Deb Sarah gives Giselle a run for her money (ha!)

My photo shoot? Sigh. I’ve been trying to forget about it.

I wrote about it for my newsletter subscribers a few months ago (what? you’re not a newsletter subscriber? sign up quick – I give away books and Godivas every month!) Here is the tale of that memorable day:

The photographer came over one afternoon during a narrow sliver of time when I’d organized a baby-sitter for my baby and a Wii extravaganza for my older kids. I was showered (a minor triumph), mascara’d, and though I hadn’t managed to squeeze in a haircut or a trip to buy new Spanx, all things considered, I was feeling pretty triumphant about my grooming.

So there we were, me and the photographer, in my backyard, ready to take the picture that would proclaim to readers: See how friendly (but not too friendly, certainly not in a stalkerish way!) and smart (not too smart, though! No threats to you Mensa members here!) this author is? Isn’t her novel just leaping into your hands and compelling you to start reading it?

The problem was, it was hot outside. Brutally hot. And I was wearing a sweater (even I knew better than to trot out my usual summer uniform of slightly stained Old Navy t-shirts).

“Perch on this chair,” the photographer suggested.

I obligingly perched, smiled, and sweated while the camera clicked. After a few minutes, my thigh muscles complained about perching on the edge of a chair and suggested we all go inside for a little restorative chocolate treat.

“You don’t look comfortable,” the photographer said. “Maybe a different outfit?”

I raced inside, changed, came back outside, and posed again.

“Hmm…” Hilary the photographer said. “I’m not sure that shirt is the right color for you.”

Since I know and trust Hilary – she shoots my photo for a magazine column I write – I dashed upstairs again to change. I tore through my closet, which was stuffed with shorts and t-shirts, maternity wear, and a few very outdated business suits. Where were all my clothes? My cute, trendy, flattering clothes? Did I really dress like this? The horror!

“Mom,” one of my kids whined, “can we have popcorn?”

“I’m having a photo shoot,” I said importantly. “You know, for my book.” The kid looked at me blankly.

The Opposite of Me?” I said. “Due out in March? At bookstores everywhere? Didn’t Mommy teach you to say that whenever possible?”

“He bit me!” came an outraged wail.

“Stop fighting and I’ll take you to the pool in ten minutes,” I lied to my children, whose sense of time is seriously warped from scenarios just like this one.

“I’ve got to go,” the babysitter said apologetically. “I have another job to get to.”

“Let’s put the baby on a blanket outside,” I said desperately. “He can watch the photo shoot.”

“Did you powder your nose? You really should,” the photographer asked, clearly feeling this was no time for subtlety.

I powdered, brushed my hair, threw back my shoulders, and posed again.

“THARM alert!” The photographer shouted.

(A “Tharm” happens when you position your arm in such a way that it appears to be bigger than a typical arm — more like a thigh. Like the Ebola virus and men with bushy toupees, it is to be avoided at all costs).

I shifted, sweated, and posed. The baby rolled off the blanket into the grass. The older kids made popcorn themselves and doused it with a pound of butter. Was the baby eating a bee? Why were the older kids being so quiet inside? And why didn’t I have cuter clothes? Wasn’t it bad enough that I drove a minivan?


A day or so later, I saw the proofs from the shoot. This is the photo I liked best.


But here’s the funny thing: I realized I’d taken better pictures before. So I searched through my computer to find the one Hilary took of me for a magazine column a while back. I didn’t have on much makeup other than tinted sunscreen, and I was wearing an old sweater – but I’m relaxed and casual, and I think it shows.

Here I am in that photo, in my old green sweater, with my dog Bella. (Er, I’m the one on the right).


So here’s what I learned: When you’re taking a publicity photo, it’s how you feel on the inside that really counts.

What about you? Do you think posed photos turn out better than spontaneous ones? What’s the best picture you ever took?

18 Replies to “Deb Sarah gives Giselle a run for her money (ha!)”

  1. I so enjoyed your entertaining re-telling of the day – even though I’m sure it was not entertaining in the least while it was happening! Pictures = stress. Writers are not meant to be photographed! Writers are meant to wear stained t-shirts from Old Navy with sweatpants that have decaying elastic. Despite all that – your pictures came out beautifully!

  2. Oh gosh, I’m feeling the “wait, don’t I have cute clothes somewhere” thing right now in that odd place where I don’t need maternity clothes anymore but still my old clothes don’t quite fit right. I agree with Kathy that I think both of your pictures look great, but I certainly understand not liking pictures of yourself. I think spontaneous pictures often do turn out best because you’re not stressing about looking good.

  3. OK, I’m cracking up laughing at this story because it could happen at my house. In fact, I’m fairly sure I’ve said, “Is the baby eating a bee?” and have similarly warped my kids’ sense of time. In fact, in my mind’s eye, you were actually in my backyard, so familiar this seems to me.

    I’m with you on candid shots. In fact, (no disrespect to the photographer who took my author photo) I actually prefer the snapshot which is my FB profile pic and my Twitter avatar to the posed and airbrushed author photo. It was taken by my husband on book launch night and I’m glowing (both figuratively and literally, because I probably should have powdered my nose.)

  4. You don’t look sweaty at all! Great pic of you & Bella. The ones on your website of you surrounded by big chocolate bars are excellent, as well!

    Sometimes candid photographs “say” more to me about a person or a situation, but not always.

  5. As someone who poses for a LOT of photos (started out as an actor & I’m married to a photographer), let me tell you a story my actress friend tells. Someone once said to her, “You never take a bad photo!” and she said, “Yeah, I know. It’s because I practiced until I got to where I’m always ready. I used a mirror and my 8 year old niece who is a model gave me some pointers.” Unlike her, I do take plenty of bad photos, especially candid ones, or when I’m really goofy happy (like the one on my website right now of me with my ARCs) but posed ones are a LOT easier for me now because I took her advice and practiced too. It’s good advice for writers too, I think because we’re all going to be famous with cameras snapping all the time, right? Both pics are great here!

  6. Definitely the candid shots for me.

    In the one on my author page at Amazon neither one of us is even looking at the camera. But it’s everybody’s favorite shot. The other person in the shot is a character who figures prominently in my non-fiction book, A Sudden Shot.

    There’s a companion shot on the FB page
    My hair looks bad and still neither one is looking at the camera. But he is presenting me with roses and I’m leaning in to his wheelchair to kiss his cheek.

    A lot of photos were taken that night and since where my hair looks better, the pose is right, the angle more elegant. But these are everyone’s favorites. By far.

    And then there’s the home video, dimly lit, amateur cameraman (my brother), the only thing clearly visible is the man’s spirit and our connection developed through that book.

    All that we go through in the Publishing Maze of Hell was worth it just to get these images, as far as I’m concerned. They show how much having his story told meant to him and what joy it gave me to do it for him.

    Candid. Good. Yes.

    Thanks for the post, made me think some happy thoughts!

  7. Joelle, I think that’s good advice. And I guess practicing for readings is vital, too.

    Jen – I hear you. And the Halloween candy isn’t helping my clothes fit any better either!

    Kathy, Robin, Alicia, Larramie – thank you!

    Kristina – Sometimes I think we are living the same life!

  8. Your photos are both beautiful, which shows the extent to which we are all our own worst critics. And, after a shoot at home much like yours (with tween daughters saying, “why can’t he take MY picture?”), I ended up with a beautiful, luminous photo of myself that I loved. I looked calm, well-rested, even pretty. Of course, ever since my book came out, I’ve discovered the down side to a great author photo: The dozens of people who say, “What a great picture! Is that YOU? It’s gorgeous! I would never have recognized you!” Which I think means I look fairly schmucky in my real life.

  9. Ooooh, pretty pictures! And funny story. Excellent combination!

    Best of all: a pointer to your Bethesda columns, which until now I didn’t know about. They’re funny, y’all! Check ’em out!

  10. oops – hit submit instead of return.

    Kathleen, I hope you laugh off those comments (I’m sure you do). It kind of makes you feel for movie stars, though, doesn’t it? I mean, you’d never want to leave the house without full makeup!

  11. I think it’s probably a good thing that I’m cuter in my mind than I am in real life. Confidence goes a long way. That’s a lot to juggle – three kids and getting ready and trying to be relaxed for a freakin’ photo shoot. Hope you had a good glass of wine afterwards! And I agree that both pics are great.

  12. “Didn’t Mommy teach you to say that whenever possible?” ROFL!! My favorite line ever.

    I can’t seem to take decent photos at all when I’m trying to. I’ve twice paid very talented photographers embarrassing sums of money, trying to get a decent back-of-the-book photo (not that I have a book to back yet). I look stiff in every photo, which I wouldn’t mind if I also looked thinner, but I don’t.

    And yet, I take those silly arms-length photos of myself every week (to show off my hats), and most of them look fabulous. Go figure.

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