To some photographers, it’s pure unending inspiration. To others, it’s equivalent to a swear word. Maybe you love ’em, maybe you hate ’em, maybe you’re somewhere in between, but no matter your opinion, I think we can all agree it’s important we get in front of the lens now and again.
My love of self portraiture began last year, in the middle of a 366 Photo Project. I was running low on ideas, when I noticed my 15-month-old was being particularly clingy. You know, as 15-month-olds do. Inspiration struck immediately. I needed to capture this clingy phase, in all its cute and overbearing glory, and stat. Which meant I was about to be in a lot of photos, as clinginess can only be captured with both parties involved.
I spent a little over a week finding the little moments worth remembering, setting everything up, getting my camera ready, and handing it over to my husband to tap the shutter. What resulted is nothing award worthy, but it’s a collection of photos worth more than pure gold to me. Myself, my husband, and my baby girl will now forever have these fleeting moments frozen in time, in the form of photographs. I wore no make-up, didn’t brush my hair, heck, I’m even wearing my pajamas in one of them. But they’re real, and they’re perfect in their realness.
After this little series, I was hooked. I joined a self portrait loop and have been taking weekly self portraits ever since.
Here’s my thinking. While some may see self portraits and think the photographer is “full of herself” . . . I couldn’t disagree more. First, self love is SO important these days. Think of self portraiture as a love letter to yourself that you get the pleasure of looking back on 10, 20, 30 years from now. Second, it’s more than just for you. Consider all of the family members and loved ones who will enjoy seeing you in the frame for a change, and will cherish photos of you one day when you’re no longer around.
Think back to your younger years. Did you love your mom because she had a perfect body, a face fresh with make-up, absent of wrinkles, and stylish outfits? And when you look back at photos of her from your younger years, do you need to see her in her best possible form to cherish the photographs? I hope the answer to both of those are resounding NOs.
Now please consider the same questions for yourself. One day, ten or twenty years from now, when your significant other, kids, and loved ones are looking back on old photographs, what do they really want to see? I’ll answer for you. They want to see you exactly as you are right now, reading this blog post, in the middle of possibly a hectic day, a few (or many) pounds away from your “goal weight,” mascara smudged across your eyelid because you didn’t have time to apply it just right, a big stain on your shirt because your kiddo was wiggling in your lap as you ate your lunch, or whatever other not-so-perfect state you may be in today. (If it’s all dolled up and feeling like a million bucks, more power to ya!)
And in case you’re still not on board because you’re just not feeling confident yet, let me show you how normal it is to feel self doubt. I took the above photo to celebrate my recent birthday. I put on my favorite lipstick, a little mascara, took an hour blowing up the balloons and getting the arch taped up, and while I love the end result, if I’m in a critical mood, I look at it and instantly see only flaws. The way my sweatshirt made me look boxy, the extra pounds I’m carrying almost 2 years postpartum, hair that was quickly brushed and looking scraggly, my off-white teeth, the line down my un-ironed sweatshirt.
Now think about your first impressions. When you first saw that birthday portrait, did you see any of those flaws? I doubt it. We are our own worst critics. Consider that when seeking the courage to take a self portrait. The things you like least about yourself, the parts you’re scared of sharing, will likely not even register to your viewers.
Let that be encouragement to you! You are beautiful exactly as you are today, and, just being honest, you will never look younger than you do right now. So go grab a photo of exactly whatcha got and rest assured that no matter what you capture, you’re going to be glad you got it many many years from now. You may even like it immediately! Gosh, I hope you do!
Now, on to some tips and tricks to get you started. Or to motivate you if you haven’t taken one in a while.
First, you’ll need a tripod. I prefer to use a buddy to snap the photo for me, i.e. my husband. I call him my living tripod. Go ahead and feel free to use that term. I stole it from someone else and it cracks me up every time. You’re welcome.
You may be thinking, “How is it a self portrait if someone else takes it?” If I come up with the idea, set up the whole shot, adjust the camera settings, and hand it over to another person who just clicks the shutter, it’s still my photo. Never mind the time I’ll spend on editing. So don’t let that scare you off from asking for help. If you don’t have a significant other who’s willing to help, how about a local photography buddy, a parent or sibling, or even a neighborhood friend? You could pay them back with a portrait in the same set up, if they’re interested, or a gift card to a favorite coffee shop. To be honest, it really does make self portraiture a bit easier if you have someone else to wield the camera.
However, if you don’t have a living tripod, no sweat! You can very affordably acquire a simple tripod (mine is the Amazon Basics one) to get the job done. You could even set the camera on a table top or up in a cabinet or on any other flat surface to hold your camera still.
If you’re going the traditional tripod or tabletop route, you’ll need to set a timer on your camera to do the snapping for you. You could also use a intervalometer for remote controlled shutter release, but I don’t own one, so I can’t speak to its handiness. When I set a timer on my camera, I set it to take 5-10 photos in a row, each 2-3 seconds apart. This will change depending on what’s going on in the photo I’m trying to capture, but generally it’s somewhere in those ranges. Let the camera take a bunch of photos, walk over to review the captures, and determine if you need to do it all over again. Sometimes it only takes 1 burst of photos, other times it’s 50 photos or even more.
You’ll also need to grab focus before you pop in the frame, which can be tricky, since you’re not in the frame when you’re looking through your viewfinder to find focus. The best way to do it is to put another person or an object in your place and use that to set focus. You could also set your camera to pick the focus for you if your camera is good at that sort of thing.
Now with the behind-the-scenes technicals behind us, let’s talk about inspiration. How do you know when it’s right to take self portraits? What keeps you inspired?
My best advice for knowing when it’s right to take a self portrait is to plan to do them regularly. How about once a month? Feeling super ready to give this a go? Then perhaps weekly is a better plan! Or if both of those sound overwhelming to you, how about on special occasions, like birthdays, anniversaries and/or holidays? Pick what suits you best and then stick to it! Make a promise to yourself and your loved ones that you’re going to get in the frame more, and then make it happen. Write it on your calendar if you need the regular reminder.
With your new plan to take weekly/monthly/holiday self portraits in place, it’s time to get inspired. My biggest inspiration is real life. I’m a mom of three young kiddos and there are a million moments a day that are worth capturing, so when one comes up that I think would make for a particularly strong self portrait, I make note. Sometimes the moment happens and the camera comes out immediately, like this photo of me wiping my baby girl’s face.
Other times, I note a daily occurrence and then capture it days, weeks, or even months later, when the set up is just right, like this photo of me sipping my coffee while homeschooling my son.
Please note, my face was intentionally cropped because I was looking particularly haggard that morning. And I used my daughter to cover my torso, since I was still braless that early in the day.
Think about a normal day for you. Think about all the moments, the motions, the emotions, and note the things you’d like to freeze in time. Those are the exact nuggets that inspire the best self portraits. This moment, right now, is a moment that later will be a memory. Capture the memories you’ll miss a year from now.
Another great place to look for inspiration: photography techniques and trends you haven’t tried yet. For example, I loved the idea of faceless portraits, but hadn’t attempted one yet. So I used this opportunity to try a new-to-me photo trend to capture another self portrait. I was very pleased with the result.
I had also never captured a classic silhouette. Again, I used the opportunity to practice on myself. It’s a great way to multitask: stretch your skills AND capture self portraits at the same time. Boom.
And one final source of inspiration: social media. When I’ve run out of ideas, I take to Instagram and find my favorite self portrait artists for a little peek at what they’ve created lately. Nothing gets the creative juices going quite like watching another artist hit it out of the park. The goal isn’t to copy, but to see what other photographers are up to and then put your own spin on it.
My hope is now that we’ve talked it all out, you’re feeling ready to give self portraits a go! I’d love to see what you create! Please tag your self portraits with #hs_selfportraits on Facebook and Instagram, and hopefully overtime, the hashtag will become another great source of self-portrait inspiration for all of us!
Remember, you’re beautiful just as you are and the world needs more photos of you. Now get to it!
If you’re interested in following my self portrait journey, you can find me on Instagram!
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