How to Take Compelling Self-Portraits


Self-portraits. You may associate them with vanity and arrogance. You might even consider self-portraiture an overrated genre and dismiss it completely. In reality, taking compelling photos of oneself is far more than a desire to look gorgeous. There is an abundance of photographs which feature the artists themselves expressing negative or neutral emotions; though seemingly too vulnerable at first sight, these works of art are opportunities for artists to help both themselves and others. Just like any other skill, self-portraiture needs to be nourished and practiced continuously. Once mastered, it will fill you with magnificent creative opportunities and ideas.

You might be wondering where and how to start. Perhaps you've tried out self-portrait photography before and considered the results unappealing. Maybe you've abandoned all hopes of photographing yourself because of insecurities. All of these doubts can be obliterated using three very simple steps. If you repeat them consistently, making sure that your love for photography lies at the very heart of your actions, you'll find yourself succeeding and loving your results.

1. Befriending Light

Many people refuse to take self-portraits because of an unfortunate photograph which showed them a seemingly unappealing side of themselves. This is very common and easily fixable. The problem lies in unflattering light; the good news is that light can be altered and controlled in many ways. To conquer the fear of looking terrible in photos, sit in front of a mirror and find your favourite angle. Alternatively, take a few selfies with your phone from different angles in different lighting conditions. Working with your phone before an actual shoot will save time and provide you with a better idea of a location's general lighting conditions. This will also give you a quick preview of how you'll look in certain kinds of light. Feel free to experiment with this as much as you desire; work with reflectors, reflections, and artificial light. Let your creativity help you thrive.

2. Understanding the Technical Side of Self-Portraiture

Another issue many artists fear when it comes to self-portraiture is bad focus. If your camera doesn't have a flip screen, it might be difficult to get completely sharp portraits. To make the shooting process easier, place an object where you plan to pose and focus on it. It's best to shoot portraits in Manual Mode if you can, as they give photographers full control over every aspect of a shot. The smaller the aperture, the sharper your images will be; thus, it's recommended to use an aperture anywhere between f/3.5 to f/8.0 (depending on the lens you own) for sharp portraits which are neatly separated from a background. If your camera doesn't have a flip screen, use a mirror to reflect your camera screen to avoid running constantly from your spot to the camera. Most importantly, make sure your tripod is sturdy, especially if you're shooting outdoors on a windy day.

3. Embracing persistence

No matter how experienced you are in the photography world, you will take photos you're not proud of from time to time. Let this fact motivate you to keep photographing just to get the shot you desire. Acknowledge that many of your shots won't satisfy you, especially if you're a complete beginner in the realm of self-portraiture. In addition to that, be sure that at least one shot will make you proud. That shot alone will be worth all of your patience, persistence, and hard work. No matter how successful your shoot is, remember to embrace your raw and true self. Photography can either make you cringe at your own “flaws” or provide you with an opportunity to accept yourself – you have the power to decide which of these perspectives will affect your creativity.

Once you familiarize yourself with light, your camera, and your ability to persist, prepare for personal success. Even if you won't get famous overnight, you'll find yourself facing all kinds of challenges from a very different angle. Feelings of loneliness, neglect, sadness, etc., can all be soothed by creating images which reflect humanity in its rawest form. The photographs will both help you release negative energy creatively and encourage others to do the same. Remember to accept yourself, no matter what, and the photos you take will reflect that in the most beautiful ways.

Happy shooting! 🙂

About Author

Taissia is a professional photographer and educator.

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