Forget about “selfies” for a minute (the amazing Jen Brook has a fab article about selfies here), let’s talk about the Self Portrait.
As a photographer who shoots people on a regular basis, both as a paid professional and as a hobbyist creating images from my own ideas; Taking self portraits has been an invaluable tool for me along the way. There are a few reasons why self portraits can help you further your photography, such as:
- Giving you complete control over your image
- Practicing a new technique on yourself before you use it on another subject
- Conveying a message in your image that is personal to you
- Helping your audience connect with you on a different level
- Showing prospective clients who you are in a bio or on social media
- Having an idea for a great shot and knowing you always have a model at hand.
Here are a few tips to get you started with your self portraits..
1. Use a tripod and a remote shutter release
This is a rather obvious step, but you will need something to prop up your camera if you’re taking pictures of yourself. I once had to use a chair and two cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other to prop up my camera, because I’d left my tripod in the boot of someones car! While it did work, it still really limited me, so I’d definitely suggest using a tripod, it will make your life much easier.
Another great tool to have is a remote shutter release. It’s really annoying jogging back and forth between every picture to press the shutter and set the self timer, screw that.
A remote shutter release will allow you to press the shutter from where you’re positioned, meaning you can take several shots without having to stop the creativity process every 500th of a second.
I currently use the Canon Remote Control RC-06with my my Canon 5d mkII. It’s a wireless transmitter that works in conjunction with the infrared receiver built into my camera. It’s a nifty little tool that doesn’t cost much. The only trouble you will have with this remote is that it needs to be facing the receiver to work (front of the camera) so to get around that I usually set my self timer to a 2 second delay, press the remote, then quickly hide it if it’s in view.
Alternatively you can try a two stage release which gives you a bit more freedom, I like the Hama Remote Control Release Ca-1.
2 – Nail the focus
If you don’t want to rely on your remote shutter getting the auto-focus right, or you’re doing a composite and need the focus to be spot on, you will need to manually focus your camera. To get the focus correct, simply place an object where you’re going to be in the frame and focus on it.
You don’t want to focus on the chair you will be sitting on or the wall for example if you are going to be using a shallow depth of field.
3 – Get out of your comfort zone
The best thing about taking self portraits is being able to shoot something different. When you’re with clients or models you can sometimes get stuck in the routine of directing the same poses, or using the same lighting because it’s safe. Your self portrait session is a time to experiment and push the envelope a little, so you can take those new ideas and techniques to your other photoshoots.
4 – Don’t be afraid to be yourself
It’s good to express your personality through your images. Your heartbreak, you happiness, anger, vulnerability.. it makes your images human. If your photography contains emotion, your audience are going to connect with it on a much deeper level.
It’s a self portrait. It should reflect who you are.
5 – Start a personal project
Having yourself as the model makes starting a project soo much easier. You can capture your ideas as soon as they creep in to your head and it gives you the chance to do a photography project that means a lot to you. Pick a topic or an idea that you have some connection with and your golden. I use a little notebook to write down all of my image ideas, and on my days off I will generally shoot through a few of them. My latest self portrait project is based on Social Anxiety.
6 – Use a field monitor
Being in front of the camera means you can’t really see what’s going on, so you can either shoot a bunch of frames to make sure you get at least a few good shots or you can take more control over your composition using a field monitor. If you have a tablet or a decently sized compatible phone, give the DSLR Controller App a go. It will turn your tablet or phone into a field monitor, meaning you can control your camera from your tablet. (Thanks to my lovely boyfriend for finding this gem for me!)
Or, if you’re really high tech like me, you can use a big full sized mirror behind your camera to see what you’re doing.
Some other things to consider:
- If you’re shooting a self portrait for your bio or business social media pages make sure it represents your business as well as your own personality. I stick to natural light and soft focus when it comes to my marketing self portraits, because it’s part of my brand.
- If you’re anxious photographing yourself in front of passers by, but want to use a public location, consider getting a friend to help you take the pictures.
- Use self portraits to document change or milestones. It’s nice for me to look back and see how much I have changed over the years (including all my different hairstyles) as well as seeing my photography style progress through my images.
- Take pictures of you with your loved ones. Often as photographers we are always behind the camera and we’re never IN any of the family pictures. Get your family together, along with your tripod and remote shutter and take some nice family photographs that include you!
- This is the best time to try out a new photoshop tutorial that you can’t try with your usual business photography. Perfect excuse to brush up on some new editing skills. I recommend Phlearn.com for some great editing tutorials.
Have a fab self portrait you want to show off? Link to it in the comments below :)