Self-portrait photography might seem like a trivial undertaking at first sight. However, like all other forms of photography, it is a skill that can be honed and mastered.
Self-portraits give you a unique opportunity to express yourself. Although a good setting can add to the impactfulness of your image, self-photography can potentially be practiced in any setting. Over time, it might start getting slightly mundane as a consequence of the consistency of the subject. However, like in any other genre of photography, you can switch it up just as easily.
In this article, we will take a look at how you can improve your self-portrait photography skills and how you can keep it from getting stale.
You’ll learn what equipment you can use to get stunning self-portraits and why you should invest in it. I’ll also walk you through some of the main composition techniques, tips, and ideas on how to improve your photos.
So let’s get started.
What is Self Portrait Photography
In a nutshell, self-portrait photography is taking pictures of yourself using any camera. Although smartphone cameras are a great place to start, for the purpose of this article, I will be talking about taking self-portraits with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
In fact a clear distinction between selfies and self potraits should be made. While a selfie is a quick shot that you usually take with your smartphone, a self-portraiture requires you to put some thoughts and planning into it.
Self-portrait photography is a sub-genre of portrait photography. It gives you an opportunity to learn more about posing, composition, lighting, and create expressive portraiture that conveys a message and tell a personal story.
Related: How to Take a Good Selfie
Why should you take self-portraits?
Apart from being one of the simplest ways to improve your photography skills, you will also be able to curate shots for yourself; shots that you can showcase to the world.
Today, it’s more important than ever to curate your own image as a photographer. Having a website or a social media account to showcase your portfolio it’s only going to benefit if you also show who you are.
You audience will highly appreciate to know who is behind the camera.
Self Portrait Photography Gear
In general a mirrorless or DSLR camera with self-timer, a tripod and a remote control is the minimum gear required for self-portaits. Let’s see more in detail
Camera for Self-Portraits
First and foremost, you need a dedicated camera for your shots. Here are two amazing cameras that right now are selling like crazy on Amazon and you should really consider:
Canon EOS Rebel T7i DSLR (Kit lens included)
- Sensor: 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C)
- ISO: 100–25600
- Autofocus: 15 to 45-point all cross-type AF excellent autofocus performance
- Built-in WIFI and Bluetooth: for remote control
Sony a7R III Mirrorless Camera (Body only)
- One of the best camera sensor on the market: 42.4 Megapixel (Full-frame)
- ISO: 100-102400 (Basically shoots in the dark)
- Autofocus: 399-point insanely good autofocus
- Built-in WIFI and Bluetooth: for remote control
- Video: Amazing 4K quality
Tripod for Self-Portraits
A tripod is another aid that can help you get really good shots. Tripods have to be sturdy and if possible light at the same time, moreover I like tripods that are quickly adjustable and allow you to be more efficient. A couple of great options that are receiving excellent reviews are:
- Dimensions: Folded height: 28.5″, Extended height: 69.9″, Weight: 5.7 pounds
- 3 section aluminum legs
- Quick flip leg locks and rubber feet with retractable spikes
- Easy to operate with precise pan and tilt function
- Outstanding stability and loading capacity up to 11 pounds
- Compact & Light Weight: Made of carbon fiber, compact and designed also for travel
- Dimensions: height ranging from 13.8″ to 60″
- Sturdy: very stable and can be locked in different positions
- It features a hook for hanging weight in order to get extra support
There are other pieces of equipment, such as lights and reflectors, but before you purchase them you should familiarize yourself with the general procedure of taking a self-portrait.
Camera Settings for Self Portrait Photography
Owning a good camera is never enough ti capture great photos. The secret of a great self-portraiture lies in the camera settings too.
Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed
First of all, I suggest you shoot in Aperture Priority Mode (Av). Many people will tell you that you should shoot in full manual mode, but this will overcomplicate things for no reasons.
For a blurred background use an aperture of f/2.8 or f/4. This will create a shallow depth-of-field and deliver that smooth creamy background that will make you, the subject, stand out more.
Otherwise, if you want your background to be more prominent start from an aperture of f/5.6 to f/8.
Always adjust the ISO to make sure you get the right exposure. If you shoot in low light conditions you’ll need to increase your ISO otherwise the camera will lower the shutter speed and this will potentially result in a blurred subject.
At the same time pay attention to not increase the ISO too much or you’ll introduce digital noise in your self portrait and considerably lower the quality.
Self Portrait Photography Tips
Now that you have an idea of what self-portrait involves, and what gear you need it is time to dive deeper into the genre and ponder on a few tips that can elevate the quality of your pictures.
Use a Remote Control
This tool is essential when taking self-portraits. They help you take a photo with your timer from a distance. You will also be able to compose yourself for the shot better. The remote helps you save time and allows you to focus on the quality of your pictures.
Tell a Story With Your Self Portrait Photography
One of the best parts of self-portraits is that you are the subject. This gives you the freedom to weave your own story when shooting. You do not have to worry about instructions and you can enact scenes as you please.
Play with visualizing scenes and recreate them. You can also lean into the cinematic side of shots by carefully choosing your pose, and then stitching them in post-processing.
Have a Color Scheme
Colors can help you stick to a theme and create stunning visuals. In self-portraits, you will be challenged to shoot using your clothes and hence you have to establish a theme. Having a color scheme gives your shot a uniform feel.
Light is Key
A natural soft light is always the best for this type of photos. If you shoot indoor position yourself close to a window. The light source can be on your left or right to have one side of your face darker and create a more dramatic shot.
For a more flattering shot position, the light source in front of you and have your face evenly illuminated. It all depends on the type of story and message you want to tell.
Create a Silhouette Shot
A great way to highlight yourself while also keeping things mysterious is to take silhouette shots. They are surprisingly easy to take; all you need is a bright background as the focal point.
If you are shooting outside, the best time to take these shots is during sunset and sunrise, when the sun is low in the sky. You cannot get these shots by using your camera’s auto mode. Hence it is important to use a dedicated camera.
Whether it is using props or different angles you will be able to experiment. You can use prisms to get reflections and glare, mirrors for reflective shots. Change your expressions, use household props, and take closeups to get some beautiful shots. You are bound only by your own imagination.
You can find some amazing self portrait photography at this link.
In self-portrait photography, you are showcasing your range as a photographer through an intimate subject – yourself.
It is a good way to practice your skills and test your limits. Doing this will also help you gain confidence and find your creative eye. Self-portraits don’t have to be purposeful. However, if you shoot with intent, you will be able to get the best out of your shots.
As with all other genres of photography, mastery is all about practice and taking as many pictures as you can!
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.