creativity exercise: 7 creative ideas for unconventional self portraits

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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!).

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise by Sarah Wilkerson
*image by Sarah Wilkerson ‘SarahWilkerson’

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?

editors’ choice!

editors choice 2013

Congratulations to the ladies below whose photographs were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices!

Tara Dragert ‘absolutetara':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise by Tara Dragert

Laura Welborn ‘laurawelborn':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise by Tara Dragert

Mandy Haber ‘mandyhaber':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Heather L ‘bellamontana':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Lisa Kitto ‘lisakitto':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Sarah Harrigan ‘SarahHarrigan':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Gretchen Willis ‘GretchenW':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Lisa Marsh ‘lisamarsh':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Jo Lien ‘JoLien':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Melissa Everett ‘blessedmommy3′:

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Tiffany Walensky ‘twalensky':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Angela ‘angbrad03′:

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Keely Owendoff ‘keelyo':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Lacey Butler ‘reltubl':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Sarah Mazza ‘sarahmazza':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Carol Swaitkewich ‘carolswait':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

JoAnna Reynolds ‘jreynolds119′:

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Erin Roth ‘ejmay01′:

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Carrie Yuan ‘carriey':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Kori Hiser ‘Kori':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Beth ‘manicphotograph':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Kimie Pruessner ‘kimiemich':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Corinne Tristram ‘aussiet':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Alexis ‘yellowbrick':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Parikha Mehta ‘parikha':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Heather Pich ‘bart':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Heidi Golz ‘HeidiGolz':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Dina Farmer ‘dinafarmer':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Tammy ‘tammyw':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Courtney Kirkland ‘mrsckirkland':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Czarina Nocon ‘czarina':

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Nikki Rainey ‘ncnc00′:

the unconventional self portrait creative photography exercise

Thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!  We love seeing all the beautiful imagery!

Do you want to participate in the next Creativity Exercise?  Visit the forum here where Sarah has challenged us with the theme “Body Language“.  Don’t have a membership to Clickin Moms yet?  Head on over here to sign up!  You can still participate in this ‘Unconventional Self Portrait’ challenge by either visiting the forum here or sharing with us in the comments below.  We’d love to see your work!

free creative photography exercises by Sarah Wilkerson for Clickin Moms

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