Happy Friday! This post was originally published over at Le Blahg a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to share it here too in case you missed it over there. It's the second of a two-part series on taking self-portraits. I shared Part One here last week and this second part is a how-to of sorts..you can also find it over at Le Blahg too! I hope you all have a fabulous weekend! Are you doing anything fun?
1979 - Smashing Pumpkins (I heart this song and this video...brings back a lot of memories...)
Hello, Blahgereenos! I'm Monica, aka Chessa!, from Ciao, Chessa!! I am so honored and excited that Miss B asked me to write not one but two guest posts on Le Blahg.
Like I mentioned in my first post, I am a street and travel photographer based out of New York City and while the focus of my work is lifestyle imagery and portraiture, occasionally, I turn the camera on myself. I am genuinely interested in learning about other people and I think that a simple gesture, hint of smile or smirk or a look in the eye can reveal volumes about a person. So, sometimes I turn my lens on myself to try to learn more about the people I've captured on the street. In the meantime, I find that I'm learning a lot about myself and I'm inventing my own new characters with each image.
Today I'll be giving a brief how-to for taking self-portraits. Self-portraits are difficult for many reasons...not least of all because you can’t see yourself to know how you look until after you shoot the photograph. Setup can be more time consuming because if you're like me, you're running back and forth setting timers. And, in my view, the most important part, focus is difficult because again you can’t see where that focus point is resting. But don't fret, self-portraits can be fun. And I'll just start off by saying that once I get an idea in my head for an image I want to take, I often shoot 50 images just to get one I actually feel good about.
The Digital Photography School (a great resource for anyone interested in photography - people who shoot film are welcome too! I LOVE shooting film) puts it clearly: Shooting self portraits can be invaluable because you learn how to direct people for better portraits. What? I mean, that as you walk yourself through a portrait (of yourself) you gain insight in how to explain to people how to pose (you learn how to pose). The best way to direct people is to show them what you want and if you can do it for a self portrait, you can show your subject how to pose for you.
So here are some tips from me to you:
1. Use your imagination!
People often ask me how I come up with the concepts for my images. All I can say is that my ideas come from an intuitive place. Sometimes I've had a dream and then I try to translate it into a photograph. Other times I get inspiration from other artists and translate them as my own. I look at magazines like W and Vogue and Nylon and suddenly I'm inspired. Or, I turn to works of art to find my inspiration.
The point is that once you have your "idea" or "concept" use it as your opportunity to try things that you would never otherwise do with clients or other models. Look at it as a chance to test out different styles, angles, lighting options and poses. You have all the time in the world when you are shooting selfs and if you're anything like me (ie. is ADD and OCD a bad combo?) then you'll need all the time you can get. Fear not, you're not on the clock...this is your chance to learn and try new things.
I strongly believe that you don't need anything fancy to capture beautiful images. I have incredible equipment that enhances my street work and portraiture but it's not necessary all the time. A lot of people talk about fancy lenses and cameras and while I definitely have equipment-envy, I don't think that it's necessarily required for the images we're talking about here. I use the camera that I use for all my work, but any machine will do. The point is to have a steady surface so I strongly recommend using a tripod. If a tripod is not practical for you, then any hard and steady surface will do. Sometimes when I travel I don't have the space to carry my tripod so a table will have to do. If you have a heavy lens, then you can use a book or some magazines to steady your lens.
Yes, focus on the task at hand but what I mean is to set your focus properly. When there's no one in the photo but you, it can be difficult to set the focus properly because you're often not in the view (unless you're using a remote) when you're setting the focus. As I said, I shoot many images before I find one that works and often times this has less to do with the look on my face (ie. too sexy, too serious, not ready,...or, my favorite "not quite right") than with the focus. What good is any image if the timing is not right? Other than to keep trying until you get it "right" (which I do more often than not) I suggest using a marker. I usually take an object and put it in the place where I will stand in order to set the focus before hitting the shutter. It works!
For these images of me on the bed, I used my bag. I set it up, focused on the bag and then hit the shutter. So when I made my way to the bed, I pushed the bag away and took it's place. It works! As you can see from these samples, without using the bag as a marker, I had incorrectly set the focus on the curtain which created a shallow depth of field. All I can say is that this is merely practice. I suggest playing with the settings in your camera and shooting in manual focus so that you can set an image up exactly as you want it.
BOO! This one is terrible in my view...process of elimination.
4. Have fun!
Just enjoy yourself. At the end of the day, the only critic is you.
I hope this post has helped, Blagherinas...
If you have any questions whatsoever, please email me or visit me at
In the meantime, look for inspiration at the Female Self-Portrait Artists' Support Group on Flickr. I love that place! And, incidentally, I am published in the second volume of self-portraits by the group. The book isn't available yet because we are in the process of organizing a special charity donation where all proceeds of the book will go to a group benefiting women. But visit my blog to learn more about how to purchase it...
Also, check out SOME my favorite artists in this group...all of the women in this group are fun and fearless and tremendously talented. If you don't find ideas and inspiration here, I don't know where you will... :)