Getting started with self-portraiture + how self-portraiture can boost your confidence
To take a portrait, you need only a few things: a camera, a light source, a location to shoot in, and your subject. I began taking self-portraits for the reason many photographers do: I didn’t know who else to photograph, or no one else was around. However, self-portraiture quickly became a refuge for me and it lead to a lot of healing. As a survivor of sexual abuse and trauma, self-portraiture helped me reframe the way I viewed my body. My current relationship with my body isn’t perfect, but it’s much more peaceful than it was 12 years ago when I first started taking self-portraits.
So, back to what we were talking about before: what you need to make portraits. Many people think that you need a studio or cool locations to make images you’ll love, but neither are true. I made these images using window light, a homemade backdrop, and a variety of household objects (tissue paper and fairy/Christmas lights). I took all the photos in my apartment.
Gear talk + why you don’t need to worry about it too much
For these self-portraits, I’m shooting on a Canon EOS R (which I love because of the flip out LCD screen that makes it easier to see what kind of photo I’m taking) and the Canon RF 50mm 1.2L lens. I also have a remote on the top of my camera so that I can take photos without even touching my camera. Though gear is important for a professional photographer, it’s not nearly as important if you’re just experimenting. I encourage you not to get too caught up in the gear you’re using and instead, use what’s already around you. Most of you reading this probably have a phone with a good camera. Maybe you have a little point and shoot, you have a film camera, or a DSLR. No matter what you have, you can make portraits.
To take self-portraits without using a remote, set your camera up on a stack of books, a tripod, or something else flat and stable. Switch your focus to manual mode, and focus your camera on a specific point (I used to use a chair or something I’d be leaning against). If you’re shooting on your phone, your camera will focus correctly automatically. Set up your timer on your camera (this is different for all cameras, but most cameras have a timer - you can even get a timer app on your phone if you have a smartphone), press your timer button, and pose yourself in the spot you focused your camera on. You can also hand hold your camera and take photos without necessarily knowing what the framing is. You can do this with autofocus or manual focus. You might get something you like by experimenting. Let go of the idea that every photo has to be perfectly sharp or in focus. Making art is like playing around!
Getting inspired for a portrait session
This set of self-portraits was inspired by two pieces of art I already have, both of angels/goddesses. I had been wanting to do an angel-inspired self-portrait session for awhile, so I had been thinking about it for quite some time. What I love about this session is though I an idea in my head for how I wanted the final photos to turn out, I got something completely different, which is always exciting to me. It’s like opening a gift.
Looking for inspiration for a photo session? I suggest looking at art of a different genre than photography. Watch dance, go somewhere that inspires you or calms you down, go to the library and look through art books, or go to a museum and look at paintings, drawings, and sculpture. This will get you thinking differently and making connections that you might not otherwise make when viewing other photographs. It will also keep you from straight up copying someone else’s photographs. While copying ideas and poses is totally fine, it might be easier to find your own creative voice if you find inspiration from other types of art as well.
Creating layers in your images using normal household items
Like I said before, I used tissue paper and fairy/Christmas lights in this self-portrait session. For the backdrop, I pasted pink tissue paper over a backdrop I already had, and draped fairy lights over the paper. I didn’t use anything fancy to do this - just strong tape. I made my backdrop this way because I wanted it to look textured. Pasting the tissue paper imperfectly and putting lights on top of it made the background look layered.
To create the various looks in the photos, I also used tissue paper and Christmas lights. I cut a hole out of the tissue paper that was a little smaller than my lens. Then I put that tissue paper around the lens. The hole I’d made in the tissue paper still allowed the camera to see me, but the corners of the photos are hazy. For other photos in this session, I put one of my Christmas lights in front of my lens using tape. It made this really lovely orb that I used in various types of lighting to get different effects. Check out my behind the scenes video below to see more of my process.
I love creating layers in images, which is what the tissue paper and fairy/Christmas lights allowed me to do in this case. Layers not only give interest to your images, they also make taking photos feel more experimental, making the whole process more fun.
Let me know what you think!
Let me know in the comments: do you take self-portraits? Did this blog help demystify the self-portrait taking process at all? Let me know what else you’d like to know about self-portraits or taking photos, and I’ll be sure to blog about it. Thanks for reading and enjoy the photos!