I am coming to you today as a veteran of a self-portrait 365 project. Yes, I photographed myself everyday for an entire year! I took this on as a personal photographic challenge and I am so glad I did. It was a lot of work but also a great deal of fun. I learned a ton about photography on this journey and also have a photographic journal of events going on in my life and my family’s lives during that time. I learned so much about posing and lighting women that year. It’s simply amazing how little changes in position and angle can take an image from unflattering to gorgeous, and I grew to love things about myself that I previously complained about. I got to try out new and different things with both lighting and processing, things that might be too risky to try for the first time with a client. I also would look at inspirational images in advertising and media, then attempt to reverse engineer the lighting setup and try it on myself. I also made a lot of new photographer friends who were on the same self-portrait adventure as I.
The self-portrait 365 is like running a marathon. It’s one of the biggest and most challenging type of daily photo projects you can do. And once you get into it, you really can’t quit because you look back at all you have completed so far and know you can totally push it out to the end. Marathon runners don’t stop at mile 25 because they are too tired. Yes there were days where I took a picture of my foot or perhaps a reflection in the mirror at 11:59pm, just so I didn’t skip a day. But then there were days that I really pushed myself creatively to try something different. I kept a notebook of ideas which helped on days that I felt rushed or uninspired.
I recommend that everyone take self portraits. You don’t have to do 365 of them of course, but it’s a great way to push yourself creatively and a fabulous way to get yourself into photos with your family instead of always being the one behind the viewfinder. Let’s talk a bit about the logistics of how to do self portraits.
Who holds the camera?
Ultimately you have three options of where to put the camera.
1. In your own hand. This would be for an arms length selfie, which is self-explanatory, or maybe for a reflection self portrait (mirror, window glass, etc).
2. On something like a shelf, bench, or rock.
3. On a tripod.
But how do I focus and fire the camera if it’s not in my hand?
You can fire the camera by using the built-in timer, a long shutter release cable, or via a remote. Several electronic shutter release cables and remotes on the market will both autofocus and trip the shutter so you don’t even have to worry about focusing. If you don’t want to see the remote in the photo, you can use a combination of both the remote and the camera’s built-in timer. In this case you would press the remote to start the whole process, and while the timer is ticking down you can set the remote down out of camera view.
Let’s chat for a minute about wireless remotes because I know they can seem intimidating at first. A wireless remote system consists of two pieces: a transmitter (held in your hand) and a receiver (connects to your camera). When you press the button on the transmitter, a signal will be sent to the receiver, thus triggering your camera. There are two primary types of wireless triggers: radio and infrared. Infrared triggers rely on “line of sight.” This means that problems may arise if the receiver portion of the system cannot “see” the signal coming from the transmitter. Infrared signals can also be weakened by strong ambient light, so infrared remotes are sometimes tricky to use in bright sunlight. Radio transmitters on the other hand rely on a radio signal. A line of sight is not required with radio transmitters. You can trigger your camera from behind a wall via radio transmitter if needed. Radio transmitters also tend to have a longer distance range than infrared transmitters.
If you have the Pocket Wizard Plus II system, you can purchase a camera-specific motor drive cable from Pocket Wizard and use your Plus II’s to trigger your camera. The motor drive cable is more expensive than most complete remote systems though. Here are two great inexpensive models of remotes that I have had experience with or some of my fellow self-portrait artist friends have had experience with.
The Seculine Twin1- R3
This link is for the Seculine version that works with my Fuji S5 and Nikon D700, so make sure you look up the version that works for your specific camera.
This is an infrared remote. It’s very small and it’s easy to hide the transmitter in your hand and have it not be visible in photos. I have had a couple of situations where the ambient light made it tough to work with, but for the most part I like this little remote. It’s quite sturdy. I dropped it outside one winter while taking a self-portrait in the snow. I couldn’t find it. I actually couldn’t believe that I couldn’t find it because a black remote in the white snow should be easy to find, right?
I ended up ordering another copy of this same remote because the thought of finishing my 365 without a remote was too overwhelming. I was surprised when I found my original lost remote after the spring thaw, several yards when where I thought I lost it. It clearly had been run thru my husband’s snowblower and it STILL WORKED! Now that’s a robust little remote, huh? Now I have two of these Seculines but still plan to order the Alzo radio controlled remote (read on…..)
Alzo Wireless Shutter Release
The Alzo is a radio controlled remote. I have not personally used this model but I have several friends who absolutely love it and I plan to order one based on their recommendations. This remote will work without fail in bright sunlight. The downside is that that transmitter has a long antenna attached to it. Therefore you need to combine the use of this remote with your camera’s timer to allow you time to set the transmitter down or else you will have a big antenna sticking out of your hand in all of your self-portraits (see my friend Karen’s self-portrait below).
How can I focus if I don’t have a shutter release cable or remote that focuses?
This is a little trickier, but it definitely can be done. In this situation you would place a “focusing-object” such as a chair or light stand at the spot where you want to stand. Set your camera to timer mode. With your camera fixed on the tripod, you focus on that object. If you think you will be able to move the chair quickly, just hit the shutter and run over there while the timer ticks down, pushing the chair out of view on your way over there. Another idea would be to flip the camera into manual focus, then go move the chair. Before you move the chair make sure you mark the spot on the floor with a piece of tape so you know exactly where to stand. As long as you keep the camera on the tripod and you stand on the tape, you will be in focus. And since you flipped your camera into manual focus after you set focus on your target, it will hold that focus and not attempt to refocus each time you press the shutter to take another shot.
If you would like to see my full set of 365’s, click here.
I made an attempt at a 2nd year of self-portraits, but didn’t quite finish. I am still sad about that. You can see that here.
In closing I would like to share links to a few of my favorite entertaining and inspiring self portrait artists. Grab a cup of coffee and check out the following:
Mrs. Fun (fellow ClickinMom!)
Cynthia K (fellow ClickinMom!)
Jessica Lutz (fellow ClickinMom!)
Lauren Anne (fellow ClickinMom!)
Karin O’Brien (fellow ClickinMom!)
Allison/Snippets from Suburbia (fellow ClickinMom!)
I hope this article has inspired you to get yourself on the other side of your camera for a few shots. I look forward to seeing the creative things you come up with. Happy shooting!