promote themselves

    Alex

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