Take care of your peepers

March 18, 2014 Published by . Leave your thoughts
Organic Headshots

At the retina doctor’s office, in the waiting room, waiting for my pupils to dilate… and quietly disagreeing with the talk radio host as he discusses socioeconomic factors in modern America.

I have a secret.  Technically, I’m considered legally blind.  I’m a legally blind photographer.  And by “technically,” I mean that most health care institutions and government agencies consider “legal blindness” as any visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in a person’s best-seeing eye.  20/20 is considered perfect vision: meaning something 20 feet away from a person looks like it’s 20 feet away to that person; where 20/200 means that something 20 feet away looks more like it’s 200 feet away to that person.  With my nearsighted eyes (“myopic” in eye doctor terms), I think I’m somewhere around 20/300 or so.

With my contacts and glasses I can see perfectly fine, of course.  But in the eyes of the law, I’m legally blind and my driver’s license says I have to be wearing corrective lenses to drive.  The ONE time I was pulled over for a moving violation (because I’m an otherwise good, law-abiding citizen who just happened to be talking on her phone while driving through a construction zone), the police officer asked if I was wearing my contacts.  I said something along the lines of, “buddy, if I wasn’t wearing them, I wouldn’t be able to see the steering wheel, let alone the road.”  He glared at me, unimpressed.  “Yes, sir.”  I said, “yes, I’m wearing my contacts.  You can give me that ticket now.”

Now because my eyes are so myopic, I could be prone to other visual difficulties as time goes by, such as glaucoma or retinal tear and detachment.  So I make sure I have my vision checked by a regular optometrist every year to keep tabs on my prescription and have the doctor test for glaucoma and peek around for any possible problems.  Last year, the optometrist said she saw some spotting on my retina and recommended I see a retina specialist.

Organic Headshots

That big black blob is the spot on my retina. I think I’ll name it “Spot.”

Of course, I have a tendency to get a bit on edge when anyone in a lab coat says something with a slightly concerned look on their face, so I think I left her office screaming something along the lines of “OH MAN I’M SCREWED I’M GOING TO GO BLIND AND THEN I WON’T BE ABLE TO MAKE MY LIVING AS A PHOTOGRAPHER ANYMORE AND I’LL HAVE TO BE A PROFESSIONAL HARMONICA PLAYER WHICH WILL STILL BE COOL BUT NOT AS COOL AS BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!”

But I’m practical, so that only lasted a few minutes (okay, hours), and I quickly made an appointment with a retina specialist and got it checked out.  All is well.  I was told that the spotting is fairly common in myopic eyes and that I should just drop in every year to have photos taken of it and a quick exam to monitor it and make sure it stays put and doesn’t get worse.  And the chances of it getting worse to the point of something serious are along the lines of less than 1%.  I have a better chance at winning the lottery.

Organic Headshots

This is my optic nerve. THIS IS SO COOL.

So my point to all this is that we should all get our eyes checked every year and do what our eye doctors tell us to do.  Even if you don’t currently have glasses or contacts- it’s good to drop into the optometrist’s chair once in a while to make sure everything is status quo and stays that way.  An exam is actually relatively cheap and covered by some medical insurance plans.  And it’s quick and easy- I literally just go to Target Optical for a quick exam then pick up some eggs and soap and toothpaste and stuff on my way out the door.

Also- my other point to all this is that photos of the inside of eyeballs look cool.  I asked my retina doctor for copies of the photos and she gladly burned me a CD of them.  Seriously- look at the inside of my eyeball.  Isn’t it awesome?

Photographer takes hideous photos of herself… so every other photo of her will look awesome.

February 24, 2014 Published by . Leave your thoughts

“Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford!”  – Cindy Crawford 

During the last 9 years working as a headshot photographer I estimate that about 95% of the people I’ve taken a headshot of have made some kind of self-deprecating comment during the photo session.

Such as:

“I’ll try not to break your camera.”
“I’ve got a huge nose- just warning you.”
“Try not to get my 18 chins in the photo.”
“Well it’s a good enough photo for what you’ve got to work with.”

I spend about 5% of a headshot session going over clothing options, 5% adjusting lighting, 20% posing and coaching, and 10% actually snapping the shutter button.  And then 60% telling people they’re not as ugly as they say they are.

But I get it.  I completely understand.  Because I hate photos of myself too.  Sometimes I look at a photo of me and think I look like a stunt zombie wearing earrings.  And it wasn’t until about year 6 as a headshot photographer that I finally gathered the courage to get in front of the lens and book another photographer to take my own professional headshot.

I love being behind a camera, looking through the lens, and capturing fractions of a second of our short time on earth and sharing that with the world.  I love images, imagery, telling stories through photos, and using a camera to paint the perfect portrait of amazing human beings who deserve dignified images of themselves that say, “look people!  I’m here!  And this is how awesome I am.”

But if you ever point a camera at me, I will punch you in the neck.

Whenever I look at a photo of myself my eyes instantly and uncontrollably dart to the areas of my face I find the most offensive- my dark under eye circles, the one eye that always manages to look bigger than the other, a forehead that takes up half my face, a nose right off of one of those Easter Island statues, smile lines that look like they’re drawn in with a Sharpie…  You get the point.  But why? Why does my attention go to the part of my face I’m most self-conscious of?

I think part of it is learned behavior, especially with so many of the people around us putting themselves down.  When we’re paid a compliment­­– women especially– we feel as if we’re supposed to over-humble it until we literally degrade ourselves.  How many times have you said to someone, “that’s a nice dress” only to get a, “oh, this old thing, it’s from last season, I bought it on sale…” Or “Your hair looks nice,” is so often met with, “no, it’s awful- it’s so frizzy, I can never get it to do what I want it to do…”

This is actually the decidedly unhealthy thinking that I believe makes me a better photographer.  I understand people’s pain.  With 95% of clients pointing out their alleged shortcomings in photos, it helps that I’ve been there.  But after 9 years of being there, I’m starting to wonder how we all got there.  And how we can get out.

I recently called up Megg, a make-up artist I work with, and had her bring over her kit for a little internal social experiment.  We put the camera on a tripod and took some photos of me.  Then I told her all of the things I see when I look at those photos- the undereye circles, the smile lines, pale lips, one squinty eye, yadda yadda.  The types of negative things I hear my clients pick apart when they see photos of themselves.  She used her make-up to draw more attention to those things- darkening the area under my eyes, drawing in smile lines, reverse-contouring my forehead so it looks bigger…

Then we took a photo.  This is that hideous photo:

ugly headshot

There they were.  All of those things I complain about when I see photos of myself.  All of those alleged imperfections that I can’t stop staring at and point out to other people even when they call me crazy and say “oh you look fine, shut up.”  They were all painted on my face like monster make-up.

It felt weird.

Going into the experiment I was expecting to feel validated in a way- like other people would finally see how hideous I look in photos and stop telling me I look fine.  I also thought it would feel good to get all my insecurities out into the open and render them powerless over me, and in a way it did.  Megg and I actually laughed hysterically when we looked through the photos- they looked so much unlike me that they were comical.

But in reality, it made me feel like crap.  I never really considered the pretty obvious outcome: that I would see a photo of myself looking like crap, so I would feel like crap.  I mean I REALLY felt like crap.  But here’s the interesting part… it was a familiar feeling.  It was like the slightly crappy feeling I get when I see a not-so-flattering photo of myself, but multiplied exponentially until it felt like an actual stabbing pain in my side and I physically winced while looking at the picture.

We took a photo of Megg wearing some “monster make-up” as well: accentuating her so-called crooked smile, extra wide mouth and laugh lines, yadda yadda…  And we both laughed at our ridiculous photos, partly to hide how much like crap doing this made us feel, but partly because it was actually pretty funny.

ugly headshot


Here are the photos we took of ourselves before the “monster make-up.”


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It was like we both suddenly understood the joke for the 95% of the population who hate photos of themselves.  The punch line is that we’re not as hideous as we think we are.  What we see in our photos is not what others see.


Organic Headshots

Organic Headshots

As a photographer, I spend so much time trying to tell people that either their faults don’t exist and they’re making them up, or that no one else sees them as quickly and easily as they see them on themselves.  I see my own imperfections, so I understand.  And after seeing such hideous photos of myself, the normal photos of me looked so awesome that I actually smiled when I saw how nice I looked.  I can’t remember the last time I looked at a photo of myself and liked it so much that I smiled.

Organic Headshots

Other people don’t notice the faults we have a tendency to focus on with our features (that eye that looks smaller, the crooked nose, the wrinkles, etc.); they literally don’t see them- they filter through that to see/read you and your personality or mood.  And when they see a photo of you, it’s the same thing- if your expression is friendly and confident, THAT’S what they notice, and not your stray hairs and weird teeth.

“Yeah, that makes sense for pretty people or even normal people,” you’re thinking, “BUT I’M HIDEOUS AND MY EYE REALLY IS SMALLER THAN THE OTHER.”  Yes, your eye just might actually be smaller than the other.  But it’s usually not the first thing people will notice.  (Trust me- I’ve seen thousands of people point out something like a squinty eye that I literally didn’t see, even when I was looking for it.)  And it doesn’t by any means make you hideous.

Faces are not perfectly symmetrical.  Faces change and vary over time and even depending on how much sleep we’ve gotten or how much water we’ve been drinking.  We’ve mostly all got eyes, ears, a nose, and a mouth and eyebrows and nostrils and cheeks and all that, but we have no control over the proportions or how they turn out.  So stop apologizing for your features.  There’s nothing to apologize for.

I’m resisting the urge here to get all mushy and tell everyone they’re a super special snowflake and a beautiful shiny diamond.  Actually… I changed my mind.  You ARE a super special snowflake.  There is only one you out there and while you’re wasting time moping over how much you hate your facial features, everyone else is admiring how beautiful you are.


If there’s something I’m going to take away from my little “let’s let everyone see how ugly I see myself as” experiment, it’s that I don’t look half as bad as I think I look.  I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to stop trying to convince other people that I look like crap.  And I’m going to stop pointing out all these alleged shortcomings.  And I’m going to stop looking at photos of me half hoping to see a photo of Julia Roberts looking back at me.

Because frankly, even Julia Roberts doesn’t look like Julia Roberts before professional make-up and $125 an hour worth of retouching.  And I don’t want to look like Julia Roberts- I want to look like myself.  I don’t look half bad.


Volunteering for some volunteers

February 20, 2014 Published by . Leave your thoughts

Each year I donate some photography services to a select few non-profit groups, and this last weekend I volunteered my photo services for some volunteers.  The Chicago Volunteer Expo was held on February 16th at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park.  The expo connected local non-profits in need of volunteers with willing and able patrons looking for organizations they want to get behind and help out.  And holy cow were there a lot of people there!  It was really inspiring to see so many people excited to help out in their community.  I captured some shots of people signing up as volunteers, talking shop with the exhibitors, and having a fantastic time.  I got to meet some great people with the US Coast Guard, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Cimmfest, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, lots of animal and pet shelters, and even a group of people who teach others how to crochet plastic shopping bags into sleeping mats for the homeless.  There were so many great organizations to volunteer for!

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Operation: David Bowie inspired photo shoot

February 11, 2014 Published by . Leave your thoughts

Last weekend I got together with make-up artist Megg, hair stylist Dottie, and our brave friend Anna.  We dressed Anna up and fashioned her hair and make-up in different styles to create some photos inspired by the looks of David Bowie.  “Why did it take you so long to finally get to that?” those of you who know me might be asking… because I’m arguably Bowie’s biggest fan.  Who named her dog “David Bowie the Dog.”

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The once a year “it’s Michelle’s birthday” discount

January 17, 2014 Published by . Leave your thoughts

It’s Michelle’s Birthday! 105
Discounts on headshots for one month only, before rates increase in 2014…

From January 18th until February 18th, 2014 only:
25% off all headshot session fees
Just mention the super secret password: BIRTHDAYCAKEFROSTING*    

Yup, it’s that time of year again- the only time of the year that I give a discount. My birthday. Woo!

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to update your headshot for LinkedIn? Now is the perfect time to get that done, because not only will headshot sessions booked between now and February 18th, 2014 be 25% off the session fee, but my rates will be increasing after February 18th.

Yes- you read that right. Organic Headshots will be increasing rates for most services starting February 18th, 2014. It’s been about half a decade since rates have been adjusted for inflation, so 2014 is the year. Each session fee will be raised by about $15 to $20. Retouching fees will remain the same. Hair and make-up artists’ fees will also be increased by about $15 to $20 per service. The new rates will be posted on the rates page of the website on or after February 18th.

Too much to do before February 18th to get your headshot done? That’s okay! You can book your headshot for any day of the year- several months in advance- just make sure you call or email me to book before February 18th to get the discount. Get it in your schedules soon, or pass the super secret discount code to your friends or colleagues. Thanks!


*super secret discount code word is brought to you by cake frosting, which is Michelle’s favorite part of birthday cakes.