In 2011, I wrote a tutorial for the CMblog that challenged you get on the other side of your camera (Because You Were There, Too: 13 Tips for Family Self Portraits). In the tutorial, we explored techniques and tips for better self portraits, how to involve your children, and more; since then, the article has been read by over 85,000 people, pinned over 49,000 times, and we at Clickin Moms have used it to challenge our members to do a monthly self portrait on the board throughout 2012 (we invite you to join us again for the monthly challenge in 2013!).
Now that you have the basics down, let’s kick off the new year with some refreshingly unconventional self portraits. One of my favorite tips from the original piece was the following:
Get a New Perspective: Set the tripod up low (kid height) so that full body shots don’t completely include the adults. Or set things up so that you’re shooting from behind. Or pull way back and get a ton of context and just let be as your family prepares breakfast in the morning or plays together in the backyard. Get creative. You don’t all have to be smiling and facing the camera.”
Here are some more unconventional ideas:
1. Off with your head
Zoom in tight and shoot just below the jawline. Feature the curve of your neck, the delicacy of the collarbone, even the femininity of the décolletage. Try bringing your hands into the frame as well, if you wish.
2. Capture the extremities
Speaking of the hands, how about making them the focus of the self portrait? Hands can reveal something about age and experience and could also be shown holding (or reaching for) something of personal value. Alternatively, can you photograph your feet? Do your shoes or your toes tell the viewer something about you? Does the ground you stand (or items on the floor) on signify something about your environment?
3. Not your average mirror pic
Instead of the mirror-at-shoulder-height half body shot (or the mirror-in-front-of-your-face selfie), angle your camera downward or upward and shoot a reflection that excludes the camera from the frame. Also, avoid making eye contact with your reflection. Either look away or look into the reflection of the lens itself.
4. Get out of focus
One of the most difficult parts of taking a self portrait (especially if you are the only one in the frame) is achieving tack sharp focus. Perhaps nearly as difficult is defocusing beautifully, but it can be a wonderful way to achieve a dreamy, ambiguous effect. One of my favorite self portraits to date involves this technique. Set your focus to manual and see how different focus settings establish different creative effects.
5. Facial details
What’s your best (or most distinctive) feature? Fantastic eyelashes? A memorable smile? A perfectly sculpted nose? A scar that tells a story? Self-shooting in macro can be particularly challenging – but also incredibly rewarding when you nail it … take the challenge, and capture yourself in the details.
6. Incorporate movement
Bringing motion (frozen movement or motion blur) into the frame can establish unexpected visual interest. Two of my all-time favorite self portraits come from CMpros Jennifer Jones and Anne Scherrer, both of whom used the motion of hair and head to bring unparalleled dynamism into the frame. How else can you incorporate motion? Let your fingers fly across piano keys, reawaken the ballet dancer of your past, run up the stairs, or simply jump….
7. The absence of you
Can you sum up who you are (or a significant aspect of yourself) without being physically present in the frame at all? Is there a spatial sanctuary in your home or yard that is very personal to you – somewhere that you can take a few moments for meditation, introspection, or escape? Does your desk, your vanity, your closet, or your kitchen represent you? Is there a collection of sentimental items, books, or some other objects that you could gather to convey something of yourself to an outside viewer? Think about what’s important to you – the values, personal characteristics, experiences, interests, and obligations that sum up who you are. How can you portray that?
What’s the best way to improve your photography? Shoot thoughtfully and frequently! Try new things and embrace creative and technical challenges. Every month, Sarah Wilkerson posts a new tutorial and challenges our members to join in a new Creativity Exercise on the Clickin Moms photography forum. At the conclusion of the exercise, we select Editors’ Choice images from among the exercise submissions and share them here with you on the blog. Congratulations to the ladies whose photographs included in the exercise above were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices, and thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!
And be sure to participate in the next exercise! Visit the forum where Sarah has posted the next challenge. We’d love to see your work!
Sarah Wilkerson, New York
CEO | CMU Instructor
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Duke graduate and former attorney Sarah Wilkerson joined Clickin Moms as a member photographer in 2008 and quickly became a leader in the community. Together with Kendra, Sarah has led the evolution of the company’s mission, program development, and position within the greater photography community. She currently resides in New York with her Army JAG husband, three sons, one daughter, and two dogs. Sarah shoots with a Nikon D4, enjoys tilt-shift and atmospheric black and white work, and instructs CMU’s upper level composition courses: Elements of Design and Composition and Creativity.