A Quick Exercise to Help You Take Better Self-Portraits

A Quick Exercise to Help You Take Better Self-Portraits

This article will give you some tips on how to take better self-portraits. That is different than doing a selfie – let’s have a closer look at the issue.

A Quick Exercise to Help Improve Your Self-Portraits

Thank you to dPS writer Hannele Luhtasela-el Showk for contributing her self-portrait to the article.

The selfie – what not to do

The selfie has become such an important part of our culture. The invention of the selfie-stick shows just how important this phenomenon has become. Everyone is snapping pics and posting them online. Phones make it convenient to share images and show people the events of your day. But I would argue these images barely scratch the surface. They don’t do much more than give people a brief glimpse into how happy you were while visiting the zoo with your children.

Look back at your Facebook profile. Look at the pictures you’ve uploaded. If you are like the rest of us, I’m willing to bet you’ve filled your profile with images. Superficial images where you are smiling while hiking or maybe you’re shopping with friends. They don’t show much, do they? Sure you’re out having a great time, but there’s more to you than fun isn’t there? These smiling images don’t get at who you truly are. There’s a difference between a selfie and a self-portrait that shows something about you; an image that gets at who you are and tells your story in an intimate way.

A Quick Exercise to Help Improve Your Self-Portraits

We’ve all taken one of these images. You know the ones with terrible quality in low lit areas. This is a typical facebook selfie.

I think this is a pretty typical selfie. We’ve all posted images like this. Even I am guilty. Two happy friends together somewhere.

Self-portraits – take it up a notch

So if you’re like me if you’re tired of the superficial smile, then it’s time to think about how you can step up the selfie game and graduate to full-fledged self-portraits. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – good photography needs some forethought. There’s more to quality pictures than using the correct settings. Let’s take a look at a quick exercise you can use to help you create more meaningful, telling and compelling self-portraits.

A Quick Exercise to Help Improve Your Self-Portraits

This was shot after 12 hours working outdoors for a photo shoot. I was exhausted and wanted to show the toll my work took on me. Hopefully, I look exhausted.

Exercise – Discover Treasured Objects

I’m going to ask you to get out a pen and paper. Sorry, but it’s necessary, and I promise it won’t be too onerous. It’s time to do some brainstorming and soul searching.

Let’s pinpoint the things that are really important to you. Think about all the physical objects you hold dear. Start by writing without restraint. Jot down the items that quickly come to mind. Try not to evaluate them too harshly. This is about fleshing out ideas. You can use your judgment later to question whether an object should stay on the list.

If you want to create a list no problem. Or if you’re like me and none of your thoughts are ever linear then maybe an idea web (or word cloud, or a mind map) works better for you, just go for it. Write down your thoughts in the way you are most comfortable. Maybe one of the items you list is a treasured photograph of your grandmother or a plastic beaded necklace a friend gave you. It doesn’t matter just get it down on paper. Try to list at least 10 objects.

A Quick Exercise to Help Improve Your Self-Portraits

Thanks to dPS writer and team member Simon Pollock for contributing his self-portrait to the article.

Here’s my mind map. I struggled to get 10 objects as I’m not someone who has a lot of physical possessions but I will bare my soul to you all.

Here are my brainstorming efforts.

Plan photos around your objects

Now that you’ve got your mind map all worked out it’s time to consider the items you’ve jotted down. How could you incorporate one of these items into a photograph? How will you portray yourself to the world? Use these treasured objects to help you to craft meaningful self-portraits.

Here’s the image I created after completing this exercise. I hate being in front of the camera so this was a big challenge for me. I spent an afternoon twirling around in my aunt’s deerskin dress. She often used this dress during sunrise ceremonies before she gifted it to me. The dress is an important part of my heritage. I wanted to show the world something about that part of my culture.

A Quick Exercise to Help Improve Your Self-Portraits

You don’t have to show your face to create self-portraits. Other details can tell a story.

This is in contrast to the following image. I created this one with my cell phone. I shot it while sitting on my couch watching TV. Is there a story here? Or is this just a nice picture?

A Quick Exercise to Help Improve Your Self-Portraits

Ask yourself this question

It might help to consider the following question when crafting your self-portrait.

“How is this portrait I am creating a story, rather than just a visually interesting image?”

I’m not sure who first asked me that question. It was probably some wise old grizzled photographer with years of knowledge. I wish I could remember. Use this question along with the exercise above to create a meaningful self-portrait.

You can also make idea maps that show important relationships or meaningful thoughts. Be creative, but try to push your self-portraits past the mundane. You don’t have to shoot portraits with a DSLR you can use your cell phone, but take a few minutes to consider the shot before you push the button. Look at the story you’re telling and leave your mark. Show the world exactly who you are.

dPS writer Sean McCormack took this self-portrait using a remote trigger.

A Quick Exercise to Help Improve Your Self-Portraits

Thanks to Hannele for contributing another image to the collection.

A Quick Exercise to Help Improve Your Self-Portraits

A self-portrait can be a silhouette. We don’t always have to see your face. Thanks, Simon for contributing this shot.

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Erin Fitzgibbon is a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher, from Ontario, Canada. She specialises in portrait, sport, and fine art photography. In her free time, she escapes to the backcountry or the beach with her family.