First, there was Vaseline on the camera lens.
Next up was rose-colored lighting, shooting through pantyhose, and soft focus.
And then came Photoshop.
No one tells the truth. Who wants to admit that their wrinkles, moles, and scars disappeared by computer magic? I think there are two sets of writers: Brave souls who step in front of husband-held cameras, sun shining in their face until they've squinted themselves eyeless and the rest of us, male and female, struggling to find a way to present ourselves as intellectual hotties.
Hello second category. I began worrying about my author photo about ten minutes after signing my book contract and the moment I finished editing my book, I dove into research on author photos. I found little besides the fear-inducing Marion Ettlinger book, Author Photo, and since she was out of my range, I googled 'how to look good in photos' and found advice. Very helpful advice. This led me to a professional make-up 'consult' (would that be tax deductible?) Next, I visited the 'hair whisperer' and told him, "Do what you will. Just don't cut it short." Which he did. But I loved it. Price: Very high. Satisfaction: Priceless.
Don't even ask about clothes. I bought and returned several boutique's worth.
A professional photographer had me change ten times, twist into positions I'd never try in life, and sit before rolls of paper. She perched me on stools, had me play with pens, and look wistfully into the sunset.
A week later I looked through thirty thousand tiny images on a contact sheet, trying to pick the 'best' picture. None of the above? Finally I chose through the lens of least: searching for which made me look the least fat, least boring, and least phony.
When I got the final pictures, I wanted to cry.
My sister Jill is a talented photographer and a best-friend sister. She'd offered to take my author shot, but I'd initially said no. Jill always made me look interesting, and this time, I wanted to look glamour girl-smart. But now, weeping as I stared at the professional shot that made me look like a door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman, I dialed Jill's number.
God bless sisters. To make the best author photo, she investigated portrait-shooting technique, studied the Ettlinger book, and invested in equipment to make me glow (and look, ahem, less mature.)
I did my part. The day of our shoot, I applied my own make-up with the skill of Bobbi Brown herself. I am amazed I could lift my head, considering the spackle I wore. Pearl earrings cast a glow on my face. My green shirt matched my eyes. (I wore none of my new clothes--finding comfort in my tissue-thin tee and old cashmere shawl, which the camera lied into something far more sophisticated than the reality.
Jill shot hundreds of photos that we reviewed and eliminated, consulted and polled until we found 'the one.' Then she really went to work. Using the magic computer pen, she could make lines disappear. Adjust the lighting: I warm up, I cool down. I flushed, I blushed, I smoldered.
Now I had to face morality: was it kosher to erase my lines? Would it be like using Botox? (Is it ok to use Botox? Is it less bad to use only Photoshop Botox?) After a second of agonized deliberation, I decided. Just a few minor...adjustments. The furrows between my brows came from worrying over my children, for goodness sake. Would softening those badges of motherhood make me a bad person? And what about those pesky forehead lines? The puppet lines by my mouth?
Jill went to work. I loved the final product. Perhaps too much.
What if my sister had made me look so good that no one would recognize me in real life? A friend of mine, a lovely-looking woman whose book was about to be sold, vowed to have her picture taken sans artifice. So that no one would be surprised when they met her.
Since my book came out, people have recognized me when I came to do a reading. No one asked me what century the picture was taken. Okay. I lie. There was one. The woman who gives me facials, the one who stares at me under glaring lights of truth - she asked when the picture was taken. I don't think she meant what month, but what year.
Maybe my friend had the right idea. Jill did such a good job with that photo that I look better than reality. I worry.
Was it cheating to use Photoshop Botox?