What Makes Good Author Headshots As a Professional Writer?

When you launched your freelance or author business, you put a lot of thought into it. You thoroughly considered what services you would offer, what domain name you would buy, and what courses you would invest money in to help launch your career.

But how much thought did you give on how to take a professional headshot as a professional author?

What Makes Good Author Headshots As a Professional Writer?

If the answer is “Not much,” it’s time to change that.

Let’s consider for a moment what having author headshots do for businesses. What’s the benefit?

The most basic answer is that your author headshot brands your business. While you may choose to use a logo on your website, remember that you are the only one running your business. That means you’re the sole face of it. Actually putting a face to your business (i.e. your own face) helps people recognize you across the internet–including on your website, social profiles, and bylined articles.

It takes clients just 40 milliseconds to draw a conclusion about you based on your professional headshot.

But it’s not just about recognition. What if it’s the first time a prospect has heard of you? It will take them just 40 milliseconds to draw a conclusion about you based on your photo, according to Your professional headshot helps set the tone for your business and makes hiring you more personal.

So when your professional headshot is perhaps the most important element for representing your business, how do you make it represent you in the best way possible?

Below, we’ll answer this question by looking at some professional headshot tips for your freelance writing website.

Features of Professional Author Headshots

Crisp Photo

This is such a ridiculously simple rule, but it’s something I see people get wrong every day.

Your headshot shouldn’t just be recognizable. It should also be visually appealing so that when a prospect sees that headshot, they’re drawn in and want to learn more about you.

A crisp photo is one way to achieve visual appeal.

With the quality of cameras we have these days, snapping a crisp photo–even with your phone’s camera–shouldn’t be tough, although it may be best to avoid webcams since they aren’t the best quality cameras out there.

You’ll generally run into problems with crispness when you crop photos down, so take a close shot to begin with and your smile should be clear as day!

Appropriate Clothing

Are you thinking, “What should I wear for a professional headshot?”

Remember when I said that your professional headshot helps set the tone for your business? In that case, “appropriate clothing” is all relative to the kind of tone you’re trying to convey.

If you gear your services toward bigger, more serious businesses, then a more professional-looking outfit is better.

If your clients are more casual and relaxed, opt for a casual outfit.

The biggest problem when it comes to appropriate clothing is when writers flip through old photos and choose one that doesn’t carry the tone they want, such as one snapped from their beach vacation. That may be a fine option for travel bloggers, but for most writers, a bikini or shirtless chest will set the wrong tone for their business, so be conscious of that.

A Clean Professional Headshot Background

One of the biggest headshot mistakes I see writers make is choosing a photo with a poor background. A photo of you in the car might be great for an Instagram update, but probably not for your freelance writing business.

You don’t want to crop yourself out of a photo where a bunch of people are milling around in the background, either, nor do you want strange objects poking out the back of your head!

It’s best to have a neutral background. Examples include:

  • Appealing foliage
  • A studio backdrop
  • A brick wall
  • A plain wall

If you can find a bright background color, such as an orange wall, go for it! It can help your heashot stand out against other writers’.

Strategic Positioning

One of the biggest mistakes I see writers make with their professional headshots is that they don’t consider their professional headshot poses. I can only assume this is because they pick an existing photo rather than snapping a new one solely for their writer headshot.

The biggest problems on how to pose for a professional headshot:

  1. When you crop yourself out of a group picture. In this case, you’re usually leaning into the person next to you, so when you’re all by yourself, it looks awkward.
  2. When you take a selfie. Selfie positions are awkward themselves. Honestly, there’s no reason you should have a selfie as your headshot. Prop up your camera and set it on a timer if you don’t have a friend around to snap a shot for you.

When setting up your shot, think about where your professional photo will be on the page. If your professional headshot is generally to the left of text, lean slightly into the viewer’s right side to draw their eyes to the text. (There’s actually some power behind the subliminal message of facing your text.)

Other Elements to Consider

Some of these elements go without saying, but a good writer headshot should also include:

  • Even lighting.
  • A friendly smile (those that show teeth are the best!).
  • Unobstructed eyes. Don’t Wear sunglasses.
  • Head and shoulders or head and waist. Don’t crop too close or too far away.

Several of these suggestions come from research reported by, so check out their article on the psychology of a great profile picture if you get a chance.

How Do You Snap a Great Photo?

Uploading a great photo that follows these rules isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be.

The best thing you can do is set up a mini photo session with these ideas in mind. Don’t go searching for an existing photo that might work well for your business. Visit a professional photographer, or have a friend take a few photos that serve the sole purpose of being your author headshot.

Just remember that photos you might use for your personal Facebook profile may not fit in the same context of your business.

As you can see, taking a great headshot doesn’t have to be super difficult or uber involved. Now it’s time to take a look at some headshots that follow the “rules” outlined above.

Examples of Professional Author Headshots

Alicia Rades

Alicia RadesI’m pretty biased, but I love my headshot. The lighting is great, I have on a genuine, friendly smile, and my shoulders are angled toward the words on the page.

My photographer charged me $150 for the sitting fee plus two photos of my choice–with digital rights. If I wanted more than two photos, it was an extra $50 apiece. There’s not a day I regret making that investment.


Francesca Nicasio


Francesca’s headshot says, “I’m a professional.” The lighting, her smile, and her positioning all combine to give her that professional appeal. Not only that, but she comes across as friendly and approachable, too.

Francesca tells me she paid around $600 for two looks plus $150 for hair and makeup. “It was a worthy investment, in my opinion,” she says.


Ashley Festa


Ashley told me her headshot was done semi-professionally. “A friend of mine, who is really good but has a day job, took the pics as barter.”

Ashley’s photo is great thanks to even lighting and great positioning. I also love where her photo has been cropped down to. It makes her face easily recognizable when small, such as in blog comments, but you don’t get anything chopped off where it’s distracting.

Examples of DIY Headshots

Laura Spencer

laura spencer

Laura has this headshot thing down. The background isn’t distracting, the lighting is even, and her smile and positioning are inviting and professional.

While Laura tells me she plans on possibly changing her headshot soon since she’s had this one for the past five years, I like that when I see her picture online, I instantly recognize her because she’s been consistent for years.


John Soares

john soaresJohn told me he took this photo himself. Can you believe it? “I used a high-quality DSLR with high zoom and a low F stop to blur the background,” John explains. “And I used the teal shirt because I felt the color is memorable. I still have that shirt in case I ever want to take different shots.”

Not only is the photo high-quality with an inviting smile, but John put a lot of thought into his composition and branding.


Kali Hawlk

kali hawlk

I have to admit, Kali’s photo fooled me. When I contacted her about her headshot, I was sure it was professionally done.

Nope. She had a friend snap this photo, and it turned out spectacular.

Quick tip: If you want to get even lighting across your face like in Kali’s photo, have a friend hold up an umbrella to shade your face.

Headshots that Go Against the Rules

I outlined all these “rules” for you above, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go against the rules and make an atypical headshot work for you. Here are just some example of writers who “go against the rules.”

Kelly Gurnett

kelly gurnett

Kelly’s headshot may crop out some of her face, and her eyes may be looking off the page, but her panda hat does wonders for her business branding.

Not only is this great branding, but it gives her business a “fun” tone. Some writers may choose to go this route to attract their ideal client.


Heather Van der Hoop


Heather’s photo accomplishes the same thing Kelly’s does while breaking the rules. Sure, I may not recognize Heather on the street, but I’ll recognize her anywhere online because her photo is so unique.

In that way, Heather has her branding down, and it comes attached with a less serious, more playful tone that works perfectly well for her and her ideal client.


Ariel Rule

arielAriel’s photo follows the “rules” above in many ways with a great background and an awesome smile, but as you can see, Ariel isn’t showing her true face.

Despite that, we can put a face to Ariel’s business–even if it’s a cartoon. It makes her easily recognizable and memorable because she takes a unique approach, and again, it gives her more of that “fun” tone many clients are looking for.


The Bottom Line

So do you have to follow all the “rules” I mentioned? Absolutely not.

The best freelance writer photos do two things:

  1. They brand your business.
  2. They set the tone you want to convey.

That being said, your idea of a great freelance writer headshot may not be the same as mine.

Does your headshot live up to your own expectations, or is it time to snap a new one? Let us know in the comment section.

Leave a Reply


I’m a headshot photographer and I found your website because I’m in the market for a freelance writer to help me with my blog. At any rate, I had a blast reading this. I actually expected not to agree with you, but I couldn’t be more wrong. You hit all of the major points, especially the last bit about representing your brand. It was a great read and I thank you for taking the time to write it. I have my own headshot tips that I won’t bore you with, but if you’re interested, check out my website. It’s called 312 Elements Headshot PhotographyReply to Michael
I’ve only recently been looking into branding to get a more consistent feel across platforms. I used an existing picture for my newest project — chronicling the things I learn about gaining a passive income before I set to sail around the world June 2017. Now I’m rethinking it based on this article. Great info! Thanks!Reply to Miouo
I like your tip to have appropriate clothing for the tone you’re trying to convey. Like you said, someone who wants to seem professional will want to wear something different than someone who wants to be seen as quirky and unique. As seen in your “exceptions to the rules” section, a unique hat or outfit can show readers part of your true personality, even though it’s just a headshot. Thanks for the tips.Reply to Hazel
These tips are great, thanks Alicia! A friend of mine has been asking me about how she should go about creating her head shot for the pen name she writes under. I’d suggested she use an older shot of herself where she looks a little different to what she does now. After seeing this I’ll suggest to her that she maybe try cartoonizing herself, tastefully, and using thatReply to Em
Glad I could help, Em!Reply to Alicia
I’ve seen a lot of DIY photos on writers’ websites that look great. It’s nice to be able to always put a face to a post or a comment. The photo that I use as my headshot was done professionally, but as part of another project. I think it ticks most of your “standards”, Alicia.Reply to Mickey
Your headshot is great, Mickey. My only suggestion would be to crop it down a little if you can. In a space like this where the images are small, it helps to be zoomed in a little more so people can see your face better. But like I mentioned in this post, do what works for you. If your headshot is generally used in a different setting, then make it work for that particular setting. It is a great shot, though! I love that it’s crisp and professional-looking.Reply to Alicia
Thanks for the feedback, Alicia. I actually have it intentionally zoomed out. I read that showing your shoulders and a little bit of your arms makes you look more confident and trustworthy. I think it was in a guide on LinkedIn. I also use the exact same cropping when it’s larger (with the bio under my articles), so the face shows up larger.Reply to Mickey
That’s a cool tip. Thanks for sharing!Reply to Alicia
Thanks for including my photo in your project Alicia. Great tips here! I like the head shot you featured here so well that when I try to replace it, I’m always unhappy with the photo. Do you have any tips on how current a good head shot should be? Once you get a good photo, how often should you replace it?Reply to Laura
That’s one thing I think is really dependent on the writer. Some writers may choose to change their headshot because they look different and they want their business to represent who they are. Those who don’t change a lot over time may feel their headshot still represents them well after 5 or 10 years, and then they already have some great branding. Sometimes it just “feels” like it’s time for an upgrade to give your business a bit more of a modern feel. I wish I could put a number on it, but I think it’s a personal thing.Reply to Alicia
Thanks for the compliments, Alicia. My photog is awesome!Reply to Ashley
No problem, Ashley.Reply to Alicia
Alicia, Great post. I’ve been wanting to update my headshot for a while but just haven’t had the time. But this past weekend I found some time! I took my DSL camera and had my husband take some photos. We will see if any pass the test! I’m also looking to build up my freelance writing (non client) side and am looking to brand that as well. ElnaReply to Elna
Awesome! I can’t wait to see them.Reply to Alicia