When I got the idea to start a self-portrait project, I admit that my initial feelings consisted of dread, fear, and panic.
I think most women feel that way about getting in the frame! If you want me to be honest, the first 7 things that ran through my head were…
- I need to lose 10 pounds!
- I need to get a haircut and dye my hair!
- I need to buy a new wardrobe!
- I need to invest in some good wrinkle cream!
- I need to clean my entire house!
- I need to whiten my teeth!
- What am I going to do about my RBF? (resting bitch face)
If you have similar thoughts when considering taking a self-portrait, here are 7 things to consider…
Finding your WHY:
1. Letting go of the idea of “perfection”
As women, we are bombarded by so many daily images of society’s idea of perfection. We see Photoshopped images of women with the perfect body, perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect clothes, perfectly decorated shiny clean homes, perfect jobs, perfect families with perfectly clean children in perfectly coordinated outfits smiling sweetly at the camera. It is perfectly ridiculous! That’s not reality, and if we are being perfectly honest, that is boring. We are all perfectly imperfect… and that is what makes us interesting, beautiful, and amazing… just as we are in this moment. Real images of real people, flaws and all, is what will resonate with people.
2. Getting past the fear
Let’s face it. There is fear associated with just about everything new that we will try. The biggest fear that I often have is “What if I fail?” If you have that fear also, say these two very important words with me… “So What?” That might sound ridiculous, but really what is the worst thing that could happen if you start taking self portraits? One, you’ll hate them. So what? You don’t have to show them to anyone. It’s very likely that you won’t love the first self portraits that you take. You probably didn’t love the first shots you took with your camera in manual, but the more you practiced and grew as a photographer, the better your shots became and the more you started liking them. I guarantee the same thing will happen with self portraits. The other “worst thing”…, other people will hate them. Say it with me “So What?” You’re doing this for YOU, because you matter and you deserve to be in photos. You’re also doing this for your family, because they already think you are beautiful and amazing and they deserve to have photos with you in them. Every time you get scared, say the words “So What?” out loud, and then get on with it.
Finding your “WHAT”
3. What exactly?
The “What” is self portraits of course, but you have to think deeper. If you just say “I’m going to take more self portraits”, you’ll most likely end up feeling like a runaway kite blowing in the breeze, lost. Starting self portraits without direction can be overwhelming. If you are doing it purely as a personal project, you might want to think of a theme. Will you include your children, your family, your pets, or just you? If you like the idea of being part of a group, and held somewhat accountable, you might want to join a Project 52, where you take one self portrait based on a theme each week. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you could attempt a 365 project and join a group for that. Or you might want to do a 30 day project, taking one self portrait a day for a month based on daily themes. The great thing about joining a group is that you can gain inspiration, friendship, support, and encouragement. Decide where you will post your self portraits: Flickr, Facebook, Clickin Moms, Instagram, a blog or on a website?
4. What do you want to say?
I think some of the best photographs tell a story or take the viewer on a journey. They make the viewer feel something. What story can you tell? What struggles can you share that might help someone else to feel less alone and more understood? Self portraiture is a powerful way of connecting with others. Be willing to be vulnerable.
Well, that’s all nice, but HOW?
5. You’re going to need a tripod
We all love to make excuses. Don’t give yourself a chance to say “I had a great idea for a shot but I couldn’t get it without a tripod”. Ask yourself these questions before buying a tripod – will I be primarily using it indoors, outdoors, or both? If you plan to use it outdoors, you want it to be sturdy enough for your gear, but also light enough that you won’t mind lugging it around. The other thing to ask is how heavy is your heaviest body/lens combination? You’ll need to make sure the tripod you purchase supports that weight. A widely heard piece of advice is to avoid buying a cheap tripod because you will just end up replacing it. I’ve also heard that you should buy a tripod that supports at least twice the weight of your heaviest body/lens combination.
6. Get yourself a self-timer or remote
You could use the self-timer function on the camera, but the problems with doing that are that it is exhausting and time consuming running back and forth from your camera to your spot, and it is very hard to look natural when you are rushing and counting down the seconds! Using a remote is an option. This allows you to trigger the camera when you press its button. The pros are that it is simple and puts you in control of the shutter. The cons are that you have to make sure you are in range and you might not have enough time to get the remote out of the shot! Another option is to use a timer remote control. It is more complicated to figure out, but is very versatile in that you can use it for time lapse, stop motion, and long exposures. You can set it to take pictures every second, two seconds, or whatever you prefer. That way, you can get much more natural results.
7. Nailing the focus
This is perhaps the most challenging part of taking self portraits. There are two methods that work best. One, autofocus on something at the distance where you’ll be standing or sitting (this could be a tree, or the wall you’ll be leaning against, a bench, etc.) and then once that focus is set, switch the focus to manual. If you don’t put your focus on manual your camera could autofocus on something way in the distance, making you completely blurry. If you can’t find something to focus on, you can put a purse, camera bag, or even a shovel sticking out of the ground where you want to stand. Two, use reverse focusing. Take you camera to the spot where you will be posing and focus on your tripod head. Mark the spot where you plan to stand or sit, then put your camera back in manual focus mode and put it back on the tripod.
Did I say that nailing the focus is the most challenging part of taking self portraits? Actually, I think the hardest part is just starting. The catalyst for me starting The ME Project was when I was asked to take free photographs of mothers and their daughters at a Mother/Daughter Tea event at my son’s school, and only four mothers came over to get shots taken with their sweet girls. When I asked mothers I knew why they didn’t come over, they all listed the things I mentioned that I first thought about: their hair, their clothes, their weight, their perceived lack of perfection. They missed out on capturing a beautiful moment with their daughters.
Don’t let fear, insecurities, or a lack of perfection stop you from capturing your moments. Get in the frame today. Right now! Grab your camera and get started.