Get up close and personal with your self-portraits

Table of Contents

I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t want to look their best in a photo.

Usually, we have someone else behind the camera who can offer tips on how to stand, pose, smile, etc., but what if we want to take the photo ourselves? I’m not talking about the ever-popular selfie, where you hold your phone or camera at arms length and take the photo of yourself. They typically show us eating, having fun, doing trivial things. A self-portrait tells your story. It reveals a bit (or a lot!) about your personalities and the location, background, and details of the image are an essential part of the message.

There are many reasons for you to want a good self-portrait. You might wish to use high quality images for your social media, share them with friends or keep a record for yourself. I have a friend who does one fantastic self-portrait a year. Honing your self-portrait game will help you take better photographs of other people.

When you understand how camera angle and camera height can make you look thinner, fatter, taller, or elongate your neck, you can create complimentary images of others (and they’ll want you to!). Self-portraits encourage you to explore photography and the art of telling a story in one frame.

Useful tools for self-portraits

  • Tripod. If you don’t have one, play with ways of propping your phone on tables and books for height, and use something to hold it up. 

  • Timer. Most cameras have a timer, but running to get into position, and running back to check your image and placement can be tiring. Having a remote control timer can be very convenient to try different poses without cardio involved. 

Tips to take your portrait from selfie-status to professional

Lighting

Light makes all the difference in the mood and quality of your image. Try taking self-portraits at different times of day, in different lighting.

  • Close to sunrise and sunset. You will get a lovely glowing quality when the sun is at an angle (Pro tip: Try Golden Hour, in the last 20 minutes of daylight before sunset!). 

  • The midday sun is a harsh light and will make stark, unflattering shadows on your face. To even out harsh lighting, look for a shaded place like an umbrella or awning. Or, experiment with the shadows and see what effects you can create. 

  • The camera should always be at an angle to avoid squinting.

  • Cultivate mood with low light. I love photographing under low light, it allows the freedom to hide certain features and create an air of mystery. 

Silhouettes allow you to show yourself without details. It’s all about the form, which can make for a dramatic photo. Try adding other objects to create an intriguing outline.

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Photo by Yuri Efremov on Unsplash

Location & Background

Choose a location that will help you describe a feeling or reveal something about you. Some ideas to help you seek out your best backdrop:

  • A local beach

  • A walking trail you frequent

  • Your favourite book store 

  • A cozy nook in your house 

  • A wall with unique features

Where do you feel most comfortable, and like yourself? Seek out these places, and bring your camera along. 

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Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

Camera Distance

Photograph using different camera distances. Try close up photos, and take pictures that show you as well as the whole location. How do they emphasize colour, shape, and the overall feel of the photo?

Camera Height

Ever wonder how they make short actors look taller in movies? It’s all in the angles. Use a bird’s eye view to make your subject (you!) look small. This unique vantage point shows the surrounding scenery, and can create a dynamic photo. A challenge to do on your own, but the higher, the better.

Lively Photographs

You’re alive, and we want to convey that vibrancy in your images. Take a dynamic self-portrait by changing the camera position and your body language. Images are more exciting where there is the suggestion of movement.

  • Place your shoulders at an angle, or lower your head and look at the lens. 

  • A discrete twisting of the neck can change the look. 

  • Put the camera at an angle, not straight at you. 

  • Tilt the camera forwards and back to find a unique frame. 

  • Test out different ways of moving and how they compliment the camera angle.

Don’t worry if some images don’t work out! You’re learning about your best angles, and you don’t have to show them to anyone! 

Poses

How you pose can change the feeling of an image, as well as compliment your body. The Internet offers tons of resources to find poses for you to try! 

  • Search fashion on Instagram and TikTok, they feature trendy images and poses you can draw inspiration from, or recreate with your own flair.

  • Look at a few catalogues such as Zara and H&M. What are their models doing with their bodies?

  • Some poses may be fun and spontaneous, or you may prefer a more stylized look. How can you pair this with your attire to create a theme?

You may not aspire to be a fashion model, but you can use how you present your body to create interesting photos. This is a great way to incorporate humor, too! If you’re self-conscious, you can also incorporate shadows and partial shadows to obscure features. You may only want to show your hands and feet, which is still a representation of you. 

Props

Props can help you tell your story. Place them strategically in your photograph to be part of the image, but make sure they don’t overshadow the rest of the image. If you’re a writer, you may want to pose with an armful of books, in front of your bookshelf. While the bookshelf is a great backdrop and provides a relevant prop, if you sit too close to the shelf, the books will be in focus along with you. Several things can happen here: 

  • The image will look flat. 

  • The viewer will start looking at the books you read, and the portrait will lose its power (remember, the focus is on you!). 

  • People won’t know where to look. 

  • Your image’s story won’t be clear.

How to improve this situation: 

  • Create depth in your image. You may do this by placing the camera so it’s higher than you, and slightly tilted down. 

  • Let the props be the supporting actor in your story, not the main lead (that’s your role!) 

There aren’t any rules! (Don’t you hate when people say that?) If you don’t really like being the center of attention, you can use your props to show your personality without your face being fully visible. For example, if you make beautiful flower arrangements, you can peak through the flowers. It’s fun, it’s colourful, and it shows who you are in a unique way that you’re comfortable with. 

Pro tips to get started In my time as a photographer, I have collected a plethora of tricks to help enhance your images. Here are my top ways to get you playing in front (and behind!) the camera.

  • Decide what your story is.

  • Research photos and paintings everywhere. What inspires you? 

  • Research poses and camera positions. 

  • Make a note of who your muses for that shoot are.

  • Write down ideas for your self-portraits and gather all the props you want to test out.

  • Choose a color theme. What compliments your chosen outfit, your background, or your props? 

  • Choose a great location and background (and note the weather forecast!). 

  • Practice making different facial expressions in front of the mirror.

  • Practice body movement and poses and take quick photos to see which are your favorite ones. Chin up? Glancing over the shoulder? Refer to them when you do your self-portraits.

  • Choose your clothes carefully. Take test photos to make sure that they look complimentary or how you want to portray yourself. 

Practice your self-portraits, then take photos of others and implement what you’ve learned. You’ll find taking photos of yourself a great way to gain experience with your camera and photography styles, even if you don’t have other human subjects available. I can’t wait to see what you create! Tag me on social media if you use any of these tips! 

Marguerite

Color and Photography by Marguerite

Links for you: Low Light indoor portraits

Creative self-portraits ideas

For your entertainment (A great place to get some ideas but many of them require a lot of styling):

100 Self-Portraits Ideas to do at home 

6 Tips for quarantine smartphone self-portraits

A special note: You can use all the techniques that are used on a DSLR camera. The good thing about the mobile phone camera is that you don’t have to worry about changing anything. Just point and shoot. 

The Secrets to Shooting Perfect Portraits with Natural Light by Jordan Dyck

selfportraitMarguerite

Photo by Marguerite Self-Portrait

Main photo by Devin Phaly on Unsplash

Marguerite Beaty, Blogger, Photographer & Artist

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