Joy Rittenhouse, photographer

Joy Rittenhouse, photographer, in front of the Home Place house

Robert Burns asked for the gift to “see ourselves as others see us.”

Every author wants that same gift and yet trembles before the awful throne of reader judgment, hoping that one’s private thoughts made public will be held with respect, maybe even with tenderness and love.

A writer needs to earn that trust. Selecting the right words makes the most difference. No one else can help us with that except the editors and a few trusted readers prior to publication.

However, photos also help tell the story, set the tone, and suggest sources of meanings behind the words.

They can also be shared with a wider audience and are therefore perfect for social media.

In the three-year course of writing this memoir, I engaged my niece Joy Rittenhouse three times to take photos. First, I needed a set of photos for the blog and other social media. Then, when I went from brown to grey hair, I needed new photos. And, most recently, as I finished the manuscript and needed a photo for the author page. I also wanted a group of photos that would highlight one of the main “characters” in the book — the farm called the Home Place that is now a bed and breakfast called Forgotten Seasons.

Just crawling around the familiar house with both my niece and the current co-owner, Kathy Wenger, made me deeply happy.

with Kathy Wenger on the porch

Kathy Wenger, C0-owner and Hostess of Forgotten Seasons, with the historical marker of The Home Place in the background

The people who have “liked” my page on Facebook have been generous with their thoughts about the ten photos I shared there. What I enjoyed seeing, and learned from most, were not only the “likes” each picture got but also the comments.

From the ten photos I shared on FB, I have selected seven, all transferred to greytone for publication inside the cover.

On arch cellar steps of the Home Place








It’s your turn, reader. I’ve already selected this photo taken on the arch cellar stairs to go in the text, after the introduction. So select the author photo, among the six remaining ones below, you think the reader will trust to tell a good story. I love hearing your reasons, too.

sitting on the wide, colonial-era windowsills in my old bedroom. #1

also in the meadow

in the meadow #2

taken in the meadow #3

in the cemetary #4

standing in dutch doors #5

same location, different expression #6

Shirley Showalter


  1. Linda Bland on May 7, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I like #1 in the windowsill. . . less formal. Can they airbruse the knee out of the photo? So cool that this is your old bedroom. Look forward to the memoir.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 8:30 am

      Thanks, Linda. Maybe the same goal can be accomplished by cropping. Helpful comment. That’s what I love about getting feedback.

  2. Marian Beaman on May 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

    All the shots are worthy, but for me it’s # 5, “standing in dutch doors.” Though I’ve never met you, through your writings I perceive you as a joyful person: #5 captures your merry eyes and happy mouth. Avoid the studied look, I think; you have that already in the arch-cellar steps photo.

    On another note: I agree, well-chosen photos are an integral part of story-telling, as you can tell from my own blog. Pictures amplify the narrative.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 9:37 am

      You picked the merriest one to be sure, Marian, and you make a point I didn’t think of before.With two contemporary pictures, I have the opportunity to shed light, so to speak, on different aspects of self.

      And here’s my chance to point readers to your delightful blog. I hope they will find you by clicking on your name here. If not, I’ll try to help you make a gravatar.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Bobbi on May 7, 2013 at 8:47 am

    #1 and #5, but you are beautiful in all of them!

  4. Catherine Mumaw on May 7, 2013 at 9:04 am

    #1 would be a good choice if there were more light on the right side of your face (left as you look at it). Linda’s comment applies too.

    Usually I would prefer more of a side view. But the #3 pose is warm, moves toward the reader (rather than aloof from), thus is more invitational. Could there be a bit more light on facial features? Easy to manipulate that w. software.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 9:16 am

      The light is an issue for me also. I think the artist at Herald Press might be able to help. And I too like #3 for engagement with the reader.

      Thanks so much for taking time to comment, Catherine. You’ve been there every step of the way. That means a lot.

  5. Kathleen Friesen on May 7, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Like Linda, my first choice is #1. And I agree that the knee should be airbrushed or cropped as it distracts. I would include the setting along with the photo as the setting seems like a place where one would “curl up” for a long afternoon conversation over tea.

    My second choice would be #3. Here my reason is that you appear to be leaning toward the viewer. Again, a pose that suggests engagement and connection created in the moment.


  6. shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Thanks, Kathleen. You too have been so helpful. Thank you. I have to laugh when I think about the fact that even visually, everything is a story. Yes, that bedroom window was right next to my bed. On spring mornings, the birds would be singing in the huge oak tree right outside that window. In September the acorns would be falling onto the carpet of brown they made on the lawn below.

  7. Joan on May 7, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I like #5 the best … your happy, confident, and I want to get to know you!

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      Thanks, Joan! I’m so glad we are getting to know each other. Thanks for this thought and for helping make a choice. At least the field is narrowing.

  8. melodie davis on May 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I like #2, it feels just right–friendly. #4 looks a little cocky, for some reason. It takes nerve to let people comment! But what fun.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks, Melodie. I like candor, and I certainly don’t want to pick one that looks cocky, and I agree that #4 does look that way in this view. One interesting fact about #4 is that it looks very different when not close up. The original shows me with my hand on a very old gravestone in the family cemetery. I look pensive and the picture looks almost stern.

      Thanks for playing!

    • Elaine Good on May 8, 2013 at 11:14 am

      I agree with Melodie on this one. I’ve gone back and forth as I’ve looked at these photos over the last few days. I also like 5 because, close-up, your eyes look friendlier.

      But at first glance, which is what the reader will look for when checking out the book in a bookstore, #2 is clearly the winner. The leaning-in makes me think you want to engage me with your words. It lacks the aloofness I sense in the others.

      • shirleyhs on May 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm

        Thanks, Elaine. I think the aloofness-look comes from the fact that most of these photos depict me without the toothy smile I usually have. 🙂
        My daughter thinks these are good, but she just loves the pic on my website — better than all the new ones here. I told her that not only is the hair style not current, but that my dear online friends have invested too much energy in helping me pick something new. Eek.

  9. Sharon Lippincott on May 7, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I like #3 also, but the lighting is best in #5 and #6, so I have to go with one of those, and I like both. In those two your face is evenly and well lit, standing out against the dark background. None of the others, especially #1 have that advantage. If #3 can be brightened, it won’t contrast as well with the near-white sky. #2 is also good, if the face can be brightened a bit more.

    After all that lighting analysis, I like #5 best, for the combination of good lighting and warm spirit.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      These suggestions about light and dark on the face are so helpful, Sharon. Your background as a photographer and designer yourself is showing. No matter which one I pick, I’ll come back to these ideas and see how much we can work with the basic photo. Many thanks!

  10. Karin Krisetya on May 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I love standing in dutch doors #5 because it looks like you know something we don’t and you look like you’re about to tell us. I’m pretty sure it’s something funny and slightly irreverent you have in mind because of that impish smile on your face. I also liked the bedroom window shot but it was too far away and there was too much darkness in the photo.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      Thanks, Karin. I find myself drawn more and more to numbers 5 and 6. I could just about toss a coin between them. What’s funny is that I had a hard time putting them in the post because I kept thinking I had duplicated the pictures. However, there are subtle shades of difference you help me to see. You’re good at that!

  11. Katie Paul on May 7, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    #1 works for me because
    – it’s different to the standard ‘headshot’ all authors use (uniqueness brings surprise and a tiny thrill)
    – it suggests you are an unusual kind of woman because your are comfortable sitting the way you do (don’t crop out the knee)
    – there is a sensory connection to the natural world (the sunlight falling on your face — I can almost feel it)
    – it has lots of empty space (it tells me there is room in the story for me to join you)
    – it shows darkness as well as light (I’m not a big fan of evenness)
    – and it has its own narrative story unlike a picture of just your head and shoulders.

    • shirleyhs on May 7, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      Just when I thought this was getting narrower, if not easy, you complicate things again, Katie. Good for you!

      I love your reasons, including the fact that you have an opposite aesthetic on dark and light.

      My takeaway for the moment? I must remember that the author photo in the book is just one place to use a photo. Choosing one is hard. Finding ways to use more than one should be easy.

  12. Kathleen Pooler on May 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    What a tough decision, Shirley. They’re all so good! My vote goes to #6. I see a combination of confidence and warmth like I am going to feel comfortable with you and trust the story you will tell ( which I already feel but this captures it the best). Good Luck! How exciting to be getting so close to launch 🙂

    • shirleyhs on May 8, 2013 at 7:32 am

      Thanks, Kathy. You and I have traveled a lot of memoir territory together. Thanks for another comment. I enjoy learning with and from you.

  13. Richard Gilbert on May 7, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    I like 6. But my real favorite is the one of you with Kathy Wenger. Very warm. But they’re all good!

    • shirleyhs on May 8, 2013 at 7:35 am

      You know, Richard, I really like that one also. Thanks for mentioning it. I think you see Kathy’s beautiful spirit of service and hospitality and my gratitude for her and for the place in that picture. The stones in the wall of the house have each been placed there with new mortar by Kathy’s husband Jay. Together, they are restoring the exterior a little at a time, taking off Formstone and getting back to the real stone. What a labor of love!

  14. Hannah Heinzekehr on May 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

    I like all the photos. You are equal parts cosmopolitan and warm. I really like #5, for many of the reasons mentioned above. I think you’ve got a sort of secret, merry twinkle about you, which draws people in. It seems like you’ve got stories to tell…which you do, in your memoir. I also really like the positioning and smile of #1, but I think the play of the shadows on your face is a bit distracting. Just some thoughts. As others have mentioned, you are a brave woman to open yourself up to this feedback. Kudos!

  15. shirleyhs on May 10, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Thanks, Hannah. I like to think #5 still has Rosy Cheeks, my high school nickname, shining through. The child within the woman is one of the book themes, so I’m helped by your comment, along with Karin’s that she recognized the look from our classroom adventures.

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