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