Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shoot a Successful Self-Portrait

Self-portraits or selfies are one of the most intimidating categories of photography for many photographers. To speak in broad generalizations, many photographers would prefer to remain the person behind the camera and avoid becoming the person in front of the camera. Yet, self-portraits are one of the best ways to learn and experiment in your photography – all without subjecting anyone else to your ideas or attempts. If you don't like how your selfie turns out, you can always delete it, and no one will be the wiser. This article will answer some of the most common questions you may have about self-portraits and offer some suggestions to help boost your confidence and get great results.

Shoot Successful Self-Portraits and Selfies | Boost Your Photography
This self-portrait was captured by wrapping a GorillaPod around an opposite bar on the merry-go-round. Read more about GorillaPods and how to take this shot here.

How Do I Focus?

If you are simply turning your camera around and shooting directly into your own face, then focus is not a big issue. For all other kinds of self-portraits, the fundamental issue is how to get and keep yourself in focus. When you are use to spending your time behind the camera, it can be confusing to try and figure out how to set focus from behind the camera when you need to be in front of the camera to be focused upon!

The easiest solution is to use a tripod and a remote shutter release. A remote allows you to trigger the autofocus and the camera shutter after you are in position in front of the camera. Pressing the button on your remote halfway will set the focus and pushing all of the way will take the picture. The tripod allows you to compose the picture exactly as you wish. If you do not have a tripod, find a stable surface like a table to support your camera.

A wireless remote (either using infrared (IR) or radio frequencies (RF)) allows you to trigger the camera from a considerable distance away, while a corded remote shutter release typically has a cord of about 3 feet. When I use my corded remote for selfies, I use it in conjunction with the 10-second timer. That way, I can press the remote shutter to set the focus and start the countdown, and then I simply let go of the timer, which swings down out of the picture before the 10-second count expires and the photograph is taken. Read more about why a Remote Shutter Release is an easy photography upgrade.

If you do not have a remote shutter release, then you need to rely on the 10-second timer and a stand in. The 10-second timer will give you enough time to press the shutter and then get into position in front of the camera before the photograph is taken. The stand in is what you will use to set the focus.

Stand in
Selfie with Candles

For this self-portrait with birthday candles, I used a stuffed snowman as my stand in. You want something that you can place roughly where your eyes will be in final picture, so that you can set focus for your eyes. You also want something easy to move, so that you can toss your stand in out of the way before your 10-seconds are up. (Alternatively, you can use the stand in once, set the focus, and then turn the camera to manual focus, MF, which will keep the focus in that same point for all subsequent pictures.)

The final way to address the focus issue is to put yourself behind and in front of the camera at the same time – by using a mirror. Reflection photographs are common in self-portraits and are usually the first kind that people try. Once you have your shot lined up and composed, consider moving yourself or the camera slightly if you want your face seen – or leave the camera in place and keep your face hidden, if you'd rather. If you can see your face, remember to look directly into the barrel of your lens if you want to be looking at the camera for the final picture.

Mirror reflections work best without cues that you are backwards - avoid lettering.

But I Feel So Awkward or Self-Conscious or … insert excuse here

You can come up with infinite reasons to avoid taking a selfie, but you can also come up with infinite ideas to keep your creativity flowing and your motivation high. Try some of these ideas or themes below to help get you over your initial self-inflicted self-portrait hurdles.

Be a Character

No one said that a self-portrait had to be a true reflection of you. Tell a story, create a role, or act out a part. In the photograph below, I was trying to recreate a well-known photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron of Julia Jackson in 1867. Having a model for how to act and an expression to make made it far easier for me to 'get into character' and lose a little self-consciousness about the process.

Replica Self-Portrait

Go Over the Top

Selfies are often all about emotion, and extremes of emotion are often easier to portray than others. The photograph below was my attempt to convey the depth of my emotion about meal planning. (Notice the inclusion of the Joy of Cooking?)

The Un-Joy of Cooking

Use Props

Think about what you can add to your picture. A self-portrait does not have to be you all by your lonesome. Dress up, set the scene, or find a unique prop that fits your vision for your final image.

 A great excuse to play in the leaves

Shoot a Silhouette

Sunset, twilight, or even indoor settings can be great opportunities to shoot yourself as a silhouette. Compose the picture and set the exposure for the surrounding light. You may need to underexpose slightly if you want less detail in the silhouette.

Christmas Eve in Silhouette

Just Show Part of You

A self-portrait does not have to be a full body shot or even include your face. Cropping and composition are your friends here. Think about what you can convey with less.

Cozy with my Kindle (shot with my right hand)
Walking On. This photo is more evocative and mysterious without the rest of the body.

Have Fun with It

Selfies should be about fun and an outlet for your creativity. You will never know what you can come up with until you try. Maybe you will even discover that you can fly!

Learnin' to Fly

(For a shot like this, your best results will come from using the 10-second timer set to capture multiple shots in a row. Around 4 to 6 is a good place to start to insure that you will capture at least one or two midair shots.)

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