As photographers, we tend to be comfortable behind the camera, observing others and catching everyday moments of grace. Turning the camera on one’s self — not so comfortable. For one thing, photographing yourself in an actual, premeditated self-portrait requires a bit of technical preparation. That doesn’t mean self-portraiture has to be difficult to do. I want to show you a set up that requires minimal time and equipment.
What you’ll need to take self-portraits:
- Window light
- Wireless remote trigger or self-timer on your camera
- Tripod (or anything stationary) to hold your camera steady
1. Find a window with pleasant, soft light streaming through. I particularly like evening light for self-portraits. The low light illuminates the subject while the background fades to shadow. (I do have to work fast because the light diminishes quickly.) Place a chair or tripod to mark your approximate shooting position, just 3 or 4 feet from the window: close enough for the light to illuminate your face, yet far enough to exclude the window.
2. Find the spot where you will sit or stand for the portraits, and mark it with an object such as a pillow.
3. Look through your camera’s viewfinder and fine-tune your tripod’s position to the exact distance you prefer from your “you” stand-in, the pillow in this case.
4. Take your camera back to your portrait spot, and focus on the tripod. Re-mark the spot you’re in, then mount your camera on the tripod. Now you’re ready to start taking photos.
5. If you have a remote, you can position yourself in the setup. Otherwise, set the camera’s self-timer, and get into place. Take a couple of photos, then check the captures on the back of your camera. I usually check the accuracy of the focus and exposure. I may need to tweak the settings as I go along. Satisfied, I take a few more until I know I’ve got what I need. It’s a quick and easy process once you get the hang of it.
Pro tips for great self-portraits
Find your best angle.
One tip while taking self-portraits is to move your body into various poses and different angles to the camera and see which looks best to you. (You may feel a little silly “voguing,” but nobody has to see!) Your camera settings will vary with the light, the lens, and your creative process.
Adjust your camera settings.
My go-to aperture for self-portraits when taking photos alone tends to stay around f/2. I prefer a shallow depth of field. That can make it tricky to establish focus, especially when I’m close to the camera, and that’s why I check my camera after every few frames.
If I’m taking photos with my kids or trying to get candids of my day-to-day, I keep the aperture at around f/5 or higher so I can get a wider range to move around in rather than remaining in one spot. Just remember you will need more light and/or a higher ISO when closing down on your aperture, so adjust your other settings accordingly.
Set up your gear in advance.
If you’re including your children in your self-portraits, try finding an activity that you all can do together, like reading, dancing or cuddling that keeps you all in one area. We know kids aren’t very patient and won’t stick around long enough for you to keep checking your camera, so have your camera, tripod and settings up and ready to go before you round up the kids. Position the kids, then go to your camera, set your focus on them, and join the fun, snapping away via your remote or self-timer.
Photos by Kristen Ryan