Friday, 30 October 2009

Tips on How to Shoot Self-Portraits (or not)

The following tips, hints and how-to's are in no way to be viewed as being completely instructional, or even helpful... I just thought I'd clarify before you read any further. Anyway, let's begin to take a look at what's involved in taking Self-Portraits.

1. It's a good idea to use a prop, such as this teddy bear, as a point of focus - the aim is to replace the prop with yourself, of course.

2. If you have one, use a remote shutter release - they are really handy, as you don't have to rush back to the spot within 10 seconds (like I had to before I bought the shutter release) - oh, it's also a good idea to remember where the spot was, and to hide the remote from view...

3. If you're a little shy, then get a family member to join you in your Self-Portrait, especially when they also don't normally like having their photo taken. Then the two of you can learn to relax and go with the flow. Note: sitting with the reluctant family member and using a remote shutter is a stroke of genius that I wish I had thought of way before now.

4. The reluctant family member, who is by now enjoying this little photoshoot, may even pose and smile at just the right time. No, wait, this shoot is about taking Self-Portraits...sorry, but I couldn't resist adding this photo or this quite useless tip.

5. Taking a Self-Portrait doesn't always mean facing the camera. Have you thought of a profile pose?

6. If you're not happy with a profile shot, there's always the stand-by "look-at-the-camera-with-a-semi-serious-expression", but don't be shy, fill the frame, don't hang around the edges....

7. Yes, while this is a Self-Portrait shoot, it's also good manners not to hog the camera and push the family member out of the way. There is room for both of you.

8. Placing yourself, or your subject in this case, in the centre of the frame isn't necessarily the wisest choice. Sometimes this can make for a very static and boring composition. Place yourself, or your subject to the side, leaving some negative space for the eyes to rest on.

9. Who said your eyes need to be open when you're taking a Self-Portrait? Who said you even need to be awake when you're taking a Self-Portrait? These are questions you should ask yourself.

10. When using a prop as a focusing tool, it's a good idea to remove it completely from the shooting area. Unless of course you want to incorporate it in your Self-Portrait. In that case, it can make for a quirky element in your shot. Mind you, you can also crop the image, or clone it out.

11. If you're sharing your Self-Portrait with a family member, you don't need to have both of you in focus. In fact, it looks quite nice if only one of you is in focus, and the other is all soft and blurry. Using a shallow depth of field will mean the eye will be drawn to the part of the image in focus, in this case, the precious family member.

12. Use a Soft Focus, Cross-Screen or even Rainbow filter to give a soft and dreamy feel to your Self-Portrait. Using such a filter makes for a very forgiving image result.

13. A little bored with straight photography? Then why not incorporate some texture layers to add some interest and depth to your Self-Portrait. Either download these from around the web, or photograph your own, as I've done here. The number of layers and how you blend them will depend on what you're trying to achieve with your Self-Portrait.

I used my diffuser propped against a fairly bright window, camera on a tripod and a 50mm F1.8 lens. The 50mm is known as the "portrait lens" and the fact that it's only the f1.8 means it's called the "plastic fantastic". I also used a speedlite flash (just a teensy one) with a tissue as a diffuser to soften the effects of the flash.

If you haven't tried taking your Self-Portrait, give it a go, you might be surprised at just how much fun it can be. If you have taken your Self-Portrait, and can share some useful tips, feel free to comment in this blog - share your tips with others.
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