Title page of my copy of LIVE BY NIGHT

He doesn’t mean reading his.

Most of my writer pals step up to smile at the camera’s unblinking eye. God bless ’em. I sure have a terrible time doing it. Maybe it’s a holdover from my old job?

Then …

Back in the day, I worked for a daily newspaper. Although I was a General Assignment Reporter for four years, I started out as a stringer photographer, a photojournalist. Our paper’s photo policy?

No static photos.

That meant:

  • No group shots with the people lined up.
  • No so-called “grip’n grins.”
  • No one looking into the lens.
  • No one ever saying, “Cheese!”

Aka, none of the basic photos seen all over social media today.

Our paper’s photo policy was to only take photos of subjects in action, while someone was addressing a group or at work. We were expected to tell a story with our photos.

I got away with taking posed photos if I made the pose look like an activity or interaction, especially if the subjects weren’t looking at the camera. “Point to something off-camera,” I’d say. Or “Show this to her/him” was another favorite directive of mine from behind the lens.

Now …

As a so-called “pre-published author,” I need to be seen as a mover and a shaker, a primo networker.

An author pal told me I needed to get over my camera aversion ASAP. She insisted I needed to be seen and to document my networking. That my professionalism would be evaluated by the company I keep, and my photos would be considered an indicator of how much promotional chutzpah I have.


A few years ago, after many years of taking online writing courses together and email exchanges, I finally met my Sisters in Crime pal Sasscer Hill when she did a series of signings in Saratoga Springs during racing season. She suggested I stop scowling like a mobster on a perp walk when facing a camera, and this photo shows that, indeed, we were having a good time.

Sasscer Hill and Rhonda Lane at Saratoga

Mystery author Sasscer Hill and me on the track apron at Saratoga Racecourse.

That wasn’t so bad. We lived. The camera didn’t break.

When I heard  famous forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee would be speaking and signing books at a nearby college. I decided to go for the gusto. I’d be ready to swap cellphones with someone else in line. We’d take each other’s photos.

Dr. Henry Lee and Rhonda Lane

Dr. Henry Lee and me

I swapped cellphones with a teenage boy in line ahead of me. While waiting, we chatted and shared our dreams. He wanted to grow up to be a forensic pathologist, just like Dr. Lee. Anyway, the line was long and assistants kept it moving fast. The teenager’s phone controls clicked off to save power while I fumbled, so I messed up his photo, his opportunity, etc. As you can see, the one he took of me looks great.

I owe a karmic debt for that one.

So, I started passing up photo op after photo op. When Longmire series author Craig Johnson came all the way to Connecticut from Wyoming, I drove an hour and a half each way to stand in line with a bunch of strangers in a sweltering tent on a summer night only to take this photo after I returned home:

Another one got away.

Another one got away.

In case you can’t read the inscription, it says, “For Rhonda, Get the bit between your teeth.” The novel is THE DARK HORSE, part of his Longmire series.

Later, I passed up a photo with Dennis Lehane, as you see in the photo that leads off this blog post. What he wrote about me finishing the book? That’s another matter entirely. 😉

Anyway, stewing over these missed opportunities made me more determined when the seldom-seen-in-person-anywhere-nearby Brad Meltzer came to an event within an easy drive of my house.

I’d also learned a lesson or two from the Dr. Lee photo debacle. I want to pass those tips on to you.

Four tips for better social media photos

1.. If there’s a moment, let your subjects see the photo.

We didn’t have the opportunity with Dr. Lee or with Meltzer because the lines were long, but I like to let my subjects see the photos before we all go our separate ways. Digital technology allows us to do that quickly.

2. Grab more than one photo.

With each click of the shutter, the odds are better no one’s blinking, distracted, or breathing funny.

3. Smile.

Yeah, you hate being in photos. I get it. I know I hate it less when I see I’m smiling in the photo.

4. Have a buddy take the photo.

Selfies are great fun, but you have to invade your favorite author’s personal space. Make a deal with a pal to take photos of you.

With all those tips in play, I want to thank author Marian Lanouette for this great shot:

Brad Meltzer and Rhonda Lane

Brad Meltzer and me at the Big Book Club Getaway, Mohegan Sun Casino

Anyway, I realize phone cameras allow for easy uploading and sharing on social media, but if the photo turns out too dark, too blurry OR you don’t get the shot at all because your phone shut down at the wrong moment to save power, then you don’t have a photo at all.

What ticks off photo editors more than people in the photo looking at the camera? Not getting the shot.