Category: Uncategorized

Pretty pictures (or, Preparing for the Author Photo Shoot)

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve given some thought into how I’d like to form my Author Platform (oh, yes – even before Julia submits my work to the publishing world, I’d like something substantial in place), I realized the obvious: I really need pictures of myself.

I’m a mom. And though my high school drama coach liked to tease me because I could almost instantly find center stage without needing tape markers, I’ve been more inclined to stay behind the lens than in front of it since, oh, maybe sixth grade. The result is that I have thousands of photographs of my darling little boy (and several hundred of random things he has created), but hardly any of myself. Even worse, the few photos I have of myself are usually group photos.

So, no, there aren’t very many pictures of just me.

Julia emailed me several weeks ago asking for a photo and a brief Author Bio for her website. The biographical blurb was pretty easy for me to write. I struggled with it for a few hours, but once I found my beginning, I kind of ran with it. The photograph, on the other hand, was much more difficult to find. I found a picture of me – just me – from several years ago, but I decided then that I really needed to schedule an appointment to have real Author Portraits taken.

I told a handful of people about my plan, and several told me, “I’ve got a really good camera! I’ll take your portraits!” And while I’m sure they do have great cameras (and lenses because, let’s face it, the lens makes the difference), I really wanted to hire a professional photographer. And I wasn’t talking about going to one of those in-store studios at Target or Sears or JC Penney, either. While those are reputable places, I really wanted to go to someone who would work with me.

And so I booked my appointment with Ansa du Toit, a fabulous photographer in the Orlando area.

I know Ansa personally, and I’ve seen her work, so I knew that she would absolutely capture just the right images of me for me. She’s got a mobile studio and is able to set up just about anywhere, but since I booked the appointment the morning of The Boy’s Field Day at school and only had a few hours, I asked if I could meet at her house.

For a few days leading up to my appointment, I agonized over what I wanted to wear and how to fix my hair. And I culled the following photo shoot guidelines based on things I learned in my own photography classes many years ago, conversations with Ansa, and helpful photography websites:

  1. Bring three or four outfits to be photographed wearing. This may seem like overkill, but what looks good in real life might translate differently in a photograph. I know I have a lot of outfits that I think look cute when I’m wearing them, but as soon as I see myself in a picture wearing it, I wonder what I was thinking. Plus, each outfit you have will give you and the photographer extra options to play with backgrounds and lighting.
  2. Bolder is better. Colors, that is. Pastels have a tendency to get washed out in the light. Of course, a skilled photographer can make (almost) anything work, but bolder colors tend to show up better. But whatever you wear, just make sure you’re wearing a color that looks flattering on you.
  3. Beware of all black or all white. Again, a skilled photographer can ensure your photo doesn’t look like you have a disembodied head floating in the center of the picture, but you can hedge your bets and make it easy for everyone involved. Be mindful of the backgrounds you might use and dress accordingly.
  4. Think “classic”. It’s very rare that a particular style has an ability to transcend time and place. Three-piece suits with solid colored ties are classic outfits. Denim jackets are fairly classic. Solid sweaters are classic. So beware of prints and anything trendy unless you want to redo your photo every year. While your photographer won’t have a problem with that, your bank account might.
  5. Avoid sleeveless or strapless tops. I got some flak on Twitter for posting, “Unless you’re 16yo or have skinny arms, avoid sleeveless or strapless tops. The camera adds 10 pounds – TO YOUR ARMS!” It’s a terribly harsh statement, but it’s so true! Arms look bigger because of their proximity to the camera. Think about it. If you’re facing the camera with your arms at your sides, everything remains to scale. But as soon as you turn your body, your shoulder and arms are now closer to the camera than your face is. It may only be a few centimeters’ difference, but what a difference it makes! So even if you think you might not turn your body even a fraction of a millimeter, just play it safe and avoid showing off your arms if you can help it.
  6. Wear a little more makeup than usual. If you’re a man, ask if there will be a makeup artist on site and/or purchase a clear translucent powder. If you’re a woman and wish to do your own makeup, just wear a touch more than you usually do. Why? Well, the flash of a camera has a funny way of washing out features. Even more, it has an evil way of highlighting every shiny spot on your face. Even if you’re only taking photos outside, you’re going to want that powder to help you even out your skin tone. And besides, I’ve yet to meet a photographer who photographs portraits outside but eschews the flash altogether. The flash is there to help even out lighting; the powder evens out your skin. Wins all around.
  7. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to play. I didn’t study a lot of authors’ photographs before my photo shoot, but I know I should have. Luckily for me, Ansa is a pro and knows portraiture. I knew I wanted to have some outdoor shots, but she suggested we start with some photos against a white background, and then we switched to a black background before going outside. This was brilliant because I was able to get every kind of photo I could possibly want. Something for a poster advertising a professional seminar? I’ve got that. Book jacket? Got that, too. Julia’s agency website, my Twitter avatar, my Linked In picture, my Google accounts photo – you name it, I’ve got a photo to fit it.
  8. Listen to your photographer. A good photographer can look through the lens and has the ability to translate that image from 3D to 2D. A great photographer can provide direction to capture the absolute best pictures of you. This is another reason I suggest contracting the services of a professional photographer instead of going to one of the store photo shops. But, of course, that direction only goes so far if you don’t heed it.
  9. Have fun! Nothing is worse than sitting in a studio (or in a tree) and straining to feign a smile. After two hours of this kind of smiling, you’ll probably be sick of it, and your jaw will hurt. But if you let yourself have fun, it will come across in the photos. And your photographer might catch some of the best shots of you just making goofy faces, cracking up at a joke, or just being your usual, interesting self. Besides, that’s the side of you that you probably want the world to see.

Ansa, the pro that she is, had proofs for me to review just a few days after I met with her. Our shoot was on a Thursday; I had proofs Sunday night, about a hundred in all to sort through and decide which ones I like best. I’m still wading through the list; I’ve narrowed it down to about 50 and want to pare it down to about 15 or so. Once I narrow it further and secure the rights to my photographs, I will, of course, share them. But there are so many great photos that I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But when you’ve got a great photographer (who magically erased about 20 years off my life with just lighting alone!), pick out the right things to wear, and have fun with the process, you’ve increased the odds that you’ll flip through the proof sheets and find the photo that makes you say, “That one! I want to look like that forever!”

And if you really love it and want it replicated with multiple outfits? Well, a great photographer can make that happen, too.

Ansa du Toit owns and operates Picture This by Ansa. She is the consummate professional, and she’s available for event photography as well as portraits. And should you get stuck in a tree that you insisted on climbing so that she could photograph you, she’s also kind enough to not immortalize this embarrassing moment and will help you down. You can check out her gallery at

Sometimes, you need an advocate

I think I’ve already discussed at length why I chose to go the agency representation route with my writing career. One of the reasons I didn’t want to self-publish WTRPCPSU is that I would prefer to have the backing of a publisher’s marketing group to help me market my work, and, as such, I would prefer to have an agent help me navigate the still unfamiliar world of publishing.

Note my use of the word help. I’m fully aware that I will have my own role in all of this, too. What that role entails, of course, I’m still figuring out.

This may sound odd, but I think of my agent as my boss. I mean, I sort of interviewed for her representation, and she chose me to be part of her team of writers. My job, as I see it, is to produce quality stories for her to then turn around and sell.  We will have dialogues about my work. I may pitch ideas that she knows the market is not buying, and she will advise me to shelve those concepts until either my ideas are more developed and/or there is a renewed interest in them. I will send her manuscripts that I’ve painstakingly edited and revised to the point that I think they’re perfect, and she will provide feedback (including what works, what doesn’t work, what needs to be fixed, and what needs to be scrapped). And it is my job to take her expert advice to heart and execute her directives to the best of my ability.

In short, I expect to have the same relationship with my agent that I have with my non-writing world boss.

I absolutely adore my non-writing world boss. She’s fabulous. (And as she doesn’t know this blog exists, I’m speaking truly from the heart.) We maintain a very open dialogue about the different projects I work on, and I let her know when someone comes to me with a request for something that requires total reprioritization, especially when it falls outside my normal scope of duties. She provides valuable feedback on how I can be a more effective analyst, on how to look at things from a different perspective, on how to take my skills to the next level.

But her most important role? She ensures that no one takes advantage of me.

That last point perfectly sums up not only why I would walk across hot coals for my non-writing world boss but also why I chose to pursue the path towards agency representation. And the fact that Julia is based in Europe and has contacts on both continents is why I anxiously pursued her (or would have, anyway, if I took the regular querying route).

I’m the type of person who needs someone to remind me to keep my own interests in the foreground. I know not everyone is like that, but I firmly believe that we all should have someone looking out for us.