self portraits for the self conscious

Katrina Stewart

by Katrina Stewart

As a hobbyist with limited subjects to practice on, I have found self portraiture a great way to develop and enhance my photography skills. But by far the biggest benefit of self portraiture for me has been that I have taken some beautiful portraits of me and my son together that I otherwise would never have had.

self portraits for the self conscious by Katrina Stewart

But, for the longest time, I found it incredibly uncomfortable being on the other side of the camera. For those of you that can relate but would like to overcome this, here are some things that helped me.

1.  Just try it. Remember that no-one has to see these images. For every self-portrait I have ever taken, there are another 50 that I have deleted. Thinking this way can be really freeing and allow you to relax in front of the camera.

2.  Use this as an exercise to learn more about posing and lighting and how you can use them to flatter your best features or hide those unwanted areas. Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • Posture, posture, posture. Standing up tall and elongating your body and neck is instantly slimming. Watch out for hunched up shoulders. Turn your body at a 45 degree angle to the camera and put your weight on your back foot.
  • Avoid flat lighting (where there are no shadows at all). Shadows add definition and depth and can help slim features. I usually try and stand at a 45 degree angle to my light source so that part of my face is in the shadows. If you want to slim your face, position yourself so that the shaded area of your face is closer to your lens than the brighter side (technically referred to as short lighting in studio portraiture). When I want a more gritty look, I stand at a 90 degree angle to my light source to create a split lighting effect. I tend to convert these types of images to black and white.

self portraits for the self conscious by Katrina Stewart

  • If I am having a double chin kind of day I work the Sue Bryce moves: Chin out and down. I also like to shoot from a slightly higher angle to try and eliminate the double chin altogether.
  • I set my exposure depending on the mood/emotion I want to convey but I also bear in mind how confident I am feeling about my skin: If I am having a bad skin day, I prefer to slightly overexpose to give a brighter smoother look. If it’s a good skin day and I want a more moody image, I use side lighting and slightly underexpose. I find that slightly underexposing in this instance creates more dramatic black and whites. But beware, this will highlight the texture of your face, pores, wrinkles and all. When setting exposure, I make an educated guess on my settings, take the picture and adjust accordingly to get the right exposure.
  • Choose your outfit in accordance with the mood you want to convey. Busy clothing will distract the viewer. I find simple black or white t-shirts work well in most images but I also have a neutral lace top that I use when trying to convey a lighter, airier portrait. If you are self conscious about your arms, wear a long sleeve top and watch how you are positioning your arm. Side on to the camera and you may be tempted to let your arm hang down by your side against your body. Don’t do this; it will flatten the arm and make it appear bigger. Instead, bend your arm and put your hand on your hip.
  • If you are taking selfies with your children, use them to hide your least favourite bits.

3.  When using self portraiture as an exercise to develop your photographic skills, remember it doesn’t have to be a traditional portrait. Get creative.Work with a slow shutter speed to create movement (note also that the heels help give my legs a leaner look).

self portraits for the self conscious by Katrina Stewart

Play around with focus to get a different mood in your image.

self portraits for the self conscious by Katrina Stewart

4.  Post processing. For me, I occasionally use the spot removal tool and sometimes, though very rarely, the skin softening adjustment brush (both in Lightroom). I would urge you to use self portraiture as an exercise in accepting yourself and your body as is. However, if you want to find out more ways to use post processing to enhance your features, there are a range of tutorials available online.

To end, I just want to say – look through your family albums just now. How many images are there of just you or you and your children? Not enough I bet. Accept your fears and work with them but don’t let this stop you from getting in front of the camera and recording those memories. Your family will thank you for it.

Katrina StewartKatrina Stewart, Scotland
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Katrina Stewart lives in the north-east of Scotland with her husband and son who was the initial motivation behind her learning photography. As a passionate hobbyist who loves natural light photography, her work is heavily influenced by the weather conditions in Scotland. Oftentimes, this means embracing low light and black and white photography. Outwith photography, she loves to travel, in particular to South East Asia  which she says is a dream photography destination.

Read all photography articles by Katrina Stewart.



  • Rachelle says:

    love this piece, Katrina

  • Anne Manning says:

    That’s it. I’m taking a photo of me with the kids this weekend. Love the tip to strategically place them over the areas I’m less fond of. :) Loved seeing your beautiful images!

  • Gea says:

    Love your images; the low light and the atmosphere! And I can definitely relate to the insecurities in front of the camera : I am letting my wrinkles and bad skin/hair days get in the way of creating some memorable images of me. Self acceptance through photography !

  • Thank you for the lovely feedback Rachelle.
    Anne, thank-you so much for your compliments. l look forward to seeing your shares.
    Gea: l really do hope this helps you get in front of the camera and ease those insecurities. It’s definitely helped me accept myself more.

  • Cindy says:

    Beautiful photos! I love the advice on mood and on hiding a few imperfections 😉 This could not have come at a better time. I have been shooting self-portraits for a week now and seem to have a problem getting a good sharp focus. Any advice on this would be terrific. Thank you so much, I love CM!

  • Nicole says:

    I second Cindy’s issue. How do you get the focus right without putting something exactly where you are going to stand??

  • Rebekah says:

    My biggest obstacle to self-portraiture is time. Finding the time to devote to this when no one else is around is crazy difficult most days. Thank you for these tips – when I have time, I’ll definitely be referring to them. Self-portraits are high on my list of things I want to do more.

  • I just got my remote control today! I’m ready to start taking selfies.

  • Cindy & Nicole. l don’t have a fail-safe method for doing this but it’s usually a combination of using a remote, ensuring l have my focus point set roughly towards the brightest part of my face (in low light your camera can struggle to find focus), closing down my aperture by one or two stops from what l usually shoot (l love shooting wide open normally) and lots of trial and error. l tend to take a number of portraits at once, tilting my head slightly each time to try and ensure that in at least one of them, my eyes are sharply focused.
    When l am taking self-portraits with my son, all bets are off. l try and position myself in the best light and with my eye level with the middle of my lens. l take a test picture to check my settings before l ever have him on the scene then l will produce his favourite toy or ask him to give me a big cuddle or sometimes just ask if he can help me take a picture and let him use the remote. Then l fire off the remote as many times as l can before he disappears and hope that one of them works.

  • Rebekah, l totally hear you. Nap time is non existent here anymore so l can usually only do this in the evening or if l can carve out some time at the weekend. l find it helps to plan out what l am going to do in advance. So in bed at night as l am drifting off, l usually mull over potential photography opportunities that l want to try out (not necessarily just self-portraits). l may try and direct my son to play in the location in which l want to take pictures and snap some pics so that l can get a better idea about the light and settings and get a feel for how l want to position my subject (whether me or flowers etc) relative to the light, then when l do have free time l am already part way set up to go.

  • Yay Shannon. That will make it much easier. Be sure to share on the main boards once you have had a go.

  • This is a wonderful post, Katrina!

  • Charlotta says:

    Thank you so much for this lovely article. It touched my heart. I’m going to take more self-portraits from now on. Accept my fear. I needed this.

    Charlotta from Sweden

  • Thank you Melissa and Charlotta. l am so happy to hear that you found it beneficial.

  • Megan Dill says:

    Wonderful tips, Kat! And gorgeous photos– the one where you are walking into the room is one of my favorites of yours <3

  • Carrie Yuan says:

    Beautiful selfies! #1 is so sweet!

  • Anne says:

    Oh, I love this post Kat! You gave us such great tips! I especially love the one about having the shader part of the face closest to the camera. <3

  • Jessica Reischel says:

    You are amazing Kat!!! I’ve already failed my goal to get a snap of my son and I each month for 2013. Your image of you and your son is just lovely.

  • Adele Humphries says:

    Loved reading this Katrina and seeing your images too! Great and inspiring post. Thank you!

  • Hello! I just would like to give an enormous thumbs up for the good data you’ve gotten here on this post. I will likely be coming again to your weblog for extra soon.

  • Lexie says:

    This is a wonderful and inspiring article, Kat! I started off the year intense to take a self-portrait every month to improve my posing/lighting, but failed miserably in February….you’ve inspired me to take this project up again! :)

  • Andrew says:

    Great blog and advice Kat, I am sure many have been inspired and will be adventurous to create their own lovely self portraits

  • Kasey says:

    I know this post is an old one but I so needed to read this and comment on it. This is something I have always struggled with. I am so used to be behind the camera and capturing all of the moments in life that I have forgotten to catch my own. I have two children {6 and 9months} and can count on one hand how many photos I have with them, of us together. I have let my uncomfortableness get in the way of capturing my own story. I will be working on self portraits of myself, especially w/my kids!

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