Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hair is the New Weird?

For the second time in as many weeks I've stumbled across a photo of a debut author (who shall remain nameless) with weird hair. I know that "I don't give a damn" and "I don't own a comb" hair is often fashionable (yes, Kate Moss, I reference your mop) but this isn't the usual clueless-writer-can't-figure-out-a-hairstyle look. This is contrived weird. Deliberate bizarre. Look-at-me strange.

Is this the latest trend in objectifying authors? I never got the memo.

I admit, weird hair is not as extreme as whatever compels someone to tattoo their entire head like a checkboard, or like, ah, I don't even know how to describe it. Maybe I'm too old to keep up with the younger crowd and what they like. I've certainly struggled with my own silly hair issues, so I'm not trying to stomp on anyone's hot pink My Little Pony head.

I guess what perplexes me is why would anyone want to burst onto the Publishing scene while looking like a fugitive from a Tim Burton film?

Maybe weird hair is the new gimmick. Gimmicky author photos have never seemed very dignified to me, though. Those soft-focus Glamour Shot bio photos, which are still quite popular among certain segments of the writing community, really should have been outlawed back in the eighties, along with big hair, single-strand golfball-size pearls and that red lipstick that makes chunky female authors look as if they've been eating their young. Dressing up like a character or in period costume also seems more like an activity for Halloween parties or one of those idiotic writer conference contest things. And if you're not particularly attractive, no amount of judicious lighting, makeup or lens filtering is going to make you look like Cindy Crawford; I speak from experience.

Now for some good examples of what I consider interesting yet still professional-looking author photos: Charlaine Harris, Larissa Ione, Marjorie M. Liu, Robert Ludlum, Stuart MacBride, Nathaniel Philbrick, Martin Cruz Smith, and Carrie Vaughn. Note the absence of weird hair.

Tastes differ, naturally, but to me the simple, natural, full-face or 3/4 profile headshots still seem like the best choice. Ladies, that includes minimal makeup and normal-looking hair styles (and please don't give me grief about employing the word normal. Bizarre is for rock stars. You are not a rock star.) Gentlemen, it's to your benefit to comb the hair, and unless you do the beard or goatee thing, for Pete's sake shave. Also, try one shot with a smile. The squinty-eyed unsmiling broody look many authors believe gives them an enigmatic air actually just makes them look constipated.

Finally, I was skimming through some acting sites for advice on how to take a decent professional headshot, and the same advice kept popping up: get a good night's sleep before you take your photos, put on clothing that doesn't have a trendy look (which quickly becomes dated) or busy patterns (they distract the eye), avoid wearing big/chunky jewelry, and use shades of makeup that are natural and/or flattering to your coloring. Talk to your photographer about the kind of look you want and any judicious retouching you might need (dark circles under the eyes were mentioned most often in regard to touchups.)

Additional links:

Beaupix Studio's Makeup Tips for Headshots

Preparing for a Head Shot -- Kevin McClellan Photography

Taking a Good Headshot By Amanda Vogel


  1. If they're mainly on the younger side - by which I mean 40 and below, but it goes x10 for 30 and below - it probably IS the normal. Or at least a large enough percentage to not be rare. I'm in Oregon, and we tend to pride ourselves on being different around here. I'm in a rural are, and I'd say maybe 1 in 20 or so in my age range, the 30-40, hits the "something odd" meter, with another 2 or 3 being borderline. For those 20-30, I'd make it more like 1 in 10. Under 20, that number starts to head up to 1 in 5 or so.

    Move the study into the metro areas of Portland or Eugene (and Seattle and Spokane, too), those numbers just go up.

    I'm guessing part of it is an attempt at the artist mystique these days - they're not compromising on what they do just because they're published. But the rest of it is just because they can.

    My sister's hair was teal and purple a couple months ago, all three of my red-headed sons have been green-headed, and I even know one gal, in her 60s, who has been through hot pink, purple, green, and I don't know what else shades of Manic Panic. If I ever escape from working for someone else, I'm going to make mine some interesting color for a while just for the heck of it, simply because I can and there is no one to tell me they're going to fire me if I do. It's an independence thing. But you can bet I'm still gonna comb it!

  2. I think Jeaniene Frost has a cool author photo. Her red hair against the backdrop of the cemetary makes such good contrast.

  3. More tips from a former studio operator; long sleeves create more fluid lines, short sleeves "cut" midarm where it tends to be least flattering. Don't experiment with hair and makeup the day of the shoot, experiment beforehand so you have it down and don't get any unpleasant surprises.

    And don't for the love of heaven let your photographer make you do that stupid finger to chin pose that makes everybody look idiotic.

    Look at samples of studio work and pick a photographer whose style you like. It takes years of training to "see" the light and know now to capture a good image. You want a good photographer. They'll charge a lot, an hourly rate plus per print rate, but they'll be worth it.

  4. I usually don't bother looking at author photos, so now I'm curious to see who's weird and who's not. Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few cases where I actually know what the author's photo looks like, and those are all normal. :shrug:

  5. Love, love, love the Robert Ludlum photo. He looks like he's just hanging out and you could walk right up to him and say hello.

  6. I'm dying to know who the new author is though. I'd love to see that picture.

    I have a picture on my 'about me' page that is one of the few I can tolerate of myself. I was in Chicago to see Phantom with some friends, it was almost zero out and we were dining at the next door restaurant who I swear must have only been using the stoves for heat, I'd been drinking champagne all day and finally decided an after dinner coffee might be in order.

    It's the most 'realistic' picture I've had taken. And it was our waitress who took it. Dark? A little. But at least I look like me. :o)

    As to the not combing it, I have too few good hair days as it is. I can't imagine going out with bed head. I would hope one of my girls would shoot me before they'd let me do that. Why I'd want to advertise that to the world is beyond me.

  7. Gotta love this post!

    Just the other day I was looking at Stephen King's picture in The Dead Zone... I mean, he is who he is, but still!

  8. Hm, okay, I *know* I'm guilty of being one of those "weird" looking people. :D Up until an incident with a hairdresser who decided to shop off a foot of hair, my hair *was* normal. Long, plain brown - which I curled so it looked like it belonged in a magazine. Heck, I have to do something to make-up for having tattoos.

    I made a decision when I decided to start getting tattoos five years ago that I knew this would change my life, and in some regard limit what I could do. I now have a wonderful collection of sweaters and appropriate long-sleeved clothing. Why? Because I know and understand that not everyone shares my views or appreciation for some kinds of art. That's okay! But I also understand that if I want to be taken seriously and professionally I need to appear a certain way. I went a year and a half at my current job before someone noticed what they thought was a bit of dried blood on my lower back when my shirt came up. Being ousted as heavily tattoo'd was entertaining, but by then I had established myself in our office as professional and capable.

    I think a lot of people do want to look hip or modern because it's easily marketable. If you look like you belong in a magazine already, maybe people will be willing to stick your face in a magazine or on a talk show rather than someone else who is less in tune with the times. That's my speculation, which is probably not worth beans!

    However, I do think people need to weigh the cost and benefits of their decisions long and hard before they do something which could possibly impact how other people perceive them. I dislike saying that, but it's the honest truth. I've been snubbed at shops I go to buy work clothes when I come in wearing jeans and tshirts and once even told I didn't belong in that store (I had dejavu thinking, is this Pretty Women?) only to have been in a few days before in "work clothes" and having received the best service.

    I think I've digressed and rambled far more than I should have...

  9. I still want to try Teal Blue hair before I expire (LOL).

    I saw it on some young lass in Montreal and it was amazing.

    But not for a professional picture and not right now as I'm not sure my job would like it.

    But as an aunt to two heavily tattooed boys I wonder sometimes if I'm being too conservative because how they look have not influenced their working life.

    I do think more employers are seeing that outside appearance is not the most important employee attribute.

  10. I have to give Stephen King credit for using an actual photo of himself on his first book. In the same vein, who ever ate the first oyster?

    Meanwhile, the checker-headed fellow: I met him when he turned up on my mail route. I had my back to him, and he spoke to me, and I called him "ma'am," and he corrected me--so I was already embarrassed--and then I turned around and lost all syntax altogether. By the way, he is tattooed everywhere. Everywhere. I have taken to calling him "the little colored fellow."

  11. Anonymous2:16 PM

    Terrific blog post...really made me laugh! And it's so true.

    I noticed an author's gimicky recently also, but instead of hair it was the outfits. A popular urban fantasy author just had her professional photos redone and she's wearing black leather that is reminiscent of fettish gear. And what's horrible is she posted all of the images on her website (full of yourself much?) Too gimicky looking and much too young of a style for her to pull off.

  12. First of all, thanks for the link to my article on my headshot photography website. I shoot a fair number of headshots in Boston area, and I made that page as a place to refer clients.

    I don't know which author photo you are talking about, but I am guessing that many authors don't realize the power of headshots, or simply not used to have headshots taken. You know, actors and models are used to it, and they know exactly how they look. But business people, in particular small business owners, and people who want pictures for dating sites, sometimes have highly idealized picture of their looks and they may not be happy with the pictures... unless something drastic is done to it. Some other business people, sometimes get over that level and then they don't care how they look but they just want the pictures taken professionally and want to look decently presentable but don't really care any more than that... One theory I can offer is that some authors may be in that category.

    If I try hard to think for another reason... good hair styling is not cheap. It usually costs some extra on top of professional makeup work. Might this be another reason? I don't know-

  13. Ryuji wrote: First of all, thanks for the link to my article on my headshot photography website. I shoot a fair number of headshots in Boston area, and I made that page as a place to refer clients.

    Thanks for stopping in, Ryuji. I enjoyed your article because it was well-written, and I thought it might help my readers a lot. One of the things female authors usually get wrong in their headshot is their make-up (most wear way, way too much and/or choose the most unflattering shades.)

    Hair always makes a statement to me about the person, and most of the time writers' hair shrieks "I don't care." So you could be right about the styling, and neglect thereof.

  14. Dear Lynn,

    I am not a makeup artist but I can tell you good makeup artists can make you wear a LOT of makeup and still look natural. Well, I don't mean you look like your natural self, but you still look like a real person.

    But, unless you are looking for beauty/glamour type look, I generally recommend more natural look makeup... wear just enough to cover the skin and enhance the contour and contrast in the cheek and eye... It's hard to explain in writing, but some makeup artists have before/after shots for different styles of makeup, so interested readers may use google image to find those examples.

    I actually helped several local professional makeup artists build up their portfolio so I have some before/after shots, but being a photographer, posting them on my website is not very professional... so you might want to check out some examples here:


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