Brian Whiddon is sitting in for Angela this week. Thanks, Brian!!
As the Managing Editor here at WritersWeekly, I sift through literally hundreds of article pitches each week. Very few get the nod to write for us. Even if a pitch is well communicated, a few mistakes in punctuation or grammar can get it flushed down the cyber toilet. We are a publishing business after all and we want the work that we showcase from freelance writers to reflect the quality we strive to offer our readers.
That’s why it bewilders us when we ask writers for a bio and a photograph…and we then receive a selfie, or a webcam shot from their laptop, or any number of variations of what amount to a quickie snapshot taken at the last minute. If you are one of our contributing writers, don’t immediately think this article is specifically aimed at you alone. You’ve got plenty of company and I’ve been piecing this article together for a few months now.
As a writer, you aren’t just selling words on a page. You are literally selling imagery. Your readers should have a movie playing in their mind as they read your words. And, if you decide to offer up a biography and a photo, that imagery includes YOU. Shouldn’t your picture be as good as your writing? I realize that very few of us are glamour model material. Otherwise, we’d be in film instead of writing. Believe me, I have a face that was made for print, not Hollywood.
The old-fashioned dress-or-suit-and-tie-with-a-white-background photos have long since gone out of style. But, that doesn’t mean the image we present to the public should be something that looks like we snapped it while recovering from a hangover. I write sailing and outdoors articles and my photos all reflect that. You won’t find any photos of me in a suit. (Thank goodness every day is casual day at WritersWeekly!)
Now, if you want the perfect portrait for your work, I advise contacting a professional photographer to take some photos. However, if you can’t afford that just now, here are some tips for getting a good face picture that you can be proud to put on your work.
Look Your Best – Take a moment to freshen up. If your hair looks frumpy, take a minute to primp it up. Guys, do you need a shave? If you have a beard, that’s fine. But, if you have two days’ growth all over your face and neck, that just looks sloppy. Does your shirt or blouse need some adjusting? I like to wear Columbia fishing shirts but the collars almost never lay right. I like to fix them before having my picture taken. You want people to see you as a professional. It takes about 15 seconds to look yourself over in a mirror to see if anything is out of place.
Composition is Everything – Compose your shot before taking it. “Composing” the shot means to take a minute to look at everything that is going to be in that frame when you push that shutter button. Look beyond the subject (that is, the specific thing you are photographing), and see what’s behind it. When you took that selfie in the bathroom, did you also get your toilet in the background? Does your office look like a bombed out Beirut neighborhood behind you? Or, are there lit-up computer screens or loud colors that will distract the viewer when they look at your photo? When you had your picture taken at a book fair, was there a life-size cardboard cutout of Bob Ross behind you to capture the viewer’s eye? (Yep, true story.) Take a moment before you take the shot, and ask yourself what else is going to be in the frame with you. Perhaps just turning a few degrees to the side will make all the difference in the world. If some background clutter in the frame is unavoidable, ask yourself if it’s something that can be cropped or edited out of the photo later.
Get a Friend to Help – Have someone else take pictures of you if at all possible. Or, get a tripod. Selfies usually look like…selfies. And, they are usually too close. Remember this: with trimming and cropping tools, you can always remove portions of a photo and zoom the subject in to fill the frame, but you cannot add more frame to a subject that was taken too close. Additionally, having someone else hold the camera and point it at you will allow you to relax and pose naturally.
When I did my “Brian Takes His Home Office on the High Seas” series last year, I was alone on my boat. However, I planned ahead by bringing a digital camera with a small tripod, a Go-Pro camera with several attachments that allowed me to connect it to the rigging or objects in the cabin, and my “selfie stick,” which lets you hold the camera about 4 or 5 feet away from you when taking your own picture. This allowed me to take quality self-portraits, occasionally with some stunning background scenery. Additionally, don’t do the “downward shot” selfie. I know, somehow it makes everybody look slimmer than they really are. But again – it looks like a cheap selfie rather than a professional photo.
Smile – Maybe you don’t like your big toothy grin. I know that I personally look like a goofball when photographed in the middle of a side-splitting guffaw. So, often when I’m posing for a picture, I do kind of a half-smile. It looks better than a frown, or a scowl. This is your public image, not a pic for your Match.com profile. So, don’t go for the chin-down, serious-sexy, looking up at the camera thing. Pull your shoulders back, hold your head high, and put a friendly smile on. You want people to buy (and read) your work, right?
Take Several Pictures – This is a time honored practice of professional photographers. From the fashion world to crime scene photography, if it’s worth photographing, it’s worth photographing several times. Even with our digital cameras that now let us see the image instantly, you will be surprised at how many little differences you’ll find if you take a series of shots, and then compare them later. You can always delete the ones you don’t want.
Edit – Learn to use a simple photo editing program or app. You don’t have to be a photoshop whiz. But, knowing some basic features like cropping, resizing, or changing a color photo to black and white will allow you to make a great photo out of an “okay” photo. Almost all smart phones have an “edit” feature when you browse through your gallery. And Windows Photo Viewer normally has some simple editing tools available in it. This way, you can take that selfie that has a bunch of garbage in the background, crop the frame down to just show your face, then maybe adjust the color a bit, or even change the filter to grayscale to make the image black and white. Take some pictures of yourself and play around with these tools. You will be surprised at what they can do.
I’ve uploaded several example images below to illustrate good and bad photos.
BAD – The webcam gaze. Webcams have never produced an ideal image for as long as computers have been around. I know it seems convenient to just click your mouse and have a face photo deposited right into a file on your hard drive. No fuss, no muss. However, the teeny, tiny little cameras they install in computers are simply low quality. Then there’s the fact that most people look at the screen to see themselves rather than at the camera lens. Also, there’s no way to adequately control the lighting on the subject. Finally, you look like you’re on a webcam.
BAD – The Seducer. Photos tell stories. When you’re submitting an image for your writing, you want to project professionalism. (Unless, I suppose, you’re submitting to a sex column.) Notice the downward angle of the shot looks too “informal.” My facial expression is hard to take seriously. It’s important for the camera to take the shot from the same level as the subject. It’s like two professionals looking eye to eye at each other. A friendly smile goes much further toward expressing your professional talents.
BAD – The CLOSE Closeup – Too much face in the frame looks amateurish, and unprofessional. This is why having another person take photos of you is the best way to go. If nothing more, having a background creates some contrast in the picture.
BAD – The T.M.I. Photo – We’ve actually seen numerous photos like this, with – yes – a toilet in the background. Usually this happens when someone uses a mirror to get that selfie shot rather than pointing the camera back at themselves. This is why taking a moment to determine what else will be in your photo is so important. Also, notice the clutter, which I, uh, strategically, placed here just for this photo. Nobody wants to see your toiletry bag, your business files and papers strewn about, or dirty clothes on the floor.
This is a self-portrait of sorts I took while producing my series: “Brian Takes His Home Office on the High Seas.” It’s cropped to include just the things I want to express (including the cigar). This image is meant to portray an air of relaxation and enjoyment.
These two images illustrate the simple process of cropping to eliminate excess background clutter, and focus attention on the subject. This could have been a better photo if I had paid a little more attention to the shadows versus the bright background.
I composed this shot specifically to enhance the idea that I’m looking off into a vast, distant expanse of water. This is accomplished by offsetting the subject, and allowing more of the background to extend in one direction. I deliberately put the sunrise behind me to allow my face to be be darker than the background.
Taking a good, professional photo to present with your work is not a major undertaking. But, it adds a level of authenticity that a bio alone cannot achieve. Following the steps I outlined above can result in a a portrait you’ll be proud to present to the masses.
RELATEDWritersWeekly.com and the Operations Manager at BookLocker.com. An Army vet and former police officer, Brian is the author of Blue Lives Matter: The Heart behind the Badge. He's an avid sailor, having lived and worked aboard his 36-foot sailboat, the “Floggin’ Molly” for 9 years after finding her abandoned in a boat yard and re-building her himself. Now, in northern Georgia, when not working on WritersWeekly and BookLocker, he divides his off-time between hiking, hunting, and farming.
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