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How to Do Self Portraits

written by: Sah•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 4/16/2009

Who said turning the camera towards yourself is a mortal sin? As a photographer, I’ve encountered times when I want to take a photo of myself with the beautiful scenery and no one’s there to take the shot for me. This was one of the main reasons why I learned how to take good self portraits.

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    Where to position the camera

    What's wrong with this photograph? Contrary to what many people think, self portraiture is not as simple as it sounds. It requires the knowledge of one or two photography techniques and a great deal of patience, but it can also be a lot of fun!

    The easiest way to take your own portrait is of course, to sit in front of the mirror and take shots of your reflection while holding the camera at waist level. You can also use a long cable release or activate your timer. But if you have a high resolution web cam, then I think this is the best choice since you will see yourself on your computer and pick the best pose. Of course, some people would call that cheating.

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    The Basics of Self Portraiture

    So, let’s start with the basics of self portraiture. The first step you should take is of course, to make sure that you look good - hair is combed, shirt is clean, face is not oily (oh you need powder!). Then you will need to find a pleasing location. An uncluttered background is essential for this kind of shot so that the background elements don’t distract too much from the main subject – you!

    Next, you need your camera setup with a tripod. Position the camera at the right height and make sure you focus as close to the area where you’ll be standing or sitting. Remember the rule in taking outdoor portraits? The closer you are to the subject, the greater the impact of the picture. When taking self portraits, this rule is also true. Posing close to the camera will allow you to trigger the shutter at the exact moment you want to take the shot. Most cameras today (whether film or digital) are already equipped with delayed action timer. Depending on the camera, you have 10 to 20 seconds after you press the shutter to get to your predetermined position.

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    Tell me, what's wrong with these photos?

    too dark!background is too distracting!
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    Experimenting with self portraits

    What do you do if the room you are in is too dim for a self portrait? In this case, you can use the slow synchro flash, better known as night mode. When you use this mode, the shutter slows down in order to record the ambient light in the room. This way, you can capture more background detail even in dimly lit scenes, and you get to capture the mood of the setting. If you use slow synchro flash, you need to hold the camera steady or you’ll only produce blurred images.

    When do you use the flash? Well, it all depends on where you’re going to take the shot. If you are going to take an outdoor shot, then, you should use flash as fill-in so you don’t get shadows on your face. Remember to turn your back from the sunlight so that you won’t squint. If you’re going to take your self portrait indoors, then you had best turn off your camera flash as the light becomes harsh and can result in an distasteful image.

    Put yourself where you had focused the camera and, of course, don’t forget to smile! Remember when you have to take portraits of people, it is best to take several shots of different poses until you get a few that you like. Also, keep the photos you don’t like until you get them transferred to the computer. Since computer monitors are bigger, there are times you will prefer other photos from the ones you have chosen initially.

    Self portraits are great opportunities for you to experiment with different photography techniques. Try different poses and “looks" which would otherwise embarrass you if someone else is taking your photo. Try different expressions and poses and erase the bad ones. You might not recognize the difference but the world will surely know.

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    Good shot, better shot

    good shot?better shot?