The first photography genre I fell in love with was self-portraiture. It entered my life at the perfect time; I was yearning to express myself, get better at something new, and feel inspired.
As a very young person with no photography skills, I felt lost. All I knew was that I had an intense love for portraits, emotions, and natural beauty. Fueled by curiosity, I started taking self-portraits with the only camera I had: my phone (which, for the record, had only 2 megapixels).
Self-portrait photography not only provided me with emotional comfort and an abundance of inspiration, but taught me how to find photo-worthy moments almost anywhere. This is why I encourage every photographer to give it a try.
Even if self-portraiture doesn’t become your career, taking photos of yourself will improve your self-confidence and develop your creative eye. Most importantly, it will shape you into an imaginative and grateful individual.
If you don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. The tips and tricks in this article will teach you how to find inspiration, invest in the right equipment, transform yourself into someone different, and more.
Find Self-Portraits That Inspire You and Learn from Them
Some of the most influential artists in my life – Rosie Hardy, Laura Kok, and Sophie Eggert – are self-portrait photographers. Laura’s portraits are uplifting, Rosie’s concepts are thought-provoking, and Sophie’s panoramas are cinematic.
As you can see, there’s no limit to how much inspiration you can find in other people’s work. Though these photographers have very different portfolios, they all share a love for storytelling.
A common fear in the photography world is theft. The last thing you want is to be accused of stealing someone else’s idea, not having your own style, or not being good enough. While being aware of this is important, don’t let it stop you from getting inspiration.
There’s nothing wrong with recreating an idea and crediting the original artist. In fact, many photographers are flattered when their hard work is used as a source of inspiration! Find portrait photographers you admire, recreate their work, and ask them for advice.
By experimenting with different styles, you’ll find your own style. And one day, someone will try to recreate your work.
Invest in a Tripod and a Remote
Taking self-portraits isn’t a walk in the park. You’re the only one who’s in charge of compositions, camera settings, and poses. If the sun decides to hide behind a cloud the moment you’re about to take a great photograph, you have to go back to your camera and adjust the exposure. If one of your poses looks awkward, no one’s there to guide you.
When this gets frustrating, remember that these challenges are helping you turn into a more disciplined, independent, and reliable artist.
Nevertheless, there are things you can do to overcome these obstacles and make self-portraiture a little less infuriating. One of them is investing in a tripod and a remote. Though there are many other handy accessories you could invest in, I consider these two the most essential ones.
They’re both very affordable and enduring, so investing in them is something you definitely won’t regret. A sturdy tripod will keep your camera safe, while a remote will let you use your timer from a distance. This will save a lot of time and help you focus solely on the quality of your work.
Familiarize Yourself with Different Expressions
I’ve been taking self-portraits for over eight years, yet I still feel awkward at the beginning of every shoot. I’m not the only one. All of my photographer friends experience the same thing every time to they have to take a photo. Anyone who takes self-portraits has to go through a short phase of discomfort.
Keep this in mind the next time you take photos of yourself; just because you don’t know where to put your hands or how to express yourself doesn’t mean you’re a horrible photographer.
The first awkward stages of any shoot can be overcome with the help of practice. Give yourself some time to get into a “modelling” state. Practice in front of a mirror, find expressions that you like in other photos, and be open to looking silly. This will help you find angles, expressions, and poses that you really like.
You’ll definitely feel more comfortable in front of your camera after this, but don’t forget that the next time you shoot, you’ll feel out of place again. Embracing this will make the first stages of any shoot less problematic. Instead of worrying about looking strange, you’ll simply accept your flaws and practice confidently.
Learn the Art of Controlling Light
Light is a priceless tool that can make the simplest portraits look like Rembrandt’s paintings. When you become a master of light, you become a master of photography. Practice as much as possible; watch out for interesting shadows, patches of light in dark places, and the golden hour.
Take photos both indoors and outdoors, and don’t be afraid to break the rules as you do. Embrace everything that stands out to you, be it a specific time of day or the way a surface reflects light. Eventually, you’ll be able to find the right kind of light in any location without even thinking.
Another light-related tip worth keeping in mind is this: don’t be afraid of working with artificial light. You don’t need to invest in professional lighting equipment; any indoor light you own can be used to take creative self-portraits.
I often use a lamp to light my face because it lets me experiment with new angles and styles without worrying about time, which isn’t the case when it comes to ever-changing natural light.
Artificial light is also ideal for fun creative projects. For example, portrait photographer Jessica Kobeissi often uses cello paper and a torch to give her portraits a unique, colourful look.
Take Advantage of Insignificant Details
What most people take for granted may take your photos to the next level. Teach yourself to appreciate details like steam, branches, the clothes you wear every day, and anything else you come across.
These seemingly uninteresting things have the power to transform your work. For example, branches can be used to create a frame around your face or simply add an interesting element to your photos. Steam can be used to create eye-catching shadows.
Make the most of everything you have and you’ll become a more appreciative and curious artist.
Any portrait can be enhanced with the help of details like hands, hair, and materials. When you’re out of ideas, take advantage of your surroundings. Ask yourself if there’s anything you usually overlook and use whatever comes to mind. The results will surprise you.
Something that I do a lot is shoot through objects like lights, windows, and transparent materials. You can use these things to frame your face, add a touch of colour, or simply make your self-portraits look more appealing. There’s no limit to what you can do with simple, accessible items. If you keep finding value in everyday objects, you’ll never stop improving.
To Take Creative Self-Portraits, Give Yourself Limitations
I’ve had to live in very small apartments throughout my life. Though they sometimes felt uninspiring, they usually served as creative blessings thanks to the challenges they provided.
Having too many options at once can feel paralyzing. Limiting yourself by using only one lens or shooting in only one location can actually significantly improve your work.
It will not only give you a fun project to work on, but force you to look at your surroundings from a new perspective. What you learn during this process will come in handy in every future shoot.
Now, whenever I have to shoot in spacious locations, I feel confident and free. If you learn to take awesome photos within certain limits, imagine how much you’ll thrive once more options are given to you!
You don’t have to limit yourself all the time, but occasional challenges will greatly strengthen your skills. Here are a few challenge ideas:
- Focus on a single emotion (happiness, anger, excitement, etc.)
- Take photos in a small room
- Wear only one outfit
- Hide your face creatively (hide behind a mirror, photograph your silhouette, etc.)
- Take photos with someone who means a lot to you
Experiment with Costumes, Props, and More
Many people avoid self-portrait photography because they don’t feel attractive enough. This is a rational fear that shouldn’t be judged. If you don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera, you shouldn’t feel pressured to expose your natural face. Instead of feeling bad about your appearance, transform yourself!
Many professional portrait photographers do this. A few examples are Karrah Kobus, Cristina Otero, Bailey Elizabeth, and Lara Jade. Cristina Otero is a particularly good example of a self-portrait photographer who looks like a different person in every image.
Wigs, costumes, props, and makeup will all compel you to try out different expressions and poses. Since you’ll look like a different person, you won’t be afraid of making silly faces or trying out something new. You can even use this opportunity as an excuse to watch more films and read more books.
Look for inspiration wherever you go, take notes, go thrift shopping, and recreate yourself for the sake of self-portraiture. Throughout this process, you’ll find a plethora of excitement, creativity, and improvement.
Final Thoughts on Self-Portrait Photography
The most important thing that self-portrait photography has given me is a clear image of who I am as a person. After years of practice, I feel confident in myself. Thanks to the challenges I’ve faced, my curiosity, perseverance, and imagination are incredibly strong.
These qualities allow me to dive into new projects, meet new people, and grow my business. This is something that anyone can achieve. All you have to do is practice consistently, find your style, and work on challenges.
Like any photography genre, self-portraiture needs to be meaningful and touching. Every photographer has his or her own unique creative purpose. If you don’t know what your purpose is, don’t lose hope. The more you practice, the easier your challenges will get. And don’t forget that in the world of photography, there’s always room for someone like you.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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