Behind the Scenes with…Biz Urban

Last August, I had the pleasure of spending the day posing for new publicity photos with photographer, Biz Urban. Whether shooting outside in the sticky August heat or in the air-conditioned indoors, Biz was creative, professional and unflappable. I was so impressed, both with Biz and the final result–gorgeous publicity photos that still look like me–that I ran a trio of blog posts (“The Nekkid Truth”) detailing my transformation from author girl to glammed up goddess…or something like that.

BizPhotographershotRecently I caught up with Biz, who kindly consented to answer my interview questions.

In publishing we say, “the writing is in the rewriting.” Similarly, the ”art” of photo editing/refinishing seems every bit as essential to a great final product as capturing that winning shot. Without giving up any “trade secrets,” how do you go about steering clear of overly plasticized perfection while conveying a polished yet natural look?

I pride myself in getting photos that still look exactly like the person that walked into the room.  As an actor, myself, I understand how important it is to have a photo that is a true representation of yourself.  The client wants to know that the picture they see if the person they are going to meet.  So when I approach photo retouching (which I totally agree, Hope, is 99.9% vital to making a good picture great) I stick with the bare minimum.  Do I see hair out of place?  Is there some laugh lines that can be softened?  Not, wow, that dude’s nose could stand to be a little smaller.  The retouch should only enhance what already makes you you.  When you see someone in person, you don’t notice the lines at their mouth, or a hair that is stuck to the side of their face, those things become much clearer on a still photograph.  So I remove only what is standing in the way of making the best you come through.

One of the things that struck me during our photo shoot–and folks, we shot for like five hours both indoors and outdoors in the August heat–is how patient, dare I say unflappable you are. And as I’ve confessed several times now, I am most definitely a blinker. For every keeper shot we got, we easily tossed out 3 or 4 bloopers. Without naming names, of course, would you be willing to share one of your more difficult client moments?

Thanks Hope, but when it’s what I love to do and I get to work with one of my favorite creative people, that day was easy and so much fun!!  I do have a story that to this day I still cringe…  When I was just starting out as a photographer, I met up with a client, a young woman, who had been a referral.  We had never met before.  She arrived and was blinking in one eye, apologized and explained that while curling her eyelashes with a eyelash curler, she accidently pulled out most of the eyelashes on her left eye.  Needless to say I told her we should reschedule.  But she insisted, she was FINE.  Oh lord, she wasn’t.  It was a long 1 hour.  And a few weeks later, she called me up and said that her friends said she looked funny.  Ummmm… yep.  I learned my lesson.  If I feel like there is a dynamic that is going to throw the shoot off, I insist on a reschedule.  I want you to look and more importantly, feel your best.

What makes a successful shoot for you?

The most important part of any shoot for me is someone who is up to have a good time.  I like to make my clients feel comfortable and I want the shoot to be as painless as possible.  If you are open and know that I’m there to help you and not murder you with my camera, we’ll be okay.  I adore shooting outdoors, which, when I shoot in NYC as opposed to LA can be tricky.  So a beautiful, slightly overcast day with some clouds in the sky, I’m a happy gal.
In looking at my photos, both the original and retouched versions, I really felt like you “got” me, not just my image but my spirit. When photographing human subjects, be it for a publicity or family photo, what are your goals? What do you strive to convey?

My goal is to give you a shot that is a great representation of you.  Sometimes your photo is the only thing people see and so it is so important to make sure it is you, in a way, telling the story of you.  In your case, we were able to get so many great sides of you.  As a writer, with your cats, in your neighborhood.  Your spirit just radiated through.  I love chatting with my clients, I find that the more I learn about them, they are more relacx
Do you have any mantras? It sounds a tad woo-woo, I know, but sometimes writers have pat phrases we invoke when we need to work through writer’s block, a difficult scene or plot point etc.

Well, when I want to get someone a little loosened up, or if I’m feeling a little low energy… sometimes I’ll surprise us both with a little “F— yeah”  (feel free not to print that but it helps).  🙂
What should someone look for in a photographer, be it for a publicity photo or say, a family portrait or wedding? Can you share some tips as well as red flags?

When you’re looking for a photographer, it’s cliche but a picture can tell 1,000 words.  In this case, literally.  Go to their sites, see what they’ve been doing.  Most photographers has a few specialties- if you see shots that you’d like, be if for your wedding, a birthday party or product shots, does the photographer have pics like what you need on their site?  If their headshots are still in black and white, move on.  If they only have 1 client and that client is posed with sexy clothes, that photographer might not be the person to shoot your childrens back-to-school shots!
In addition to photography, you have a background in theater arts and have worked professionally as an actor in LA doing sketch comedy, improv as well as commercials. You just finished stage managing a play here in New York City, I hear. Tell us a bit about your “other” life.

Theater has always been a passion of mine and I was very lucky to work for 8 years in LA working as an actor, in addition to starting my photography business.  I am looking forward to getting back to the improv world here in New York.  If you want to see some of my acting work, you can check out my reel at  Right before I left LA I shot a fun Dominos commercial that took place in Gotham City, a webisode series called Road to Altar starring Jaleel White (oh yes, Urkel) and a indie comedy The Burbank Playas Present: Manipede!  It was fun! But I’m so happy to be in this incredible city and work with so many people through my photography… especially brilliant writers like Hope Tarr!!

Thanks so much for taking time out to chat on my blog, Biz, and best of luck with your exciting projects and ventures.

Thank you, Hope, it was my pleasure!!!

Nekkid Truth, Part III: Getting the…Biz-ness

With hair and makeup out of the way, we sally forth to our third and final essential ingredient of a winning publicity photo.

The retouch.

“But I want to look like myself,” you say.

Coiffed, buffed--and retouched. Photo by
Coiffed, buffed--and retouched. Photo by

And good for you. You should. In a recent Vanity Fair interview, 51-year-old film star and legendary beauty, Michelle Pfeiffer was asked to comment on the preponderance of plastic surgery among celebrities. To paraphrase the presumably unaltered Pfeiffer, as we grow older we should still be recognizable to our friends.

Candid shots are great for family and friends, the people who already know and yes, love us. But when a photo is intended for wider, public distribution, we want to put our best…face forward.

Arguably those smile lines and crow’s feet are badges of honor. And our faces are mobile, ever changing landscapes. A photographic portrait, however, is a static freeze frame capture of a set of sub-seconds. With unlimited time to look, viewers invariably hone in on the flaws.

In publishing we say, “the writing is in the rewriting.” Similarly, the “art” of photo editing/refinishing is every bit as essential to a great final product as capturing the winning shot.

A good photographer knows how to steer clear of overly plasticized perfection while conveying a polished yet natural look. 

In the before/after photos shown here, notice how photographer, Biz Urban manages to “disappear” not only the puffy dark circles beneath my eyes and the small scar on my left cheek but also a good part of the last decade!

Before: A perfectly nice photo for family and friends but for promo not so much.
After: note how the puffy circles disappear from beneath my eyes. Ditto for the scar and freckle on my cheek.









Voila, publicity photos that look like me–currently–with the photo retouching equivalent of a few light (and pain free) nips and tucks.

For more information on Biz Urban, including samples of her work, visit her website.

Photographer Biz Urban.
Photographer Biz Urban.


The Nekkid Truth, Part II: Gilding the Lily

Some people put on makeup like they brush their teeth or put on clothes, which is to say every day. Some people never go near the stuff. Me, I fall somewhere in between. I wouldn’t go out for the evening without mascara, lip gloss and a smattering of powder, but I would and do frequently roll out of bed and head out for coffee with bed head and pillow creases.

Photo by
Girl in the mirror--and yes, those taped up reminder notes are mine a la "Romancing the Stone." Photo by

But having publicity photos taken isn’t just an excuse to play princess for a day. It’s also an investment. You want to be able to use those photos for some time, perhaps years to come on your web site, press materials, social networking profiles and yes, your book jacket. If there was ever a time to put your best face forward, to strut your stuff, and to well, Work It, that time is now.

While I’m hopeless with my hair, fortunately I’m a decent hand with the war paint, as our mothers, mine at least, called cosmetics Back in The Day.

Unlike me, Jane doesn't really need cosmetic improvement.

Like almost everything, when it comes to makeup, moderation is key, less is more. We still want to look like ourselves…albeit a really, really hawt version.

Next and final stop on the Princess Train: the photo retouch. Thankfully, along with the actual shooting, photo editing is your photographer’s job. A good thing, too.

All this prepping, preening and posing has worn me to a nub.

Voila! Off to "wardrobe" I go...Photo by
Voila! Off to "wardrobe" I go...Photo by


Nekkid Truth, Part I: Princess for a Day

The photos from Friday’s shoot with uber wonderful photographer, Biz Urban are in and FYI, the woman is equal parts saint and wizard. In the course of five plus hours, she put up with my blinking problem, perennially crooked smile, and the wilting heat and still managed to get some good shots. 

Ground Zero AKA my local Aveda Salon.
Ground Zero AKA my local Aveda Salon.

Some really good shots.

We’ll be posting said gems…anon, namely after I get my current book proposal in. Alas, this writing gig is really messing with my modeling career!

Getting in touch with my Inner Princess is fun!

For now and as promised, I’m getting my Jamie Lee Curtis on and showing you the unexpurgated me–as in wet hair, no makeup, and scariest of all, no photo retouching!

Next stop: makeup!


Not a throne but close enough...
Forehead much? I am so dialing this down when I get home!

PS All behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of Biz Urban–did I mention, she’s a saint!

Nekkid Truth

Yes, it’s that time. Time to retire my lovely but alas somewhat dated (2006)publicity photos and forge that new photographic frontier: photos that actually look like me. Currently.

To that end, today, all day, I’ll be primping, prepping, and yes preening for new photos by Manhattan photographer, the lovely and talented Biz Urban.

And bonus, we’re going to shoot before as well as after photos with mayhap even some behind-the-scenes tossed in. If we’re lucky, the cats may get into the picture (so to speak), too.

Check back here for the Nekkid Truth: me as God made me with (gulp) four or so decades added on.

Should be most…revealing. 😉



Bringing Back Sexy…A Romance Novel for Obama

My fellow Harlequin author, Geri Krotow’s World War II set category romance novel, A Rendezvous to Remember, may be sitting on the presidential night stand “as we speak.”

The recipient of said signed book is Michelle, not Barack, though he definitely gave it a thumbing through. “This looks sexy,” he said.

The President thumbing through yes, a romance novel.
The President thumbing through yes, a romance novel. Photo:Kristi Stephens

Not only is the First Lady making The White House a waddle-free zone for the first time in fah-ev-ah–or at least since Jackie Kennedy’s day–but apparently she’s making the Free World safe for yes, popular fiction.

For the juicy rest of the story, including more photos, read Wax Creative founder, Emily Cotler’s report for The Huff Po.


Lady Jane’s Salon Tonight

Tonight’s Lady Jane’s Salon welcomes guest authors Dianna Love, Dee Davis, and Anthea Lawson. Also, Susie Felber will present a special tribute to her author mom, the late Edith Layton.

Among our distinguished guests will be visiting out-of-towner, PW blogger, Barbara Vey. For the June Salon, Barbara’s videotaped set of interviews asking LJ guests to define romance fiction was such a rousing success that we hear she may have a similar video project up her proverbial sleeve this month, so stay tuned.

“Vitals” remain the same: 7-9 PM chez Madame X. Admission: $5 or one gently used paperback romance novel, proceeds to benefit Share the Love.


Cover Model…Colbert?

Last night I was an audience member of The Colbert Report with buddy Maya Rodale. Both longtime fans of the show, we were thrilled to be seated in the VIP audience seats (row #2!!!) where we would be up close and (hopefully) personal with our hero.

Hope with Maya before the taping.
Far right, Hope with Maya before the taping.

We were, we did, and I’m happy to rapport…oops, I mean, report, that satirist Stephen Colbert did not disappoint. Fresh back from broascasting in Iraq and with the buzz cut to show for it, in all…truthiness, Colbert is even funnier in person than on TV–and that’s saying a lot.

We’d been schooled by staffers that Colbert would come out for an audience Q&A prior to the taping and that we should all be ready with a question.

With or without hair, Colbert looks g-o-o-d. Photo courtesy of
With or without hair, Colbert looks g-o-o-d. Photo courtesy of

And I was ready, oh how I was ready…

Remember back in 2007 when Harlequin put out the word that the company was searching for manly “real men” to pose for their covers? Colbert caught wind of the campaign and announced on the Colbert Report that he was waiting for Harlequin’s call. “All right, the ball is in your court, Harlequin.” To prove it, he posed with an intern for several spoof covers–as a lusty pirate, a dude ranch cowboy, and a corporate mogul.

Flash forward to June 16, 2009 otherwise known as Last Night. Before I knew it, Colbert was being introduced. He shot out from the black stage curtain. The buzz cut threw me at first but only for like thirty seconds. In person and behind-the-scenes, Colbert isn’t just witty and funny.

He’s also absolutely gracious and dare I say…hawt!?!

The shout-out for questions came. I tucked a copy of Bound to Please beneath my bum and shot my hand up in the air. Colbert turned my way. Our gazes met, stuck like glue–contractor glue, not the schlocky kind the rest of us buy. My heart kicked into a canter (if in Regency England) or fired full throttle (if in modern day Manhattan). Regardless of era, my sub-A cup bosom was heaving like a mother f…Well, I was having a hard time catching my breath. My mouth went dry, bone dry, whilst/while other parts of me went instantly damp, drenched you might say…

And by “parts” I mean my palms.

“Yes?” Colbert asked. He strode my way, his wingtips devouring the studio floor separating us.

He stood before me now, all virile satirist and questing eyes. It was, I knew, my moment of truthiness. I gingerly slid the copy of Bound to Please from its hiding place ‘neath my…nether parts and handed it over to him. Our fingertips brushed. Ah, sweet bliss…

I whetted my parched desert dry lips. “I’m um…um…” Dash it, who the devil was I!?! “Oh, right, I’m Hope Tarr, I write romance novels for Harlequin Enterprises and I want to know when you’re going to be the cover model for my next steamy Harlequin release.”

Bound to Please bound to be better with...Colbert!?!

Witty repartee ensued–from Colbert, that is. I’d spent myself on the introduction. Fortunately my chained cover hero, his tussled tartan, and yes, the ever so subtle shout line on the cover, “This guy’s a sure thing!” were all grist for the comedy mill. He even posited potential titles for his Harlequin cover debut.

It was heady stuff, titillating times, but there were other audience members with questions to consider and well, I knew I mustn’t be greedy. I let him walk away, not into the sunset but into the strobe lighting. It’s for the best, I’m sure and yet…

Goodnight, Nation.


Facebook Frolics and Spam Snafus

I was chatting with a friend the other day, who asked me if I happened to know how to delete a Facebook post. “Sure,” I answered without hesitating and went on to tell her how.

Afterward, the “wow” factor hit me like a wave! I really do know how to delete FB posts as well as do lots o’ other super cool “techie” stuffs that today’s typical teenager (or toddler, even) takes for granted. Like uploading photos. And linking to videos. And attaching “thumbnails” of my blog to my FB “status reports.” For someone whose fingers were once stained with the purplish blue ink of carbon paper, I have more than awakened to smell the cyber cafe coffee.

I have, dare I say, arrived.

It’s been a long, strange trip from those Dark Ages days of Ye Ole Smith Carona typewriter, mimeograph machines, and the personal fax (facsimile) machine as a coveted luxury item. And so I beseech you: be gentle with me.

To those of my Facebook friends who have sent me Super Pokes, invitations to Slide Space Fun, or who have otherwise offered to share videos with me and rake my um…”sea” garden, please know I appreciate the props. If you’re wondering why I haven’t responded, I could point out that there are but twenty-four hours in a day. Truthfully, I don’t technically know what those things are, though they do sound vaguely, deliciously dirty.

Likewise, I find the preponderance of spam emails promising that “women will be amazed when you drop your pants” somewhere between vaguely unsettling and moribundly mortifying. Thank goodness my high school locker room days are long behind me.

I’d say more on the subject and perhaps I will–right after I log on to Facebook and check my “wall.”

Happy Memorial Day,


PS Mid-May contest winner announcement forthcoming, so please check back post-holiday.