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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.

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