Maria’s Photography Tips: Self-Portraits

Photo courtesy of Cristina Otero

Why You Should Start Taking Self-Portraits

No, not just for your Facebook profile picture or monthly correspondence with your far away relatives, although these matters should be taken seriously once you declare yourself a professional photographer. Here are three solid reasons why you should start taking self-portraits:

It’s convenient

Asking your friends to pose for you is always great when you feel like experimenting, but no one’s around more than yourself, right? Besides, no one understands your vision better than your very own self. So, next time you get a stroke of genius, don’t waste it on waiting for friends to make time for you. Grab your gear and take as long as you need to get the shots you carefully planned in your head. You’ll discover the joy of having complete freedom over when, where and how you shoot and you’ll definitely have tons of fun playing with all sorts of ideas.

You will grow as a photographer

Ever asked yourself “what if...” during a professional shooting, but never got the chance to put those ideas into action? Being all by yourself will allow you to experiment with different types of lighting, manual settings and scenery. Moreover, playing the double role of photographer-subject will teach you some valuable lessons concerning your collaboration with clients. Putting yourself in the shoes of a client will give you a better idea on how to collaborate with someone who might or might not be familiar with posing for portraits. Plus, if you’re at the beginning of your career as a photographer and still trying to build a portfolio, self-portraits are a great way to showcase your creativity and skill.

You will grow as a person

Now that we’ve got the business aspect covered, let’s talk about you as a person. You’re the (wo)man behind the camera and you’re great at it, but once you turn it around you’re out of your comfort zone. Self-portraits will help you get over any kind of insecurities you might have concerning your appearance. It’s an exercise of self-exploration that requires patience, but eventually you will discover new things about yourself that set you apart as an individual.

There are many ways you can work with self-portraits, but if you’re interested in following the changes in your life, I recommend a 365 or 52 project. 
365 implies taking a self-portrait everyday for a year, often focusing on your upper body/head. Eventually you will get a collection of photos that depict the things you’ve been through that year, a sort of visual diary that has a very strong impact when arranged into a slideshow with a suggestive soundtrack. However, if you feel like taking a photograph everyday is too much of a burden, you should go for the 52 weeks project that only requires one photo/week for a whole year. And you don’t need to stick to the fixed setting. Go crazy. Pick a theme for every week or tell a story. Anything as long as you’re in the picture.

Photo courtesy of Cybergabi

Let’s Talk Tips

Gear

Assuming you already have a camera, a tripod and decent portrait lens, you’re almost good to go. I recommend using a remote control for shutter release. It will spare you running back and forth, plus it’s really cheap and you can use it for other projects as well, especially if you’re doing timelapses or need extra-steady shots. However, if you don’t have a remote, use the timer on your camera and set your shutter on burst so you can take as many shots as possible.

If you can do this, it’s always a good idea to shoot tethered using the video out option on your camera. This means you have to connect your camera to a video device, such as a laptop, TV or even a portable DVD player that becomes a much more comfortable viewfinder.

Focus

This is perhaps the most difficult part of self-portraiture. Even if you’re using autofocus lens, you probably won’t get the sharp results you’re aiming for. An easy way to deal with this is to think in advance where you are going to sit and place an object right in that spot (a stick will do), then focus on it. I always use manual focus, but it’s up to you to pick what suits you best. Another solution is to stand by a wall, corner or large object. You need to remember that focusing is a matter of distance, not height, so pick an object that’s as far from the camera as you are, focus on it, check the results and make any needed adjustments. I also suggest shooting on aperture priority. This way you can set your depth of field as great as you like, which allows you to move around a bit while staying in focus.

Be yourself

The most valuable advice I can give you is to always be yourself when shooting self-portraits. If you want to shoot in a surrealist manner, go ahead and do it, but make sure you’re following your own vision and fantasy. Self-portraits are the result of introspection, therefore they should tell an honest story about yourself. Don’t smile just because people would rather look at happy photos. Smile because you’ve had a great day and you need to document it for your 365 project. Be yourself, no matter how awkward or shy you are. It’s just you and the camera anyway.

Experiment

Maybe you would rather start small: shooting against a white wall or in the studio. Do this for a while, experiment with light, poses. Find your “good side”. Then add some props. Imagine entire scenarios and turn them into masterful compositions. Go outside. Take horrible pictures and learn from each of them. There is no right and wrong, as you are your own critic. Enjoy this freedom and always have fun.

Photo courtesy of Dustin Diaz

And this is what the setting actually looked like:

Photo courtesy of Dustin Diaz

Photo courtesy of Lara Jade Photo courtesy of Lara Jade

Photo courtesy of Lara Jade

Photo courtesy of Lauren Withrow

Photo courtesy of SuperPipo2010  

Photo courtesy of Eric "Claptøn" Nelsøn  Photo courtesy of Pierre Beteille Photo courtesy of Masha Sardari

Photo courtesy of colerise

Photo courtesy of Severine Arend Photo courtesy of Samantha Smith