Lights, camera, action!
Self portraits have been such a source of creative inspiration for me over the years. When I was first diving back into photography much more seriously, I was a stay at home mom with little access to models at my creative whim. The obvious solution to this problem was to photograph the things I did have around which was my son, my cat, my beauty products and myself.
The thing that makes self portraits so exciting is also exactly what makes them a difficult beast. When I’m taking photos of my clients I can adjust the frame, angle, depth, composition, as well as tell the subject to move into a more flattering pose. With self portraits I had none of this. It was a blind test, with a real emphasis on just crossing my fingers that one will come out flattering and in focus.
Since those days I’ve learned some really great tricks to make this process SO much easier. I’ve also upgraded my equipment since then. I will go over both later on. So, lets get on with it!
Nailing a self portrait shoot starts with having a clear idea of what type of images you’re looking to have as a final result. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, start with a simple white well if you want.
I started this shoot with finding inspo pictures on Pinterest. Here was the vibe I was looking to create:
Now the concept is locked in, I needed to work out the background I was going to use. A quick trip the the dollar store and three bucks later I was home with a roll of hot pink foil wrapping paper and two rolls of cello wrap.
There wasn’t much of the pink foil wrap, so I didn’t have to cut it at all, and just tapped it right to my wall. While I did this, I checked to make sure that it was the correct height to be behind my head while I was sitting. Next, I crumpled up the cello wrap so it became crinkly. I folded it in half and tapped it right on top of the pink. The crumples will help re-direct the light so make a fun and out of focus background.
Once that is all set up, I got my single soft box light set up at a slight angle from above. I used the white board as a reflector to bound the downward light back up at my face for a smooth, all over light coverage. If you don’t have a soft box, that’s no problem! You can do this facing a window, or with a ring light from the bathroom.
The nitty gritty
If you’ve ever attempted self portraits before, you’ll know the luxury of a front facing camera is not one you have. The biggest and hardest issue is making sure your focus is locked in when you can’t see it. Here’s how to dramatically cut down on the blurries.
SET UP YOUR COMPOSITION
Get your lights, and camera set up exactly where you want them. While looking through the viewfinder, imagine how you’ll place yourself in the scene. Get the angles correct and the composition locked in on the tripod. This is also the time to take some test shots of the background to see how the settings are interacting with lighting. Tweak and make adjustments now. Then, turn your timer on. I prefer a 10 second timer so I don’t have to rush to get set.
IT’S TIME TO FOCUS
Grab your camera off of your tripod (or table or chair or stack of books, I’ve totally been there) and mark the place on the floor where you’re going to sit or stand. It is very important you always come back to this mark. From this spot, use auto focus to focus on the top of your tripod (or the edge of the table you’re using). Once the focus is correct, switch your lens over to manual focus. This will keep the distance from your tripod to marked spot exactly the same, and perfectly in focus as long as your always standing on your mark.
STRIKE A POSE
Now, it’s time to play! With your camera back on your tripod, press the shutter, run to your mark, and POSE. Don’t worry how the photo comes out, just spend some time pressing the shutter, running to the mark, pose, shoot, and repeat. Cameras will make a beeping noise on the timer setting so you’ll find a rhythm of this 10 second flow, pose, redo.
Once I have about 10 photos, I’ll take a look at what’s come up so far. This is a great time to make adjustments and fix any errors that might be happening.
The biggest game changer for me has been having WIFI capabilities on my camera. This allows me to sync up my camera with my iPad, allowing me to adjust my settings and see though my viewfinder right on my screen. This has dramatically cut back on errors and made at home sessions a breeze. The down fall is that you need to be connected to WIFI, which means this tool is a no go when you’re outdoors. So even though this is an easy hack, the way I outlined above is still very much applicable.
Excuse me while I retouch myself
Editing is the process the breathes life into each and every photos. Never do photos come straight out of the camera looking how I visioned them. Take time editing, retouching, and playing with each photo. Just because they all were taken at the same time doesn’t mean they all need to be identical. Play and find what is right for each one.
The apps I regularly use are:
Lightroom Mobile (free)
Photoshop Fix (free)
Lens Distortions (free with upgrade options)
Pics Art (free with upgrade options)
Each of these apps plays a valuable role in what I do and have very different purposes. I’ll go more into my editing process in another blog, that’s a whole beast in itself.
The allure of photography is that not everything is all that it seems. Sometimes it’s just three dollar wrapping paper and some free mobile apps. The application of these simple tricks, practice, a vision with some trial and error is where the magic lies. Unfortunately for myself I didn’t have this walk-through to cut through some of the dead end trials. I was just wacking my way through the jungle of subpar photos until I made my way to here. Fortunately for you, you have this. If this is something you’ve been wanting to try, PLEASE DO! There is so much self expression and creativity that lies within this practice.
The most important part is that at the end you have something that you feels expresses your true self. No one can capture the essence of who you are the way you can for yourself. If applied intentionally, self portraiture can be a window into your inner self, your higher self, your shadow self and your creative self. It can be a beautiful window into your feelings now, but also a fantastic reminder in the future of what you were feeling at that time.
Tag me in your self portraits