Jane Wenham-Jones is a novelist, journalist and presenter and the author of the Wannabe Books - two how-to manuals on getting published and becoming well-known. Below is an extract from Wannabe a Writer We've Heard Of?, available on Amazon or through all good bookshops. For more on Jane see http://www.janewenham-jones.com/.
Everything I have to say about the minefield that is the author photo can be summed up in four short words: Thank God for Photoshop.
These days, this magical piece of software would have zapped my spot with one decisive mouse click, but back then it took four inches of slap and some clever lighting to just about bleach it out. It was generally agreed the end result was quite fetching. Or as one of my friends put it:, “What a lovely photograph – it doesn’t look a bit like you!”
PhotoShop could have dealt with the extra stomach too so if you’re not familiar with this life-saving software, that can blur wrinkles, erase chins and smooth out blotches, it’s time to make its acquaintance.
However, unless you are a whiz with intricate software and have many hours to devote to mastering its complexities, don’t rush out and buy it yet. The full version of Adobe PhotoShop is expensive (although there is a much cheaper basic version called PhotoShop Elements) and you could lose your life getting to grips with how it works.
Much better to cultivate a nerdy friend who has already mastered its finer points. Personally I wouldn’t know how to do any of the filtering and cloning necessary to attend to my crows’ feet but luckily I know a man who does. And I keep him on speed-dial.
If you have enough dosh of course, you can hire a professional to take your pictures and this is a sound investment. Although, personally, I would advise against one of those make-over/glamour photo companies that promise to totally transform you.
I am used to writers looking nothing like their mug shots and have learnt to keep my face impassive when introduced to yet another Grande Dame, long familiar as a soft-focussed beauty from the inside of a book jacket, who turns out to be an old crone with no lips; but others may gasp.
You don’t want to see shocked expressions when eager fans/potential promoters meet you in the flesh, so it’s prudent to use a photograph that is reasonably up to date and try for one that is still recognisable as you – but a you at your best.
Unless you have lots of money and fancy it anyway, you don’t, at this stage, need a flash portfolio of yourself draped over the furniture in a dozen different poses. For now, a single fabulous picture should suffice.
It’s true that you usually have to take about a hundred shots to get that one good one, and, if you can afford it, a professional photographer, who understands about lighting and angles will probably get there quicker.
But if a friend with a good digital camera can be persuaded to take a few dozen snaps of you dolled up to the nines, you’re still bound to end up with a couple of decent ones in there somewhere. You can even utilise the self-timer function and have a go yourself and probably get a perfectly good picture.
Particularly if you bear in mind that it’s the lighting that makes all the difference.
If you decide to have some shots taken outside, choose an overcast day or pose in the shade. This is a must for me anyway as my eyes are so sensitive to sunlight that I end up squinting terribly if I don’t wear dark glasses. And while I would be thrilled if I were always photographed in a huge pair of shades – they immediately add glamour and can hide a multitude of sins – they tend to be a big no-no to picture editors, who take the view that they’re OK on celebrities but make us ordinary mortals look dodgy.
So for a picture you can send out anywhere, sunglasses are best avoided. (Or any glasses, come to that, as they cause all sorts of problems with reflection). A softer light also works wonders on skin tone and will be much more flattering than direct sun.
Indoors, try to use natural light from a window. If you have to use flash, don’t stand against a wall because you’ll get harsh shadows. (My photographer chum tells me the more advanced camera user can get round this to a certain extent by bouncing the flash off the ceiling.)
A small lamp at your feet or a sheet of white card on your lap can roll back the years as the light/reflection will bleach out wrinkles and imperfections. (And conversely a harsh top light will enhance every crack and crevice till you look like your grandmother.) NB it’s really worth keeping a note of what worked well and what didn’t – where you were/what time of day it was/ whether the curtains were drawn right back, etc. – because it saves an awful lot of time when you come to do it all again.
Wherever you are, go for the plainest background you can find, check for anything distracting – trees that appear to be growing out of your head for example – or anything you wouldn’t want visible, like your underwear drying on the radiator.
Do think about what clothes you want to wear (the experts advise against wearing totally black or white clothes because it can play havoc with the exposure) have your hair done, spend time on your make-up and experiment to find out which is your best side.
How to get a great pic
1. Take your time. Try to relax. If you’re under pressure, and watching the clock you’ll look stressed and harassed. If you’re uptight because you don’t like having your photo taken, have a massage or a glass of wine first.
2. Prepare yourself. Depending on gender or preference: spend time on your make-up, wield the hair gel, put on great jewellery, have a shave – or not.
3. Wear the right clothes. Choose a simple shirt or plain top and avoid stripes, spots, loud patterns and huge bows that will distract from your face. (Unless you have a boil on your chin.)
4. Experiment. Try different expressions and poses (but look into the lens). Keep checking at the back of the camera to see what works.
5. Remember lighting is all – a professional will know how to light you to advantage but if you’re doing it yourself, try brighter and darker spots till you get it right. Get it wrong and you’ll look haggard and a hundred, while the perfect light can knock off years. (If you get desperate, so can a facelift.)
6. If you’re a woman think posture. Stand up straight, do not hold your arms against your sides and if you have a chest, use it. As a friend of mine whose boyfriend is a photographer for the tabloids, was once advised after a particularly gruesome photo of her appeared in print: “Stomach in and tits out, darling – not the other way round!”
Wannabe a Writer Site:
Amazon UK (paperback)
Amazon UK (Kindle)
Amazon US (paperback)
Amazon US (Kindle)
The author photo