Perhaps some authors love having their photos taken, but I’m not one of them. In fact, I was planning to use my current author photo until the end of time … until I discovered the lovely photographs of Seattle photographer Rosanne Olson.
I first encountered Rosanne’s work in her beautiful book, This Is Who I Am, a collection of images and essays on women, body image, and compassion that Kate Winslet called “an absolutely wonderful book” and declared, “Every woman needs to see it!” As well as an author, Rosanne is an award-winning photographer and photojournalist who also has more than thirty years’ experience as a teacher and lecturer. She is particularly passionate about telling stories through portraits — of women, families, business professionals…and, yes, authors.
Rosanne generously agreed to chat with me about author photos, and already I’m looking forward to working with her on my new author photo (if I ever finish my next book, that is).
What do you think makes a good author photo?
The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.
What advice can you offer to writers who are nervous about having their photos taken?
People come to me with varying degrees of “nervousness” about how they look and how they “photograph” (“No one has ever taken a good photo of me” is a common complaint). This is very natural. My approach to get people to relax is to spend time talking to my clients before I pick up my camera. I also will likely read some of their work prior to the session. I make recommendations about clothing and makeup, and then, as the session proceeds, share some of the digital images with the client. I like to make them feel that they are in competent and compassionate hands with something that is very precious to them. After the session, I get them to sit with me to edit the photos to make sure they get the look they want.
What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos?
Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.
What should an author expect to pay for a professional author photo?
Photographers’ fees vary across the country, but most charge somewhere between $150 and $2,500. If you pay the least amount possible for a photo you may get something okay. Or even just fine. But will it work for years to come? I try to work with people and their budgets. It is definitely an important investment.
Do you recommend color or black-and-white for author photos — and why?
Things are shot digitally these days so all images come out in color and it takes an extra step to convert them to black-and-white or sepia. That said, I think color conveys more because it is, well, color.
Do you have any recommendations for authors who are looking for a photographer? What questions should they ask?
An author photo is an important piece of one’s “brand.” If you have a photo you like, you can use it for years. When people see it they will think of you and of your work. I think of some of the famous, famous photos of people like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and how they convey so much at a glance. Pick your photographer by looking at the photographer’s web site and perhaps talking on the phone. Also, ask for references from other artists and authors who have been photographed by that person.
For another recent conversation with Rosanne, visit poet Susan Rich’s blog (Rosanne’s photo of Susan is directly above…and above that is author Wendy Call) — and simply post a comment at the end of the article to win a copy of This Is Who I Am.