I don't want my picture took!
June 26, 2008 4:22 PM   Subscribe

The [very big city newspaper] is coming to my house tomorrow to interview us, and I'm a mess.

My husband and I just had a trivia book published, and apparently the marketing arm of the publishing house is pushing it. We've done radio interviews in various cities, which are a little nerve-wracking, but ultimately end up being just fine. However, the major newspaper in our area wants to come to our house tomorrow for an interview. We offered to meet them at an alternate location (like the local Barnes & Noble, for example), but they were insistent about photographing us at home. Apparently they're looking for a happy couple who are successfully working from home despite the very depressed condition of our overall state economy.

First of all, I don't like having my picture taken. I'm no oil painting (to quote a fellow MeFite), and between the sedentary life of a writer and certain medications I take for a chronic illness, I've gained a lot of weight in the past few years. Unfortunately, it seems like the majority of it shows in my face, which to me resembles a bloated potato. My illness also causes a facial rash, so I have to use a lot of pancake to cover it up. Bottom line, I'm not happy with my appearance, and I certainly don't want it splashed across the Lifestyle section of the newspaper. Will it be rude or unprofessional if I insist that the photograpaher only take pictures of my husband, instead of the both of us? Or is there some way to semi-conceal myself behind him, or turn my head at an angle, or something to make me look less puffy and spud-like?

Also, for the actual interview portion, should we offer refreshments to those in attendance? Soft drinks or other libations? Snacks? Do we treat them like typical guests, or keep things perfunctory and professional? Any and all advice, tips, much appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (29 answers total)
Don't sweat it. A picture in a newspaper isn't very hi res, and they're not going to publish something that makes you look extremely horrible. It's for a lifestyle piece, there's no nastiness going on. Also I'm sure they'd touch it up a little regardless of who they shoot.

Ask the photographer what you should wear. Something muted, solid and simple would be my suggestion. Probably not black unless black is really your 'thing'. Take it from me, I'm an art director.

They're used to dealing with nervous people, and have heard it all before.

Try to enjoy it. Congrats on the book.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:31 PM on June 26, 2008

My only experiences with the media they have misunderstood or misrepresented what I said. I think the lesson is don't try to make any subtle points to a journalist, and don't trust them. As for the photo, you're in your own house. You can refuse to be photographed if you want, I would think.
posted by idb at 4:36 PM on June 26, 2008

Newspaper photographers can be notoriously ... insistent. I say this having worked with and loved several. However, you can tell the photographer very honestly what you've just expressed here, and say that you'd appreciate it if he or she could do as much as possible to photograph you in the most flattering way possible.

Otherwise, I think you are just going to have to say "no photos, please." That might kill the story, though. If it's a major story, it won't be complete without art -- the editor would kill the photographer, etc. And if the art is just a photo of your husband, but not you, the editor would still kill the photographer. Editors are like that. (Which reminds me: Do you have a press photo of you and your husband together? Sometimes a newspaper will run a press photo, along with a photo of the book cover.)

As for refreshments, it's always nice when you offer something to drink. The reporter will probably be too busy taking notes to eat, but a glass of water or iced tea is always welcome.

My advice to you is to do your best with your makeup tomorrow, but also to not worry about it too much. Indeed, you could even tell the reporter about your health condition, as an aside. (The reporter might include it as a story of triumph over not only the poor economy but over poor health and generally difficult circumstances.)
posted by brina at 4:39 PM on June 26, 2008

I think you're completely within your rights to either refuse to have your photo taken or insist that the newspaper agree, _in writing_, not to publish any photo showing you unless you give them written permission for that specific photo. They'll probably opt just to not photograph you, though, if you get that princessy -- which is fine with you. Just be nice when you ask.

If somehow your photo does get included, you could look at it as combating the beautiful-people-only syndrome affecting American media (assuming you're in America - could apply to media everywhere). It'd be nice for most of us to know that someone who isn't perfect is still living a happy life.

Finally, you might do well to have a backup photo strategy all ready for them. They just want _an_ interesting photo. Got kids? Maybe they could be around the house, playing a trivia game, reading your book, whatever. Borrow some kids if you want. Dress 'em up cutely. Get your husband in his kitschy trivia corner or doing trivia things with the dog. Whatever. Just something interesting that the photographer can work with. That will take the pressure off you.
posted by amtho at 4:40 PM on June 26, 2008

Seconding idb on not getting your hopes up. Every time someone I know has been quoted in any newspaper, they've gotten something wrong. My wife was interviewed for the New York Times, for crying out loud, and they mixed her up with one of her partners. So make sure they leave with a hard copy of your press kit, but don't assume they will double check their facts, and keep it simple.
posted by rikschell at 4:40 PM on June 26, 2008

My only experiences with the media they have misunderstood or misrepresented what I said. I think the lesson is don't try to make any subtle points to a journalist, and don't trust them.

Not all journalists are like this, and reporters who are doing nice feature stories are almost certainly not. However, if you want to be very, very cautious, you can always ask that the reporter read your quotes back to you. They may not. They definitely won't (can't) show you the story in advance. But most good reporters are willing to quote you back to you for accuracy's sake.
posted by brina at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2008

About the interview: offer the reporter and photographer whatever you like. They won't be offended if you don't offer them anything—they are, after all, on the clock. As for your appearance, if you decide not to take the "no photos please" route, I think your best bet is to tell the photographer upfront about your worries. It's a nice feature and it sounds like the angle is favourable, so no one's out to get you here. It's in the paper's best interests to get a good photo of you.

You mentioned they were coming to the house, and that you'd rather meet them at a neutral location. Any reasons why?
posted by chrominance at 4:55 PM on June 26, 2008

It would probably be best if you kept your 'private' information (illness related stuff, etc.) to yourself; my experience has been that anything said to a reporter/photographer will be considered grist for their mill, and could find its way into the story, even things that you think are irrelevant to the basic topic.

They almost certainly won't write the story that you think they will; facts will be incorrect, and the whole 'slant' may not be what you are expecting. About the only thing you can do to 'defend' against this kind of problem is to try and get them to agree to have their fact checkers call you before running the story.

Other than that, just fly with it ... serve them coffee, etc. of course, and try and be as relaxed as possible. They are just normal people, trying to produce a story that their editors (and readers) will find interesting.
posted by woodblock100 at 5:07 PM on June 26, 2008

no photo, no story. it's a newspaper, not radio. it's not like your publisher purchased ad space, so your publisher doesn't really have a right to have your book promoted by the paper, if their angle is "couple working from home", they need pictures of you both. obviously it's your right not to have your picture taken, but you should have told them in advance. "happy couple who are successfully working from home despite the very depressed condition of our overall state economy" can't carry a photo of your husband and you with a paper bag over your head, I'm sure you understand that. call them now, you'll be wasting their photographer's time, and maybe their reporter's if they decide to spike the story because of your camera shyness. it's no biggie, it's not like a newspaper story will make your trivia book sell like Harry Potter anyway. good luck.
posted by matteo at 5:12 PM on June 26, 2008

I know that you aren't feeling great about your looks, but I'll give you an alternate take. You have done some thing really great... you've had a book published! This is a notable endeavor... and the dream of many people. But it's also the kind of thing that people put off because they are fat or ill, or for whatever other reason makes them feel inadequate.

You, however, have had this success despite your weight and chronic illness. It does take a brave soul to put their physical self in the eye of the media if you don't look like a freaking movie star. But believe me, if you do, you will INSPIRE other people who never see someone who looks like them being lauded for doing something great. So enjoy your limelight... and best wishes with the book.

I've done a lot of media including major newspapers, magazines, and television as a fat woman. And even when I am not super thrilled the way I looked, I take pride in the work that I am doing.

As far as other advice, think about the main points you want to convey... about your book, working with your husband, and working from home. Then write those points out as you would like to say them... and practice. And during the interview, don't be afraid to repeat them. Journalist are always looking for great quotes and sound bites and if you don't feed them those line, they will inevitably pull some mundane or irrelevant quote.
posted by kimdog at 5:12 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

I know it'll be a challenge, but why not try to give them what they want? The more warm and welcoming and carefree you are able to come across, the more generally favorable the reporter will view you and the more favorably the reporter views you the more books you will sell. You are not being interviewed or photographed because you are supermodels, after all. They want you because you are normal people making it work, so be yourself and let them portray you in the warm light you deserve.

The angle isn't as good without any pictures, and it is basically worthless with a picture of only one half of the couple. Trust them to do their job, at least in terms of getting a fairly flattering picture.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:13 PM on June 26, 2008

If it's a very big city newspaper, the photographer's going to know his business, and that means making you look good. For a features piece, that's his job. He's going to make you look good using all sorts of photo tricks that the people taking the pictures you hate have no idea about. Seriously, you'd be surprised.

If you really can't countenance the thought of your photo in the paper you have to cancel the story, but that's going to damage your book. This is part of your job now: I'd advise you to smile naturally and bear it. It's better than the mines, after all.
posted by bonaldi at 5:19 PM on June 26, 2008

To echo what others have said, and respond to some of your points:

- You are completely within your rights to decline a photo. Don't cave to pressure if you're not comfortable.
- Declining a photo will likely affect the prominence given to the story, since art is important. A photo of just your husband likely won't suffice, if the story's about both of you (because the reader will ostensibly want to know where you are).
- Personal snapshots are okay, but they're usually seen as second-best.

On the plus side...
- Most reporters and photographers will be respectful of your concerns (especially for feature stories).
- Most major daily photographers use digital cameras, and if the photographer is nice (and most are), he/she might be willing to show you the photo after it's been taken, to reassure you that you look just fine.
- If photographer seems amenable, ask if he/she will shoot from above (elevated on a chair, etc) for that flattering, Facebook-profile-pic angle. Not all photogs will like being told how to take a photograph, but this is a common enough technique.
- And as others have mentioned, newspaper photos are pretty low-resolution. No high-definition stuff.
- Good reporters will definitely read back your quotes to you, if you're concerned about being misquoted.
- Snacks are fine but not necessary. By all means offer a drink, but don't be hurt if they decline - some reporters accept drinks/snacks, some don't.

Good luck!
posted by lindsey.nicole at 5:20 PM on June 26, 2008

One way to deal with this is to tell the photographer which position you prefer to be photographed. Whatever "pose" you look best in- standing is usually the most flattering, but whatever you feel you look best.

It's a balancing act- you are using them to sell books, they are using you to sell newspapers. So remember that they should meet you at least halfway.

And if they are trying to sell the idea that the economy is depressed, I would be wary of their integrity- there is no depression, there is no recession. Albeit slowly, the economy was still growing at last report.
posted by gjc at 5:26 PM on June 26, 2008

Congratulations! I sympathize, as someone whose reaction to attention is always "Oh my God I look like hell." I am sure you don't really, but I have some tips for at least feeling in control.

Try asking if you can't pose with your chin rested entirely on your husband's shoulder, a cozy and neck-hiding technique. Or try posing with your face cradled in your hands, your elbows resting on a table. If these aren't permitted, be sure to jut out your jaw, and give a wry smile so your cheeks aren't puffed up by it.

(I may not have published a book, but I have a lot of experience being worried that my face looks fat in pictures.)
posted by Countess Elena at 5:26 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

You've gotten a lot of great advice here, but I will chime in with a few thoughts of my own (having been interviewed and photographed by a big-city newspaper at a time when I was not happy with the way I looked):

-Be upfront and share your concern that you'd like as flattering a picture as possible, but don't tell them about the particulars of your medical condition (or even that you have one) -- like woodblock100 said, every thing you say can and will end up in the story -- so don't share it with them, even as an aside, unless you want it in the paper.

-lindsey.nicole gave good advice as well. The elevated "facebook" angle is very flattering and the photographer could very well be willing to shoot you from that position. I also wonder if you have copies of your book around -- what about a cute little "hold the book up and read it" pose with you looking at your husband, eyes peeking out of the top of the book? As far as the background goes, if your house is cluttery or even not Pottery Barn perfect, they'll either not shoot that in the background or just crop it out. When I was photographed for the newspaper I was sitting at a microscope in the middle of my moderately messy living room, but when the photo was printed it was nicely cropped and made our house look much tidier than it actually was.

-Since you are worried about this in advance I can say with confidence that it will absolutely be less stressful than you are imagining right now. Get a good night's sleep, drink plenty of water, wear something neutral and flattering, and relax.

-Good luck! Let us know how it goes.
posted by kate blank at 5:32 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Could you suggest posing with your nose in the book, looking over it? Two benefits: less of you to be embarrassed about, and additional publicity for the book.
posted by i love cheese at 6:22 PM on June 26, 2008

Explain your worries to the photographer, and if s/he's worth his salt s/he'll at least attempt to make your picture as flattering as possible. It'll help if you know your good angles. Most people look better in photos when shot from a higher angle, and a low angle makes people (me, most of all) look gnomish and weird. The photographer should know these tricks. Ask to see the pictures before they go to print--they'll be under a deadline, for sure, but depending on his/her kindness, the photog. might just do that for you. They can touch up a finished photo in Photoshop. And I'm sure it's something he's heard a hundred times before, anyway, so don't worry about appearing blunt or rude.
posted by zardoz at 7:13 PM on June 26, 2008

Chiming in again-

I think people are being waay too cautionary and critical here. They're coming to profile you about a lighthearted trivia book. It's a fun feature for the paper, and no one, not you, not the writer, or the photographer wants to look bad. This is to sell newspapers, not make you look weird or bad, or anything else. Hopefully you'll sell more books as a result.

Just relax, and remember this is a good thing, a cool opportunity that's come up because of an accomplishment of YOURS. Enjoy it. This isn't going to be nearly as traumatic as you're imagining.

You will look your best if you relax (as much as possible... have a glass of wine... have two... why not?) and be natural. The more composed or thought out this is the more chance for it to be stilted and weird.

Also, they're probably gonna take lots and lots of pictures. Just relax and let them work. Why on earth would they want you to look bad?

Remember this is about a book you wrote, not a glamor photo session. People are going to want to read your book, not obsess over a grainy picture of the author.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:50 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Please, if you are going to refuse to have your photo taken then take it up with the editor before they send a photographer out. Otherwise you are just wasting everyone's time and the photographer will probably get crap over not delivering what they were supposed to and the story will probably end up being killed. I don't shoot for newspapers but I can imagine the deadlines they are on. Trust me, photographers know plenty of tricks to make you look good, it is our job after all. The number one thing that ruins a shoot is someone who won't relax, it will turn out much better if you let the photographer worry about it.
posted by bradbane at 7:57 PM on June 26, 2008

they are sending along a professional photographer. his aim is to make you look good. talk to him/her openly and honestly and see what suggestions arise.
posted by krautland at 8:39 PM on June 26, 2008

I have had my picture taken for newspaper articles twice, with many similar reservations -- that are perfectly natural-- and the photographers made me look pretty good. I was actually surprised with how satisfied I was each time. Go with it; take the risk and get the exposure.
posted by The Straightener at 8:46 PM on June 26, 2008

Jeff-o-matic's got a lot of this exactly right, but when this came up previously, I hadn't mentioned that when I was photographed for the NY Times, it was when I weighed more than I'd ever weighed in my life. I've lost the weight since then, but you know what? It was still a blast. I had a lot of old friends who got in touch, and current friends who were proud of me being there, and enjoyed it for the entertaining moment that it was.
posted by anildash at 9:03 PM on June 26, 2008

I work with and am interviewed by various media types--print, online, video/tv--regularly and completely here your concerns . . . I'm often stuck by the sense that I'm bald and overweight and *damn* I hate the way I look. But that's my inner voice and nobody I know has ever seen a pix or video of me and had the same reaction. So point #1: realize you're your own worse critique. So breath deep and be kind to yourself.

You published a book! AWESOME!

It's about trivia! SILLY!

So maybe play up that angle and go for some product placement--I'm thinking maybe a cute pix of you and hubby reading the book--you know, lots of book in the foreground and your cute googly eyes peeking over the top. The newspaper gets an "at home" shot that's personable and intriguing with your faces obscured but revealed (think Lemony Snicket!), you make sure the book is front and center (Marketing!), and everyone's happy.

posted by donovan at 9:06 PM on June 26, 2008

grrrr I "hear" your concerns, in case you were wondering. ;-)
posted by donovan at 9:08 PM on June 26, 2008

I used to work for the papers, although not as a photographer or journo. If, as it sounds, this is a puff/lifestyle piece, and the paper's a decent size, they will most likely be assigning someone who's good at making people look good. They're writing a positive piece, they aren't going to want to make you want to look bad.

I would second advice about not mentioning your illness unless you actually want it to show up in the story, though. That's way too good a human interest angle to ignore.

I woudl also note that while they may run a story with no photographs (although, as others have noted, it will get way less coverage), there is no way in hell most papers will give you right of refusal on particular photos, any more than they'd let you review the text.
posted by rodgerd at 10:01 PM on June 26, 2008

I would be wary of their integrity- there is no depression, there is no recession. Albeit slowly, the economy was still growing at last report.

gjc, the OP specifies that the story angle specifically references the state economy. I´m sure that one of the 50 states is having more economic troubles than average.

It sounds like you are a little shy of having people over at your house -- the newspaper wants this to be an upbeat story, so they will present things in a positive way. Don´t feel you need to give a full tour of the bedrooms and such if you don´t want to.

Do your makeup, wear whatever you feel you look best in, and stride boldly forth to be photographed. Don´t mention the medical condition. Do keep your chin up (literally). Try a few poses in front of the mirror. Your photo will come out better than you think it will.
posted by yohko at 10:01 PM on June 26, 2008

I was a staff newspaper photographer for over 10 years.

I'm not sure where so many people get the idea that the photographer's job is to make you look good. It's not your wedding and you are not his client.

The photographer's job is to shoot pictures which help tell the story most effectively. If you look good it will probably be a combined result of the photographer's skill as well as your own cooperation, relaxation, and general enthusiasm.

You will probably be surprised at the number of pictures which are taken. That's normal.

This sounds like it's going to end up as a happy and lighthearted feature story which could end up getting a good ride, especially if the photographer gets some nice shots.

If I were you I'd keep my concerns to myself and just be natural.

It would be a shame for what could be a lead feature story to turn into two paragraphs on page D-12 for the lack of pictures.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:54 AM on June 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

follow-up from the OP
Thanks to all for the helpful tips and the support. The reporter spent just over an hour with us, and it seems like the interview went well. She said she's hoping to use it for a feature in July. I took your advice and was honest with the photographer up front, explaining in a semi-humorous manner about my photo-phobia. He first looked surprised and said, "You two will look great!" but then added that his photo editor had already proposed an idea before he'd left - a close up of my husband and my faces together (cheek-to-cheek, sort of) with a five-question trivia quiz of ours superimposed over it. So hopefully the questions will detract from my visage! Thanks again for your responses; I really felt more relaxed going into the thing as a result.
posted by jessamyn at 11:19 AM on June 29, 2008

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