Piper J. Drake modeled professionally for over 10 years, including runway and promotional modeling, as well as fashion and commercial print. She’s also modeled for various steampunk creators and in fiction-related photography projects, such as J.R. Blackwell’s In Their Own Worlds alongside past WXR guest instructor Ellen Kushner.

For those planning to schedule photography sessions, Piper has some tips to help make the most out of your shoot.

  • Be the You that you want to see as a writer. This is still being true to you, while also projecting the writer version of you. Your headshots are a part of your author brand and a way for your readers to recognize you at events.
  • A little practice goes a long way. Take a few minutes to try out a variety of expressions in the mirror. Try expressions ranging from smiling and even laughing to serious. It’s hard to smile on command, so practice switching between smiling and serious so you don’t have that quivering muscle-ache, clenched teeth look after a few photos. For serious looks, try a raised eyebrow or perhaps lower and turn your chin just a bit, maybe try a smirk. Take a few selfies. Get to know how your face feels when making the expressions you have in the photos of yourself that you like best. This will help you end up with more photos of yourself you like after a professional photography session.
  • Outfit planning. This can be as zany or as simple as you like. (I particularly love Xiran Jay Zhao’s cow onesie author photo.) Generally, the best results come from planning to wear one or two layers of plain, simple clothing that fit well. It’s very easy to wear a blazer or jacket in a few photos, then take it off for another few photos without taking the time for a full outfit change in a photo session. Go for an open collar. Try to avoid any busy patterns or statement jewelry, as these will take the focus away from your face. Or ignore all that and choose an outfit that makes you feel confident and embodies your energy – no rules, just vibes. The main purpose of an author headshot is for readers to know what you look like, even if you’re not wearing the same outfit as in the photo. 
  • Anticipate the color versus the black and white. Authors headshots are often used on websites, in newsletters, and online promotional graphics in color. Then photos are also needed for the back/side flap of a book or in a printed program and those headshots are often in black & white or grayscale. Play around with clothing, make-up, and hairstyle looks to find the combinations that will look good both in color and black & white.
  • Do you really need makeup? I’m not going to make anyone wear makeup, especially if they don’t know how. But please remember that photography lighting is very bright and tends to wash out a person’s facial features. It then feels like only blemishes show up in that lighting. A tinted moisturizer or CC cream is fairly affordable and can really help to even out anyone’s skin tone (regardless of gender). Paired with a simple lip balm, this can make all the difference. Your photographs will require less touch up and feel more you. A little bit of blush or eyeshadow can really help bring out your favorite features too. Public personalities of all genders and identities often wear at least a baseline amount of makeup for photoshoots to get the best photos. 
    If you love makeup and have fun with it, then an author photoshoot is a great time to play with your look. I suggest going natural and neutral for the first couple of photos, then a quick 30 second break to add a bold lip color or dark eye liner and the next set of photos take on a new dimension.
  • Plan to choose photos for headshots and for three-quarter or full length poses. Having a variety of images and poses for your author media kit is helpful for different events or promotional graphics as you develop your author brand over time. Different looks can also support presenting your writing across multiple genres, allowing you to change headshots based on what book/series you’re currently promoting. Gail Carriger often re-uses author photos to coordinate with the theme of her book covers in her social media.
  • It’s okay to bring a friend along. Sometimes having someone there to cheer you on can help you feel more comfortable and that will come through in your photos.
  • Most of all, plan to have fun. When we’re having fun, the best of our personality comes out. This doesn’t mean we have to be laughing and sunshine. I mean whatever version fun is for your personally. If you’re relaxed and feeling good about yourself, it will come across in your photos. You’ll feel more approachable and that will come across in your author brand.


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