Thanks to social media, self-portraiture has become one of the most common types of photography. Nearly everyone has taken a ‘selfie’ at some point, from high schoolers to astronauts. It’s become so ordinary that you could overlook it as a worthwhile and challenging photography genre.
But in fact, self-portraiture can be incredibly challenging for two reasons. First, you can get overwhelmed by the number of possibilities. Because you’re only dealing with yourself, rather than a model, you can go anywhere and do nearly anything you want. Time and money are your only limitations.
While fantastic in some ways, this freedom can actually work against you. With so many possibilities, you might struggle to settle on an idea.
Second, you have to figure out the technical details of photographing yourself as both model and photographer. If you’re technically inclined, this challenge is easy to work around. You simply shoot tethered.
Otherwise, you’ll need a prop to stand in your place while you’re adjusting the camera settings. Any tall object, like a broom or a rake, should be fine. This object will ensure that your self-portraits are sharp.
Then, set the timer high enough to give you plenty of time to position yourself for the shot. If possible, set up a mirror behind or beside the camera, so you can check your positioning and facial expression.
Another good strategy is to use the burst mode on your camera. Shooting several photos in a row will give you more options, especially if you change your facial expression or accidentally blink. Just make sure your settings are spot on before you use the burst, so you don’t end up with dozens of photos you’ll need to delete.
Once you’ve mastered the technicalities of photographing yourself, you just need ideas. Here are a few ways to find inspiration:
Explore your identity.
When brainstorming self-portrait ideas, you can begin by making a list of things or places you love. For instance, you could write down ‘photography’ or another favorite hobby. These interests could inspire a self-portrait that showcases your interests, instead of just your face.
Another way to explore your identity is to think about your daily schedule. What activities do you repeat every day? What’s unique about your daily habits? What’s your favorite or least favorite part of the day? These questions can be a springboard into all kinds of interesting self-portraits.
Experiment with a technique.
Though you’re photographing yourself, a self portrait doesn’t have to revolve around you, per se. It can be an opportunity for honing a skill or experimenting with a new technique. You could try out double exposures or long exposures, or even create a funny self portrait with sparkling fairy dust.
Self-portraiture allows you to thoroughly explore these techniques without wasting another person’s time. It’s an easy way to gain experience so that when you do shoot with models, you’re ready.
‘Copy’ an idea with your own twist
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s okay to learn from other photographers and try out the same concepts. As Austin Kleon wrote in Steal Like an Artist, “Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.”
In other words, if you’re stuck, find a self-portrait you like and work from there. Even if you use the same props, lighting, and background, the photo will look different because you’re different. That’s one of the beauties of self-portraiture. It’s always unique.
To start off, check out these great images from the photographers in our Flickr community!