Do Writers Need Headshots?

If you’re a writer, sooner or later, you are going to need a headshot.

Until recently, I’d been using a regular pic from my camera for a headshot. That’s what you see on my Gravatar. It looks like this:

Here’s a secret about this shot. This is only half the pic. The other half is my kind and wonderful and pretty friend Trish.  I callously cut her out of the photo just to have a headshot to use for blogging!

This is still one of my favorite photos, but it is 2 1/2 years old and there have been a few times recently where I was asked for a headshot–and I didn’t have a real headshot.

I couldn’t ask my husband to take a pic of me in some fun, engaging pose because he has a problem with cameras. He’s the smartest guy I know. He can do all kinds of dazzling thinking and make amazing mechanical repairs. His range of knowledge is genius. But put a camera in his hands and he gets a befuddled, almost frightened, look on his face. My daughter is an actor and after a performance of the musical Chicago I handed him my camera, showed him which button to press, and posed with my daughter and another performer. He brilliantly captured three sets of feet!

So I knew I needed a professional photographer if I was going to get a headshot. Finding him was easy because I used my daughter’s most recent headshot photographer, Christopher Barr.

I put off scheduling the appointment for weeks. OK, I actually put it off for months. I thought I was going to lose a little weight before the photos, but all I did was add a few wrinkles to the face in the meantime.

The thought of being in front of the camera instead of behind it was more than I could comprehend. After all, I’d been a dance and theatre mom for years, always there with the camera and camcorder, recording every step, every line, every note. I was the writer, observing other people and writing about them. I even have to impersonally observe myself in order to write stories about my life. I can wear my old yoga pants and hoodie while I write. My own hair can be a mess and my makeup non-existent when I’m photographing others.

Finally, I decided to jump in with both feet and schedule an appointment. The photographer’s assistant Jane said all I had to do was fix my hair and makeup and bring a couple of outfits to use. Maybe some bright colors, nothing “busy,” and no black.

Whew. I figured we were in the home stretch.

I have a big closet. While I am not a “clothes horse,” I have more clothes than I can possibly “wear out,” especially since I don’t have to dress up every day for work. But when I tried them on, nothing looked right in that small area that shows up in a headshot: wrong neckline, wrong color, wrong texture, too busy, too worn out looking (me or the top, not sure which).

I sent phone pix to my daughter. Surely she would tell me I was being silly. Nope. She agreed that none of those clothes would work.

So I had to go shopping–and I hate shopping like Alexander hates lima beans. I found two tops, one was black (remember I was told not to bring black), and the other was so-so. But I quickly sent pix to my daughter from the fitting room, and she gave me a thumbs up for those two.

At home the new tops looked horrible on me without something at the neck. I found some necklaces which would work with both, but nothing seemed quite right. And I was still bringing the black top.

In a stack of clothes I was getting rid of, I found an old knobby cream sweater that looked perfect and wondered why I hadn’t tried that first. But when I put it on the turtleneck was so thick and tight it looked as if it were squeezing my neck and causing my head to pop out of the opening.

It was twenty minutes to my 1PM appointment by the time I was finished getting ready. My hair turned out good for once (yay, something positive!) and the makeup was kind of “meh.” But the clothes were freaking me out. At the last second I grabbed a couple of bright print sweaters and a soft scarf that is so blah it goes with everything and ran out the door.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled out my clothing and jewelry to show the photographer’s assistant and she did that thing you read about sometimes in novels: she “blanched.” I’m such a reader that when I saw her face, I thought “blanched,” but I had to look it up because I didn’t really know for sure what it meant. It means to turn pale, which is what it looks like it means if you’ve had any Romance language training. The connotation of blanched is “turn pale” + “look aghast.” That’s what I saw on Jane’s face.

Apparently, I wasn’t wrong that my clothes are dead wrong for being photographed in. I suspected that meant that I was right about my wrinkles, too.

First Jane had me try on the cream turtleneck and then just as hastily begged me to take it off and try something else. Chris didn’t believe us and made me try it on again later, but alas, the comment I was left with was, “Who would buy that sweater?” You see, by then we were friends, so anybody could say anything.

After we figured out which were the least horrible outfits (the scarf came in handy and is almost the only thing you can see in my headshot), I was asked to pose. Did you ever feel one of those hard plastic dolls that are impossible to pose or even to hug? That was me.

Not too far in to the shoot, Jane said, “What’s that rash all over your neck?!”

I had to sheepishly admit that when there is any attention on me I get that rash. I used to get it teaching. I get it when I go to the doctor. Very embarrassing. Especially when someone points it out to me.

Chris tried to set me at ease by telling me I was doing fabulous. He would put me in a pose and then tell me to turn my head to the right and I would have to move very slowly. My movements were jerky and rapid. Or he’d say to turn to the right and lean down gradually at the same time, all the while keeping my hands doing something that felt as if I were in an extreme yoga pose.

I figured out there are tricks to being a professional photographer. One trick was that he showed me how I looked in the first photo right on the camera, but it was so small I couldn’t see the wrinkles and jowls and all that. So that false image of myself cheered me up so that I could relax a little more for the posing.

After two hours of this posing stuff, I have to admit I never got good at it. But eventually it was over and Chris buckled on his leather chaps and took off on his motorcycle while I stumbled to my car, dazed by stress overload.

Another trick that photographers use on somebody like me is that when they email you the proofs link, they call and in a panicked voice say, “Don’t worry about how they look! We ALWAYS do re-touches.”

So, yes, Chris used a little eraser to tone down the ravages of real life on my face because, I have to admit, I couldn’t bear to handle the whole truth.

Proud of my new photo which looks like me with droopy eyes and all, but with softened wrinkles and jowl, I sent it to my mother.

You know what she said?! “Is that what you’re doing instead of cosmetic surgery?”  Hahaha, Mom.

My mother is having surgery this month to fix her droopy eyes. But I am sticking with mine. Cosmetic surgery sounds even scarier than getting my headshot taken.

Luanne Castle

Luanne Castle

This is the new headshot and I first used it for my interview on the blog of The Missouri Review.


Filed under Blogging, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing

56 responses to “Do Writers Need Headshots?

  1. I dread the head shot as well, but fortunately it’s a bit off in the future. Yours is lovely!

    • Luanne

      I can understand dreading it . . . obviously! haha But the thing is, the end result will be good because the photographer will make sure it is good. So don’t waste all the energy I did worrying about it!

  2. Love the story and love the new headshot!! Congrats on bravely sharing both!!

  3. OK clearly I don’t have issues with having my photos taken, BUT I take them all myself, which is much, much easier. But that is a beautiful headshot and as I said before, your eyes are smiling, and that makes for a lovely smile overall.

  4. Luanne,

    I love your new picture. It is beautiful.
    I’ve also cropped my headshot from a photograph. You’ve inspired me to try to get a professional to capture my headshot.

    • Luanne

      Rudri, thanks so much! Well, the stress was worth it, I guess ;). Good luck with it–I can’t wait to see yours! Check out Chris’ website to see if you like his portfolio.

  5. I loved reading the story behind your beautiful headshot, Luanne! Oh my, the rash on the neck, mine is terrible and often embarrassing.
    Your husband must be related to my father, he always cuts of heads when taking pictures. 🙂

    • Luanne

      Hahaha, at least your father only cuts off heads 😉 and now entire bodies except feet LOL! What can you and I do with our rashes anyway? Other than wear turtlenecks (and it’s too hot in Arizona for that most of the time), I don’t know of any way of making it better, do you?

      • I really don’t, but it’s comforting to know there’s someone else out there with the same issue. I’ve always felt so insecure about it. I think it’s the same reaction as blushing and to my knowledge, there’s no way to control that either. 🙁 Turtlenecks are my best friend in the winter…until I have to go to the doctor. You can’t hide anything in those gowns. 🙂

        • Luanne

          Have you had doctors ask you about the rash as if they thought you had some sort of rashy disease? I have! It’s so embarrassing!! Yes, like blushing. Oh wait, I do that, too.

          • YES! I’ve had doctors ask and coworkers. 🙁 Oh, I blush also. Thank heavens for sleeveless turtlenecks, I wear them in the summer…I haven’t found one that covers the chest, neck and face though! 🙂

  6. It was all worth it, Luanne. The photo is fabulous! I loved your write-up. I could SO relate with your closet. Are you sure you weren’t in MY closet? 😉

    • Luanne

      Hah, Anneli, that is funny! And now my closet is a mess from trying on all my clothes! When I buy something I want it to look good on my body and don’t think about what it does to my face. But nothing is still ever right! Too tight, too loose, and the what-was-I-thinking clothes. Thank you for your kind comments!

  7. For me, this also is not a fun experience. But, as you said, it was all worth it – the new headshot is lovely.

  8. I could really relate to a lot of this post. I didn’t see my necks until after I got my photos. (I should also do something about my cataracts so I can see my necks). Nobody told me do not wear black or white. It is all a learning curve I guess. Next time I will go for a pose that is free spirited, whimsical and carefree.
    I had lots of favorite lines of this post but I think this one captures the experience in one universal stroke of the pen:
    “…figured out there are tricks to being a professional photographer. One trick was that he showed me how I looked in the first photo right on the camera, but it was so small I couldn’t see the wrinkles and jowls and all that. So that false image of myself cheered me up so that I could relax a little more for the posing.”
    I’m pretty sure this is the singular key difference between pro photographers and everyone else. Thanks for writing this, I needed it today!

    • Luanne

      Jaye, my friend. I don’t know if I mentioned this last time, but I am so thrilled you followed me over here. That’s actually what I was thinking of to begin with: free spirited, whimsical, and carefree. That’s not what happened. It’s such a stressful, mechanical process. I think maybe to get a pic like that you need to have a photo shoot with a long-time friend. By the way, your cataract comment is a hoot. Sigh, it does get more challenging to go through stuff like this with a few extra years and all . . . .

  9. jeannieunbottled

    A great photo and story to match. Having a photo taken can be scary and exhilarating. This one will look great on your upcoming publications.

    • Luanne

      Thank you so much for your encouragement, Wilma! Haha, that may be such a long time from now that I will have to draw in some extra wrinkles to keep it believable.

  10. He had great material to work with,Luanne. You look mah-velous!

  11. Great story and picture!

    I may have to forgo publication of the books I haven’t yet written for fear of the photo issue!

  12. Thanks for giving us the “story” behind the photography event:>) I knew it would be good. I truly enjoy your writing. Of course I love the new one, but I liked your old one too, it was just not as clear.

    • Luanne

      Hah, I wrote it for you, Patti! You asked for it and you got it :). I agree that the old one isn’t very clear. Not really adequate for a headshot; just a big smile. Thanks for asking me to write it. Very good practice for me.

  13. Your photo is just lovely! I’m happy to stay in the background for now, but your post made me to stop and consider it.

  14. Well you look so good that all the angst must have been worth it!!!

    • Luanne

      I just found this comment. Hahaha, I don’t know about that, but it was certainly stressful. The two shots I got from this shoot better last me a long time ;).

  15. What a wonderful picture and I understand what you went through. Really good picture. I’m glad you’re not having plastic surgery. You look fine. I’m kind of “there” too, on the not having surgery. I’m an out of work paralegal, living in New York City, working per diem, writing for the newspaper, ABLE and occasionally I get picked up by other local newspapers. Can you recommend a “Chris” and “Jane” in New York City, or could they ? I think the job is fabulous. You look like a writer at the age you are at (which is your business). I’m in the same situation and have some “head shots” which I think are good, but they are blurry, you get a sense of what I might look like, but not actually. I believe you’ve done very well with your head shot. recommendations if you can, would be a tremendous help to one in the same situation. Thanks for your article. all my best,
    Lynn Weed
    Able Newswriter
    Center for the Independence of the Disabled NY member
    and writer

    • Luanne

      Lynn, I’m so sorry that I didn’t catch this comment until now! Thank you so much for your kind response. If you need a list of headshot photographers in New York, I can definitely get you a list of some names because my daughter is an actor and a lot of my friends also have adult kids who are actors and they use headshot photographers in NY all the time. Email me if you want the list!

      • Yes, Luanne, if you would post to me, your email address, I’ll email you. I would like a list of photographers and would like a headshot. Thanks. all my best, Lynn

  16. Congratulations on being interviewed and on your lovely new headshot! 🙂

  17. Congrats! Not only on a great photo, but the Missouri Review – they never did want any of my stuff.

  18. I vote for the headshot. But the pictures with your friend are lovely also. Hugs, Barbara

    • Luanne

      Oh, I’m so glad you like it! Yes, I love pix with friends for Facebook, but I needed something a little more professional!

  19. I haven’t done this yet, and I know I need to. I feel about pretty much the way you do – which you express so well in this post. I like your photo. I even like the scarf.
    thanks for following my blog.

    • Luanne

      Thanks, Carol! Yes, you have to “bite the bullet” and go for it at some point. It feels a lot better now that it’s over. Mainly because I ended up with two good photos out of the bunch and so those will last a while :).

  20. Kev

    Nice headshots. I use both several. Some are even a few years old now. lol

  21. As I read your adventure, I made sure NOT to scroll so far down that I saw your finished picture early. Wow! That’s all I can say.

  22. Nice post, butnI like both head shots. JillXO

  23. I love all the recent photos of you, Luanne! So lovely. I can only imagine the anxiety, if it’s anything like mine. 🙂

  24. Tina Fournier

    Ha Ha I loved your blog. I go today for mine and I am certainly feeling everything you are!
    Thank you for helping to put me at ease. I think I’ll bring a scarf…

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