This is the second in a 3-part series of Self Portrait tutorials that Maryanne Gobble wrote for I Heart Faces. Be sure to read the other two parts of her series here:
This week she is teaching us how to take a self portrait. And not one of those hold-your-camera-out-in-front-of-your-face kind of shots, either. Maryanne’s self portraits are creative, artistic and inspiring.
How to Take a Self Portrait
In Part One of this series I laid out the reasons you should give self portraiture a try. Now I want to share four tips to help get you started and set up your shots. In order to set up a good self portrait, you will need to stabilize your camera, set focus and exposure, and then trigger your shot. Let’s get started.
- Tripod – Tripods are the easiest and safest route to set up your camera. I use them for 99% of self portraits. Things to be aware of are wind, unstable surfaces, and people accidentally bumping the tripod legs. Tripods are more versatile than you would believe. I’ve successfully set one up in a tree twice now!
- Handheld – Technically you can hand hold your camera and take a few shots. This can cause distortion problems if you are pointing the camera at your own face. But this may be a good technique for photographing your own shadow, reflection, or feet. Indeed, I have photographed self portraits of my feet.
- Ground – Placing your camera on the floor or other flat surface isn’t considered very stable. But I added it here nonetheless. I’ve done it before and I would again if I were desperate enough. The photo below I took by setting my camera on the ground then sprinting into the shot.
- Auto Focus- Just be absolutely sure you are standing in the field of focus or you are in for some disappointment. I also steer clear of shallow depth of field. It just gives more leeway with focusing issues.
- Manual Focus- This can be surprisingly accurate if you plan it right. One of the most obvious techniques would be to have someone else stand in your desired location and set the focus. If you are by yourself you may try standing dead center at your desired distance and take one shot on autofocus with a remote switch. Mark your distance with a rock or something then switch the camera back to manual focus to lock it in. Another method would be to focus on an object within the same focal plane you’ll be standing in, such as the stump below.
While you can keep your camera on auto settings, I recommend shooting in manual mode for any type of photo. Self portraits are no exception. Cameras these days have built-in meters. Check your camera manual to learn what your camera offers. I usually set mine to spot meter mode and expose for the skin. Or in the case of the sunrise photo below, I metered for the sky. Once you figure out your exposure you can keep it there until the lighting or set up changes. It sure helps simplify the editing workload later.
#4 Choose Your Trigger
- Self Timer- Make sure you are focused on the correct spot, press the camera’s self timer button and run for it. Some cameras will take multiple exposures on the self timer mode. I use this to gain a few extra seconds to settle in. Let’s say it’s set to take ten photos… The last 6-10 might turn out.
- Wireless Shutter Release – I love my wireless trigger! As long as I’m within 15 feet of my camera I can trigger the shutter by the press of a button. I think all wireless triggers have a two second delay option. Just time enough to hide it before the shot. If you are at too much of an angle from your camera this can cause problems. After a few attempts you will easily find the best trigger spots. For group shots I find kids really get a kick out of being in charge of the trigger.
- Cable Release- The above mentioned techniques just won’t cut it in some situations. If you have someone to help, I recommend a cable release switch. It’s a short cable that plugs into the side of your camera with a shutter release button on the end. I can run out into a lake and holler to one of my kids to press this button. Because no one is touching the actual camera it is less likely to shake or get knocked over.
All these tools can seem cumbersome at first, but it gets easier with practice. I promise!
Maryanne Gobble is a fine art photographer located in Redding, CA. Not only does she heart faces, but also waterfalls, redwoods, the Pacific Ocean and Sasquatch. You can browse her portfolio or follow her on Facebook if you heart these things also.
Follow along with this series: Creating a Composite Self-Portrait