Here we are, into Week 4 of our VOTogs’ “52 Selfies” challenge. So far there has been some amazing entries! A round of applause for everyone who is participating!

Why should we do self-portraits? Aside from the reasons why people post selfies on Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat… You name it. Self-portraiture is actually an incredibly useful way to learn and improve your photography. For starters, the model is always on tap whenever you feel the urge to do the photo. The time constraint on using the model is limited to the time you allocate for the shoot. You can experiment all the different elements at your leisure and to your heart’s content. Pose like nobody is watching.

I thought I’d give you a few of my favourite hints for taking your self-portrait because, well, seems the thing to do.


Peter Bower: A Hot Cooked Meal...

Peter Bower: A Hot Cooked Meal…

The Right Gear
You don’t need all the bells and whistles. It’s a self-portrait, not a photo shoot for Vanity Fair. But a lot of things will make your life easier.

  • A tripod is almost essential, but you can use beanbags, a bench, or even duct-tape to secure your camera.
  • A trigger for shutter release is also very handy, but you can use the Self-Timer (or, even better, the “Self-Timer: Continuous” mode if your camera has it) just as effectively.
  • A Voice-Activated Shutter Presser (i.e. a friend) to just press the shutter after you set up your shot can also be very handy.

On the topic of trigger for shutter release, they can come in wired and wireless versions. The latter will give you more flexibility naturally but do remember these are mostly line-of-sight to the release sensor.


Shoot a Small Aperture
Your settings matter, but perhaps none more than your aperture. Doing a self-portrait means you don’t have the luxury of being able to use a single focus point to get your shot pin-point sharp just where you want it sometimes. Using a small aperture (i.e. a larger f/ number), well, it increases the odds of getting you in focus. If you’re slightly insane (like yours truly) and want to shoot your self-portrait at f/1.4, like I often do, read on!


Tether Your Camera
While this could be under “gear”, this I feel is worth a mention by itself. Tether your camera to your laptop or wirelessly to your tablet/phone. I recently purchased an Eye-Fi card and acquired a copy of ShutterSnitch (more on that soon) for my iPad, and I love the combination with my camera. Handy for when I perform real-estate work, but amazingly useful when performing self-portraits. It enables me a chance to take the shot and view it on a large screen straight away, to ensure I get the photo I want before I pull down my set-up.

In a similar vein, you can explore apps both on iTunes and Google Play for DSLR remote apps. These are relatively inexpensive and can be a very useful tool … if the stars align like phone models, camera models etc etc. Your mileage may vary but it is worth exploring.


The Focus Trick

Average set up, right? Using a lightstand as a focus point.

Average set up, right? Use a lightstand for focus.

If you don’t have a shutter-release trigger, as I didn’t for quite some time, I found the following brilliant. I first read this amazing tip by Dustin Diaz, but have seen it elsewhere. The trick is as follows:

  1. Set your camera up where you want it, and mark where you will be standing on the ground.
  2. Use a substitute to gain focus. Set up something where you will be standing, grab focus through the back of your camera with auto-focus, then turn off the auto-focus.

    I find a light stand INCREDIBLY good for this, as the silver spigot on top grabs light even in low-light situations, enabling you to grab focus, and you can set it at eye-height.

  3. With your camera set to Self-Timer (or Self-Timer: Continuous), press your shutter, move to where your substitute is, and get yourself in the photo.

Bam. Less guess work and you’re in focus.


The Focus Trick: Part 2
What? One focus trick isn’t enough? Okay.

So, you’re using a shallow depth of field and you’re struggling to get the focus just right? Even if you’re using a trigger, this is very handy (because you don’t quite know where the camera has focused) to get your eyes pin-point sharp. It’s a simple one…

Rock in your shot. Literally.

Peter Bower: Rock In Your Shot

Rock In Your Shot. The middle shot is in focus, the other two just out. Click to see full size.

Just rock, slightly, back and forth, and take several photos. This is naturally only really possible if you have the Self-Timer: Continuous mode or a trigger, but rocking/moving slightly back and forth can mean the difference between your eyes being out-of-focus to perfectly sharp.


Shoot Yourself
Seems obvious, but I don’t mean to just take a photo of you. I mean to actually capture you in the photograph. I mean to really try and capture a piece of you in the photo. Treat it the same as any other portrait. You would take the time to know your subject, their passions and history and creating a story to capture in the photo, so do the same with your self-portrait. Tell a story with your image, share your personality and expose the truth about you through your image.

Peter Bower: Emotive

Peter Bower: Emotive

But, while you’re at it, keep in mind, this is a self-portrait: it’s just you there. Be vulnerable and true to yourself. There’s no need for smiles or make up or kept-hair or a trimmed ginger-beard. Hell, if it’s a head-shot, there’s probably no need for pants, even. But really get in that moment and feel something; laugh like a mad-person or get angry at the world or cry until you can’t anymore. There is nothing wrong with finding real emotion and sharing that. Just love you, no matter what you’re feeling and how you look in your photo.


And then..?
Just take the photo! All the above, take it in, but try not to over-think things. Have some fun and see what you can create.

Do you have any tips to share? Leave them below in the comment field! We’d love to learn from you as much as we can share with you!


Peter Bower Bio PicPeter Bower is a mixed bag of tricks. He is a professional photographer, published writer, English academic, award winning poet, hater of soup, website manager, social media guy, ginger, and creature of the night. He is the Founder of VOTogs. When he’s not working, he is a semi-serious competitive gamer and lover of live music, bad movies and action novels. You can find more of his work at his website and ‘like’ him on Facebook. You can also say hello to him on Twitter @OeterB.


2 thoughts on “Picture Yourself: Some Tips For Self-Portraits

  1. Where can I buy a voice-activated shutter presser?

    Great tut! I’m going to have to try ‘rock in your shot’ I’ve always had a problem with focusing.

    • I find the pub has plenty of them, but you risk losing your camera if they are too heavily lubricated. You can normally find them within your own family, but blackmail is often required. ;) -Oeter

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