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The author head shot dilemma: professional or DIY?


This is something I was undecided on for a long time: do I need a professional author head shot?

All the self-publishing experts I know say yes, you do. They say it’s an investment in your work. They say it reflects a professional ethos. They say that a cropped image of you squinting in the sun on holiday with a disembodied arm around your shoulders may not send the right message about your work.

Then there’s our old friend, self-doubt. I’m ‘only’ self-publishing, after all. I’m trying to keep my costs down. The cropped holiday snap will do fine, won’t it? Who do I think I am?

I found that my decision was made even harder by the fact that I already had a very nice author photo, taken by a friend who does photography in his spare time and is excellent at it. The snags were: 1) The picture is several years old. Hands up, I (sadly) don’t look much like that any more. 2) My friend had very kindly taken the picture free of charge. I value the friendship and didn’t want to ask him for more free work, nor I did I want to cause him awkwardness or embarrassment by trying to insist on paying him.

After agonising over the decision a little longer (I can be indecisive!), I decided to grab the bull by the horns. I would go professional.

I found a local, female photographer. This was important to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my big, established brands when it suits me, but when it comes to bespoke work, especially anything artistic, I try to support my local economy and women who are setting up in business on their own.

Enter Bara Alich, whose work I had seen and loved in a local charity calendar. Bara works from a pop-up studio in a room in her home. She tears down the studio after each shoot because the room is used by the family the rest of the time. She brings in a local make-up artist to prep subjects before shoots. She’s incredibly nice (I had a cold at the time, and she made me fresh honey, lemon and ginger tea!), professional and ambitious. That’s the kind of set-up I like.

Here we are getting ready for the shoot:

orla-and-bara-sept-2016

Bara took huge pains to find out from me what I was aiming for with the photo. She made me think about what I really wanted the photo to ‘say’. My book is about mental health issues so, together, we worked out that we wanted the result to show friendliness, kindness and understanding, yet strength and reliability as well.

Bara helped me pick outfits that would fit in with those key words, and her make-up artist did a very professional job (and managed to cover up the rotten cold!). Here’s the result:

Portrait by Bara Alich Photography

It is always cringe-inducing to look at pictures of yourself, but I am happy with this one. It fulfils my expectations and hopefully, it does something to persuade people that my book is worth a look.

You do have to grin and bear it when you’re handing over money for a self-financed project – and that little voice saying “You could have just done it yourself” never quite goes away. I’m happy with my decision and with the result.

PS. My next post will be the book cover reveal! Stay tuned!

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