We all know that we need to get in front of the camera more often.

Our children and other family members want to have evidence that we were at the parties, cookouts, reunions and simply present in everyday life, too. However, it can be unwieldy and limiting to hold (or quickly press and hide!) a remote while working on self portraits. Luckily, there is a simple and reliable alternative – Interval Timer Mode.

Interval timer mode is available on all current Nikon DSLR offerings as well as on several consumer level cameras.

While this tutorial focuses on using the Interval Timer mode on Nikon cameras, there are several remote options for Canon that will allow similar function such as this and this. Be sure to read reviews and confirm that the remote you are purchasing will work with your specific camera body!

black and white selfie with interval timer photo by Megan Cieloha

To set up Interval Timer Mode, navigate to the shooting (camera icon) menu and scroll down to “Interval timer shooting.” It is the last option on both my D700 and my Df, so pressing the up arrow will actually land you on the option more quickly.

  • Click the right arrow to select Interval timer shooting.
  • Choose a start time. If you leave the default “Now” selected, the camera will begin shooting approximately 3 seconds after you press “OK” to begin the shooting sequence. You also have the option to specify a starting time. This option is based on the 24 hour clock (you can see the current time – according to your camera – in the bottom right corner of the screen as you set the “start time” function) so you will need to set the time in the Setup Menu, under “Time zone and date,” if you haven’t already and would like to specify a start time for the interval time.

woman sitting in chair photograph by Megan Cieloha

I always use “Now” as most of my photography has an immediate nature.

  • After choosing “Now” or setting a “Start time” click the right arrow to move on to the “Interval” variable of the timer. This setting will specify the amount of time in between shots/bursts of shots. I like to use about a 3 second interval, but you could chose an interval anywhere between one second and 24 hours. Use the up and down arrows to make adjustments.
  • Click the right arrow again to move on to the “Select no. of times x no. of shots” screen. In this screen you will select the number of times that the camera takes images and how many shots it will take per burst. For example I have mine currently set to 5 x 2. That means that my camera will take 5 sets of 2 shots (at 3 second intervals as specified in the last screen.) You can choose to take up to 999 sets of up to 9 images per set.
  • Once you’re happy with the settings, click the right arrow to move on to the “Start” screen. “Off” is the default, so click the up arrow to highlight “On” then click the “OK” button to start the timer!

self portrait of mom holding children picture by Megan Cieloha

Tips for success

  1. A good tripod with an easily adjustable head will make self-portraits so much easier. I use a Manfrotto tripod and joystick head. The joystick head allows for very quick and accurate adjustments as I simply squeeze the handle and have complete control to rotate or tilt the camera. I wouldn’t trust this tripod and head combination to hold a heavy camera and lens outside without additional weight to hold it down, but it functions wonderfully indoors.
  2. Although a fully adjustable tripod is wonderfully helpful, don’t confine yourself to the tripod box. What other surfaces could you use to support your camera? Would placing it on the floor give a unique perspective? What about placing it deep on a shelf and allowing books or decorative items to provide foreground framing?
  3. My method for achieving focus is to identify something in the room/space that is on the same plane (judging by distance to the plane of the camera’s sensor) that my face or the area of my body that I want to focus on will be located on. I then either focus on that spot with auto focus and subsequently switch the lens to manual focus to maintain focus, or simply focus manually. This step is important because if you leave the camera set to auto focus while shooting with the Interval Timer the camera will attempt to re-trap focus before each shot, which could result in missed focus.
  4. I often have an initial group of settings (ie 3 seconds between 4 sets of 1 shot each) that I will use while making sure that focus and posing are good; chimping and adjusting in between each activation of the Interval Timer. After I am satisfied with focus and positioning I adjust the Interval Timer and take more images per set (ie 3 seconds between 20 sets of 3 shots each) and then very slightly adjust my positioning, without moving off of the focal plane, in between each shot in order to end up with variety in my images.
  5. In order to make editing very simple take advantage of “Sync”/”Synchronize” in Lightroom or ACR. This is particularly effective if you edit completely in LR, as your entire edit can be accomplished on one image and then copied with the simple click of a button to the remainder of the images in the set. This will ensure consistent white balance, exposure and tonal adjustments across the entirety of the images in your set.

mom holding baby self portrait by Megan Cieloha