My Intro to Self Portraits
Until about two years ago, the only photographs that you can find me in are ones taken by someone else and they tended to be for the requisite family photos. When a friend challenged a group of photographers to step out from behind the camera and get in pictures, it changed my photography. The challenge was to take a photo of yourself – It didn’t matter if the camera was part of the image, like a mirror self portrait, or if you held the camera at arm’s length and snapped. You had to take a photograph of yourself.
At that point, I became intrigued. This was a new type of photography for me: self portrait photography. It was exciting to try something completely outside of my comfort zone and see what I could do with it. I took the obligatory mirror shot with the camera up to my eyeball, you know, the one that just about every photographer has taken of themselves at least once.
Intrigued by Self Portrait Photography
Two weeks later, this friend issued the same challenge. This time, I tried to hold the camera at arms’ length. Do you know how hard it is to get the focus right when you can’t see through the lens? It was tough and took several tries to get it just right. Every two weeks, this group of photographers was given the same challenge. More and more photographers joined. About this time, Halloween was around the corner and I tried channeling my inner Audrey Hepburn. I was hooked on this “new” photography.
365 Project: All Self-Portraits
This past January (2013), I decided to really put myself into self-portraiture and take on a 365 project. For one year, I took a photograph of myself every day. I did this for several reasons.
- I could learn how to love myself more by seeing what others, namely my husband, saw in me.
- I could learn how to pose myself, and by extension, pose anyone in flattering positions and light.
- I could expand my creativity and try things out on a model that is always available and willing to do whatever the photographer wanted.
About half of my selfies are planned, meaning I get my inspiration by looking through boards on Pinterest or I hear a song or I even read something that hits me and I want to show how it makes me feel. From there, I picture in my head how I want it to look, and then I deconstruct into the parts that I need – background, lighting, my clothing, props, etc. I will practice my “look” in the mirror so that I get a feel for how I want my face to look. From there, I set up my camera and my “space” and then do a couple of practice shots. I have a remote that I use most of the time, either I am holding it or I have it on the 2-second release and I toss it aside so it isn’t in the photo.
I keep an ongoing list of ideas on my phone and on my iPad so that if I get stuck one day, I can go through the list and get re-inspired. I highly recommend this system if you try out a 365 or a 52 weeks project. There will be days that you don’t feel inspired at all and you can’t think of anything, while other days, the ideas are pouring out. This way, you can always get a bit of inspiration.
Not only do I have an idea list, but I also have several “mini” projects incorporated into my 365, such as Portraits Of A Modern Housewife, Ghost In The Machine (inspired by someone else’s 365 project), Demon Inside, Thirteen Nights Of Halloween and my latest, the Mini-Me’s. Those mini projects also help keep me going.
This is a behind the scenes look at one of my Ghost In The Machine photos, with the finished shot below.
Plan, Shoot, Repeat, Feedback: The art of the selfie
There are times where you will get the focus, the lighting, the look – just everything – absolutely perfect in the first 3 shots. The flip side is that there have been times where I have taken 100 shots and have only come up with 3 to choose from, and I may not even adore all three of them.
The one thing I have learned, is that if you post publicly on social media, be prepared for unsolicited attention, whether it is ‘creepers’ or criticism or just jerks in general. For me, I tend to ignore them and brush them off. They aren’t worth my time and in the end, I am doing this project for myself alone. I am doing this as a visual diary of how my year has gone. My self portraits are a way for me to express myself and if you think of your self portraits like that, then they become much easier to do.
Because this is my visual diary of the year, I put a small piece of my heart/soul into every single shot. I have found that when I do that, I stay true to whatever message I want to send and the photographs have a much bigger impact. The downside of putting yourself into images, whether it is self portraits, landscapes, nature, even portrait work, is that you become tied into your work. It can be emotionally exhausting and you can get burned out. I try to cope with this by doing “silly” every now again. Not every image can be soul-searching or heart-rending.
I was once asked if my comfort levels shift depending on the photo. They do. It isn’t so much how much skin I am showing, it is more about what emotions and what side of me I am willing to show. Am I willing to show the giddy, goofball side? How about the emotionally-wrecked side? Do I stay private about the losses I have had in the last year or do I show them through the photographs and gain some closure? For me, this 365 project started out as a way to show someone that I really could finish it and I wouldn’t get bored and quit. It has ended up being a way to remember my year and really push open my creativity.
Below is an image from the Mini-Me series:
Tamara Pruessner is a nature photographer in Marana, Arizona who specializes in storm, landscape and macro photography. She started out on a manual Minolta film camera 13 years ago, while learning how to develop film. Eventually, she wants to chase storms throughout the Midwest. You can find her self-portrait photography at her website or on Facebook.