Today I am sharing my top tips and tricks for taking perfect self-portraits. I cover self-portraits in my female photography workshops, it is my favorite topic to teach.
Self-portraits are not only a fantastic way to use your creativity, they are also a wonderful way to learn to love yourself. If you have never stepped in front of the camera or don’t like the way you look in images, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to get in front of your own camera. It will likely frustrate you at first, but with practice it can become a therapeutic creative outlet.
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For me, there is nothing more rewarding than creating an epic self-portrait. Self-portraits are probably one of the hardest photography concepts to master as there is so much that goes into it. I am not talking about your selfie sticks phone images, I am talking about self-portraits with a camera here.
Use a Tripod
- It is really hard (although not impossible) to take a good self portrait without a tripod. I advise looking at the weight of a tripod before you hit the buy button. You want something as lightweight as possible if you plan to take it with you places. While you can spend hundreds of dollars on a tripod I have found this one by TYCKA ($72.99) to be an excellent tripod. It is small and lightweight (only 2.89 lbs). If you wanted something even lighter check out the Joby line of GorillaPods, they are under 1lb although they are somewhat limited in height they can be wrapped around things like tree branches. I pack my GorillaPod on longer hikes.
- No tripod? Find a friend or stranger and ask them to click the button for you. Make sure you have them stand exactly where you want your shot to be from. As long as you have composed the shot, dialed in the settings, and will be editing the image you’re still the creative force behind the image….you are just using a human tripod.
- The easiest way to set focus is to have someone stand where you plan to be in your shot and focus on them. Then switch your focus mode to manual so that the camera doesn’t search for focus when you take your shot.
- If you are flying solo either place an object (I’ve used everything from my camera bag to a vacum) where you want to be and focus on that. Alternately, you can focus on an element that is right by where you will be like a rock or tree. Remember to switch to manual focus after setting the focus.
- Use a small aperture. I find anywhere between f/7 and f/22 to be the best. If you are using a smaller aperture more of your image will be in focus which will help if you don’t nail standing in the exact spot you focused on.
Use a Timer or Remote
- I use the interval timer on my camera. I set it to start 30 to 60 seconds from pushing the button, which gives me enough time to get in my spot and form a pose. Then I have it take 3-4 shots every 5-10 seconds. In the time between I switch my pose. I have it run for 10 or so cycles so that I get a wide variety of images to choose from.
- You can also use a wireless remote or your phone. The only drawback to the remote is sometimes you can be limited on range of distance from your camera. With my Sony camera I can use the app to set my cameras settings and the timer. I can also see the same view my camera sees, which is super helpful as I feel not being able to see yourself is one of the hardest parts of taking a self-portrait.
Learn How to Composite
- Often I will want an image of my husband and I but I will be sans tripod. In this case I have him take an image of me, and then I take and image of him and merge the two together in Photoshop. Just make sure not to stand in the same spot!
- Through compositing I can take parts from more than one image to create the perfect self-portrait. Lets say I like the flow of my dress in one image, but I like my face in another…well I can composite them together in Photoshop! In the above image I used pieces from three different images to create the final image.
Vary Your Poses
- Most of the time the pose I have in mind for the shot I am composing isn’t at all what I end up choosing for my final image. If you vary your poses you will have so much more to choose from. I even recommend taking the same pose but changing the angle or tilt of your head. The littlest change can make the biggest difference.
- Add in an activity or motion. Take a selfie of you jumping, taking a picture, twirling, etc. The more you can add to the story of the image, the more compelling the image will be.
Self-portraits don’t come easily. You really must practice to perfect the art of them. Try setting up at home and running through the process a few times before you head out for a self-portrait session.
If you would like to learn to master the art of self-portraits. Join me this spring in Badlands National Park for a female photography workshop.
About the Author
Beth Mancuso is a portrait and landscape photographer based out of Minnesota. She has been in business as a portrait photographer for over ten years. She has spent the last six years working as an instructor and mentor. Her work has been featured by National Geographic, Huff Post, My Modern Met, Peta Pixel, and Lensbaby. Her work has been published in Click, Midwest Living, and Black and White Magazine. You can read more about her here. You can find a portfolio of her landscape work here. You can find here portrait work here.