Self Portrait Photography Guide

Self Portrait Photography Guide

It’s all very well taking photos of others but what about when you fancy taking one of yourself.  Surely it’s easy as you are the perfect subject!?  No need to explain what you want from the shoot or the need to understand what the subject wants……..there are, however a few things that you should consider to get the best shot possible, after all, this is YOU that you’re  trying to please!!

Pre Shoot

  • Inspiration
  • Location
  • Mood

Before even starting out on a shoot look for inspiration.  This can be found on the web, in magazines, on album covers etc etc.  Remember that you are trying to create an image of yourself not only for you but also for others, it needs to stand out and so take your time at this stage and have ideas ready.

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Choose a location that invokes a feeling, whether this be an urban feel, a tranquil one or a funny one, it is important that this fits in well with the ideas you have come up with whilst looking for inspiration.  Obviously there are plenty of urban areas and these provide different lighting textures and colours which will all enhance the overall  feeling of the portrait.

Again, the mood of the shot not only depends on the expression on your face but also the surroundings you are in and the lighting at the time.  Dark shots portray a feelings from mysterious through to scary and getting dark shots right is tricky.  Personally I really like portraits where some of the subject is a silhouette and a lot can be achieved using shadows  and light in the right way.  Photos in the ‘golden hours’ usually portray warmth and happiness and using this natural light can be a great technique if you haven’t got artificial lighting to set up the way you want.

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Setup

First off, it is best to have the following to hand;

  • Tripod
  • Remote Release or self timer
  • Flash

A tripod, beanbag, or at the least a platform to place your camera on is essential.  When placing the camera make sure that the image about to be captured includes all of the elements that you wish to include in the photograph.

Using a remote will enable you to get ready before taking the shot, it will also allow the lens to focus on you once you are in position (remember if you focus before you move into position the camera may not focus on the right area).  If you don’t have a remote then you can use the self timer on the camera.  One problem with this is focusing, I got round this by setting the F-Stop to 16 or more to get a greater depth of field and achieve focus all the way through the shot.

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The use of a flash is personal choice but in darker conditions will be essential (unless you are a human statue and can remain completely still with slower shutter speeds.  The on board flash is very direct and so may wash out colour if used close up or cause shadow behind you.  If  you have an external flash then this can be angled to bounce the light off of ceilings or surfaces  to eliminate wash out or unsightly shadows (you will need to experiment with this).  I will usually tone down the flash to 3/4 to 1/2 power or use a diffuser to soften the light.

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Atmosphere

  • Perspective
  • Composition
  • Background
  • Framing
  • Depth of field (bokeh)

Rather than the normal straight on portrait which, in most cases, is less than impressive, try changing the perspective.  Taking photos from ground level or from above the subject (you) will add a bit of originality to the photograph.  Depth of field can be used to great effect, a friend of mine has taken a shot of a couple sitting against a wall.  She took the shot from ground level and focused on the couples shoes and the rest of their bodies and faces were slightly out of focus, the effect was really great and gave an otherwise normal photo a ‘wow’ factor.

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Background (as mentioned before) is a very important element to a photo and should be considered carefully.  Too much colour or texture and you are in danger of losing yourself as the focal point, not enough and the photo could turn out boring (unless you are going for a minimalist feel!).  Using a slow sync flash is a great technique where you can capture the subject (you) in focus but drag the shutter to blur the background and enhance the colours within the image.

Framing the photo before the shot is also important.  Make sure that all of the elements that draw you to a location are captured in the frame and things that you don’t want to capture (street signs, other people etc) are not!  Also think about the depth of field that you want to achieve and how the elements in the shot will be effected by this, lights in the background can be used to create a cool bokeh effect if a shallow depth of field is used, this is a great way to enhance a photo.

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The Subject (YOU!)

  • Emotion
  • Eye Contact
  • Clothes
  • Pose (candid?)

A photo of someone just sat there staring at the camera is not great.  Try to portray an emotion, whether this is joy, excitement sadness or mystery you will have to concentrate and have the expression/pose ready in your mind prior to the shoot.

Match your clothes to you emotion, colourful summery clothes would portray joy, dark scruffy clothes could be associated with an urban feel and so on.  The colour of your clothes will also invoke certain emotions in the person viewing the photo so take this into account as well.

Do you want to be looking directly at the camera or not, this is entirely up to you as to whether you want to look like your posing of achieve a more candid shot.

Processing

  • Effects
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Cropping
  • Black and white or colour

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There are countless Photoshop plugin’s available to enhance your photos and loads that are specifically designed for portrait photos.  Try these out as a lot of them are free and some great ones can be found here.

When you go through your photos think about why you like certain one’s and why you don’t like other, this way you can start to master your self portraits by using only those elements that appeal to you and eliminating the ones that don’t.

Cropping is an area that you can also play with to great effect, you can cut out elements of the photo that may not work and also create a great original composition.

Take every photo in colour but also experiment with black and white.  Picasa has a great tool called ‘Filtered Black and White’, this allows you not only to convert the image to black and white but also to change the shades within the photo using an eye dropper.  Photoshop has a similar option within the ‘Image’/'Adjustments’ menu.

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Written by Barry Chignell

I believe that advice should be free, with this in mind FPR contains over 500 photography articles covering all aspects of the photography world, from Wedding Photography to HDR and interviews from online retailers to professional photographers. I am always interested to hear from anyone in the profession regarding new and exciting ideas and ventures and am happy to help photographers publicise their work. If you would like to discuss your photography and how FPR can help, email me at bchignell@gmail.com.

53 Comments

  1. Barry

    Thansk Jeff, it was fun writing it and I was suprised about the amount of stuff that you should consider, I didn’t realise most of it until I had to think about it!! ;0)

  2. okey oyna

    You have a helpful blog you have posted. Would I be safe in beliveing that you may be a pro blog designer? ok, I love the hard work you have put in this website, and this article was very interesting. Hope to see more cool stuff like this in the future!..

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