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This guide to self portraits is going to help you get exactly the results you’re searching for. Self portraits are hard. They are time consuming, they are difficult to get in focus, and it is hard to accept ourselves sometimes. I wish that last part wasn’t true, but it is.
I’m here to tell you that self portraits can help you realize your beauty and your worth.
I’m here to tell you that you are beautiful.
And I’m here to show you how to get images that you can be proud of.
This is the ultimate guide to self portraits!
But before we begin, I wanted to let you know about my course, How to Capture Your Everyday Life and Create Art that actually has a self portrait section (and tons more information than what’s in this post!).
Capture Your Everyday
- 173 Page PDF explaining how to capture your everyday life
- How to use and see the light
- How to use composition
- 5 Lightroom editing videos
- 5 exercises to help you improve your daily captures
- self portrait section
- And MORE!
gear you need
I know I talk a lot about gear and what you need, but please keep in mind that it’s really important to getting the images you want.
That being said, I also believe you can rock any gear you have. Before I had my DSLR, I had a simple point and shoot camera and I still was able to get some good images (of course nothing like I get now, but I didn’t have the knowledge I have now).
As far as a camera goes, really any type of camera will work. Just as long as it can be used on a tripod, you should be good to go. I do recommend a camera that can do manual mode. And I do recommend using manual mode when taking self portraits. It just makes things a lot easier.
Check out my favorite camera accessories for this guide to self portraits below. I own all of these items and absolutely love them!
A tripod isn’t totally necessary. I set my camera up on all sorts of things. Like my chest of drawers, book shelf, desk, anything sturdy. A remote isn’t totally necessary, either, but it does come in handy for self portraits. I usually set my camera up on a timer, though. More on that in a bit.
pick a location
Deciding on what location to use can be tricky. I think it really depends on what type of mood you are going for. If you’re just starting out with self portraits, I would definitely recommend doing self portraits in your home or in private. It can feel awkward if you aren’t used to taking pictures. Eventually, you will get comfortable enough to do it out in public. It does take some courage, though!
My favorite locations for self portraits:
- my bedroom
- my living room
- my sons room
- a local park
- anywhere on vacation
I honestly always take pictures in my bedroom and living room, it’s my favorite places to take pictures! And while I’m on vacation, I really don’t care who is watching. And no, I don’t lug my tripod around for self portraits. I actually hand my camera over, which we’ll talk about in full detail in just a bit.
In my bedroom I can get some simple self portraits because I have a white wall and side light. I can also set up my light if I need to, which I’ve done before. In my sons room I usually include him in those to help tell a story and capture our everyday lives.
I also love going to local parks and taking pictures there. They are typically less everyday images and more images with pretty light that make my photographer heart happy. 🙂 But it doesn’t matter, because I’m in the frame and that’s all that really matters!
Decide on what you want to portray in your self portrait and then pick a location to go along with it.
deciding on what to wear
Picking what to wear in self portraits is probably the hardest thing for me. Like, ever. I always struggle! I feel like what you wear helps to portray your mood and what type of feeling you are going for in the image.
I almost always wear dresses. But I love dresses. If you aren’t a dress person, never fear, pick something that speaks to you. That you feel beautiful in, but also comfortable. Something that when you wear it, you think ‘This IS Me’. If that’s jeans and a t-shirt, then you go for it.
In my more formal self portraits, where I’m typically trying to portray beauty or contemplation, I love wearing dresses.
But in my everyday self portraits, I’m usually dressed in a shirt and blue jeans, because that’s my typical, everyday wardrobe.
When I am going for simplicity, I definitely try to dress simple. In a black tank top, in a plain dress, etc.
Dressing up for self portraits will help boost your confidence.
So, definitely pick something that makes you feel beautiful.
In this guide to self portraits, I’m going to assume you know manual mode. If you don’t, I really, really, recommend you learn it. And fast. It will help you get the images you want consistently. It is a little bit of a learning curve, but once you get it, you will never look back.
So, assuming you know manual mode, let’s talk about a few settings that are really important in this guide to self portraits.
Aperture is really important in self portraits. If you have too wide of an aperture, then your self portraits are always going to be out of focus.
Now, sometimes it’s nice to have an out of focus shot. When done purposefully, out of focus shots are beautiful. I’ve never been good at them, but I’ve seen tons of artists use out of focus shots in their self portraits.
But, for the most part, you probably want your self portraits to be in focus.
So, my advice would be for your aperture to be at least f/2.5. This will all depend on your depth of field and what lens you are using (hey if you need help with aperture, I’ve got you covered! I just wrote an awesome blog post about it!). By putting my aperture at f/2.5, it’s helping me get myself (both eyes!) in focus. And it’s still a pretty wide open aperture that you can still have some nice blur to your backgrounds. Again, it all depends on your depth of field. But I’d definitely start at f/2.5.
If I am out doors and want to include the landscape, then I will often close down my aperture even more so that more of my scene is in focus. Think about what type of shot you want: do you want to include the background, or blur it out?
As a general rule I like to never let my shutter speed go below a 1/250. Now, if I’m photographing a moving toddler, I definitely will increase that. If my son is in the shot, I might start at a 1/400 because he has fast arms! 😀 But if it’s just me, I know I wont’ move super fast, I can have my shutter speed at about 1/250. IT depends on where I’m taking the picture, if I need to let more or less light in, and what my ISO is.
I typically don’t really care what my ISO is. I pick my aperture first, then shutter speed, and then compensate with my ISO. If that means my ISO is at 4000, then it’s at 4000 and I’m loving life. A lot of times photographers are nervous to push their ISO past 100…because they might add in grain.
I’m going to tell you a secret: a properly exposed image with a high ISO will have less grain than an image that isn’t properly exposed but as a low ISO. Got it?
Ok, I’m done with that little rant!
Don’t be afraid to push your ISO if needed. And don’t be afraid of a little grain.
how to achieve focus
This might be one of the biggest frustrations in self portraiture. If I’m in front of the camera, how on earth do I get myself in focus?
Well, I already gave you a little hint with aperture. Make sure your aperture isn’t completely wide open. Unless you want that soft focus, out of focus look.
But here’s my all time favorite tip when achieving focus in self portraits!
I set my tripod up (or the place I’ll be putting my camera). I then decide on where I’ll stand or sit. I’ll mark the place I plan on standing or sitting with something (usually my lens cap). I take my camera with me and sit or stand in this designated area and I will focus on my tripod or where I plan on putting my camera. I lock focus by switching it to manual focus and I will return my camera to the tripod. I set my timer (or use a remote) return to the spot that I marked with my lens cap, and I am almost always in focus.
Neat little trick, eh?
It’ll blow your mind how many more self portraits you have in focus. 😉
Pro tip: don’t move your marker…I’ve done this before on accident and will come away with out of focus shots. OOPS! Leave the marker where you want to stand! You can hide it with your foot or move it after you’re in the right position.
Another tip is to hand the camera over
I often hand the camera over for my self portraits. I don’t always have my tripod with me, but I do sometimes have a helping hand (thank you hubby).
My best advice is to tell your helping hand exactly what you want in your image. I will often times take a picture of them and show them exactly what I want. I also make sure to tell them how to focus, how I want the image composed, what type of moment I want captured, and tell them to just take a ton of pictures (I’d rather have too many and get the shot, than not enough and miss it!).
I’ve gotten some of my favorite shots from handing my camera over. So, don’t be afraid to add that as an option. Just make sure you hand your camera to someone you trust (you don’t want them breaking it).
taking the shot
My goal in a self portrait session is to usually walk away with one, yes just one good image.
I typically will have this one specific image in mind and try to get it. If I come away with more than that, it’s a win.
I usually set my camera to self timer mode, and I also set it to where it takes 10 images at a time. That way I’m not constantly running back to my camera and I have 10 shots to practice with.
In those 10 shots, I will move around some. I will change my position a little bit. And then I will look at them after my camera is done taking pictures and see which position looked back and try to mimic it again. OR I will realize that this pose just isn’t working and I will change my approach completely.
Sometimes people feel really awkward in self portraits, and my number one guess is probably because they are looking at the camera and it feels so weird to them. My advice would be to do something in your self portrait.
Some of my favorite things to do in self portraits are:
- Hold my son (or daughter!)
- Hug myself
- Do a chore (like laundry)
- Put my hands in my pockets
- Touch my face
I also hardly ever look at the camera. There are some occasions when I do, but for the most part, I like my self portraits looking rather natural and not forced. When I look at the camera, I feel like it is forced.
I love looking out the window, looking at my son or daughter, closing my eyes, focusing on the task I’m doing, etc.
Self portraits don’t have to be awkward! And trust me, when I first started doing self portraits, I was awkward and stiff as well until I started doing things in my self portraits instead of just sitting there staring at the camera.
Get relaxed. Laugh with your kids. Your self portraits can be natural and beautiful, too!
accept your flaws
Your flawed because you are only human. But flaws are beautiful. And you need to see that. For the longest time I hated the way my chin looked in self portraits. Or my nose. Or I nit picked every little thing about my self portraits. Darn it, I’m not skinny enough. Darn it that baby weight is still hanging on. But I started letting go and accepting my flaws as beautiful and a part of me and make me who I am.
I have baby weight still, but I have two beautiful children.
I started realizing that being in the frame with my children was more important than criticizing the way I looked in photos. And I hope you realize that, too.
Getting in the frame can be such a calming and relaxing thing, if you let it.
It can start to be your creative outlet.
You are your own model, so you’ll do exactly what you want yourself to do! You don’t have to worry about your subjects not sitting still. It can be something that makes you happy and relaxed, if you let it.
get in the frame
So?! What are you waiting for?! Get in that frame! Make memories with your kids that you will cherish for years to come. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. I absolutely love ALL of the images I’ve gotten with my son and daughter. I cherish every single one.
And you know what? Not a single one is perfect.
But they’re perfect for me.
And now I can show my children that I was there, too.
So, get in that frame with your children.
And your spouse! They’re not exempt from images. 😉
Remember to respect those you photograph and ask if it’s OK to photograph them. Respect their response if the answer is no and take pictures of just you. 😉
comment and let me know how it went
Did you get in the frame? How did it go? Do you have any questions? Let me help you! I want you to be comfortable getting in front of the camera! Comment below and let me know of any of your failures or successes and let’s learn together.
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Alyssa (sometimes going by Aly) is a hobbyist photographer who loves to teach. Her love of photography started before she ever had any kids. Now a mom of two, she loves to photograph her kids, flowers, and landscape. She specializes in capturing her everyday life. She loves to teach fellow beginner photographers how to take control of their cameras and get the images they dream about getting.