The Terrors of the Author Photo

by Jeff Abbott on January 11, 2011

This past week I had a new author photo done.

Author photos used to be easy. You could have a pipe. You could cuddle a cat. You might wear a hat. (I sound like I’m channeling the good Doctor Seuss.)

I have never found them easy.

My first author photo I didn’t go for hip. I wore a turtleneck and a blazer. I went to the photographer’s studio, where I learned the photog had a healthy trade in semi-erotic marital portraits. No nudity, but more skin than I expected to see, and a lot of artfully positioned grape bunches. I got to lean against a spare Grecian column and tried not to think about who else had leaned against it.

The photo of me on my website was done in Paris. My publisher there hired an Irish photographer to snap some photos of me that they could give to the various newspeople who were interviewing me while I was in France. It was gray and rainy and I wore a raincoat not for effect but because it was gray and rainy. (I am so smart.) “A trenchcoat, yes! Pop that collar!” the Irishman cried in glee. “Look Ludlumesque.” I am sure Parisians are used to fashion shoots on their streets, but I don’t exactly look like a male model. I saw several people wondering why this cool, tall Irish dude was snapping dozens of photos of me leaning against a door, walking into traffic, glancing backward down the street, popped collar and all, while yelling instructions at me to look more “grave” and “to open my eyes just a bit more.” (You’ll soon see a pattern.)

My last author photo was taken in London. The photographer (who was quite brilliant) took me to a nearby park one afternoon. There were a couple of people ambling in the park, but not many, and we took our shots and left to go take some other shots nearby. One minute after we left the park we saw several police cars and motorcycles racing to the park. Hmmm. The photographer took some more pictures of me against a warehouse wall, and told me two days before he’d done a photo shoot with Sigourney Weaver. I apologized for causing a career setback. When we were walking back to his studio, we saw a policeman and asked what had happened. Apparently right after we left the park (think ten seconds) a drug bust went down and one of the suspects punched a policewoman. Bad, bad, bad. The officer was okay and the bad guys were under arrest. My editor was devastated that there was no shot of an arrest taking place over my left shoulder in the photo, because that would have been perfect.

So, this month, my wife and I decide to do a new photo. It’s only fair as my hair now has noticeable strands of gray in it so I don’t want to misrepresent by using my college ID photo any more. We hire a photographer, Amy, we’ve worked with before, who is very good. Especially taking photos of small children. And I hate having my photo taken, and often fuss and cry, so I qualify as a small child. (My wife and kids are incredibly photogenic. I have a slightly crooked nose, and a squint,  so I’m not.)

We start in the dining room.

I immediately complain: “Um, I don’t think the wall color is going to be good for this.” It’s canary-colored. Yellow does not say thriller writer.

“We’ll Photoshop that out,” Amy told me. “I can Photoshop ANYTHING.”

I hope there is a “Make Me Look LIke Brad Pitt” button on Photoshop.

Lots of pictures, while my wife stands by. “You need to open your eyes,” she says.

“They’re open.”

“Open them wider.”

I do.

“Stop glaring.”

I have naturally squinty eyes, it’s a sign I can’t be trusted.

We go outside into the sunshine, so I can squint some more. Now I’m outside, but sitting on a stool in front of draped fabric. Nature shots, people.

“Are any of these shots going to be, you know, HORIZONTAL?” Amy asks my wife.

I start looking for the bearskin rug, then remember the purpose of the shot is to help sell books, not create a further sense of terror.

“Open your eyes!” my wife says, as though I am blindfolded.

“This is as open as they get.” I am starting to sound a touch surly.

A couple of days later we get a few of the shots via email. Some are good. One is marked, “I wanted you to see what I could do with Photoshop. . .”

And in that photo, my skin is very pale and slightly sparkly. I look like a cousin to the Cullen family in Twilight. An cousin who apparently had Botox before becoming a vampire.

“That does not look like me,” I said. “That looks like me auditioning for the Real Househusbands of Austin.”

“She’s just showing what Photoshop can do,” my wife says, printing the photo and slipping it into a folder that I never see again. “We’ll dial that down.”

And we will. They are good photos. I hate having my picture taken. But I just want to look like an author you can trust to give a good read. Squint and sparkles aside.

    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    Zack Barnes January 11, 2011 at 10:49 am

    That’s awesome. When will the new photo be up?

    Mark Billingham January 11, 2011 at 11:26 am

    That’s funny, Jeff. I’m due to have one taken and the photographer keeps calling me to fix it up, but I’m desperately trying to lose some of the weight I piled on at Christmas so I keep delaying it. Sometimes I think we should all just have pencil sketches, or those passport photo shots that make us look like criminals…

    Amy Melsa January 11, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    You are funny Jeff!
    Ok, I said that ANYTHING can be done in photoshop – not that I can do anything!! ;-) )
    And – I guess I have a little “something” for Edward Cullen. I guess I need to work on not trying to turn all my clients into vampires! ;-)
    I loved photographing you. You and Leslie gave me some good laughs.

    The gold digger January 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Maybe you should go without a photo to create a sense of mystery. You know – JD Salingerish and all that.

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