See what I did there?

This blog post is mostly about how to create self-portraits that you will love and love the way you look in them but it is also, and this is no small component of loving images of yourself, about loving yourself.

And it only requires five steps! So, lace up those sneakers, ladies, we’re hitting the path to loving yourself(ie).

Oh yeah, that’s twice. Nailed it.

Does this sound familiar? You love taking pictures of others and are constantly befuddled when a friend or a client scrunches up her nose at a beautiful image of herself and says “oh, I don’t like that one. I look terrible!” You think she is crazy! How can she not see how beautiful she is? How can she not see how smitten her children are by her and the adoration in their eyes you captured so honestly? How can she reject a beautiful moment when everyone was laughing at the same time and anyone looking at the image couldn’t help but smile? She is passing up those beautifully captured moments in her family’s life because her own relentless self-critic is pointing out every single thing she believes is wrong about her body, her smile, her hair, her posture, her left eye, her teeth, her chins, and it is robbing her of seeing her true beauty and cherishing those fleeting moments with the ones she loves. Ahem. Sound like anyone else you know?

It’s time to take your inner critic, fear, self-doubt and I-just-don’t-photograph-as-well-as-other-people mantra out to lunch and leave them there. Why? Because they are robbing you of being part of your own family memories, of your self-worth, of your confidence. Witnessing and embracing your own awesomeness is incredibly empowering. When you see yourself positively, all kinds of great things happen. What does a confident, radiant, empowered you look like? We’re about to find out.

1. In it to win it

This journey to loving the “you” you capture in camera as well as the “you” that you hang out with all day, every day is 98 percent mental (numbers aren’t really my thing, so my calculations might be off a little.  Let’s just say the mental part is HUGE!). From the moment I first interact with a client, I assure her that I will create beautiful images of her that she will love and I make that promise to her over and over again. Why? She may have her doubts, she may have had bad experiences in the past, she is nervous but when she believes that I will make good on my promise she also believes that SHE will create beautiful images and SHE will love her beautiful images.

I know we only met a few paragraphs ago but I know that you are beautiful. You are worthy. You are splendid. You are a role model. You are the bee’s knees. You are enough. And you deserve to see the beauty within you that everyone around you sees so clearly. I need you to believe that YOU will create beautiful images and that YOU will love your beautiful images.

2. Prepare ye

You’ll need:

  1. about 2.5 hours to yourself
  2. a tripod
  3. remote shutter release
  4. camera
  5. a very large memory card or several smaller cards that are empty and ready to go
  6. 50mm or 85mm lens (my preferred for portraits)
  7. plain backdrop
  8. small apple box or stool
  9. reflectors (I use polystyrene boards)
  10. a large natural light source

In addition to prepping all of your gear, you will also require a little prepping. Remember the part about believing that YOU will create beautiful images that YOU will love? This is where the believing turns into action. Put on an outfit that makes you feel really fabulous, I mean the kind of outfit that makes you feel like you could take on the world and still have time for a cup of coffee. Feel fabulous in jeans and a tank top? PERFECT! Feel fabulous in a cocktail dress? PERFECT! You just have to feel like the #1 stunner you were born to be. And you will need a little makeup. It doesn’t have to be full-glitz, just whatever makes you feel fabulous.

3. See the light!

To set the right mood for falling in love, beautiful light is required. For this exercise, I recommend either backlight or broad, even light. Both are very flattering and can be achieved naturally. I use large polystyrene boards as reflectors for backlit images as well as the broad, evenly lit images.

Backlighting setup:

blacklit selfie camera set up by Alise Kowalski

Broad, even lighting setup:

broad even lighting setup for self portraits by Alise Kowalski

4. Strike a pose

Posing can be tricky, especially when you can’t see the subject you are posing (yourself). I’ve never met a posing challenge that I didn’t like and this is no exception. Try a couple of poses that are fairly straightforward and within each pose, make ever so slight modifications in your positioning and expression so you can see how those little changes impact the overall look. It might feel silly, but you are learning how your body moves and the best poses for your body.

Pose 1: Seated criss-cross

posing yourself for a selfie by Alise Kowalski

Modifying the pose example: In this series, notice how my chin position and expression changes ever so slightly from frame to frame.

modifying your selfie pose by Alise Kowalski

Pose 2: Seated, side-on

selfie pose modifying your selfie pose by Alise Kowalski

You can change up these basic poses to create variety without completely repositioning your setup or your entire body.

changing up a selfie pose modifying your selfie pose by Alise Kowalski

adjustments to self portrait poses modifying your selfie pose by Alise Kowalski

A few things to remember in every single frame:

  1. You are beautiful!
  2. Sit up tall
  3. Relax your mouth (release the tension from smiling)
  4. Long, soft, relaxed hands
  5. Push your chin forward and down (you will have to play around with this to find the best amount of forward and down to create beautiful definition at your jaw line)
  6. Smile with your eyes and keep them soft (this is really important. The eyes sell the smile). See the examples below.

Vacant eyes: My eyes aren’t communicating anything other than the fact that I have two of them. I am staring at the camera, not looking through the camera.

vacant eyes selfie pose modifying your selfie pose by Alise Kowalski

The real deal: Aha! A real smile! If you scroll down so you can only see my eyes without seeing what my mouth is doing, you can tell I’m smiling which means I’m smiling with my eyes.

smiling eyes selfie pose modifying your selfie pose by Alise Kowalski

To get that great connection with the eyes follow this sequence for every single pose: look down; without moving your mouth, start smiling with your eyes; look up to the camera [CLICK]; slight smile [CLICK]; a little bit bigger with the smile [CLICK]; big, beautiful smile [CLICK].

connecting with the eyes in a selfie selfie pose modifying your selfie pose by Alise Kowalski

5. Shoot with abandon

You have a gigantic memory card, why not use it!? Count on out of focus images, some with closed eyes, mid-sneeze or limb chops that just won’t do. With that in mind, give yourself plenty of opportunity to explore poses, expressions, wardrobe changes, testing out different angles. Within the first few frames, go ahead and check the back of your camera to ensure your focal plane is adequate and, of course, when you change the lighting or setup, but other than that, stay in front of the camera. Keep shooting. There is no magic number of images to hit. For this series, I shot 651 frames. In the end I really like about 100 of those and there about 35 that I absolutely LOVE.

shoot lots of frames when taking self portraits vacant eyes selfie pose modifying your selfie pose by Alise Kowalski

When you start reviewing your images, you will recognize some poses or angles didn’t work for you and that is GREAT news! Finding out what doesn’t work for you is just as important as finding what does. The more you move and change your body position, the more you will begin to understand what works and what doesn’t for your body. And as our good pal G.I. Joe wisely said: “knowing is half the battle.”

With the right attitude, preparation, lighting, posing and variety, you are well on your way on the path to self-love and self-portrait love. This is the day! Today is the day to push negativity aside, embrace the beautiful person you are and commit to loving yourself(ie). [High-five].