A lot of photographers have said that while they love to hold the camera and take beautiful photos, they aren’t as fond of the idea of being on the other side of the lens. On the other hand, there’s an enormous group of people who not only enjoy having their photo taken, they actually love to take self-portraits.
In fact, if you peruse Flickr you can find a great deal of self-portrait groups, including 365Days, a place where you can showcase – you guessed it – one self-portrait a day for a full year.
The problem is, many people consider a self-portrait to mean holding the camera firmly in your hand, stretching your arm out, and trying to get your face at a good angle in front of the lens. While that has its place from time to time, a self-portrait can be thought out just as much as a portrait you take of someone else.
Thus, here are seven tips for going beyond basics in self-portraits:
1. Use the timer, or better yet, get a remote.
Most cameras now come with a ten-second timer. While this isn’t a lot of time, it can be enough to manoeuvre yourself accordingly. Just be sure to either use a stand-in or to focus on something at the proper distance or you’ll be fuzzy! What beats a timer is a wireless remote that will allow you to position yourself and then take the picture when you’re ready. Timers are a lot of fun for things like jumping shots!
2. Change your focus.
While you might normally assume a good self-portrait must focus on your face to count, you can make an ordinary shot far more interesting if you place the primary focus elsewhere.
3. Try a silhouette.
A good silhouette tells a story and leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind as to what it is. A dark, featureless shape against a setting sun won’t interest anyone, but if viewers can see it’s a person they’ll be intrigued. It makes people wonder who that is, raises questions, and makes them want to know more.
4. Treat your shot like you would for someone else.
Pretend it’s not a self-portrait for a second. Look around your surroundings and picture what you’d do if you wanted to take a portrait of a friend. I took my children to the park one day as the sun was dipping low and the light was incredible. I nearly called them over to sit in the grass so I could lie down and take a shot of them from a low vantage point. Instead I decided to take a self-portrait – which is when tip number 1 comes back into play. My remote was very handy that day!
5. Get Inspired!
You can use all kind of fun things to inspire yourself beyond the stereotypical self-portrait. Listen to music and if a line in a song stands out, try to take a self-portrait that reflects it. Re-enact a moment from a movie. Browse Flickr or try one of the numerous inspiration groups that give daily or weekly self-portrait challenges. It can end up being serious or silly, but you might be amazed at what comes to mind when you set out with a purpose.
[SP5 image from]
6. Keep your face out of it!
This is one of those arguments that, much like Mac vs. PC, gets people up in arms: Is it a real self-portrait if your face isn’t in the picture? I firmly believe that it can indeed be a self-portrait even if you’re simply showing your hand or your foot or what have you. If you don’t feel like having your face in front of the camera, show people something else!
7. Bring the emotion.
I know that I just told you that a self-portrait can be more than just your face, but remember too that the face – and especially the eyes – hold a great deal of emotion and that can make such an incredible impact on a self-portrait.
Now that you know a self-portrait can be more than just arms’ length photography, maybe you’ll find your next self-portrait taking shape in your mind. Do you have a good one that you’re proud of? Share it in the comments!
Read more at our previous Self Portrait Tips tutorial.
Sherry Osborne has been unable to walk out her front door without at least one of her cameras for several years and is now building up her portfolio in an attempt to become a part-time pro. When she’s not taking pictures, she’s writing. She can be found at SherryOsborne.com.