Easy Ways to Spice Up Your Self-Portraits So They Stand Out
Article from Light Stalking
Most people, especially when starting out in photography, find self-portraits to be a nerve-wracking venture; and some, to be sure, never really get over the disquieting dread that accompanies having to get in front of the camera when theyre so accustomed to being behind it.
Its normal, I guess. We could probably engage in a lengthy and ultimately convoluted discussion about self-esteem, body image, and a whole host of other psychological implications related to why some people dont like looking at themselves, but thats not going to fix anyone is it? I doubt it. There are plenty of websites you could visit to try and work all that stuff out, but before you go, allow me to run a few ideas by you; ideas that might ease you into making self-portraits or, if you are already making them, some ideas on how to improve them. You never know, it could be the creative spark you need to help you overcome your fear of self-inflicted photographs.
What Gear Will You Need for Self Portraits?
You really dont need a whole lot of fancy stuff to take a self-portrait. Weve all seen and/or taken more than our fair share of web cam and cell phone shots and they work to varying degrees. But if youre interested in a self-portrait that is more than just marginally better than the ones typified by the average teenager on Facebook, there are a few items you should invest in — if you dont already have them.
- Tripod – Photographers tend to fret over tripod purchases. Its understandable, I suppose; theres a reason you look for something with excellent build quality and stability, and is also lightweight. The stakes arent as high with self-portraits, however (though it is not entirely unfathomable that youd take a some shots of yourself during a windstorm), so dont worry about some companys flagship tripod; just get something that can support the weight of your camera without tipping over. If you cant buy a tripod and youre a particularly resourceful person, Im confident you can fashion a useful support out of items you have in your home.
- Remote – A remote shutter release will probably be your greatest ally in your conquest of self-portraiture. You can opt for a wired or wireless remote. Wired remotes are typically less expensive, but are limiting in that theyre physically connected to the camera by a length of cable. Wireless remotes, while providing some additional freedom and flexibility, are also limited by their operating range, which maxes out at around 330ft/100m (range varies according to model). Some remotes are designed to control the cameras timer and drive mode settings, a feature that will save you trips to and from your camera. Of course, the more features a remote flaunts, the costlier it will be; a simple $10 remote may serve you just as well.
- Lighting – Dont think that you have to be an expert strobist in order to create effective portraits; a single light source and a little ingenuity can go a very long way. If youve only got one flash, thats all you need (even better if you can get it off your camera). Dont have a flash? You can use a $20 work lamp. No matter the light source, positioning is important and can have a dramatic effect on the mood of your self-portrait. You can modify the light by using things such as reflectors or diffusers — a light box, an umbrella, a white wall or ceiling. And dont forget about natural light. If you want to shoot outdoors, early morning and late afternoon are best; cloudy days can provide particularly intriguing lighting. If youre indoors, try setting up near a window.
- Tethering – Connecting your camera to a monitor will allow you to get a real time view of what your self-portrait is going to look like and you can make tweaks to the composition without having to get up and run back to the camera, which is likely to get exhausting after a while and suck all the fun out of your project. Shooting tethered is by no means a necessity, but it will eliminate a significant amount of trial and error.
How to Set Focus on a Self Portrait
- Focusing – One of the first questions that people ask before attempting a self-portrait with their dSLR is, How do I make sure Im focusing on my face? Well, you could always do the hold-the-camera-at-arms-length thing. But if youve bothered to read up to this point, I will assume that youre looking for something a little more sophisticated. Indeed, the solution I offer you is just slightly more sophisticated: use a stand-in — a stuffed animal, a tree, anything that might be a suitable temporary substitute for you. Think about how you will pose for your photo and try to focus the camera on where your eyes will be in relation to your newly employed body double (use autofocus to lock it in, then switch your lens to manual so you dont accidentally lose your focus setting), but keep in mind that distance is more of a concern than height. As long as you focus at the correct distance, you shouldnt have too much trouble getting your face in sharp focus.
- Timer – Now that your focus is set, its time to shoot. If you dont have a remote, set your cameras timer to its highest setting so that you will have time to move into the frame and get settled into your pose. If your camera allows you to use burst mode in conjunction with the self-timer, its something you should consider so that you can vary your expressions or poses while the camera snaps away. If you are using a remote, just click away to your hearts content…or until your memory card is full.
Some Tips on Getting a Unique Composition
Self-portraits afford you the opportunity to disregard everything youve learned about traditional composition and go a bit crazy. Your self-portrait doesnt even have to include your face, for example; you can frame your shots around various sections of your body. Additionally, you can alter your perspective by deviating from the standard eye-level shot — get a shot from up high and from down low. Dont be afraid to experiment and take some risks when it comes to composing your self-portraits.
A Short Guide to Post Processing
As with composition, when youre processing your self-portraits, you will find that you have the freedom to do things with those shots that you wouldnt be able to do if you were working on photos for someone else. Its the perfect time to take those sliders to places youve never taken them; learn exactly how all those commands under Photoshops Filter impact your photos. Regardless of what post processing software you are using, there will be no shortage of options available to you aimed at putting a unique personal imprint on your self-portraits. Dont get the impression, though, that self-portraits have to be zany, they can be whatever you want. You have a limitless creative license here — use it.
Tell Your Story
Every self-portrait you make is a quick glimpse inside your mind, not just a representation of what you look like. So, when youre planning a portrait shoot for yourself, be sure to convey who you really are; include things you like or dislike, wear your favorite articles of clothing, show off one of your hobbies or talents. Worry less about what you look like and focus on presenting yourself to the world in the way that you want everyone to see you. Exercising complete control over your own image can be quite empowering.