When I say the word self-portrait what immediately comes to mind? More often than not I hear my students tell me self-portrait images instill a sense of unease, discomfort, or even fear.
“I hate the way I look in pictures”
“I don’t want to come across as a narcissist if I take pictures of myself all the time”
“I don’t have the faintest idea how to work my camera AND take a picture of myself at the same time”
If this is you, let me reassure you I know how you feel. When I began my photography journey I was in this exact same place.
I vividly remember the launch of my first 365 day photo project when I decided to subject myself to my lens for the very first time. My husband sat next to me chuckling as I took image after image. Each time, the process was the same: I would shoot, turn the camera around, look in the viewfinder, shake my head in disapproval, and shoot again. I was disappointed, because I wanted the world to see me as I saw myself. I wanted everyone to know the me that I walked side-by-side with every day, but I couldn’t seem to capture that me with the lens.
Over time, the act of subjecting myself to my camera lens became less frightening. It actually became a freeing experience. I began to learn the contours of my body, to correct my posture, and to discover the features I loved most about myself. It was no longer a chore to take self-portraits, but an act of self-expression. And when we tragically lost our first daughter during late pregnancy, self portrait images were my emotional release and the way I reconnected with my broken world.
Self-portrait images allowed me to re-discover myself and feel beautiful in photographs. It tore down emotional walls I had built up, allowing the world to see exactly how I was feeling. Self-portraiture revealed me—to myself and to others—in entirely new ways.
Here are 5 tips to get you on your way to loving and enjoying self-portraiture as much as I do. Go ahead, grab a camera and let’s get ready to show the world how beautiful you truly are.
1) Use your camera as a vehicle to share your story: Before you turn the camera on yourself find a quiet space and think a bit about the story you want to tell. How do you feel about YOU today? What do you like most about yourself or your life right now? What is something you dislike? Take 10 minutes to grab a journal and use the prompts above to write what’s in your soul. Writing can give so much insight into what’s going on deep inside you, and it might lend some clues as to how to best setup your self portrait and create the lighting, mood, and atmosphere that will tell your story perfectly.
2) Make a plan to get the shot: Some tools I have found handy when taking self portraits are my tripod and remote timer. A tripod can give you the freedom to set up anywhere and a remote timer can allow you to take multiple shots without having to run back and forth from the camera to your shot location. However, these tools are definitely not necessary! When I upgraded camera gear last year I found my new camera too heavy for my tripod and my remote time was no longer compatible. So instead I balance my camera on a table, and either use the in-camera timer or my reflection in a mirror to achieve the self portrait I desire.
3) Get creative with your composition: Are you feeling a little out of your comfort zone turning the camera on yourself? Remember you can get creative! A self-portrait does not have to include your face. Think of ways you could photograph your feet, hands, back, or other body parts to help convey your message. Also take some time to consider location. What location will help tell your story the best? Is there a special room in your home? Do you have a gorgeous backyard garden? Is there awesome morning light at the neighborhood park? Pick the location that speaks to you and your message.
4) Enlist a helper: Set your focus in camera before you get in the frame. I visualize my image before I shoot and often use a stand-in (my husband, a stuffed toy, doll, etc…) to setup my focus. I typically focus on the eyes or face somewhere but you should also feel free to take artistic license if it helps tell your story. I’ve been known to switch my lens to manual focus and blur the entire image if I am having a particularly ‘fuzzy’ type of day.
5) Use editing tools to enhance your final image even more: My favorite part about the self portrait process is picking the editing tools and techniques that will add that extra layer of emotion to a self-portrait image after it’s taken. Take a closer look at your image now and decide what type of edit might be the most fitting. Black and white or color? Contrast or vintage? Soft or sharp? The image below was edited using MCP’s Fusion Actions for Photoshop. MCP has such a wide variety of actions and presets I encourage you to explore as you work on telling your self-portrait story.
The creative license you take is all part of the fun with this process. Use your imagination, let it run wild. and work to capture the YOU you’re longing for the world to see.
*** Now go challenge yourself to take a self-portrait. Then come back to this post and upload it to the comment section. We want to see all of the wonderful MCP readers! ***
Guest blogger, Beryl Ayn Young, serves as a photography teacher + healer aimed sharing photo lessons to nourish the mind, body, and soul. She believes feeding the spirit with lifelong learning, photographic healing, & a glass half full perspective. Beryl leads photography classes aimed at teaching you how to improve your camera skills and cherish life’s journey over at www.berylaynyoung.com.