I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I feel a bit sad. Here I am, a world-famous blogger (well, I can’t but hope. And my sister lives in Vietnam at the moment, so between London and Hanoi, that covers most of the world, right?), but I haven’t yet created any internet memes, so I figured I’d start one right now, along with a cause I get behind fully. It’s simple: 1) Take a photo of yourself. A good one. 2) Post a link to it on Twitter, using the #selfportraitfriday hash-tag.
Apart from making me super-famous (which is, believe it or not, not my chief objective with this project), getting into the rhythm of taking at least one self-portrait every week is great practice.
But why should you bother with self portraits, and why am I so strongly in favour of ‘em? Read on, fellow shutter-soldier, for my 10 tips to better self portraits, along with the whats, whens and wherefores of onanistic photography fun.
Why bother with self-portraits?
Inspiration hits at the strangest of times – sometimes, all it takes is to see the light fall in a special way, a reflection, or just the sudden, uncontrollable urge to hear that sweet, sweet mechanical noise of the shutter going “kerr-chunk” (or “…” if you’re one of those smug, whisper-quiet Leica rangefinder owners). There’s nothing quite as annoying as not having a willing accomplice around to help you fulfill your photographic ideas – so perhaps you should turn to the only model you’re guaranteed to have around at any time: yourself!
Self portraiture is a tried-and-tested tradition among snappers and MySpace-camwhores alike; but it’s actually an incredibly useful exercise for photographers: Directing models is difficult enough as it is (unless you’re working with particularly talented models, but that’s a different post altogether), and the only person who is guaranteed to be as patient as you when you’re fiddling with lighting is yourself.
So; why not make it a habit to force yourself to take a self-portrait at least every week? It’s an interesting and frequently illuminating thing to do; how often do you get a chance to think about how you would like to project yourself to the world, who you really are, and how you’d like the world to see you?
10 Top Tips for better self portraits
2 - Think about your motivation and emotions: Blankly staring at the camera rarely gets good results. Be silly, don’t be afraid to over-act. The worst that can happen is that you fill up your memory card with useless photos; but you might also find yourself with a proper gold-nugget of a self portrait.
3 - If you’ve got a remote trigger, that’s usually a better and more controllable than trying to use the self-timer.
4 - If you can, hook up your camera directly to your computer (or, for extra-fancy bonus points, your TV) so you can see your pictures come up as you take ‘em. It’s a lot easier to iterate and to make gradual improvements to your photos that way.
5 - Use a tripod. Seriously. While it’s possible to get good photos while you’re hanging on to your camera at arms-length, it’s a lot easier if you’ve got the freedom to move around a bit.
6 - Focussing is easier if you use a smaller aperture; My favourite lens at the moment is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, (hence the abundance of photos taken with it on Flickr, I suppose) but I’d probably not use it wide-open when taking self portraits; It’s tricky enough to get the focus right when you’re behind the camera – when you’re on the wrong side of the lens, having a slightly deeper DOF is a lot easier!
7 - Don’t be afraid to do a bit of photoshop jiggery pokery – you can do a lot of cool stuff by ensuring you’re in the photo multiple times, for example. Here’s how – and the Self-Kiss gallery on Trendhunter has some wicked ideas :)
8 - Use a mirror! It seems so obvious, but how to use mirrors is important, too – take it down from the wall, and experiment! Here’s a couple of examples to get you started: ValpoHB, Could it be a mirror on the floor?, Reflection of Myself, Alive and Her Reflection.
10 - Have fun with it. Be sexy. Be yourself. Be awesome. Be different. Be creative. Whatever you do, have fun with it. That’s part of the point, after all.
BONUS TIP: Finally, a controversial tip which not everyone will agree with: If you set up the shot and you decide on the lighting and camera position and what you are doing, but get someone else to push the shutter, it’s still a self portrait (the other person is basically acting as your remote control) – so don’t be shy about asking for some help with your self-portraits. As Scott suggested: “I let my young daughter have the shutter release – means it stays random and I’m relaxed!” – brilliant idea!
Show it off!
The best thing to do with self-portraits is to get them out there – sure, they’re great for learning, and good fun to take ‘em, but as a side-effect, you get some bloody great photographs of yourself, so why not just flaunt it ‘cos you’ve got it?
Post your best self-portraits to Flickr (remember to tag them with ‘Self Portrait’ so people can find’em more easily), update your FaceBook profile picture, or post to your blog with the details of your photo.
Then, if you’re one of these Twitterati-type people, post a link to your photo on Twitter using the #selfportraitfriday hash-tag – this allows other Twitter users to easily find other self portraits; a great way to get to know the people you’re following better, and to get a load of inspiration for your next batch of self-portraits. Oh, and it’s sort of cool to be part of something like that, don’t you think?
The past few days, I’ve been gathering a wide variety of really random examples of self-portraits. If you’re stuck for ideas… You could do a lot worse than trying to emulate some of these ;-)
Finally, there are a few photographers who’ve been running some pretty awesome projects dealing exclusively with self portraits – the Self By Christy Marie (@ChristyMarie) website is an excellent example, but quite a few people are doing ’364 projects’ as well – one photo a day for some, one self-portrait a day for others – a quick search for 365 on Flickr throws up loads of interesting results. Happy browsing!